By KIMEKO MCCOY
Looking at Jason Davis Jr., many would see a normal 13-year-old boy complete with tennis shoes, a graphic T-shirt and cargo shorts.
In his spare time, he goes bowling, with an average of 160, and plays outside. However, there’s something different about Davis Jr. that most people wouldn’t expect. While others his age would shudder at the thought of sitting through a history lecture, Davis Jr. just may be teaching it.
For the last few years, Davis Jr. has been re-enacting a 13-year-old soldier in the year 1740 leading the way for older soldiers at the Castillo de San Marcos.
In a plastic bag in his right hand, Davis Jr. carried the camera that ignited his interest in history and started it all.
It was a camera that was used in the early 20th century.
At about six or seven years old, Davis Jr.’s father recalls his son’s curiosity concerning the Titanic.
He saw some still photos, the father said. They were original photos he’d seen of the ship before it embarked on its maiden voyage, and he asked how the pictures were taken during that time and if the camera that took those photos was still around.
“I thought it was an unusual request, but he wanted it, and it wasn’t that expensive. That camera was probably $20. They don’t bring high amounts of money right now,” Jason Davis Sr. said, “but he thought it was great and that kind of brought him into more antiques, which led him deeper and deeper into history from there.”
To the youngster, it was almost like a time machine.
After that, his father had him do chores around the house to save his money to fund his growing interest in ancient artifacts and antiques.
Now, the youth’s family says his room could be compared to an antique shop.
“His whole room looks like an antique store. He’s got antiques everywhere, top to bottom, and all his shelves,” his father said. “He’s probably got more money in antiques than I can ever have in my pocket.”
In his room, Davis Jr. has a piece of antique furniture, a bullet mold, St. Augustine commemorative artifacts, 16 cameras from different time periods and about 130 medicine bottles.
Davis Jr.’s most prized possession is what may be the original plans to build the St. Augustine seawall.
It’s framed and everything, his father said.
Over the next couple of years, Davis Jr. found he could lend a helping hand to a few St. Augustine attractions.
He began volunteering at the Huguenot Cemetery about a year and a half ago, he said. After a while, he was invited to volunteer at the fort.
Davis Jr. said he was skeptical at first because he didn’t think they recruited anyone his age for anything. The fort had him start as a historical interpreter.
Although it was a bit of a task overcoming his fear of speaking in front of large crowds, the teenager said he found it relatively easy to start as an interpreter because he learned a lot from the cemetery.
“Before then, I learned a lot from volunteering at the cemetery,” he said, “reading all the books I had and the stories that people have to tell.”
Now, Davis Jr. is the 13-year-old re-enacting soldier who leads others into their demonstration.
Davis Jr. plays Grenadier’s March on his fife, which is the National Anthem of the Kingdom of Spain, to lead the soldiers to the demonstration. From there, the master cannon operator signals for the troupe to stop marching and the soldiers go to their stations.
The teen clears the way and then the ranger discusses what will happen next and then the cannon sounds off.
It could be said that the show literally goes out with a bang.
“It’s a blast,” he said, no pun intended.
If he could, Davis Jr. would return to that time period and set foot on the battle field with his fife just as the kid he portrays.
“I think they were raised a lot more responsible. They were given a lot of responsibility and respect for their age,” Davis Jr. said. “They taught them well, so basically a 13-year-old back then was like an 18-year-old today.”
Like father, like son
Like his father, Davis Jr. has long since had an interest in antiques and the Ancient City. Davis Sr. is into antique cars, and often picks things up for his son during his travels.
As far as time in the Ancient City, Davis Sr. has been visiting since his childhood.
“I’ve been visiting the city off and on since I was born, and my parents used to go fishing at the pier and at the lighthouse and I used to spend whatever time I could there at the old city,” Davis Sr. said.
Although Davis Jr. lives in Jacksonville with his 11-year-old sister, Sarah, and his father’s girlfriend, Samantha Laster, the family still travels to St. Augustine to be sure to get Davis Jr. to his volunteer events on time.
“For me, taking him to and from there, it’s not a big a chore as it would be for some people,” said Davis Sr., who enjoys spending time in the city anyway.
Even when they’re not in St. Augustine, they ask him questions about his subjects. Listening and being proud of him are the ways Laster says the family shows support.
“Sometimes we have six-hour days, 12-hour days, whatever, it doesn’t matter,” Laster said.
It has a lot to do with listening, she added. He’s not the average 13-year-old.
His sister said she likes what her brother does, although he encourages her to do her own thing.
“I kind of like what he does. It’s cool. He gets to stand near the fire,” she said.
Keeping history alive
Davis Jr. has some big plans for the future.
He already has worked with Chad Light, the St. Augustine actor who portrays Pedro Menendez de Aviles, for a film that will premiere on PBS.
Davis Jr. said the film was done in the middle of the night, and he had to serve Light wine for the scene.
They used real wine because they wanted Light’s reaction to the alcohol, Davis Jr. said.
“It was pretty cool.”
He also plans to continue re-enactments in the hope that the interest in St. Augustine’s history will spread to those who visit.
“I would be glad in the next 100 years that people did re-enactments of us,” Davis Jr. said. “We’re respecting them. We’re keeping their history alive, their culture alive.”
His favorite aspect of the soldier portrayal is showing everyone the real history and that it’s easy to learn.
History is important to the Davis family. St. Augustine history is particularly important.
“You go somewhere else to buy clothes and you go somewhere else to hear ghost stories, but St. Augustine is not for that,” Davis Jr. said.
While most St. Johns County students may roll their eyes on the way to history class, Davis Jr. is gearing up to hopefully give a history lesson at the 450th celebration.