Upon the first time laying his eyes on the Declaration of Independence in the National Archives, Vance Patterson got goosebumps. Then he read the Constitution's first three words - “we the people.”
Patterson said “I actually got a lump in my throat” and his wife Mary Jo was “wiping tears out of her eyes.”
The couple wanted to bring that experience to those unable to see the actual documents in Washington D.C. Two years later in their North Carolina hometown, they dedicated the first Charters of Freedom display, which includes life-size replicas of the Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence.
Eventually, they set up the Foundation Forward non-profit organization with three principals: providing education on American history and civics so people know how the government is supposed to work, providing easy access to the displays and providing communities a place to honor and reflect on history.
On Oct. 24, the thirty-second Charters of Freedom display was dedicated in Yowell Meadow Park, making Culpeper Virginia's first locality to have such a setting. It was unveiled alongside a monument honoring the Culpeper Minute Battalion that fought in the Revolutionary War.
“Are you ready to become a part of history?” Patterson asked the crowd gathered at the dedication ceremony. “Because we’re going to dedicate your Charters of Freedom setting and it’s going to be here for the next 300 to 500 years and your future ancestors, your future generations are gonna know that you were here.”
The site also features a time capsule containing letters from citizens and a signed list of everyone in attendance at the dedication. It will be opened Sept. 17, 2087, the Constitution's 300th anniversary.
To make it last that long, Patterson said “you put more underground than above ground.”
“Your foundation here goes down three-and-a-half feet. It is solid, reinforced poured concrete. It then comes up into a solid core. Just the core and the foundation weigh over 38,000 pounds, over 19 tons. This is not a tip-over monument. It’s then surrounded by over four inches of brick and mortar. It then has the polished granite making up the document chambers and the capstone,” he said.
The documents, Patterson added, are on quarter-inch etched bronze weighing over 60 pounds and are covered by a half-inch of treated polycarbonate, “which is unbreakable - please don’t try it.”
“Yes, it’s very expensive. But we believe it’s more important than money. We believe it gives us a direct link to our founding fathers by helping to preserve what it is they gave this country - a government to serve and protect we the people,” he said.
Two founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, were big proponents of education and Patterson said they "believed that in order to have a free and independent country you must understand how government works, that you cannot control what you do not understand.”
He noted that the display is “an active, hands-on educational supplement for your schools’ curriculum” where students can learn about national and local history.
The long-term goal, he added, is to place similar displays in all 3,142 American jurisdictions over the next decade.
“Our hope is that our future generations, our future leaders, will come from these communities that have their own Charters of Freedom setting. That their kids will grow up no longer just talking about the Constitution and Bill of Rights in Washington. They will be talking about their Constitution and their Bill of Rights, the ones they grew up with right here in Culpeper,” he said.
Councilman Keith Price noted the proximity of the Charters of Freedom and display honoring the Culpeper Minute Battalion is fitting as they “complement each other so well to tell the story of our early residents and what they accomplished.”
Charles Jameson, president of the Culpeper Minute Men Sons of the American Revolution Chapter, noted that the battalion participated in the Battle of Great Bridge that freed Virginia from British control on Dec. 9, 1775, which “says a lot about our patriotic ancestors and their valor.” Carol Simpson of the Culpeper Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution noted that the displays will serve as a reminder of how lucky citizens are to live in America. LeAnn Fetherolf Turbyfill, regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution Virginia Society, added that the display serves as a reminder that freedom is not free and citizens “must be prepared to defend the Constitution, our Constitution, because that is what it truly is - ours.”
Patterson challenged the crowd to bring their children and friends to the Charters of Freedom and “tell them about how their freedoms and rights give them an advantage over the rest of the world to pursue their passion, to chase their dreams, to accomplish their goals and get out of life what it is they want to get out of life.”
Mayor Michael Olinger said the dedication is a proud moment for Culpeper.
“We now have a beautiful memorial that not only recognizes the important role local people played in winning America’s independence but also displays copies of the founding documents that were made possible by the services and sacrifices of Culpeper’s early residents,” Olinger said.
William Schwetke, president of the Sons of the American Revolution Virginia Society, noted the cooperation between multiple entities that went into bringing the displays to Culpeper. Project donors included the Town of Culpeper, the Virginia Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, the Culpeper Minute Men Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, the Culpeper Minute Men Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Charles Jameson, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2524, James W. Whitehead, Keith Price, Felicia Chavez, Virginia Mist Quarry, Allied Concrete, Builders First Source and A&B Kearns.
“May we continue to follow this example of cooperation and join together to always honor those who founded our great country and cherish and share with everyone the wonderful ideas that came out of that revolution, that are inscribed on our Charters of Freedom. All men are created equal, inalienable rights - new concepts in those days, which are now widely accepted,” he said.
See photographs of the dedication ceremony in the Oct. 29 issue of the Culpeper Times.