Stamp Acting Up: 250th Anniversary of the Newport Stamp Act Riots

Last Saturday was the event of the Summer for me and the RI contingent. Last year’s event was the event that inspired me to make my blue suit and up my civilian game. This year was definitely a leap in authenticity for me. I went up from military breeches, an old waistcoat, and machine sewed coat to handsewn clothing. Did I wear the same outfit for L’Hermione? Maybe…..

Stamp Act Outfit 2014 The hat was a loaner from Uncle Hank. The beaver proved very fun to pet through out the day.

Stamp Act Outfit 2014
The hat was a loaner from Uncle Hank. The beaver proved very fun to pet through out the day.

Stamp Act Outfit 2015 Blue ditto suit with a rabbit pelt hat complete with an original gold button.

Stamp Act Outfit 2015
Blue ditto suit with a rabbit pelt hat complete with an original gold button.

I was beyond excited to be reprising the role John Robinson, the Customs Collector assigned to Newport in 1765. Ever a man of principle, Robinson showed up to town looking to do his job. When the leading merchants offered him a salary of 70,000 pounds a year to turn a blind eye to the smuggling, he turned them down. This same smuggling gets Robinson in some trouble though with merchants. In an attempt to call the Polly out on declaring only part of her cargo of molasses, Robinson went up to Dighton to take custody of the vessel. Lacking crew, he headed back to Newport, got one together, and went back up. To his dismay, everything from the ropes to the cargo was gone and the ship had her bottom drilled. The owner then filed suit for damages while in the custody of Robinson and our pal was sent to jail for two nights! And I thought my summer job was rough!

Capture

Newport, RI. You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. Not the usual crowd for a Customs Collector but the suit looks great in this image, if I may say so.

Besides the fashion faux pas of repeating an outfit, the event was magical in every way and event should have been. Me and Low Spark got up early (after an evening of me styling wigs) to attempt to go fishing with an 18th century hook and line. Despite getting a strange look from the man on the pier, we set about in the hopes of catching something. Anything. We got bites and lost many worms but no fish was dumb enough to bite down completely. Instead, we had to resort to our friend to buy some scups from Whole Foods. At least we had organic stinky fish!

Ahhh, the smell of hairspray at 9:00 in the evening!

Ahhh, the smell of hairspray at 9:00 in the evening!

First time setting the line. Hopes were running high still.

First time setting the line. Hopes were running high still.

Look Ma! Our biggest catch of the day!

Look Ma! Our biggest catch of the day!

11903743_10205293534884409_3287511926081695312_n

John Robinson keeping an ever watchful eye out on the harbour. No sign of the HMS Squirrel.

We then made our way to the Old Colony House to mentally prepare ourselves for the day ahead. We arrived and were even asked to open up the windows to the balcony. Naturally, Mr. Spark and I could not resist majestic pictures looking out over Newport.

Over there! Someone that needs to pay the custom!

Over there! Someone that needs to pay the custom!

Always watching my kingdom.

Always watching over my kingdom.

Lunch was served and all of us, sailors and customs collectors alike, mingled one last time before breaking into character. It was weird having most of my friends on the anti-establishment side and not being able to talk to them during the day (without having fish hocked at me) but playing a gentleman is always up my alley.

We started the day off with a debate, which Mr. Howard laid the law down on Mr. Vernon and Ellery. I was enjoying myself just sitting back and nodding in agreement. I did take more of a proactive roll in the 2nd debate though. I then enjoyed tea with the ladies on countless occasions and discussed refined things such as the latest news from London, music, and of course, oodling over a baby.

The first debate in which Martin Howard schools those that don't want to obey the law. Though the crowd was against us, we had a very nice 12 year old girl in support of GR.

The first debate in which Martin Howard schools those that don’t want to obey the law. Though the crowd was against us, we had a very nice 12 year old girl in support of GR.

11982473_10207067569263249_1758334065_o

Tea time! The plum cake was amazing as was the service! Note Mr. Howard’s 2nd wig change of the day.

11960232_928222477904_7179329833275489424_n

Loyalists love babies!

Loyalists love babies!

Things took a little more violent turn in the afternoon though as those pesky sailors sang silly songs and made effigies of my good friend Mr. Howard. I may add that the effigy looked NOTHING like him. Howard is a much better dresser and far less flammable.

11232019_10206100149560462_2663443396914921331_n

I had one of the most surreal moments I’ve had in reenacting though during the riot. When the fight broke lose, me and a certain sailor locked eyes and sticks and I was surrounded on all sides by angry men. Time stopped and the 5 seconds we growled at each other and had men pull us back stretched for about 10 minutes, in my head at least. My mind completely left the 21st century and I honestly thought 18th century me was about to be pummeled into the cement in front of the Old Colony House. It’s these moments that make me reenact.

11952996_10207661210712807_2480543011022699584_n

No, madam. I do not want your fish or the odor that comes with them.

Dressing up in funny clothes is fine for some people. I get it. But getting as close to the event as possible and having transcendent moments is what makes it all worth while. When you feel like you’re in the 18th century, so will the onlookers.

Sneaking the furniture of Augustus Johnston away from the angry mob.

Sneaking the furniture of Augustus Johnston away from the angry mob.

At the end of the riot, we all retired to the White Horse Tavern for drinks (Diet Coke for moi) and remarked over how well things went. Overall, this was a FANTASTIC event. We recreated a time specific event, in the location where it was held, we had authenticity standards, we did 1st person, and we researched our roles. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to spend my last and best event of the summer with.

The cast and crew of this great big production. Some of the hobby's finest right here, if I may say so.

The cast and crew of this great big production. Some of the hobby’s finest right here, if I may say so.

Ignorance Truly is Bliss

I’m off to some “Reenactor Professional Development” this weekend at New Windsor Cantonment. The site is small and quaint but it still ranks as one of my favourite places. The home to the semi-permanent encampment for Washington’s army at the end of the war. It was here where Washington’s men heard that the war was over and were sent home. Complete with a recreated Temple of Virtue, a small room with a fireplace, and an original officer’s hut, the site just about equals with Saratoga and Yorktown in my books.

Outside the Temple of Virtue waiting to assemble the troops for the Trooping of the Colours

Outside the Temple of Virtue waiting to assemble the troops for the Trooping of the Colours

Besides looking at nice buildings, the goal of the weekend is to learn; to improve your impression. The BAR’s School of Instruction often presents new information. Last year, the main talks focused on haversacks and hunting frocks. This year it’s a back-to-basics kind of weekend as I’ve dubbed it. On the schedule is how to start a fire, write with a quill, play 18th century games, and food for camp. These are things (besides the quill thing, though I did write a letter once in camp last season) that reenactors do at almost every event but still get wrong.

Learning about military musicians at the school in 2014. It got pretty rowdy when 2 fifes and a drum blasted away in a hollow, wooden room.

Learning about military musicians at the school in 2014. It got pretty rowdy when 2 fifes and a drum blasted away in a hollow, wooden room.

Folks in the front row had to cover their ears. Was our playing really THAT bad?

Folks in the front row had to cover their ears. Was our playing really THAT bad?

I honestly don’t like knowing something I’m doing is wrong. I recently left a regiment for that reason. When I first joined, I knew practically nothing about British musicians besides it was a damn nice uniform. As I talked to more people about what they knew, I found out what I was wearing was wrong. Then I found out our camping situation with a dining fly and tons of furniture was wrong. If I had not known what was incorrect, I probably could have gone on living in that unit. When I confronted the unit about wanting to improve, they said they were comfortable with where they were at. And that’s perfectly fine. Every unit has its own standards and acceptable levels of comfort. With that unit, the fit of the clothes and quality was generally pretty good. Research into the clothing and camp situation wasn’t their strong suit. That’s simply what they wanted and that’s great for them.

10174987_10152358049520406_3021561249046265586_n

But wanting to improve can often be a difficult and drawn out process, besides costly. Now that I’m in a new unit, I’m attempting to put together a new kit. I’m in need of a new pair of overalls and a hunting frock but my blue suit is taking up all my time and money. There’s nothing egregiously wrong with my old stuff. My wool overalls fit well and judging by the temperature this weekend, they should work well but my frock is a bit too white and the research has shown the shape should be a little different.

I’m already having pre-event guilt thinking about wearing it. I feel like I’m not doing my best to represent the people who fought the Revolution. Not only that, I feel like I’m letting my new unit down. They’re known for their attention to detail, their coat of the month, and dirt stew so falling in with them adds some further pressure and awareness to clothing. Coming out in something not quite up to snuff goes against the School of Instruction’s idea yet it goes along with it. Just acknowledging that it’s wrong and wanting to improve is a step in the right direction.

 

 

 

Design on a Dime: 18th Century Clothing Edition

For those that know me, I like fancy clothing. Especially 18th century clothing. Who doesn’t? The movies love to portray the romantic images of balls and court society with men in wigs and silk outfits covered in embroidery and lace. That stuff’s damn nice. For a living historian, most of us can’t afford that kind of clothing to be made. Some are talented enough to do it themselves, but at the expense of having a life.

As a fledgling college student, I find myself wanting to do things right, wanting to portray something bourgeoisie (Classy yet subtle. Not street vermin), but wanting to do this all on the budget of a street vermin and finding time in between writing papers and sleeping. So I endeavoured to create a civilian suit for this upcoming 2015 reenacting season. An all blue wool ditto. With 5 yards of French Royal Blue wool, 3 spools of linen and silk lace, and 3 wax cakes, I figured I was all set to make a suit. All to the tune of $172. What else could I possibly need? Turns out, everything.

Coat (reverse), ca. 1765, British (probably), silk (c) Metropolitan Museum of Art Front View

Coat (reverse), ca. 1765, British (probably), silk (c) Metropolitan Museum of Art Front View

William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire (oil on canvas), Anton von Maron (1733-1808) What appeats to be a velvet blue blue ditto.

William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire (oil on canvas), Anton von Maron (1733-1808)
What appeats to be a velvet blue blue ditto.

I forgot buttons. So I repurposed some old buttons on a double-breasted waistcoat that was a gift. It fit poorly and was a bad pattern and 20 buttons just can’t go to waste. I covered those ugly buttons in scrap wool and made myself some very pretty (if I may say so) cloth-covered buttons for nothing.* 20 isn’t enough for the whole suit so more buttons have to be purchased. (25 more to be exact but at $0.75 a pop, they are at the least of my worries.)

Then today, it turns out I need a pair of knee buckles for the breeches. I was hoping to get away with just buttons but a certain tailor said they just won’t do. There’s a $28 purchase. Sure, they’ll probably last me a lifetime and I can use them on other sets but still, another expense I forgot to calculate.

For those keeping track at home, the total cost so far on this suit is $218.75. Most folks that reenact see that as a pretty reasonable price for a 3 piece suit. I’d agree. Those not in the hobby think that’s an absurd amount of money for out of date clothing. I’d probably agree with them there, too.

How do you do this cheap? Do it yourself. What if I can’t sew? Gee, you better learn how.

I’m EXTREMELY fortunate to be in a unit where everyone (especially the sergeant) has just about mastered the art of sewing. I don’t think I could even come as far without the sage guidance (and millions of “Questionable Moments”) of these people. The amount of panicked emails complete with pictures they get is ungodly and I’m sure they cringe when they see my name pop up. When I’m no longer in debt to them, I’ll have to buy them something pretty. Still, I received a workshop to learn how to make a frock coat as a Christmas gift this past year. Cost for that was $115 which is an excellent price for a sewing workshop compared to what other places go for.

The centre seams are complete along the fall bearers and flap linings. Half a waistband on!

The centre seams are complete along the fall bearers and flap linings. Half a waistband on!

Now we’re up to $333.75. That’s about two semesters of college books for me.

But how could I forget the cost to have the material cut? I’m not skilled enough to follow a pattern nor have the patience to do so. The coat ended up being $90 ($50 for it cut, another $30 for lining material, and $10 for some thread.) and the breeches are probably gonna be about $65 ($40 for cut, I figure $25 for lining material.) The yet to be cut waistcoat is gonna end up costing about $60 I assume for the cut and lining. We’re only $548.75 in the hole so far? What’s the big deal?

Missing a body linings, buttons, and button holes, an upper collar, and pleats the worst is yet to come.

Missing a body linings, buttons, and button holes, an upper collar, and pleats the worst is yet to come.

And alas, I had to get a new pair of shoes and new stockings. The shoes were a steal at $60 (buckles included) from a former reenactor and the stockings were $52 but they’re hand sewn and so nice! Fortunately for me, the shoes were for Christmas and the stockings for Valentine’s Day. I’m also gonna need some new cloth garters to hold those stockings up which should cost me about $4 to make.

I’ll also need a new unlaced hat with the proper brim height to the tune of $120.

If you haven’t passed out yet by the figures I’ve thrown out, the grand total of this total wardrobe is….

$784.75

I can feel my heart pounding as I type that. This damn hobby isn’t cheap. Granted only $549.75 came out of my pocket, that’s still a nice chunk of change. Most reenactors will tell me that’s an excellent price to pay for a suit made for me. The whole wardrobe is a little more than half the price of a new musket or a whole used one. I’ve spent less than that on college books in my 4 semesters.

As I sit in the lounge with the rest of the history majors and try to convince them that “This hobby can be done on a budget! You should totally join!” and watch them give me the look of disbelief, I understand why. This can be such a daunting thing to grasp to a new person in the hobby, hell; it scares the daylights out of me and I’ve been doing this for 7 years.

But as I sew the garments, there’s a sense of accomplishment I get from putting them together and seeing less and less pieces of random fabric and seeing something that kind of resembles an article of clothing. All these years, I’ve been wearing hand-me-down clothing not made for me or stuff made for me that belongs to the regiment. It will be nice to actually have something that’s mine and made by me.♦

*Just don’t turn them over or take them off the coat. It looks like a mangled spider’s web on the back.

♦You’ll know if it’s made by me by the bloodstains I leave somewhere hidden on the garment. I always say, “No project is complete until you’ve made a blood sacrifice to the sewing gods!”