By Jim Cummings
Ft. Boonesborough - Esther Whitley a pioneer heroine of 18th century Kentucky, played to a standing room only - packed house Saturday night. Melanie Kuntz, historian and 18th century re-enactor gave an outstanding first person account of Esther Whitley. Esther was the wife of Colonel William Whitley famous frontiersman and Indian fighter. Kuntz did a remarkable job in researching Whitley, spending hours pouring over the Draper manuscripts and courthouse records just to get a glimpse of the Whitley family.
The performance was part of Fort Boonesborough's annual February series known as the Fireside Chats. The Chats feature four individual performances and are held in the blockhouse/museum and are sponsored by The Fort Boonesborough Foundation. Click here to learn more about The Chats. learn more about Fort Boonesborough and The Fort Boonesborough Foundation.
Kuntz not only researched the subject but wrote her performance and the introduction to it. The introduction was a short overview of the lives of Esther & William Whitley, touching on facts surrounding their lives, and details of their deaths that the first person performance could not encompass. The introduction was read by Kathy Cummings.
The scene of this performance is in the Whitley home at Sportsman’s Hill. Esther was putting her children to bed and saying her goodnights. She pauses a moment looks around the room and at the vacant chair usually occupied by her husband, and begins reminiscing to William as if he were there in the room with her. She walks to the fireplace, stokes the fire, adds another log and watches the sparks dance around the hearth. Then she picks up her knitting, moves to her own chair, and glances again at the empty chair and begins her story.
During the performance, I glanced into the audience where they were hanging on her every word. Esther Whitley brought both laughter and tears as she talked about the hardships on the frontier. When she talked about the experiences that she and her family had endured you could hear a pin drop. When the first person performance was over the crowd gave Melanie Kuntz a much deserved standing ovation.
The question and answer period that followed was a good one with pertinent questions coming from the attentive audience. And Kuntz was well prepared and handled all the questions presented to her. In addition to the information from her research, Kuntz also talked of visiting the William Whitley Home near Stanford. The home is original - the first brick home west of the Alleghenies and is part of the Kentucky Parks System.
It was a pleasure to see a first person performance of a woman from the 18th century. Men have long captured the imagination and the stories in the history books. Likewise, we have seen many great performances by men as characters from the past. But performances by women are a bit more rare. Melanie Kuntz has also performed as Anne McGinty with a performance at last year's Fireside Chats.