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.

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.

 

Mr. Hiwell’s Do’s and Don’ts of Character Development

On Wednesday, Low Spark, Miss Miggins, and I are joining some of our Boston friends for the annual Tea Party reenactment. Looking at the script, (which I’m told by a very reliable source hasn’t been changed in 10 years) I’m a little hesitant. The initial set up seems kind of hokey, like something I expect out of the opening of a Disney film.

But I’m going in with an open mind. It’s 1st person so it has that going for it. The three of us got to the game kind of late so we don’t have major roles like we did at Stamp Act. We’re just going as generic citizens. Since the event is first person I began to think at 10:00 on Monday tonight, “Gee, I should I really have some sort of an alias.”

So, let’s take a trip into my process for developing characters.

1. DON’T develop characters a day before the event like I’m doing.

Yeah…just like my papers for college, I like to procrastinate. Granted, we didn’t know for sure if we were going until last week. Still, character development takes time to research and rehearse. This isn’t my first rodeo and a theatre course plus years in drama have made it so I can memorise lines relatively quickly and can improv.

2. DO think about what you feel comfortable with portraying.

Step 1 is deciding what you want to be. For once, I’m not playing the loyalist this weekend. My dear friend is portraying John Copley and mentioned he lacked a proper peruke to use. Fortunately for him, I have a second I can do up for him. This sparked my desire to portray a wigmaker on Wednesday.

But not everyone can portray everyone. Obvious reasons aside, it depends on your level of comfort with that character. Maybe indentured servant or prostitute is too much for someone. Sometimes the villain can be difficult with the constant barrage of fists and slurs coming at you. Pick someone you can handle being in their skin for a few hours and everyone else feels comfortable being around.

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See? Even babies love the Customs Collector!

After you decide who/what you want to portray, get your butt to this. Our dear Aunt Kitty made this presentation at the BAR School of the Soldier a few years and it’s stuck with me ever since. It was probably the first thing that made me think that 1st person interpretation was feasible. I have all the documents saved on my computer just so I can access them whenever, that’s how helpful this resource is.

3. DO the research.

After finishing my last final exam on Monday, I dove right back into the databases looking for information on wigmakers in Boston around 1770. Initially I found a few immigrant wigmakers from London and Ireland that came around 1729-1730 in one source. Taking their age as a factor, they’d either be rather old or dead. I’m 20 so they’re out. I was looking for a wigmaker no older than 35.

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I then found a guy named John Piemont who was making wigs in Boston in the 1770’s. His apprentice is the guy who starts the Boston Massacre. Piemont ran a pretty good business, making wigs for Governor Hutchinson and the British officers garrisoned in town. He must’ve been doing well because he even hired one of the soldiers to work for him.

I was all ready to play Piemont (Even though he was past my age) but by June of 1773, he’s getting called a loyalist and hauls arse out of town to Danvers to run a tavern. Which means he wouldn’t be in Boston in December.

Now what? We hit a dead end. But not quite. There’s still his apprentice, Garrick. There’s a fair amount of research done on him already by those of the Boston Mob which makes my job so much easier. Even better, in 1770, it’s suspected Garrick is in his mid to late teens so by 1773 he’s my age.

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My only issue here is that he’s kind of a big name. It’s not like I’m addressing the assembly but still, I’m not looking to draw undue attention. So, here I am, late Tuesday afternoon, still potentially looking for wigmakers in Boston.

4. DON’T incorrectly portray your character.

1st person based on an actual person, to me, is treading into s”sacred ground.” We’re choosing historical people, that actually lived and have names and taking them on for a few hours. For me, I feel a little more pressure to get things right. That means not vilifying the person but not making them into something they’re not.

When looking at John Robinson during Stamp Act, we knew that after Newport he goes on to Boston. While there, he gets into a fight with a man over some comments about his character. That fight ends in John Robinson putting a hole in the man’s head with his cane. You read that right. His cane. So we can assume Robinson is a strong man with maybe a little temper. This allowed me to yell a bit and get angry back   at the rioters.

Garrick is an interesting kid. Looking at John Adams’ minutes from the Boston Massacre trial, Garrick gets mentioned indirectly at one point.

“and 5 lives sacrificed to a Squabble between the Sentry and Piemont’s Barbers Boy.6 A sawcy Speech in the Boy.”

The tiff begins when Garrick was (falsely) calling out Capt. Goldfinch of the 14th Regiment of Foot in the streets for not paying his bill to Piemont. Right there shows some sort of, for lack of a better term, balls in the boy. Then, when Private White, the sentry on duty, calls him over for slandering an officer, he retorts with “I’m not afraid to show my face.”

I don’t know about  you, but a soldier with a musket isn’t the guy I want to sass. So White takes the butt of the musket and whacks him in the head. One could argue if he deserved that or not but that’s not the point.

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So, we know Garrick is a young man doing young man things with his fellow apprentices. He likes the ladies. He also likes to backtalk authority.  I’m in agreeance with the esteemed blogger that it’s not the soldiers he dislikes, since he went to the barracks the night before to converse and officers felt comfortable around him, but it’s really money he’s after.

After all this, where are we? We have a young man likely in his 20’s by the time of Tea Party. We can’t confirm nor deny he’s still in Boston since he (smartly) keeps a low profile after it all. He’s got a slight attitude. He likes ladies. He likes money, perchance to impress the ladies. My oh my, how stuff has changed in today’s youth. 

Garrick is the backup for the moment. I may do a composite character. An apprentice to a Boston wigmaker I know was in the are but with a little less fame. I may use parts of Garrick’s attitude but with a made up name. Until then, the search continues!

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Basile, c. 1750

East(Or Was it Weast?)field Village

On September 19th, I ventured up to just outside of Albany to Eastfield Village with Kitty Calash to recreate a company of the New York Militia circa 1830. I would’ve wrote about the event sooner but I was A) Waiting for more pictures to surface and B) Was distracted by school and personal life. 12004793_1065467793465666_7951464711607999494_nThe ride to and from events always seem to be the most interesting. Between nearly getting run off the tiny New York road in a hobunk town, to (sort of) attending pizza and wings night at the local volunteer firefighter’s station, the ride up proved to be just as enjoyable as any. We arrived at Eastfield around 7:00 in the evening which still gave us light to see where we were going and at least get bearings before total darkness set in. Eastfield was a new kind of primitive for me. Don’t get me wrong, rope beds and horsehair mattresses are a welcomed change compared to the usual dirt and hay but here there was nothing modern near by. Not a single McDonald’s, power outlet, or cell service for that matter. How would I survive without any Oreo’s for the weekend? One word: Pasty.

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The one…The Only… Café Sans-Culottes

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Café Sans-Culottes also offers….comfortable sleeping arrangements.

The first evening was spent discussing usual New York things like what exactly is an “Unnatural Act” and how committing one would land you 10 years in prison. Anything involving pigeons and lard warranted 15 years, no ifs, ands, or butts about it. We also established a new name for our humble abode. No longer was it the “Yellow Tavern”. Team Eastfield bestowed it with “Café Sans-Culottes”, a place where les Lumières met to discuss pressing issues over bowls of rum punch. (Pants optional)

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The morning began with us stumbling out of bed and down the stairs (Some of us more literally than others) and indulging in a breakfast of bread, cheese, and indian pudding. Stomachs satiated, we did what any good militia does. Drill. A lot. Marching, manual of arms, you name it, we did it. It took some getting used to the faster pace tempos of the music compared to Rev War. I’ve trained myself to keep a nice 60 beats per minute for the common step but 1830’s required a 90 beats per minute tempo.

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Marching off again. Note me in the back trying to keep up.

Supper was served around noon which consisted of an amazing apple pie, bread, cheese, and a pork/onion/apple pie. We ate al fresco on the ground behind Kitty’s house/tailoring since Café Sans-Culottes was occupied by food service for patrons.

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Casa de Kitty

After our supper, we rested for a couple of hours then we drilled some more. We then paid our respects to Don Carpentier, the founder of Eastfield Village, who passed away not too long ago. All of use were honoured to be able to enjoy the fruits of Don’s labour for the weekend.

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After the ceremony, we ventured out for the live shooting competition. I had only shot a ball out of a musket once before and I completely missed the target. This time, I’m proud to report I got it on the paper in the ring just outside of the middle. Still not enough to progress me into the next round in the competition but enough to please this fifer. The winner, of course, used a rifle.

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The pumpkins trembled in their boots at the sight of such men.

After the competition, dinner was served. Reader, this was the most amazing feast I have ever seen at an event. Beef a la Française, chicken with mushrooms, roasted chicken, and bread were just some of the things on the table. There was enough for thirds! Afterwards, we were invited on over to the Brigg’s Tavern for dessert which had ginger cookies, syllabub, meringue cookies, and countless other treats.

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Brandy+Cream=Syllabub

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With bellies filled, we were ready to be fortefied back at Café Sans-Culottes. The punch bowl was passed around and the music flowed all night. Songs about dead women and babies seemed to be the running theme but on occasion, happier tunes were sung. Hell, after I had enough punch, I attempted some lyrics of Nottingham Ale, Over the Hills and Far Away, and a couple of sea shanties. Needless to say, my singing was not as pretty solo so I was fine to sit back and just do refrains with the group. This was definitely the best session I’ve heard at an event and it was amazing spending the evening talking and laughing with everyone by candlelight.

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Sunday morning met us with a slightly damp village and one last meal before hitting the road. Of course, I couldn’t leave without paying respects to one last soul before departing the area.

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Gone but not forgotten… Mildred (????-2015)

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!

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

What I learned in Soldier School is…

As a child of the Spongebob Era, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this clip from the show as I attempted to come up with a title for this post.

I arrived at New Windsor after 5 hours on the road around 9:30 Friday night. But reader, no tent had to be set up, no fire pit had to be dug. I was quartered in the lap of luxury. Though a slight downgrade from the Hilton Garden Inn last year, I got to sleep in one of the smaller rooms of the temple, complete with a fireplace AND bedding! It was darn chilly that first night but the fire kept the room quite comfortable and provided a good night’s sleep. (Besides the pesky raccoon scratching loudly at the wall at 12:40 in the morning)

5:30 AM was wake up time for me for some odd reason on Saturday and so it was for my roommates. My apologies for that but it did give us time to get the fires going again and cook. First lesson of the weekend: Oatmeal needs some sort of sugar, cinnamon, or fruits. Just oats aren’t my favourite.

I spent most of the day with the musicians and not attending the lectures. There was a bevy of new drummers and fifers all in need of lessons. All younger boys but they show promise. The fifer I was teaching was having difficult hitting the low notes but was able to hit the high notes with no problem. Most beginners are the opposite so kudos to him.

Don Hagist's presentation on his latest book is about to begin!

Don Hagist’s presentation on his latest book is about to begin!

 

Music wise though, a lot was definitely accomplished. We discussed interpretation of ceremonies, practiced marching, and there was some more talk about the pipe dream to form our own Band of Music.

I may have "captured" a British drummer to play for the Continental side.

I may have “captured” a British drummer to play for the Continental side but he can play really well and it wasn’t fair the Brits had 7 musicians and I had none.

On Saturday night, I was honoured to receive the Fifer’s Achievement Award from the BAR Board and a standing ovation. Really though, none of it could have been done without everyone else. I’ve learned more in this past year of reenacting than in my 8 years of doing it. Without people sharing their knowledge, I would not have been able to or be inspired to progress as far as I have.

A rare sight indeed, me quiet.

A rare sight indeed, me quiet.

Day two was held at Knox’s Headquarters which was a site I had never been to. I got to see Christmas AND a funeral all in one house on the same floor in one day! I also got to see friends I hadn’t seen since July which was really great and got to march over a 1740’s stone bridge that was part of the King’s Highway that our regiment marched over. Despite not doing our own funeral demonstration, the day was pretty good. Even better, the car ride home.

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.

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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.

 

 

 

“After Valley Forge, What?”

Yesterday, I attended a lecture at my university titled, “After Valley Forge, What?” by Dr. Bethany A. Morrison of Western Connecticut University. I first noticed the poster Tuesday. My eyes perked up at the sight of Valley Forge. It’s not often my college, which likes to focus on dates after 1854 (It’s founding), has talks on periods before it, let alone the Revolution. Fortunately for me, I had no plans or classes from 12-2 and decided this would be a great chance to do some “professional development”, if you will.

I arrived in the room about 5 minutes early. There were about 9 people in total, all were professors. A bit intimidating to be the only student but I sat myself down and waited anxiously.

The talk was on archaeological exploration of a winter encampment of the Continental Army in Redding, Connecticut from November of 1778 to the Spring of 1779. The main camp is now Putnam State Park. The other in Redding proper was developed on before any digs could be. This camp, known as Middle Encampment, had never been touched since the army left. After they dismantled the cabins, the land had been turned into pasture so nobody had done any heavy farming or developing. The neighbours kept a close eye on who was going in and out of it and guarded it as their little secret. This was the perfect place to find artifacts.

As a history major, my view of archaeology is pretty narrow. Just the mention of it and Indiana Jones comes to mind. No Ark of the Covenants or Holy Grails were found here, but a different treasure was to be had.

Numerous firebacks (the stone portion of the wooden chimneys of the huts) were found. Some in a row pattern like General Von Steuben ordered after the training at Valley Forge, some…not so much. The army had a particular problem with this location. It was on an incredibly steep hill. They still tried to follow Steuben’s orders though. They faced the encampment to the South and put it behind a stream with running water. Interestingly, they carved out sections of the hill to make it level enough to build their huts which goes against the theory that the Continental Army did not do any planning or floor prep before building. They may have been ordered not to do it but this encampment, like the rest of the army, was a bunch of rebels.

The layout for an encampment as dictated by Baron Von Steuben in his orders from 1778.

The layout for an encampment as dictated by Baron Von Steuben in his orders from 1778.

The thick redline is the land the researchers had access to. The red dots are clusters of artifacts. The blue line running near the "Enlisted Man" circle is the stream. There is also a road north of the "Kitchens and Suttlers" section. Note the two neat rows in the "Enlisted Men" section. Questions to ponder were: Where's the Parade Ground? Where are the camp followers? What's up with the outliers to the left?

The thick redline is the land the researchers had access to. The red dots are clusters of artifacts. The blue line running near the “Enlisted Man” circle is the stream. There is also a road north of the “Kitchens and Suttlers” section. Note the two neat rows in the “Enlisted Men” section. Questions to ponder were: Where’s the Parade Ground? Where are the camp followers? What’s up with the outliers to the left?

An FTIR (An infrared scanning of absorption and emission into an object) of some fireback rocks from the huts were even able to tell them what the army was eating in late winter/early spring. What’s on the menu you ask? Malnourished goats, acorns, wild asparagus, and cattails. All available in the wetlands and the nearby farms of the encampment.

What stuck out the most to me was the layout of the camp. Here was a group of four regiments (3rd, 4th, 6th, and 8th CT Regiments) that tried their very best to follow Steuben’s orders but ended up having to modify them to suit their needs. They even built their cabins to the exact dimensions set forth in the General Orders.

Artifacts were found all over the place. Metal detecting showed that these men were 1. Losing shoe buckles left and right. and 2. Used a lot of nails. The nails struck everyone in the room by surprise. The myth has it that enlisted men would not have used nails in construction of their huts but the quantity, location, and the size of the nails surprised everyone in the room. These were long nails and were plentiful. This lead to speculation of would these huts have had a wooden flooring?

In the top right corner is one of the many shoe buckles found in the Middle Encampment. On the bottom is one of the hundreds of nails. Dr. Morrison said that every time a student found one, they would say, "Great. Another nail." in a rather sarcastic tone.

In the top right corner is one of the many shoe buckles found in the Middle Encampment. On the bottom is one of the hundreds of nails. Dr. Morrison said that every time a student found one, they would say, “Great. Another nail.” in a rather sarcastic tone.

The layout also left some questions. Where in the world was the parade ground? There’s orders for the camp that the regiments paraded but there didn’t seem to be any suitable land to parade 1500 men. Would it be across the stream? Where were the camp followers? Were they in a separate camp? Were they sharing the huts?

Unfortunately, money for the project has run out and they barely scratched the surface. But thanks to their research, the land is now protected so nobody can go in with their own metal detectors and scavenge for artifacts. Fortunately for me, I was able to harass Dr. Morrison with a ton of questions afterwards and she was even so kind to give me the print out of her slideshow with her notes (both typed and handwritten.) It just goes to show that the woods behind your house with some weird piles of rocks may not be just woods.

The "and..." leads off into a slide saying it got protected by the state, in case you were wondering.

The “and…” leads off into a slide saying it got protected by the state, in case you were wondering.