Indentured servant Elizabeth Smith said it was an "act of God" when she came across a petticoat while walking on a path on a breezy day in the late 18th century.
"I prayed for the clothing," said Miss Smith, who was considered the property of her master who had paid for her passage into America.
Widow Sloan, however, disputed God's involvement in Miss Smith's possession of the clothing, which she had put out to dry earlier that day. Instead, the widow claimed that Elizabeth Smith had stolen the petticoat and that she could prove it because the widow's initials were sewn on the waistband and hem.
The dispute was one of several depicted last weekend during court re-enactments at Historic Hanna's Town. The re-enactments, sponsored by the Westmoreland Historical Society, are held in an open pavilion located within the reconstructed village that consists of a tavern, courthouse, jail, three 18th century log houses, a Revolutionary era fort and a wagon shed housing an authentic Conestoga wagon.
Tiffany Kolbosky of Manor, who portrayed Elizabeth Smith, and Joanna Moyar of Greensburg, who portrayed Widow Sloan, were two of the many volunteers who participated in the re-enactments.
Mrs. Moyar also serves as the historical society's education coordinator, while Ms. Kolbosky conducts tours.
The re-enactors, dressed in replica period clothing, depict those who would have come to court in the late 1700s when Hanna's Town served as county seat and have their disputes heard by Judge Robert Hanna, who held court sessions in the local tavern, which he owned.
In Miss Smith's case, Judge Hanna found her guilty of felony theft and ordered that she receive 15 lashes to her bare back and to be jailed until she paid fines and costs. Unable to pay the fines and costs, Miss Smith remained jailed for several months until she was brought back before the court by her master for failure to meet the terms of her indenture agreement with him. Miss Smith ultimately was freed but ordered by the judge to serve another two years to her master for the months that she was in jail and unable to work for her.
"Punishment was severe back then," said Lisa Hayes, historical society executive director, who served as narrator for the re-enactments.
Court re-enactments have been a popular draw at Hanna's Town for more than a decade. When scheduled, the re-enactments are included in the $5 cost of touring the settlement -- founded in 1773, serving as the first seat of Westmoreland County and the first English court west of the Allegheny Mountains. The town was an oasis for travelers, settlers and those seeking justice and order in the often chaotic environment of the Western Pennsylvania colonial frontier.
Hanna's Town met its demise in 1782 when a raiding party of Seneca Indians attacked and burned down the town. Court was in session at the time of the attack. Two people were killed. Four years later, the county seat was moved to nearby Greensburg.
While most of the re-enactors, including Ms. Kolbosky and Mrs. Moyar, are program veterans, attorney Robert Domenick made his debut by playing the judge. Mr. Domenick said he had recently been approached by the county bar association and asked if he would be interested in participating in the program.
"I gladly accepted the chance," he said.
Other cases that came before Mr. Domenick included horse theft, the killing of a friendly Indian and failure by residents to obtain a license to sell home-made whiskey. They were actual court cases that occurred between 1773 and 1781.
Linda Metz, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.