I Lack a Title for This.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’re told now’s not the time. 

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

They’re told they’re whining.

They’re told to silence themselves.

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

 

 

The Les Misérables Coat

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

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

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

Boston Gazette, Feb 1, 1777

Boston Gazette. February 1st, 1777.

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

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

And now we delve into the process.

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

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I seriously can’t shake this nickname.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Piecing pinned in

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Piecing after being whipped

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Back panel tail with piecing opened but not pressed yet

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

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

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Facing featuring the spaced bakstitch.

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

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30 freshly polished brass buttons awaiting their coat.

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

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

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

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Completed pocket flap on the front panel.

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

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The fell stitch

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

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

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This got ugly real fast.

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

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Shoulder strap built into the left sleeve

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

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

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

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Front panel lining and back panel lining meeting point

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The final stitch!

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

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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.

L’idée Réelle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo credit to Dragoon Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

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.