Rousing Patrick Henry speech highlights Nocatee patriotic celebration


Nocatee families got an early start on their Independence Day festivities last week, as The PARC Group presented a rousing patriotic celebration for the community’s residents.

Held June 30 at Crosswater Hall, the free event featured complimentary refreshments, including hamburgers and hot dogs, lemonade and ice tea, and beer and wine. A capacity crowd of all ages was welcomed by Community Manager David Ray, who introduced Shari Duval, founder of the Nocatee-based nonprofit K9s for Warriors.

After introducing service-dog-in-training Delaney to the crowd, Duval thanked The PARC Group for donating the land for K9s for Warriors’ new training facility, and Nocatee residents for supporting the nonprofit’s mission of giving veterans a “new leash on life.”

“It has just been amazing the way (Nocatee) has embraced us,” Duval said. “We thank you for allowing us to be a part of this amazing community.”

Give me liberty

Following Nocatee resident Wayne Heckrotte’s rendition of the national anthem and a brief speaking program, Jerry Cameron took to the red, white and blue-bedecked stage to deliver Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty or give me death!” speech. Henry Dean set the stage for Cameron’s performance, providing the historical context of Henry’s speech, which was delivered March 23, 1775 to the Second Virginia Convention following a decade of deteriorating relations with Great Britain.

Dressed in colonial garb and powdered wig, Cameron forcefully delivered the legendary speech which Henry gave in support of his resolution for Virginia to raise a militia and prepare to defend itself against British military aggression. It is a speech that still resonates today, as Henry alluded to those who warned him against publicly taking a position considered politically incorrect at the time.

“Should I keep back my opinions at such a time through fear of giving offense,” Henry said, “I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country….”

Cameron, as Henry, outlined the ways in which Great Britain had ignored all colonial requests for fair treatment, and noted the increased presence of British soldiers and war ships designed to intimidate colonists into submission. He also addressed those who said the colonies stood no chance against the military might of Great Britain.

“They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary,” Henry said. “But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard is stationed in every house?”

Cameron concluded his performance with Henry’s famous parting line, stating boldly, “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Cameron – who has been performing as Patrick Henry for nearly a decade – put extensive research into preparing his presentation, even traveling to Virginia, studying professional historical re-enactors and learning to mimic Henry’s actual speaking style.

“The challenge isn’t memorizing the words,” Cameron said. “It’s delivering it as Henry would have so it’s not just a recitation. I try to pause in places, just as a real person would do when they were choosing their words.”

The impact of Henry’s speech on its original audience can’t be overestimated, said Cameron. “It’s just such a magnificent speech,” he said. “He was addressing people who looked down on him and was asking them to do something that was not in their economic interest. But through his sheer power of persuasion he convinced them.”

A former police chief and city manager of Fernandina Beach, Cameron served for more than a decade as assistant county manager of St. Johns County. He is currently seeking election to the Board of County Commissioners in District 3.

Response to Cameron’s performance was enthusiastic.

“It was excellent,” said Coastal Oaks resident Colleen Porvaznik, who attended the event with husband Martin, daughter Brigid Massey and grandson Bryce Richmond.

Elsie Hayes, 3, agreed: When asked what she liked best about the performance, she replied, “All of it!”

Sheriff David Shoar, who addressed attendees during the brief speaking program, said he was pleased to see so many children in attendance.

“Sometimes I worry that when I hear the national anthem,” he said, “not everyone gets goosebumps like I do.”

District 4 County Commissioner Jay Morris echoed that sentiment. “It’s a pleasure to be with fellow patriots on the eve of our nation’s birthday,” he said. “It is my sincere hope that we all leave here today with a renewed dedication to pass on these patriotic principles to the next generation.”