“They were furnished with a complete band of music, which operates like enchantment:” Part 1

Back in March, I promised a series of posts on bands of music covering the years leading up to the American War for Independence and the war itself. Well, when I was first looking at what I had in April, I definitely had enough for a couple of postings. A lot has happened since then and I now have enough information for a honours thesis. For the purposes of this little series, we’re gonna scale it back and start at the basics. Part one of this series is going to answer one of the most common questions I get asked: What is a band of music (BoM) and how are these musicians* different from fifers and drummers?

Martial music in the 18th century usually conjures up an images of drummers and fifers but they’re only half the equation. The British, French, Hessians, and Continental Armies all had bands of music with them. Unlike the fifes and drums, these bands are playing harmoniemusik. Harmonie is German in origin, meaning an ensemble of usually 5-8 wind instruments playing music for outdoor or recreational purposes. Music composed for harmonie is called harmoniemusik.

 

J Boydell, HIS MAJESTY REVIEWING THE VOLUNTEER CORPS ASSEMBLED IN HYDE PARK June 4 1799, Artillery BOM, ASKB Military Collection

Detail, His Majesty Reviewing the Volunteer Corps Assembled in Hyde Park, 4 June, 1799, J. Boydell, ASKB Military Collection

So right off the bat, the music the bands are playing is separate from that of the fifes and drums. Bands of music are purely for recreational or ceremonial purposes unlike drums and fifes, used for military duties as well as ceremonies.

Interestingly, bands of music are not official entities within regiments and instead are a luxury. British regulations allowed for one drummer per company, two drummers for the grenadiers (other drummer could be a fifer;  a majority of regiments still recruited fifers anyways). The Continental Army’s regulations stated there was to be one drummer and one fifer per company. If a regiment were to have a BoM, it would have to come (theoretically) out of the officers’ pockets, though some snuck them in on the roll as enlisted men.

So if Bands of Music aren’t playing fifes and drums, what are they playing? Well, it varies by band. John Hancock’s elite militia unit, the Corps of Cadets, had their own band. When the instruments went missing after the Siege of Boston was lifted and the army marched out, Hancock wrote General Schuyler in September of 1776 saying that he was missing “…French horns, Bassoons & other Instruments of Musick.” Hautboys (Oboes), serpents, clarinets, and percussion instruments like the bass drum, cymbals, and jingling johnny are also common to find in returns and descriptions.

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Changing of the Guards in front of St. James Palace, Circa 1790. Note the turbans and Eastern instruments. Anything Turkish or Janissary is incredibly popular in the latter part of the 18th century. There are countless songs on fife called “Turks/Turkish March” or “Janissary’s March.” Having black musicians/fifers or drummers is also considered another showpiece for the regiment.

 

Band of Music Regiment of Guards in front of St. James Palace Circa 1790- Detail.jpg

Detail from above. Note that the band and the fifes and drums are two separate entities, not massed together.

In summary, bands of music are groups of musicians belonging to a regiment (unofficially) that play pieces vastly different than fifes and drums. They are not used for martial duty but instead for pleasure and ceremony. Their instrumentation is vastly different from their drum and fife counterparts.

In the next segment, we’ll take a look at bands of music in America before the outbreak of hostilities.

 

*For the purposes of this series, musicians will refer to members of a band of music and not drummers and fifers.

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I Lack a Title for This.

In my public history class, we spent a week on reenactors and the hobby. We read Confederates in the Attica book about Civil War reenactors. I’ve brought sewing to class (gotta get those coats done somehow) so they all know I’m one of those nerds, just the 18th century version. For those that don’t know, reenactors are portrayed in an okay light in this book, which beats media portrayal of us.

So when my classmates started asking, “Are reenactors as backwards as the times they portray?” I stopped. I said I couldn’t answer it.

I personally can’t stand seeing stuff my reenacting friends post half the time on Facebook. It’s not the “news” stories they post from sites that are obviously some bozo’s blog or pictures of reenactors reenacting 1976 rather than 1776. What grinds my gears the most are the folks stuck in 1950. More and more, it seems like people are beginning to sound like America’s sweetheart, seen below.

Now, I’m all for everybody doing what makes them happy, provided it doesn’t hurt anyone in the process or deny someone their rights. So when I hear things like women should not be the focus at military events or that they should be subservient to men at them, I vomit in my mouth a little bit. If it’s an immersion first-person event and the details have been talked about ahead of time between folks, then go right ahead, play the subservient woman. When the curtain goes down and the show’s over, 21st century standards better go back into place though. But I’ll be damned if a woman does a curtsy to an officer when 10/10 times, the men at arms aren’t passing the proper renders, either.

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Von Steuben, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, a 1792 edition

And who says women’s roles can’t be highlighted at military events? Some sites, like Fort Ticonderoga, the Rhode Island Historical Society, and countless other sites, organisations, and reenacting groups I can’t name off the tip of my tongue or am just unaware of, are bringing the daily lives of the often nameless and detail-less women to life there. The mundane is fun. Not everyday the army went out and shot at things. They’re spending most of their time drilling, attending an insane amount of assemblies, and at the sutlers. Some may say, “The number of women at events isn’t correct.” Well, neither is the number of old and overweight men let alone what and how the men reenact it.

To top it all off, anybody that tries to counter the arguments of the majority is ganged up on almost immediately. They’re attacked like they just announced they murdered 10 babies.

They’re told now’s not the time. 

They’re told it’s not really a problem.

They’re told they’re whining.

They’re told to silence themselves.

Is this not tyranny by majority? Aren’t we just behaving like those against the 19th Amendment, and countless other women’s rights bills in the 19th century world? More importantly, how the hell do we solve the issues if we can’t even have a civilised discussion about them and instead press the caps lock key and just key-smash?

 

 

The Les Misérables Coat

As mentioned in the last post, a new coat has been made! Because everything I make gets named, (the blue suit is fondly known as Cookie Monster) this coat needed one. It got its name for a variety of reasons:

  1. In Les Misérables, there is a song titled Red and Black, the colours of this coat.
  2. The coat is a 1777 French Contract Coat and therefore needed a French name.
  3. In time, this coat would come to have some miserable moments of its own.

But lets go back to the how the coat started. The idea came up a few days after the Trenton Death March of 2015. With feet still swollen and unable to walk right, my friend who is fondly called The Don or Sugah Daddy here in Rogues Island, contacted me and another drummer discussing how we kicked some butt at Trenton and with this little piece of documentation:

Boston Gazette, Feb 1, 1777

Boston Gazette. February 1st, 1777.

At my very first camping event at Saratoga National Historical Park, I picked up a print of an American drummer based off of that description and it hangs prominently in my room. So when asked if we’d be willing to recreate the look for Fort Ticonderoga’s Carry on the Works in the Northern Army and Defiance and Independence, you bet your bottom dollar we pounced on it.

At first sight, this looks like one hell of an expensive drummer/fifer’s kit. Leather breeches will run you about $800 to get them sewn. Wool, buttons, beaver hats, and where the hell do you get white shoes? After discussion, James Wier was probably the Drum Major for Colonel Bradford’s 14th Regiment which explains the fancy clothes. Our drummer will donning it all except for the white shoes while I will be in the Les Misérables coat and beaver hat.

And now we delve into the process.

Step 1: Get the pattern. Where else would I go except right to the source? Our Girl History hooked me up with a pattern after I gave her my measurements. It came the same day I passed my PRAXIS: CORE test so I was in a good mood. I got right to cutting it out.

No address photo

I seriously can’t shake this nickname.

Step 2: Make a muslin draft. Muslin is a cheap-arse, polyester linen suitable (in my opinion, even for modern items) for making drafts or workable patterns and only that. Because I had so little red wool (and it was donated), numerous sources advised me to do this. Measure twice, cut once. It’s a good thing I made the draft because Uncle Hank had to rework the front and the arm holes to get the coat to lay correctly. If we had just chopped into the wool, I would’ve been doomed.

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Lacking a real sewing table, all my cutting is done on the floor in my living room.

Step 3: Cut the wool. This was one heck of a challenge. We had about 2 yards of scarlet to work with and about the same in black. It took about 30 minutes of maneuvering the pattern pieces to decide how to get the pieces to fit while keeping the nap the same.What we ultimately had to do was piece a couple of pieces, a process I’ll explain in a few steps.

Step 4: Get the rest of the supplies. I needed buttons and we had a debate on what to do for them. Numbered buttons was a thought but after talking with The Don, he said that the Continental Army was going through a renumbering process at this point so we should steer clear of them to air on the side of caution. Then there was the question: Pewter or brass? Ultimately, the choice was up to me. I decided brass would look good on the black. Unbleached linen thread, 1/4″ dutch linen tape, 30 one inch plain brass, and a single 3/4″ plain brass was all I needed to get.

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the 1777 French Contract Coatee. Ignore my sporadic notes.

Step 5: Assemble sleeves. First, I pinned the sleeves together and backstitched them. Then came the cuffs. I sewed the seam together then pinned them on to the sleeve. Once pinned, a space backstitch was used to attach them to the sleeve. Safely backstiched, the part that got folded under was whipped to the inside.

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Cuffs pinned in; making sure that the cuff point lines up with the inside seam on the sleeve.

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Pointed cuffs are nifty. Spaced backstitched in and awaiting to be whipped.

Step 6: Take care of piecing. Like I said, this coat needed some extra work. Uncle Hank decided that the best places were to piece were the tails on the back panels and in the shoulders. That involved not cutting part of the back panel and then cutting the piece we didn’t cut out of scrap wool. Once I had the pieces, I pinned them to where they belonged and whip-stitched the sucker on to the back tails. After whipping, they were pressed open, just like any other seam. The other pieces were tiny triangles that are where the top of the shoulder and sleeve meet. They were also whipped into place and pressed.

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Piecing pinned in

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Piecing after being whipped

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Back panel tail with piecing opened but not pressed yet

Step 7: Interfacing. Most coats feature some sort of interfacing. Buckram, a stiff linen, is commonly used to keep the coat’s shape. I applied it with a zig-zag stitch to the front bodies. It didn’t matter if my stitches showed through to the other side because the facing would cover them.

Step 8: Facings. The Les Misérables needed the black to its red. The facings were applied by taking the black lapels and laying them on the body, making sure about an inch was left be folded to the inside. Once pinned, a spaced backstitch was used to attach them and then the folded over portion was whipped to the inside.

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Facing featuring the spaced bakstitch.

Step 9: Buttons. Normally, I would dread this part. Putting 18 buttons on the facings for most coats would mean 18 buttonholes. Fortunately, this coat doesn’t do that! They only get stabbed in because the facings are non-functioning, meaning they’re sewed down. So I took the pattern that had places for the buttons pre-marked and stabbed holes using an awl. Once the holes were made, I strung the dutch linen tape through the shanks of the buttons. All the while, I pinned down the tape so it didn’t shift as I worked the other buttons. After they were all corded in, I whipped both sides of that tape down to the panel so they wouldn’t move.

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30 freshly polished brass buttons awaiting their coat.

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When I cord, I pull my cord through to the front, push it through the button’s shank, then back through the hole it came through. Saves me time and frustration trying to do it on the inside of the coat.

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Pinning as I go along to prevent the tape from moving.

Step 10: Pocket flaps. The contract coat features false vertical pocket flaps. Très Français. The edge facing the lapels gets folded under to give the illusion of a functional flap and is whipped down. The rest of the edges uses a spaced backstitch. Three buttons are attached in the same process as Step 9 near the points of the pocket flap.

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Completed pocket flap on the front panel.

Step 11: Linings. You would think this would be one of the last steps but by putting in the linings on each panel before sewing them up, it makes life so much easier in the end. This coat is only half lined. Saves money and makes my life slightly easier. They get applied and fell stitched down to the body while trying to avoid stitches showing through to the other side. This took some practice and a lot of cutting and re-stitching.

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The fell stitch

Step 12: Stitching the panels. The moment we’ve all been waiting for! Where the coat goes from random things of wool to a garment! A back stitch with a 1/4″ seam allowance did the trick.

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Step 13: Collar. This is where all hell broke loose and the Les Misérables coat earned its name. At this step, I realised two things: I only had an upper collar cut and that upper was too small. So, I first enlarged the upper about an inch and a half in length but not before I had cut an under collar from some scrap scarlet wool using the old small collar pattern. So the under collar I cut was too short and I didn’t have enough red to cut a new one. Time to piece it! Some hunks of red scrap did the trick…sort of. But nobody has to see that and I can just blame those pesky French contractors for bad sewing. So the under collar, piecing and all, went on and then the upper collar was stitched on using that spaced backstitch and whipping it down to the panel.

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This got ugly real fast.

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Step 14: Sleeves. These also proved tricky. I always have problems with sleeves and getting it so they don’t create bubbles in the panels. Well, I very nicely backstitched one sleeve in and had that problem so I had to cut it out. Frustrated, I turned to Low Spark for help who graciously sat with me for 3 hours and pinned the sleeves in as I tried it on about 7 or 8 times to get the fit just right. After that, everything was back on track and I essentially had a coat.

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Shoulder strap built into the left sleeve

Step 15: Pleating. In the tail section, pleating had to be done to give the coat the right look. Those tail pieces we worked so hard on, get covered up. Any tailor lacking wool would have done the same and ultimately, the client would not have wanted to see it. I was a little bummed that the main chunks got hidden but there’s still those tiny triangles in the shoulder. After I pinned it, Uncle Hank gave his approval and a few stab stitches to secure the pleats sealed the deal.

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You can no longer see the piecing and the coat now sports two shiny brass buttons.

Step 16: Final lining stitching. The lining in the front and back panels gets joined up to create one “super lining” in the coat. The parts left un-stitched get folded on to each other and a whip stitch finalises the whole process. The turn backs at the front of the coat are also stab stitched into place at this step.

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Front panel lining and back panel lining meeting point

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The final stitch!

And there we have it! A finished coat in all its glory! I’m really happy with how it came out and had a lot of fun (for the most part) making it. A couple new stitches were learned and I finally have my very first drummer/fifer-specific coat to call my own. It will be making its soft opening this weekend at a local event to see if any stitches start to tear and to break the coat in but its grand debut will be at Carry on the Works, which is looking to be an amazing event!

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I Blog as Often as George III’s forces in America Trooped Their Colours on Campaign

Well, if I really blogged as often as England’s forces trooped their colours on campaign, you’d never see a post. That’s beside the point.

As my readers may notice, I’m notorious for taking long leaves of absences in between events or projects. I swear, stuff is going to happen but just to give a small taste of what’s been up:

1. There’s gonna be some (dare I say) nifty posts on Bands of Music. This will probably be a series of posts covering the years leading up to the American War for Independence and the war itself. Expect some parties, fireworks, and funerals. Not in that order.

Pennsylvania Evening Post, published as The Pennsylvania Evening Post (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) • 02-02-1775 • Page 19

The Pennsylvania Evening Post. (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.) 02-02-1775. Page 19.

2. A new coat has been sewn! This one didn’t take a year and a half to finish like the blue suit; only a month. I’ve dubbed it the Les Misérables coat (For reasons to be discussed) and it’s been kept a secret except for a few individuals that helped the project come to life. Not that the coat is anything amazing, I just wanted to do a post that showed the process from start to finish and I promised myself no progress posts this time.

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One front panel ready to rock and roll

3. To continue with the theme of music, a two-part posting on drummers and fifers through desertion and recruitment ads is planned.

[THE] Freeman's Journal, OR New-Hampshire Gazette. (Portsmouth, New Hampshire) • 09-07-1776 • Page [4]

The Freeman’s Journal, OR New-Hampshire Gazette. (Portsmouth, New Hampshire.) 09-07-1776. Page 4.

4. To top it all off, I’ll be venturing up to Fort Ticonderoga for their opening weekend where the Les Misérables coat will make its grand premiere at “Carry on the Works in the Northern Army.” Expect a post on the bad-arsery of this event and the amazement as I see the place for the 1st time.

Stuff will get done, just not until school ends. With the end of the semester approaching, a paper on causes of the Russo-Japanese War and a critical book review of the Memoirs of Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun take precedent over sewing and yes, blog posts. Definitely expect #2 in the first half of April before things get too crazy.

Until then kids, I am Your Humble & Obedient Servant,

Mr. Hiwell

Boston Massacre 2016, or, The Biggest History Hard On. Ever.

With my voice finally on the mends from Saturday and some deep thinking complete, I can finally write about my Massacre experience.

The night and the early hours of the morning before, I found myself making a brown waistcoat out of an old garment. I took the sleeves off my Stamp Act 2014 coat and it made a lovely late 60s/early 70s waistcoat.

Waking up was painful at 8:00 AM after finishing the garment and other prep around 2:00 AM but I put on my big boy breeches, had a coffee, and got ready to go with Miss Miggins and Low Spark.

The day began in Rogues Island, attempting to give Low Spark some sort of hair. Alas, my efforts failed as my wig just wouldn’t behave and his hat was too small. Miss Miggins frantically tried to sew a new gown to get rid of the bedgown but alas, time was not on our side.

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The Tool(s) of the Trade

We arrived in Boston on time and with little stress. (Besides my panicking as navigator in the car.) Rehearsal was at 1:00 and it was comforting to arrive on sight and see other funny dressed people. Besides Trenton, this was my “coming out” to Boston Society, the elite of the elites. The Original Gangsters, if you will.

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See? We can get along!!

Rehearsal was quick and painless and only left my voice slightly raspy. We then moved on to what reenactors do best: eat and drink. Lunch was at the Union Oyster House where we drank to the health of the “Glorious 92” and John Wilkes.

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Photo Credit to Tim Abbot

We then made our way to the Granary Burying Ground to pay our respects to those who died in the Boston Massacre. With tobacco left on their stone, it was time to recreate the Rope Walker Brawls which started on March 2nd. First thing we were told was not to take the hats of the redcoats. We never took them but it seems they all fell off once we started beating on them. (You can view part of it here. WARNING: Not safe for work language thanks to some drunken people watching)

After that, we had time for one more drink at a Boston institution. When I think of bars any self respecting Bostonian would go to, it was this one. That’s right reader, you bet your bottom dollar we went to Cheers! And not even the original but the cheesy one in Faneuil Hall. It was the only place we could get a spot in and kill some time before we had to report back to the Old State House. (Here on out the Towne House.)

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Photo credit to Tim Abbot

We got to the Towne House and got a little talk about thanking us for coming and all the usual things. In the mean time, we got to look at John Hancock’s very lovely velvet suit and explore the museum which I had been dying to see for awhile now.

As night fell, the feeling began to change. A large crowd had gathered outside about an hour and a half before 7:00. Night also gave us an added challenge: Why am I outside? I came up with an excuse that my master kept me out late running an errand for him and I was on my way home. Women had a harder time, which ultimately lead to me escorting two women on my arms at once across the square and another one back over. I was getting some major street cred in Boston. There was also some time for some public interaction. Thanks to some book suggestions from a very nice hat maker, I was armed with some knowledge on sea captain’s apprentices did.

7:00 came around and the show got rolling. The begging starts off a little corny. The context had to be established for the audience, I get it. But public debates at night and on the street just doesn’t make sense to me. But when it came time to beat up our dear friend and honourary Rhode Island Contingent member, who lacks a nickname but shall be known in this post as Lobstah, stuff got real.

Words cannot describe what happened or what I felt in the 10 minutes or so that I was a part of this. There was a hell of a lot of screaming and pushing. When the muskets went off, I felt scared. But when I dropped and began to let out my screams, things felt real. The terror on the faces around me felt real. I actually thought for a split second that I had been hit judging by the look of the people standing over me. I’m going to let the next two videos show what I went through, if only part of it, since words are lacking. Maybe you’ll feel the same emotions I felt.

 

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Photo Credit to Stowe Minutemen

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Photo credit to Tommy Trignale

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Photo credit to Greg Theberge

I may say this a lot but this IS the finest collection of reenactors ever assembled. Period.

Making a Massacre: Preparations for A Crotch Shot

In a little over a week, I’ll be participating in the annual reenactment of the Boston Massacre. This has been 8 years in the planning for me. Well, more like a month but it’s been a dream of mine for 8 years. This is looking to be the most challenging event I’ve taken a part of for a variety of reasons. High authenticity levels, complex characters, and school life has created a deadly concoction these past few weeks. In between sewing clothes and researching who I’m portraying, I’m forced to read thousands of pages for my classes and prepare for midterms, which are conveniently placed the week of the event. This has left me with WAY less time to prepare than I’d like. For somebody who’s done oodles more character development than me, check out my dear friend Tim Abbot.

Skip to 10:40 for the good stuff.

I’ll be portraying John Clark (Clarke) the day of. I didn’t expect to get an actual role my first time going so this is a pretty big honour. Unfortunately, John Clark has been a bit of a mystery to me. No doubt, there are probably more things about him in print but thanks to school, I’ve been trapped at home and only have internet access for research.

So what do we know?

  1. He was born 10 June, 1752 and died 6 May, 1778 in Medford, Massachusetts.
  2. He is the son of John and Mary Clark.
  3. He has a twin sister named Mary. (Obviously, his parents weren’t really original with names.) John Clark Birth Record MA Town and Vital Records Medford
  4. We have the following from the Boston Gazette on 12 March, 1770:

A lad named John Clark, about 17 years of age, whose parents live at Medford, and an apprentice to Capt. Samuel Howard of this town; wounded, a ball entered just above his groin and came out at his hip, on the opposite side, apprehended he will die.

That little snip-it gives us a nice chunk of info but not enough. Now we know his trade: a captain’s apprentice. Everyone thought he was gonna die, but he didn’t…well…just not right away. Did he die like his fellow massacre victim Christopher Monk many years later because of his wound?  We don’t know.

But what about his master? This has been a HUGE pain in the arse for me. Samuel Howard isn’t exactly the most unique name and finding stuff on him has been impossible for me. At first, I was advised to look at a Samuel Howard born in 1752. This guy would later take part in the Boston Tea party. Obviously 1752 is a bit young to be a master, it’d make him the same age as John Clark. As we’ve seen, passing down names is a pretty common thing in the 18th century so maybe Samuel Howard could lead us to the right guy. Well, it didn’t. And any search for Samuel Howard brings us right on back to the Tea Party Howard. For the time being, this is a dead end.

We are left with a 17 year old captain’s apprentice and that’s about it. On one hand, I’m frustrated with myself for not being able to go further but passing the semester is slightly more important than one day. On the other, I desperately want to do a good job and getting nowhere provides a sense of failure. Once spring break begins next Wednesday for me, I’ll be kicking it into high gear to put 10 fake buttonholes on a coat and trying to fill some last minute gaps in John Clark’s story. Until then, here’s a sneak peek at what he’ll be wearing, give-or-take blonde hair and either a striped blue and white waistcoat or a solid blue waistcoat. And of course, without the ATM.

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“Massacre the History?” A Brief Perspective from a Caucasian Male

Source: Massacre the History?

First and foremost, if you haven’t taken the time to check out Our Girl History, do so now. Her blog is beyond better than mine can ever hope to be.

But recently, a discussion started over this post. Though Our Girl History (OGH) uses the Boston Massacre event as her example; make no mistake, she references a larger issue in the hobby.

I’m fortunate, both in my modern life and my 18th century life, to be a white male. When looking at 18th century events, military or civilian, you can almost guarantee that a white, 20 year old male was present. So I’m pretty much game to show up to anything.

But looking at the Boston Massacre, there’s only two documentable women present in the “inner mob” (Those closest to the soldiers). The organisers of this event have put SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much research into this that most academic historians could take a lesson from these people on how to do primary source research and put it to use. Our dear Aunt Kitty once said to me, to paraphrase, that just because children and families like coming to reenactments doesn’t mean it has to be dumbed down. A good impression or event can and should be just as researched and nuanced as any scholarly writing.

OGH isn’t here to pick on the event. She’s looking at the gender divides in the 18th century and how by modern standards, they suck. Thanks to Title IX and numerous other efforts that are lengthy to write out in this post, women no longer have to be kept out of what was considered a “boys only club.” Nor should they have to be.

But when we portray 1770, Title IX doesn’t exist and neither do all the feminist achievements of the 19th and 20th centuries. Instead, we’re left with a heavily gendered world where men play their roles and women play theirs.

Having to exclude someone just because of their gender goes against everything I and a large chunk of the population have been taught. But to our 18th century counterparts, this is nothing new to them. It hurts our 21st century selves to not be able to take part in something in the 21st century because 18th century gender roles say so.

OGH brings up a really big point:

I want to help recreate the events faithfully, but to do that, I should really just stay home.**

I come up against this problem a lot, and it bothers me. A lot. There is a part of me that thinks, “to hell with it. Would it hurt to re-write things a little to depict a slightly fairer past?” and there is another part, of equal size, that thinks the idea of falsifying history for some theoretical, ideological “good” is morally reprehensible. I do not know the solution, I just know that sitting at home, wondering “how the boys are getting along at the event” feels like crap, and so does standing around at the event explaining how “as a woman, I probably would not have actually been here”.

I crave a solution where I have a sense of ownership over the parts of my history that my culture values. However, since those parts tend to be dominated by male figures, I fear I may need to get used to disappointment…

**Don’t worry, I’m not going to. (I’ve lucked out and have a documented “part” to play.)

At what point do we forsake authenticity to appease our 21st century selves? Some may say let the women dress as men to participate. Others may lobby just let the women come in and we ignore it all together. Some say keep to the documentation. Like OGH says, there is no easy answer whatsoever. It ultimately depends upon the person you ask and what time of day it is. The topic is similar to politics. Every reenactor has an opinion on it and no matter how much you argue or how right you think you are, the other person isn’t going to change their views.

On one hand, I can never fully understand how women feel about the issue. This blog post is only me trying to scratch the surface of the surface at the larger issue. On the other, the discussion posts like the one made by OGH start lead to some really big eye openers, for me anyways.

The Boston Massacre has been my dream for a long time. Ever since I got into the hobby 8 years ago, I wanted to take part. At first I never had the right clothing and on top of that, the standards are high. But this is one of the events that inspired me to up my game so I can be a part of it. In no way are the organisers of the event trying to be purposefully exclusive to women. They’ve planned countless activities for the bulk of the day in which women are welcome to attend and take part in. I can’t say I know much about how this event is run and I can only try to imagine how much work has been put into it. From what I’ve seen just from pictures and internet contact, this is the most well planned, well documented, and highest standard event I will ever take part in.

 

 

L’idée Réelle

Trenton seems to have been a turning point for a lot of us. A little over a year ago on December 21st, when I left my former British regiment, I was told by the man in charge that I “won’t last a year with them (the progressives)” and “that you’ll be begging me to come back.” Well, here I am a year later and Trenton has cemented my place in this side of the hobby. It provided the group and I with the “history hard-on” (As I’m now calling it) that we seek to get from any event we go to. Isn’t that the purpose of doing this stuff anyways?

In between the silly songs and bad jokes on the march, we did have some deep discussion. For a sleep deprived, hungry, thirsty, and in pain group, we were pretty alert and philosophical. We crossed the bridge at Washington’s Crossing around what I assume was about 6:00 AM after a very brisk 5 miles. On the bridge, we were discussing our favourite fife and drum songs and roles of musicians. As we got off, that same French sailor who coined the term “history hard-on” asked me, “What’s your idée réelle (real idea)?” This threw me off. I was tired, hungry, and not quite sure if he was having a stroke as the sound of French at that time of day can do that to you. I asked him to put it in simpleton terms for me and he asked, “If you could sum up everything you want a visitor to know in one sentence, what would it be?”

I had to stop and think. I didn’t really have a good answer at this point. There are so many things about musicians I want visitors to walk away with since often times they come to battles with misconceptions of 12 year old boys banging on the drums and just looking cute. After a few moments of silence, I replied,  “I want them to know that musicians aren’t weak.”

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After all, I was portraying a fifer who was probably about 15 at the time. The young man gets handed a musket and told he’s going into battle with the rest of the company. He’s just as cold and miserable as the rest of the army.

A lot of guests come to these reenactments with that image of a young drummer boy that comes from the Spirit of ’76 and countless other films and T.V. shows. The average age of musicians in the Continental Army is about 19-20. (See John Rees’ article “The Music of the Army Part 1 and Part 2) Guests think the drummers and fifers just stand behind the line and bang out useless sounds. But we know they’re doing WAY more than that. If they’re not fighting in battle, they’re playing some commands, they’re carrying dead and wounded back, and they’re assisting the surgeon. 

After I gave my on-the-spot idée réelle, I realised I wasn’t satisfied with it. Maybe it was because the French sailor who asked the question kind of stayed silent for a bit and then tried to lead me, through question, to a better answer. Alas, I was unable to do so in the time it took for topics to change. This question haunted me the 10 miles left we had in the march.

When I go out, what do I want the public to go away with? I finally figured out my idée réelle: This sucks. Life in the military is in no way fun. We may go out and play war on the weekends but the guys who marched marches like I did every day were probably not there for shits and giggles. They were hungry, cold, poorly clad, and lacked every creature comfort they knew. And if I can demonstrate that this sucks to visitors, then I’m happy.

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Photo credit to Dragoon Photography

As a musician, we are the signals for when the men do stuff. When the men heard a drum call, they probably weren’t all “Oh boy! We get to assemble because that means it’s time to burn powder!” They probably were more along of the lines of, “I may die in the next hour.” Musicians witnessed every hardship the common soldier witnessed yet I have guests ask me if because of the fancy uniform I get to eat with the officers or even “ride in the wagons.” (Lady, in my dreams.) Musicians walked like everyone else and ate in messes like everyone else.

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At about 10 miles into the march, the corporal, Vanilla Bean Latte, and Low Spark and I were straggling behind. The corporal said to me, “Ya know, I’m getting real tired of this fake army bullshit. I like to sew cool clothes and look good in them but this is ridiculous.” Maybe it was the pain in our feet talking or that we hadn’t had a break in a long time and our stockings were filling with blood. But in a sense, Aunt Kitty and I have had this talk on countless occasions and many others are in accord with us. Civilian events seem to be where it’s at.

But we’ve also discussed how to make Gun Shows better for everyone involved. And making them better lines up with the whole this sucks theme. I lucked out and avoided the extreme 6  hours of drilling the men did the day before marching. But that was what army life was. It’s not building your dining fly and sitting around drinking Sam Adams with the rest of the guys. It’s wanting to cringe when the officer yells “Fall in!” and the rest of the commands.

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Do these faces look like they’re having fun when the officer is yelling commands?

This doesn’t mean we can’t have fun doing it. And I can totally see how not everyone wants to do this. It takes a real insane person to give up their weekends to drill 6 hours then march 15 miles and mess up your feet for 4 days afterwards. There has to be a middle sometimes and this where you need units that have the comforts of a dining fly and Sam Adams.

I like to think I accomplished a lot this past year in my reenacting career. I left a unit and joined a new one. I’ve made some incredible friends who have a like mind in regards to authenticity. I did some not-so-great events that taught me a lot about what kind of events I do want to attend. I improved my sewing skills (kind of) thanks to a few garments and thousands of errors.

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2016 has some really interesting events lined up along with some secret garments I’ll be spilling the beans about later on once we get under way with them. For now, my hint will come from a Les Misérables song that not only nails the colour scheme, but sums the year up nicely: “Red, a world about to dawn. Black, the night that ends at last.”

“Can you give me a history hard-on…?”, or, Trenton 2015

I’ve always said it takes a special kind of person to want to reenact. To want to sew out of date clothing, wear it, then let random people take pictures of you in it requires something that most people lack. But to agree to a 14 mile march, this takes some sort of mental deficiency.

The story of Trenton, for me, goes back to October when I went to Germantown, PA for a battle. Upon visiting with one of my favourite regiments, the 3rd New Jersey Greys, the good sergeant mentioned to Low Spark and I that they were planning on following Washington’s route and do a progressive camp. We were immediately intrigued and decided we’d do it.

The next two months saw two training missions. One Low Spark and I did by ourselves which was about 7 miles, or half the distance we needed. We did pretty well with that and only ached at the end for a few hours after. The other one was done in conjunction with our Aunt Kitty. This one ended up being about 8-8.5 miles after a couple of wrong turns on the trail but was done at a force march tempo the whole way due to Aunt Kitty aka Captain Sobel’s long legs.

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A week before the event, musicians and their roles were being discussed on the Facebook group for the event. I completely forgot about a fifer named John Greenwood’s account of Trenton. In it, he mentions how he gets armed with a musket for the battle and at the end, he even grabs a sword off of a dead Hessian. On one hand, I had absolutely no desire to carry a musket 14 miles. In fact, for about 30 minutes after remembering this account, I contemplated dropping out of the march altogether. But then I remembered, I wrote a rather heavy post berating the state of music in the hobby. If I am to critique the portrayal of musicians and then go about incorrectly portraying a documented account for an event, I would become everything I preached against. I decided to do it and experience what this fifer went through so I could better understand what a musician went through.

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Fifer John Greenwood, complete with musket, cartridge box, fife case, and Hessian sword.

So, here we are, at the present. Low Spark and I have now done two marches that kind of sort of prepared us for Trenton. We set out the morning after Christmas around 8:30. We took the dreaded I-95 through CT with relative ease and then passed through a land filled with strip malls in New Jersey. We arrived at the Thompson-Neely House around 1:30 and were greeted by the ladies of the Greys. The site is really amazing. The Delaware River was right along side our camp and the canal trail nearby was gorgeous. There was very little modern amenities near us which provided a huge boost to the immersion factor of the event.

The camp was kept simple, only a fire and some tin kettles. In one was a beef stew with the other containing some rice and beans. The ladies made some fire cakes consisting of flour and water which were a billion times better than my ship biscuits I made from the same ingredients. There was even some bacon but that was for the officer and to eat would land you in deep water. But I was the one who cooked a large chunk of it so I placed a piece between two fire cakes and made a bacon sandwich which tasted really good.

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The brave ladies of the Greys with their patented Bacon Tree!

The men drilled for a bit while I watched the fire and cooked our ensign some bacon. I was going to rejoin the company once the ladies returned to watch the fire but I was called off to prepare for the ball that evening.

I’ll skip over the details of the ball simply because it was nothing amazing. At all. Though I did look incredibly French in a powdered wig and makeup.

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Perhaps the only photo of me at the ball. Taken before a dance that involved so much spinning, I felt a tad nauseous at the end.

I arrived back at camp, depowdered and bummy once again, around 9:45. The drummer and I played the taptoo and off to bed we went on hay and a blanket with everyone around the fire. Just as I closed my eyes, rain started to fall. I quickly went to move the guns and my sheet music into the car. Since it was raining, I figured I’d take a seat and rest my eyes for 5 minutes in the car until it passed. Turns out, that 5 minutes turned into about 4 hours and at 3:30, I was woken up by Low Spark and told to get moving. Fortunately for me, it seemed I was the only one who got any sleep whatsoever.

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What the camp would have looked like at 3:30 AM provided there was sun light.

I fell in with the company, in the pitch black at 3:50 AM. I was placed at the rear of the line. The march began for me on an ominous note. Just as we were about to hit the trail, my stocking began to fall down. I quickly undid the buttons near my knee to fix it but my knee buckle fell off. I fell out of line and attempted to scramble in the pitch black fog to find it. The column zoomed ahead without me and I could no longer see them. I gave up on my buckle and ran ahead with my stocking at my ankle. Fortunately for me, I remembered I threw an extra pair into my market wallet before we left just in case of an emergency. My dear friend Vanilla Bean Latte attempted to fix them but it was impossible to see and the column was moving all too quick. I marched the first 5 miles, which were done at an incredible 120-130 beat per minute forced march, with my stocking at my ankle.

These first 5 miles were some of my most immersive moments the whole march. It was dark along the canal route and all I could see was the men in front of me and the Delaware on the left. The fog added a level of mystery to it all and the spirits were high, like Greenwood mentioned in his account.

The first break was taken at Washington’s Crossing site where I was FINALLY able to bring my stocking back to where it belonged. I’m happy to report I had no other issues with them the rest of the march. While there, a certain French sailor mentioned to me about Greenwood’s account. He said, “Can you give me a history hard-on by taking a Hessian sword?” I then decided from that moment on, I had to fulfill the Greenwood prophecy.

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The mist was so bad that the flash captured it all. This was right after we crossed the Delaware (via bridge)

The march continued on. Up until that point, we had been on dirt paths and we were fresh out so things were great. We were all in good spirits and were traveling ahead of schedule. But then, we switched to paved roads and this is where all hell broke loose. Feet began to hurt, blisters formed, people began to drop. Our speed decreased drastically while our complaining increased.

With breaks few and far between, the company morale began to decrease but we all kept plugging along. With many feet bleeding, it lead one soldier to proclaim, “It hurts so good!” And to think, we all had shoes and the temperature was probably in the upper 50’s with some fog and heavy mist. Imagine if we did this in a raging snow, hail, and rain storm and no shoes.

We plugged along though and I remained with the column. We came to the conclusion that our officer took cocaine or some sort of drug since he was always about half a mile ahead of us and never complained once the whole way.

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Our corporal is quite the rebel. We may have entered a private country club just to walk on the grass because our feet ached that bad.

After awhile, the pain just became normal and we learned to live with it. We began to sing songs like the theme from Mickey Mouse Club and tell jokes that never end and have no punch lines. All the while, begging for the Sunoco gas station to appear because that meant we were going back on dirt roads. But before getting there, we passed by the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. Many of us were convinced we would be told to left wheel in since we were obviously crazy for making it this far.

The gas station came and we climbed up a large hill and met up with another unit doing a 10 mile march. With combined forces and spirits renewed by the prospect of being so close (and the sergeant passing around a bottle of extra strength Tylenol) we continued on at a quicker pace.

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One last break before the final push to the end.

The last 2.5 miles went by quickly. I had forgotten about my massive blisters and aching legs and wanted to get to the end so I could finally sit down.

When we finally arrived at the monument, we all collapsed. I was ecstatic that I and the rest of gang made it. To celebrate, the drummer and I broke out the instruments and decided to play a few tunes to pass the well deserved hour rest until the battle.

The battle was nothing too amazing either. It was some street fighting in a modern setting. The coolest part came at the end when our company of militia decided we would capture the Hessians. The same French sailor decided he wanted a mitre cap and I still needed my sword. We formed a circle and captured about 30 of them. Two tried to run but I and another gave chase and got them back in with the rest. I grabbed my sword and wore it with pride. The drummer and I took to the front of the column and Rogues March’ed them down to the Old Barracks.

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Complete with my captured sword, we picked up a few extra souvenirs to take home.

As I’ve stated on other sites, this event was the best event I’ve ever attended. It combined everything I love: site based, time based, and a touch of first person interpretation. It was researched by others and we combined our efforts in order to make it the best we could. The bond we had formed by the end of the death march was incredible. As I type this post, my body aches from my shoulders down but if I was asked to do it all again, I’d say yes. If you had asked me yesterday, it would have been hell no.

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Some of the best bunch of guys this hobby’s ever seen. And then there’s moi.

Boston Tea Party, or, La Ville de Déception

Last night, members of the RI contingent headed up to Boston for the annual reenactment of the tossing of the tea into the harbour. After doing the research on Garrick, I found a website where I could search apprentices in Colonial America based on trade and town. I found a lesser known wig maker in Boston named Richard Carpenter with an apprentice named James Melvin. Not wanting to take on a character such as Garrick, Melvin became my alias for the evening.

We arrived at the Old South Meeting House a little after 4:00 thanks to traffic and some parking garage mess ups. (We may have tried to enter a secure Federal parking garage but the security attendant was very nice.) Low Spark and Miss Miggins got jobs assigned to them but fortunately for me, the people in charge seemed to have forgot I was coming and didn’t assign me anything to do! I had the leisure of lounging around and doing things as I pleased.

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Mr. Melvin provided a double curled wig for Mr. Copley during the evening.

We had friends there but for the most part, this was a crowd I hadn’t seen before. I kind of knew what I was getting into. The script for the reenactment read a little hokey. I had seen pictures of previous years and the clothing left a little to be desired.

The clothing, I think, was the worst part. Mr. Hancock and Mr. Savage looked spectacular. Low Spark in the borrowed rugg coat also made an impression. There were definitely many more highlights but there was some horrendous mountain men there. I have never seen so many sets of full length gaiters in my life. Not even at military events. So why are civilians in Boston wearing them? I didn’t ask for my own sanity.

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Big hair, silk suits, and rugg coats. Who could ask for anything more?

 

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One of the members of the 10th Mass Light Infantry as John Hancock. The suit is amazing, but the greatcoat he came with, even better.

The women really raised the bar though. Stays were worn and the impressions were really different. Come to think of it, I don’t think I saw one set of sleeveless bodices the whole night. Miss Miggins sold second hand clothing while another sold ginger biscuits and drams of gin. Surprisingly, the gin was ACTUALLY gin.

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The second hand clothing lady chatting with the gin and biscuit lady.

But back to the meeting. The hokey script sounded better live than reading it. Despite my intent on being a patriot for the night, it seemed I resorted back to my loyalist ways in order to support the outnumbered crown supporters. There were a few times Mr. Copley and I got really into it and I forgot we were in the 21st century, despite the hoard of tourists surrounding me and the mountain man in my pew.

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You can just make me out next to Mr. Copley in the red, standing and yelling.

But after the surprisingly good meeting, we marched to ships. My arch nemesis waited for me outside: three fife and drum corps. Full on, continental army coat wearing, two-piece fifes, 19th century song playing fife and drum corps. But this is not the post to complain about that in.

We strolled from the Meeting House to the ships. This is where it all went down the drain, or dare I say, into the harbour. Organisation was kind of lacking. The reenactors were told to go to one place, told to back up, go forward, back up, and then finally to stay put. The script got even worse here and the historical inaccuracies came flying out of the cargo hold. They dumped tea for what felt like a good 30 minutes. It got so long and monotonous they lost the audience and they stopped cheering. I know, the folks paid good money so you want to give them a show, but don’t give them a boring one. Not only that, you couldn’t see anything from just about any vantage point. I instead stared at the back of a mountain man’s haversack and ignored this part.

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Yeah…I wasn’t joking. Literally the only time I could see the ship.

The event ended with a neat little reception. They had tea with leaves from the same province in China that was on the ships that night. If the tea in the 18th century tasted anything like what was in those kettles, it’s a good thing they dumped it. I thought it tasted like smoke from a fire. Miss Miggins said it reminded her of sweaty petticoats. Mac and Cheese was ate, ale was consumed, and talks of more marching events in RI were discussed.

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Remember kids, don’t HUZZA too hard, or this can happen to you!

All in all, I enjoyed myself. The historical aspect of it left me wanting more. A little less hokey, a little more history. But it was great seeing friends from Boston we don’t see very often. Will I go back next year? Probably not. Despite my love for site based, 1st person interpretation, this just didn’t cut it for me. Low Spark and I agreed, once was enough.

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From left to right, myself, Low Spark, and one of my many idols in the hobby. Who not only dresses well, but is willing to give you research and sources for good wigs and fabric.