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.

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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

“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.

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)

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.

Design on a Dime: 18th Century Clothing Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

$784.75

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

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

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

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

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