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

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“The music of the army being in general very bad…”

Perhaps a quote every Continental fifer or drummer is familiar with can introduce the impending grievances. It was issued by our pal George Washington on June 4th, 1777 in Middlebrook, New Jersey.

The music of the army being in general very bad; it is expected, that the drum and fife majors exert themselves to improve it, or they will be reduced, and their extraordinary pay taken from them.

It always seems that Fort Lee is the event that gets me all in a tizzy afterwards. Over the year, I had been stepping away from the military scene with events like Eastfield and Stamp Act. As Kitty said it best, gun shows aren’t fun anymore. Well, at least shoot-em ups aren’t fun anymore. I like the small events with people of like mind gathered to do living history, not burn powder. Eastfield was definitely one of those where the marriage of guns and purpose merged nicely.

Changes to improve gun shows aren’t that hard, from my perspective. Being a musician, my focus always tends to be on, surprise-surprise, music.

The great thing about being a musician is:

  1. No dirty gun to clean.
  2. So much easier to bring to an event and carry around.
  3. Any changes for authenticity in regards to music tend to be free or cheap in comparison to soldiers.

And that list is barely even all the benefits. For the purpose of this post, let’s take a look at #3. Cheap usually isn’t a word heard when describing this hobby but changing how you play costs only the time of practice.

For example: We know the British marched at two tempos when on parade. A common step of 60 beats per minute (BPM) (one step per second) and a quickstep of 120 beats per minute (two steps per second).* Improving the authenticity of a song means playing at a faster or slower tempo. Even better, you can march the common step while the music plays at a 120 tempo! Just watch the guards do it at Buckingham Palace as they play Duke of York’s March, a tune played by fifers and drummers in the 18th century.

(Yes, in this video their quick march is really at about 105 BPM. To see a true 120, take a gander at this. Though the bagpipes then drag the tempo down to 110)

Often times, people complain how fast 120 BPM is. The newly formed 17th Regiment of Foot does a steady 120, sans drum! Marching to it can be difficult for an extended period but take a look at the length of their steps at 120. They’re not taking gigantic leaps. They’re taking relatively small, measured steps.

So if we have documentation saying the British played at this tempo and that’s what they marched to, then why aren’t we doing it? Because people complain. When I suggested we do it this past weekend, I got told, “Well 120 is authentic, but it’s a bit much.”

The other problem is that there are musicians not practicing the songs at that speed. Men with muskets drill. A lot. It’s kind of expected of the soldiers to be able to perform their respective army’s dill at events and dare I say, perform it well. So why is it that there are musicians out there that think it’s okay not to practice their “drill”?

On to the next problem: accurate instruments. For the most part, I don’t see a whole lot of plastic drum heads that say “REMO” on them anymore and it’s nice to see that most drummers are using calfskin heads. For new fifers, I totally understand cheap fifes. I started off on a cruddy plastic fife from Cooperman. Everybody has to start somewhere. I can understand not wanting to invest in a decent instrument until you know if you’re going to be any good or not. I tell all the new musicians, don’t buy anything more than $100 until you’re absolutely sure you want to be a musician.

But if you’ve been in the hobby now for a substantial amount of time, have established yourself as a musician, you should really get an accurate instrument. Bringing a Civil War fife to a Revolutionary War event is just as bad as bringing your Springfield Model 1861 to Yorktown. Yes, both the Model 1861 and a Brown Bess go “BOOM” when you shoot it, but it isn’t the same. Both fifes serve the same job as fifes but they sound and behave differently.

Steve Dillon makes excellent copies of the Cahusac fife in his collection. You too, can have an exact copy, made of boxwood, in the key of C, in the correct pitch, for a nominal fee. (BAR members even get a discount! I got mine for $65 I believe.) The fife not only plays great, but it looks great! So why play those expensive, incorrect ones when the good stuff is available? Because fifers complain that instead of open fingerings for a C#, it requires two fingers down on the 3rd and 4th holes.

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Touting my pride and joy at the School of the Soldier this past April.

Did it take some retraining on this fife to get the new fingering and the slightly tighter armature? Yeah, it did. But trust me, it’s beyond worth it to be able to say to your audience that you’re playing an exact copy and this is how the music would have sounded to the original listeners. Besides the teaching tool, the Dillon fife sounds amazing and is without a doubt the best fife I’ve ever owned.

My final piece of dirty laundry is documentation for music. Similar to how the uniforms we wear have to be documented with period sources, so should the music we play. It’s impossible to know what songs were played at each battle or each day but there are plenty of sources out there.  For those willing to look on sites like IMSLP, you can find both Thompson and Aird’s tutors for fifes. The BAR has published a lovely book with period fife and drum music taken from primary sources. The drum notation was even “translated” into modern notation for those that read sheet music.

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You can even make a trip to your local university’s special collection! I went to Brown University’s special collection and got to look at RI fifer’s William William’s manuscript. All I had to do was ask.

But even within the BAR book, stuff has to be taken with a grain of salt. For example, would the British play songs written by Americans? Probably not as they don’t show up in British tutors until after the war. Did the Americans play British songs? All the time as evidenced by repeats of songs in American sources that were in British sources.

One of my favourite songs to play is Stony Point. It’s found only in American fife books so it’s pretty safe to say this piece was written after the Continental Army’s victory there on July 16th, 1779. So here’s an example of a period song from the Revolution that shouldn’t be played at events that take place before this battle. The context just wouldn’t make sense. It would require me telling visitors, “Well mam, that last piece was called ‘Stony Point.’ It’s a song about a battle the Americans won in 1779 but we’re currently at Trenton in 1776 so we don’t know about that battle yet.”

So why this rant? Because I’m growing tired of the nonsense.

I’m tired of hearing made-up parleys on the battlefield when we have one from an original source that’s in the BAR Music Book used by all 3 of the umbrella organisations in the hobby.

I’m tired of seeing videos of battle reenactments where musicians are playing concerts of marches on the battlefield when we know musicians were essentially stretcher bearers doing the occasional signal.

I’m tired of officers in battle telling me to stand behind the line and just twiddle my thumbs when I want to stand behind the sergeant to hear the orders so we can play the signal if necessary or take away the wounded because there’s documentation for that.

I’m tired of marching at 100 beats per minute as a quickstep.

I’m tired of hearing 19th century tunes (I’m looking at you, Men of Harlech) at 18th century events.

I’m tired of going to events, knowing all the camp duties fifers and drummers played from sunrise to sunset and never playing a single one of them besides Drummer’s Call and Assembly.

I’m tired of playing cease fire a crap ton of times because officers don’t know what it means and they then continue to have their units burn powder as if the battle was their last reenactment ever.

But most of all, I’m tired of my suggestions/complaints falling on deaf ears. It’s disheartening to share this information with people to have them not put it to use. It sucks trying to teach a regiment the signals (making recordings so they can listen to them at home, giving them music lessons, etc.) and them never implementing them into the camp. It sucks telling the people in charge of you this, armed with all this documentation and they still won’t budge.

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You don’t even have to carry a heavy guy! We chose a very tiny 13 year old. Photo credit to Suzanne Shaw Photography.

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You don’t even need more than one musician!

These fixes aren’t hard. I’m not asking folks to go out and sew all new outfits out of $75 per yard wool. I’m not asking anybody to sleep on wet hay on the ground. I instead challenge others to put some effort into their impression. Practice your fife or drum a few times during the week. Think before you play a piece, “Is there documentation for it?” You’ll be amazed at just how far the authenticity for the unit and the event will improve when you use music correctly.But most importantly, question what you’ve been taught. I started learning the ways of the Spirit of ’76 and when I began to question what I was doing, everything fell into place. I no longer play undocumented songs on a replica civil war fife during battles.

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So, where does all this leave me? Part of me sees the mess that the state of music is currently in and desires to stop playing at events. Things were so much easier three years ago when I just showed up at events and fired a musket and was ignorant to everything. However, it seems that a few of us are splintering off and forming our own “band”, both of fifes and drums and of music. A group of like minded, dare I say, progressive, individuals getting together to do martial music the right way.

Even the Continental Army music improved after some hardcore practicing. Washington put it best when he said in that same order:

Nothing is more agreeable, and ornamental, than good music; every officer, for the credit of his corps, should take care to provide it.

*See Camus, Raoul F. Military Music of the American Revolution. 1st ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1976. 7-9.

Dirges, Deaths, and Diet Coke: Fort Lee 2015

The end of November always signals the end of the main reenacting season for me, though this year it’s been extended into December with the tentative Boston Tea Party (Depending on my final exam schedule) and the 14 mile death march I agreed to do at Trenton.

On Saturday the 21st, the Rhode Island contingent of the 10th Massachusetts ventured down to Fort Lee, New Jersey to recreate Washington’s Retreat to Victory. (An oxymoron if there ever was one.) We shoved off from Mr. Spark’s house around 6:15 in the morning and made the venture along with Ms. Miggins to the Palisades. After nearly being killed on the upper deck of the George Washington Bridge, we arrived safely at our destination.

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A portion of the RI contingent with Ms. Miggins’ lovely leaves.

The day started off ominously as I attempted to stab Ms. Miggins’ new shoes with the buckles she got. Convinced the leather was actually yeti skin, the buckles bent as I attempted to stab them through! Fortunately, other folks from the RI contingent came to the rescue and fixed the buckle. It took my original 18th century fork to stab through the yeti pelt.

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Fort Lee tends to be a repetitive event. I always make big plans for what I’m going to do but those plans never happen due to time constraints. I got there and right away I was summoned to make music with the rest of band. For some odd reason, we mustered the men an hour and a half before the parade started so everyone was stuck waiting around. We tried to keep things lively by giving a concert. Of course, when we played “Chester,” a certain regiment made me start to giggle and I had to stop.

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Finally, at 12:00, we set off for the town centre. The march there always goes by the most delicious smelling Japanese and Chinese restaurants and being around lunch time, I’m always tempted to ditch the parade half way through and get real food instead of the infamous Fort Lee Mystery Mush.

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After much speechifying and the annual Run for the Donuts a certain drummer and I make, we set back to the palisades for nooning. Things were going well until we hit the steep-ish hill on the way back into the park. As we headed up, the Fife Major (Known as Two Flutes in some circles) thought it wise to drop us from the comfortable speed of about 90 beats per minute to the deathly dirge of 40 beats per minute. Neither of the tempos being the authentic 60 beats per minutes common step and 120 beats per minute quick step, I was not pleased nor found it possible to play at 40. But I dealt, and after much grumbling from the men, we continued on.

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I can’t say no to furry things, especially muffs. Our friend Wigzilla had to fight me in order to get her muff back.

The reason I go to Fort Lee each year is not for the pristine historical grounds or the riveting battles. With the GW Bridge looming over us, helicopters flying by all day, and New York City directly across the water, the place is anything but immersive. I also don’t go for the fantastic Mystery Mush. I do go for the people. With no camps, the British and the American forces are forced to mingle. Seeing friends from both sides and from the area is always great. The best part was meeting people I’ve only known online and people everyone tells me I have to meet.

(Yes, somebody actually made an 11 minute video of reenactors eating Mystery Mush. But you can see me in the blue suit at the beginning signal Roast Beef and walk off with a handful of bread.)

After lunch came an awkward and brief music demo that was cut short by the battle. The battle scenario was definitely better than years past. Most times Fort Lee gets very silly after 10 minutes with buckets of water flying out of the block house and tennis balls as grenades. This year it stayed serious and involved a lot of flanking and running. Fort Lee is definitely not an audience friendly place though. I heard from Ms. Miggins that even as close as the ladies were, they saw barely anything. I can only imagine what the actual audience saw. And if we’re not doing the battle for the audience, are we again just burning powder for nothing?

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10th MA as militia in the centre and I’m off to the left near the tree with the 3rd New Jersey Greys.

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Some more 10th MA action, this time you can see them a little bit clearer.

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Myself and my friend in his fantastic new coat on drum with the Greys.

After the battle, the RI contingent shoved off but not before a stop at Mitsuwa to acquire Pocky, wasabi, and tea. We even got to endorse some green tea and acquire tons of free teabags! As patriots, we should have passed on it but alas, we can’t say no.

McDonalds

I may or may not have had to fight the folks at McDonald’s at a Connecticut rest stop in order to get the sandwich I ordered corrected.

On Coming Out in the Hobby

Today is National Coming Out Day. A day to celebrate the struggle members of the LGBTQ deal with on coming out and to celebrate who they are.

There’s a very select few people in the hobby that know that I’m gay. I mean, after all, it is a hobby that prides itself on wearing colourful clothing, hand-sewing it all, and hairpieces. Sometimes I question if we’re all borderline drag queens. It’s not that I’m ashamed of who I am, all my friends know and so does my immediate family. I even attend Pride on an annual basis.

But coming out in the hobby is similar to coming out to your parents again. These are people you spend A LOT of time with. You go over their houses for workshops, you go on long car rides, you go camping together, and you even eat out together. So when you they know you as one person, you only hope that when they find out they won’t treat you any differently.

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You can’t help but wonder before saying it, “Will I be put in a separate tent? Will I be denied (the pretend) rank because of this? Will units not talk to me? Will I be kicked out of the unit?” and I think that’s why a lot of members of the LGBT community in the hobby keep their sexuality either hidden from mostly everyone or don’t tell anyone at all.

Besides the few outspoken members of the LGBT in the hobby, a lot of us remain in the shadows, content to put on the facade for one more weekend. For a long time, I was happy with that. Going reenacting reminded me of before I initially came out of the closet, before everything got more difficult. But it’s still not easy. I couldn’t talk about a significant other with gender specific terms. I always referred to my (now ex) boyfriend as “they” or “date”. My career in acting always came to use around the campfire when I successfully discussed the wonders of girls and which one was the prettiest.

I suppose there’s a point where everyone gets tired of putting up with something. I originally began writing this piece in the middle of March with the intent on publishing it today. I tossed and turned for awhile about actually posting this piece or not but I think it’s important.

It gets better. Any campfire unwilling to accept me in the evening isn’t really a campfire I want to sit around anyways. Any unit, despite how much lace on the coats, that won’t accept somebody for who they are isn’t a unit I want to be in.

The people that knew about my sexuality before this post accepted me with open arms and for once, I think this generally misogynistic, sometimes backwards hobby can be up with the times. That’s not to say some pokey militia out of a conservative area of the US won’t backlash over more of us coming out of the woodwork of the last refuge of “True Americana”, it’s just easier not to listen to the large man yelling at you.

Besides, George Washington owes the success of his army after Valley Forge to a gay man.

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General Baron von Steuben by Ralph Earl, 1786

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)

Round and Roundabout

I often listen to the other history majors argue about what their “specialty” is. Some are obsessed with WWI, others love the Crusades. As you might have guessed, I’m pretty darn fond of Early America and the 18th century in general.

So why in the world would I venture into 1830? Well, for starters, I wanted sideburns. Second, I like this period in history. My interest in US history tends to drop after the Civil War. The fashion in the 1830’s has always struck me as unique with its large collars, trousers, and insanely tall hats. So when I was offered the opportunity to hop on the 1830’s wagon, you bet your bottom dollar I did.

Bar-room Scene, William Sidney Mount, 1835, oil on canvas

Bar-room Scene, William Sidney Mount, 1835, oil on canvas

Kitty Calash and I are headed on up to Eastfield Village just outside of Albany this weekend for Founder’s Day. This is going to be my first immersion(-ish) event and I’m pretty excited. I’ve spent the last month or so making a roundabout jacket for this event. I didn’t have to do trousers or a hat since we found loaners that fit me.

My roundabout adventure began before school started when a few of us 10th Mass folks went on up to Uncle Hank’s house for a 1781 LI coat workshop. Uncle Hank pulled out some other things for us to look at (as always) and my eyes fell upon a simple white linen roundabout in his collection. He took out his magical measuring tape, took a quick measure of the jacket, then me and proclaimed, “This oughta fit you with barely any modification! I’m gonna make a pattern and cut it out!!”

Roundabout Jackets in HCS Collection 1810-1840 121

Roundabout Jackets in HCS Collection 1810-1840 121

Needless to say, being the first to receive a pattern from Uncle Hank that was taken right off an original was pretty darn neat. Uncle Hank put the main body together and it was up to me to finish the coat which meant putting the back waistband, two front panels, cuffs, upper collar, make buttons and then attach them, and make buttonholes. Sounded easy!

Boy was I wrong. Mistake number one came pretty early in the game. I messed up on the back wasitband and accidentally used the scrap cloth meant for buttons for it. I was wondering why the back pieces were weird sizes but thought nothing of it until I went to make the buttons. Then it all made sense why the seams didn’t match up.

Ooops! #1 of the Garment

Ooops! #1 of the Garment

The front panel linings then required my most dreaded stitch…the zig zag stitch. This stitch and I became enemies back on my blue frock coat when I had to do it on the buckram. The attention needed to do it is not something I have and originally I was gonna say forget it and just whip it in. However, the good sewing angels Kitty Calash and Low Spark chimed on my shoulder and convinced me to take the path of righteousness.

Then came the cuffs. These things were a pain in the butt to pin and fold over the edges. The shape still didn’t come out like the original’s and that’s do to sewer error. I took way too much in on what I thought was the seam line on Uncle Hank’s pattern instructions. Turns out that was the fold line. So they’re slightly more narrow than they should be but I think they’re just as stylish.

Ooops! #2

Finally, the button fiasco. As I was attaching the buttons, I began to remember the garment having more than 8 buttons total. But I asked Uncle Hank how many I needed and simply took his word that I needed 8 in total. Turns out just the bottom 8 were functional and I still needed 4 more to finish! Guess who didn’t order 12  buttons! This guy! So we’re going with what we got for now. And of course, the button holes are just as funky as you’d imagine.

Things were looking good at this point for the buttonhole.

Things were looking good at this point for the buttonhole.

That confidence in the buttonhole quickly died as I finished the last stitch.

That confidence in the buttonhole quickly died as I finished the last stitch.

Is it a perfect roundabout? God no. Is it mine? You betcha. I’m gonna wear it proud this weekend. After all, I’m a poor farmer. I doubt anything they had was super nice. Expect photos next week!

The kind of finished garment after numerous button placement tweaks that involved stitching the buttons on, cutting them off, restitching, and then repeating on both sides.

The kind of finished garment after numerous button placement tweaks that involved stitching the buttons on, cutting them off, restitching, and then repeating on both sides.

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.

L’Hermione: Boston “Been there, Didn’t do it, Got the T-Shirt Anyways”

Yesterday (11 July, 2015) a few of us from Rogues Island made the venture in a large metal snake (The T) up to Boston in an effort to greet the Hermione. Having been invited by one of the crew members back in January, we were pretty excited to go to this. After all, I had spent countless of hours and dollars on a new suit partially for this event but mainly because I needed civilian clothing.

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Waiting in the station in Providence for the train.

On the way to Boston! You can see Diet Coke #2 in this photo

On the way to Boston! You can see Diet Coke #2 in this photo

So, after being stared at on the train ride up to Boston, we arrived at Rowe’s Wharf just in time for the National Anthem and a bunch of speeches. I had 3 cans of Diet Coke before even arriving so a restroom was of the utmost importance to me so I skipped all of that nonsense. After visiting the necessary necessaries, I made my way back to the hoard of reenactors in time for us to venture over to get to the ship.

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Most times, when events ask us to come out and volunteer, they’ll show us something before or during the public hours but at least make time for us to see it. We got to the front of the line, like we were told and stood there. The ship’s bouncer told us all to come back later. This was fine in our books since we were all kind of hungry for lunch.

On the way to lunch. Note: A fife and drum corps was playing so naturally we all started marching in step. It's amazing how soldiers have the tendency to follow the music.

On the way to lunch. Note: A fife and drum corps was playing so naturally we all started marching in step. It’s amazing how soldiers have the tendency to follow the music.

The midday meal was probably one of the most interesting parts of my day. Similar to a debutante ball, this was my coming out to the elite society of reenactors, per say. I ate with all the big wigs of the hobby which was intimidating at first but definitely became less scary as the meal went on. Reader, I’m pleased to report I passed muster and have been accepted into Bostonian society.

Lunch at the Granary Tavern

Lunch at the Granary Tavern

After lunch, we made our way back to L’Hermione but not before I went an acquired a t-shirt. (Since I was in a sense a tourist, it was required.) We went back to the same man that told us to come back and he greeted with a rather rude tone and told us we would not be able to board. So, we traveled by train to get kind of close to a ship that we were invited to see. Granted we traveled less distance than some of the people there (Reenactors came from Vermont and Tennessee to see her) but still, it hurt.

The closest I got to the ship

The closest I got to the ship

I was still determined to get a photo of me at the helm of a ship though and about 6 blocks away was the Royal Portuguese Navy Sagres that is used to train officers. Sure, she’s a 1920’s steel yacht but still, it was purty and I did get a photo of me holding the wheel (Which has yet to be sent to me) so the day was a success.

Obligatory selfie on-board the Seagra

Obligatory selfie on-board the Sagres

Did I achieve the goal of seeing L’Hermione? Nope.

Did I reenact anything at all? Nope. I went to Boston in silly clothing and felt a feeling of emptiness in the historical  portion of my heart.

Did I have a good time? You bet your arse I did. I met people I had only seen online, had an amazing lunch, and got to have one hell of an adventure with some amazing people.

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Military Man-Trap (1788) ASKB Library

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MBTA Man-Trap, Providence RI, 2015

Some Revision Required

It’s that end of the semester rush. I’ve been locked in my room these past two weeks writing papers ranging from imperialistic perspectives in British media covering Rhodesia’s UDI to modern contestations to the Falklands’ sovereignty. My fingers are itching to get back to sewing next week. That frock coat WILL be finished by the end of May. The breeches by mid-June (Knowing me, probably not.) and some sort of a waistcoat by July for L’Hermoinee.

As I write these papers, I notice the amounts of revision I have to do. My first attempt is close-ish. My second attempt is closer. My third attempt is pretty good. Hopefully my fourth attempt will be an A. But I notice this same pattern in my reenacting hobby.

My very first uniform was 18th century-ish. You could tell I was aiming for 18th century with my local militia company but stuff wasn’t quite there. The coat is totally wrong. The breeches, gaiters, and waistcoat are all way too big. But this was my very first uniform and I had no clue about anything 18th century. I was an 8th grader at the time after all.

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The beginning of my “never look into the camera” phase. This would be a Continental Soldier circa 1976.

My second attempt was getting better. I was getting closer, that’s for sure but it still wasn’t great. I’d give this a C. I’ve ditched the coat but instead I’m wearing the season’s hottest night gown (hunting frock), ill fitting breeches, modern shoes, and bad stockings. But the ideas are getting better!

josh

My third attempt was probably a C+, maybe a B-. The colour of the small clothes was off (Red when they should’ve been white.) But this is where I made the most improvement. I ditched the Velcro neckstock and changed to black silk. I stopped wearing the ill-patterned bearskin cap and switched to a cocked hat towards the end of my stay with that regiment. The fit of the clothes though were really good.

54th Regiment of Foot

54th Regiment of Foot: Take One

Attempt 3.5. My last event with the 54th. Probably the closest that kit was to being better.

Attempt 3.5. My last event with the 54th. Probably the closest that kit was to being better. Note: The feathers pointing straight up was me goofing around.

Now at my fourth attempt, I still wouldn’t give myself an A. I’d say a solid B is in order. The rope on my fife case cord is gonna be switched to hemp. I need to make a hunting frock like the one I’m wearing, a better waistcoat, and some osnaburg overalls. And the hat has to be made but lets not push it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with my wool overalls. They fit really well, that’s for sure and they’re nice and toasty. But osnaburg is more appropriate for this impression.

10th MA Light Infantry Fifer circa 1781

10th MA Light Infantry Fifer circa 1781

My point here is that reenacting is a learning experience. Almost nobody starts off at the A level. Like writing a paper, you need a rough draft. That draft is gonna be really crappy. Then your paper improves and becomes more nuanced. You should never judge a final draft based on what the first draft looked like. Stuff evloves and ultimately becomes a completely different thing. For some people, their impressions change in the course of a year. For me, it’s been almost 8 years of moving forward.

Just doing what you do right can inspire people to make changes. I remember the first time I saw my current regiment in the field. It was 2012 at a BAR show at Nathan Hale Homestead in Coventry, CT. Watching men in cut-down coats and leather caps come storming out of the corn field looked like a blast and I wanted to be a part of that. I had no clue that they had research behind their clothing. That was my first battle even firing a musket so fit of clothing was the last thing on my mind. But in the back of my head, I knew this group had something going on. About 2 and a half years later, I drank the Kool-Aid and joined them.

Besides this post being a timeline of my evolution through puberty, it’s shows me maturing through the hobby. I like research now. I love learning about uniforms and music. Eighth grade me would think I’m nuts, spending all my hours in databases looking for articles and images. Hell, college sophomore me thinks I’m nuts. That’s not the point though. I would argue I’m a different person than I was then and most people would agree and can relate to that. So, if you meet a former or current “farb” who wants to improve or has done so, treat them as you would anybody else. If it wasn’t for all the people (and there’s so many) guiding me along the way, I would never have gotten to where I am. You might not see the effects of your help right away. They may take eight years to show but eventually changes will start to show.

The Sherlock Holmes of Estate Sales

This afternoon on the way home from a relative’s first communion, my family stopped at an estate sale. The house, located in a comfortable middle-class neighbourhood, was pretty run down compared to its neighbours. Yard sales and stuff of the sort has never been my favourite thing to go to as I tend to find them awkward. Shopping somebody else’s goods and then possibly haggling them for a lower price is just not my cup of tea.

So this time I decided to sit in the car and wait for my mom and dad to come out. My dad is known for buying pieces of mismatched China at these things. His first visit to one he got lucky and bought some pretty decent pieces for a low price so he’s become an infrequent goer to estate sales since then. (Probably about twice a year.)

As I sat waiting, my mom sent me a text that read, “Tons of old books in her.” As a lover of history books, I couldn’t pass up the chance to potentially find something. My college’s library often sheds off older books once a year. You can stuff a bag for a buck and I tend to come home with four bags. It’s practically free knowledge.

Reader, when I walked into this house, I didn’t know what to say. The condition was pretty crumby. The books though were endless. There had to be over a thousand. Books ranged from Mayans to Colonial America to Revolutionary War to Regency to Homosexuals in History. There was also a large medical collection. The more I looked around, the more I realized not only would I have loved this person, but I began to learn so much about them from their stuff.

They obviously loved to read. They may have even been some sort of hoarder of books. But they liked antiques. There were some old black and white photos dating back to the early 1900’s, old sewing kits, and some Confederate souvenir plates.

Medicine was obviously their profession. Let’s be real, only doctors would probably want to read books on the practice and there were book ends marked “Brown University.” In the garage, there were some “specimen cups” (Which my mother asked if I needed any of those. Isn’t she funny?) and a medical with a stethoscope to listen for the heartbeat of a baby in the womb.

History was an extreme passion for the person but it was mostly for fun. Most of the books weren’t scholarly. By that I mean most of them didn’t have footnotes or bibliographies. The person wanted to read as much as they could on it and didn’t care too much about the potential for era as much as a historian might have. Their collection spanned thousands of years of history so nailing a favourite era is almost impossible but there was a large amount of Pre-Columbus America books, particularly on the Mayans.

Their taste in music was opera and classical. CD’s and records were laden with Haydn, Mozart, etc. They had musical skills. I grabbed a book of traditional Irish sheet music to take home. In it, there are written in notes for chords to play along with the music. Not only can they read sheet music but they were able to figure out harmonies to play, most likely on guitar or piano.

Their favourite vacation spot was New Orleans. There was a bunch of souvenirs from the city. Books, artwork, plates, and cups with sights of the city were all over the house.

I couldn’t help but feel like a detective when exploring the rooms and rummaging through the stuff. Each room revealed more and more about the person and their life. In my book, the person must have been pretty cool. We shared all the same interests, besides the medicine. It’s amazing how much material culture can reveal about one person or a household. I can only imagine what people will say when they go through my stuff when I’m gone. 18th century outfits, jazz music, and Disney World maps will make an interesting conversation.