From aerial photos, forts seem to all look alike in their star shape- their bastions and buildings and gates all seeming to share locations and you can typically make out the locations of the outer trenches. However, once you approach these bulwarks of ages past, you find that each one has its own personality, its own design of buildings, its own energy almost. Together though, they all seem to have a sense of community, a sense of home, a sense of duty. These protections in the wilderness (at the time) stood out amongst the miles of forests to serve and protect those within its walls, and carry that sense even today as you walk among them. That’s exactly how I felt this weekend as I traveled north to Rome, NY, and the site of Fort Stanwix National Monument.
As you arrive off of the highway and come into town the way we did, there aren’t any signs or fanfare for the fort in general. Actually, as you come in from the street we came down, you have no idea there’s even a fort there until you pass by the visitors center and catch a brief glimpse of the British Flag and the wooden stakes protruding from the outer wall. We pulled around the back, to load in through the sally port, and once inside I was taken back by how it isolates you from the surrounding city, truly taking you back to the 18th century. You see a church spire and a parking deck if you’re looking for them, but because of the fort walls and the way it is designed, the city of Rome melts behind the buildings and bastions.
Fort Stanwix was re-built 75 years ago on the exact location where it stood. It had been covered by buildings and streets, but they were torn down, the site excavated, and rebuilt to original specifications that were available. While the barracks buildings seem crude to most modern standards, I completely believe this to be accurate to what would have been available at the time. The enlisted men’s quarters are basically just a large rectangular frame covered in hay for the regiment to share (one on either side of the room), and a fire place in the middle of the large expanse for warmth and cooking. Officers and visiting officers quarters were sparsely furnished, but were also smaller and more personal for these men of rank. There were even family quarters in the fort for those camp followers and children that may be on campaign as well.
My cohorts and I, John and Susan B, were privelidged to stay in the visiting officers quarters along with another nice gentleman. There were 2 sets of bunk beds in these, with ticking sacks filled full of hay in each bunk. Being the youngest of our group, I was relegated to the top bunk, which was only about 18 inches from the ceiling. Along with the bunks, there was a small table, and a massive fire place for cooking and warmth, and one small window for light. Even in the middle of the day, we needed to light candles in order to see into many of the spaces of the room comfortably.
For the layout of my surgeons impression, I was given the theater- an air conditioned and carpeted space that joins the main welcome area with a diagram of the fort. When not occupied by re-enactors such as myself, a film plays as an introduction to the fort and its history. There were a few people who seemed dissappointed that there wasn’t a film on the weekend, but I hoped that my presentation would be comparable at least for them, if not better.
One of the things that I found most suprising and pleasing about the event was that everyone, British, French, Highlander, and Native alike, all mingled together and talked amongst each other. Too many events, the British are on one side of the field, and the French are on the other and the Natives end up filling in wherever they may be able. Here at Stanwix, everyone intermingles, be it at tea, in evening discussions, and even singing in various camps. Everyone also seems to be there for the same reason- to promote the history and to educate the public. It was also very great to hear compliments on my portrayal by my fellow reenactors, on both my display and on my knowledge.
Both Saturday and Sunday the men and women portraying soldiers had short skirmishes as a demonstration of 18th century tactics, and the Fort’s 9 pounder was fired repeatedly. It put a smile on my face each time as it actually seemed to shake the building I was in as it was fired. What can I say- I have a thing for powerful artillery. Saturday afternoon, there was also a ladies tea for all the ladies in attendance. I was honored with receiving a taste of the tea that the ladies were drinking, which was quite spectacular. I think these teas are great for giving the ladies a chance to socialize and get to know each other, because they’re normally busy at events or don’t get to meet other ladies in other units and discuss their areas of expertise.
After the battle Saturday afternoon, and during a lull of the public in my area, I performed a demonstration of a straight shaving on two men. The day was hot, so it was good for them to have water on their faces, and it was good for me to do a demonstration of one of my crafts- which both the public and my fellow participants seemed to enjoy.
At the end of the day Saturday, all of the participants of legal age were lined up for a rum ration, which also was a nice touch. Here was everyone who participated in the day (minus the NPS staff of course), out to receive their dram for their service, along with toasts which abounded. After dinner time, of which my cohorts made an exceptional venison roast (thank you John and Susan again for a great meal!), there was a very nice concert put on by Linda Russell, who did beautifully.
After the concert, Capitaine Etienne A. Perkins dit le Gros Corne, and his Madame, put on a soiree with a table full of cheeses, bread, smoked meat, and other tasty treats. There we filled his officers quarters with lively discussion late into the evening. Then I mingled over to the Highlanders to share musical treats, and ended the evening on a bastion, staring at the moon and stars, content and happy to be there. It was a beautiful and comfortable night- to where some individuals actually slept out under the stars.
Sunday seemed more sedate of a day, but the public still came out in droves and still asked fabulous questions. It really was the questions that the public were asking that tickled me most- many wanted to know how I had gotten started in the hobby or into surgery itself, others had deeper questions than “what’s that do?” about illness and injury. It was intellectual for me! And the majority of people who came through my display asked questions- it wasn’t just the usual look and walk on that I see at several other events.
By closing time on Sunday, I was tired, but it still didn’t seem possible that it was time to tear down and return from whence we came. Others had left earlier in the day, but as we loaded our things out of the fort, it just had a touch of sadness attached with it. Like Fort Frederick, it seems, Stanwix has earned a special place in my heart- a home away from home in many ways. As we said our goodbyes to our new friends and our old friends, I made the promise that I would return again.
For anyone who hasn’t been to this fort, I highly recommend it for a visit, if not to go as a participant for the weekend at one of their events. Their staff is exceptionally friendly, the site is well done for accuracy and education, and it does have that great “time machine” effect, as Susan calls it, to take you back to the 18th Century.
Thanks to Christine Burgess for the photos she took this weekend- she was quite the shutterbug!
The Army Heritage and Education Center, I have to say, is a great site. As well it should be, as it has some of the best set ups for our entire Army History. Earlier this year I participated in a Timeline event at this site, which was lots of fun because they have actual standing camps for most of the eras of our history- from a simple f&i cabin, all the way through to modern day bunkers from our war(s) in the Middle East and Afghanistan. But I digress- that was in May.
The Market at Washingtonburg is a 3 day event, focused solely on 18th Century life, more specifically, life in the military during this era. This year, they also decided to add in sutlers, making it the second largest Market Fair in the Mid Atlantic (Fort Frederick being first). I went with Dagworthy’s Company, one of my British F&I units.
Upon arrival we were told we could set up near the Revolutionary War Americans, as the British regiments had backed out at the last second. To what reason they did is not for me to speculate. But it was rather dissapointing, at least for the other Revolutionary War reenactors on site. Dagworthys, being as we wear Red Coats, were allowed to camp there, which was also close to the Children’s games area- the primary purpose for our attendance. So TM (one of the other members of Dagworthy’s), and myself set up our fly and 2 tents, and hit dinner, then I returned and retired to my tent for the night. The temperatures this weekend were perfect for sleeping outside, and I slept better than I have at events all season.
Friday was “attack of the children” day. School classes from all over the region bussed in kids ranging from 4th grade to 8th grade, and brought them through in groups between 6 and 60. Dr. Bloodsworth from Newport News was there, and was short a spare set of Surgical hands, so I sat with him and went through the finer points of 18th century medicine, demonstrating amputations and trepannings on many different children, as well as scaring them with dental tools and glyster pipes. The games looked to be successful as well, from what I could see in the distance. In the span of about 6 hours, we saw over 1400 children, with only about 4 feeling sick to their stomachs or passing out from heat. Additionally we had about another 1200 visitors during the day.
In the late afternoon, I was able to spirit away for a bit and take a stroll around the sutlers. Most of them I was familiar with from Market Fair, but I had to say hi to my friends who run Fort Augusta Woodworking, as well as peek in at Bushnell bottle company. I have learned that in being a one stop shop for 18th century medicine, you need lots of bottles, and they have some of the best. I got the additional suprise from them, because they are now carrying Jamestown Glasshouse glass products, at lower costs than getting them from the Glasshouse. Score 1 for the sutlers! I made an order of a new Independance bottle, 2 bottles for decoctions, and a couple small bottles for my apothecary box. Then talk of dinner came about, and I ended up going to dinner with the Fort Augusta and Bushnell Groups. It was a great dinner, with good conversation and grand company. Again, when I climbed into the tent to sleep, it was a fabulous sleep.
Saturday saw me set up my surgeons tools under the Dagworthy’s fly, and ply my trade to the parents of any children who might come by to play games. And come they did. To the tune of 8,000 people. The games were played constantly, and I was almost constantly discussion different facets of medicine to people, grossing some out with my extracted teeth, and getting really good questions about my setup. At one point I took a short walk, and saw a gentleman who looked familiar pass me. It was Bill Barker, who portrays Thomas Jefferson in Colonial Williamsburg. He was there to put on the play Jefferson and Adams in Carlisle, but was doing some shopping of his own. He portrays a fantastic Jefferson, and one that actually inspired me to learn more about the man many years ago during a trip to Williamsburg with my family. So I called out to him, and told him such. It was great to talk to him, and he even came down to see my setup. He complimented me on my kit and said that I looked to be doing a great job. He then relayed to me a story about the beloved Jefferson and his last days- he actually died of Prostate Cancer! A fascinating story I can add to my bag of ancedotes when discussing things such as cancer and common ailments during the Era. A fantastic time indeed!
Saturday night I was honored with the privilege to have dinner with George Washington and Von Heer’s Provost company, who were extremely gracious to share their table, conversation, and even a taste of their dinner. Mrs. Thompson (Kim), who does their cooking, is an exceptional cook. She made a beautiful meat pie with potatoes and carrots, and the sample I got, I ate every bite. Exquisite cooking. That night I sat around the fire with them, keeping warm from the chill that was filling the air, watching a strange light in the sky, and just enjoying the company of new acquaintances. I continue to be honored by the great people I meet in this hobby, and they are no exception.
Sunday morning I setup under the fly again, but I was not alone- Matt from our unit arrived and showed off his rifle and talked about it to the public while I again tried to pull out teeth and amputate broken arms. However I ended up having an absolutely fascinating question from a girl of about 9 years old. She wanted to know about consumption. She had recently read a book that mentioned it, and wanted more information on the subject. So I was able to inform her about the illness (Tuberculosis as we know it today) , what I would do to cure it, and how it took many lives. A somber subject for someone so young, but still great to get a new, unique question.
Teardown went quickly, and I was grateful for it- which is odd for me at most events. Perhaps its the fact that the season is almost over, or the chill in the air, or that I was out for 3 days instead of the usual 1 or 2 days that made me ready to come home, but I was definitely ready.
Next year, I hope that AHEC will take the suggestions of people to invite more groups or make it more of an 18th Century camping event like Market Fair. I think the sutlers were grateful for the event, however it would have been a bit better if there were more people to buy their wares. I think in total there were only about 60 actual reenactors (not including sutlers), and with 80 sutlers, I don’t know that it was a good sales event for any of them. But we’ll see next year. I’d also like to see the school groups scheduled with a bell or something so they only get 20 minutes at each site or so, so we don’t have overlap or backup of groups, which was a small problem we were having with them on Friday.
Kudos to AHEC for water, excellent port a potties, and making sure we were happy throughout. Now if only we could shut down 81 while we’re there.
This event came onto my schedule rather last minute. My friend Tom said, “Hey can you come out to the Hager house in Hagerstown, MD this weekend? We’re doing a small encampment for an arts and crafts festival they put on, and we’d love to have you.” I had planned on attending the CI event, but feeling somewhat under the weather already, I decided to stay a bit more local and check out this event.
Saturday was a bit cold and damp, but was still well attended. I set up under a fly loaned to me by my friend Mardel, who has more canvas than anyone I know at this time. She was very generous, and setting up the fly took no time at all. The Friends of Fort Frederick, set up a couple small wedge tents and a fly as well, and Tom set up his small Native tent and supplies, to discuss the trading that went on at the site in the 1750s with the Indians and locals. We were sat at the end of the rows of craft merchants, selling herbs, doll clothes, blacksmith and silversmiths, and wind chime makers, but had fantastic shade and a good crossbreeze. Saturday I was able to wear my full regimental and be comfortable, which reminds me sadly that fall is coming and with it the end of our fine reenacting season.
We had a good turnout on Saturday, which allowed me to discuss all the different aspects of 18th century medicine and life on the frontier. I had a good assistant in the young son of Tom, who ground snakeroot in a mortar and pestle. This gave me proof that an idea I have currently forming in my head will be of great use in the future- putting the young apprentices to work next to me as I discuss the finer points of medicine that way they learn and work while I work as well. The snake root ground well and opened up a flurry of conversation about the efficacy of 18th century medicine, which was also very advantageous. I had several people stay for upwards of 20-30 minutes, which is encouraging to me- I am engaging the public and I’m sure they are coming away with valuable information as well.
I had a whole bunch of little kids come around on Saturday and Sunday, and for them, instead of discussing the scary aspects of amputation, etc, I’ve picked up the habit of showing them Wilbur- my pet tooth with 2 cavities. I figure at least I’m showing them that I pull teeth as a doctor, but also encouraging them to brush every day because they don’t want to look like Wilbur. I need to really send a thank you card to my friend Carter for Wilbur- he’s been a great help in my interpretation.
Sunday was sunny and warmer, and I brought fresh roses and sugar for the apprentices who were so excited about grinding with the mortar and pestle to actually make something- conserve of roses. We got several roses ground into a fine paste, then added the sugar. I’ll be stirring it at home for 3 months, then seeing if it has viability for an actual medication or not. Here’s to experimentation! The one young apprentice I had for Sunday enjoyed it greatly, until hte Yellow Jackets started to amass. Then we shut down operations to keep the bees away.
Both Saturday and Sunday we were treated to Native American dancing by Tom’s dance troupe, which was fantastic. I felt myself swept up in the music and the rhythm, and was almost inclined to go dance as well. But that’s rather unbecoming when you’re discussing medicine with the public- to just get up in the middle of a sentence and dance. Maybe next time.
Overall this was a great event, and I felt as if I got good questions and discussions with many people. I also got to encourage a bunch of people to come to ghost walk, and feel out how I like my new layout with 2 tables instead of one. I hope we get to do another event there in the not so far future!
Its so nice to have a home like Fort Frederick- a place where your unit is most at home, you have a specific course of actions that are taken, and you just feel like you’re coming to your second home. While travelling with a tent, a fly, all my medical equipment, and all my various goods and chattle are always fun, its so very nice to only have to fill half the truck with equipment to make it to an event that is 30 minutes from home, and provides you a roof, a bunk, running water, and many fireplaces. Fort Frederick does well with this for the Maryland Forces, Beall’s Company, and I have to say I’m grateful for it. So a great thanks to Steve Robertson, Director of the Fort, and all of his team of Rangers, interpreters, and staff.
I arrived Friday, in the rain, but was loaded in pretty quickly, and not a moment too soon. The barracks were packed this weekend, so I got a good space on a bottom bunk, and proceeded to relax in song with some of my other mates in Beall’s company. We also welcomed a couple new reenactors, Josh, and Coffey into our midst. Josh is on Artillery crew, and I don’t think he really knows what he’s gotten himself into. Coffey is the Father-in-Law to our Fifer, and wanted to cook. Additionally, I don’t think he knew what he was getting into.
In addition to my playing Surgeon this weekend, I would also be doing multiple roles, as assistant cook, and as my Surgeon’s sister Charlotte, whom you can read letters from on another portion of this blog. This required me to bring additional supplies, and I had spent the week preparing things as well. Air out the polonaise, bake 6 dozen scones (one dozen of rice flour scones for a lady with a gluten allergy), a bundt cake of zucchini bread for Saturday morning Breakfast, purchase chickens, garlic, and beer for Saturday’s lunch, and of course, pack my myriad of teacups to allow all the ladies to drink in style. By the time I arrived at the fort, I was beyond ready for the event.
While there were only 2 French units in attendance, I believe the numbers evened out in battle. I would hope that in the future more French would come, so I’ll do my part to help encourage them to do so. I was unable to watch any of the skirmishes, however the guys when they came back always looked as if they had fun. Of course, what’s not fun about shooting black powder muskets! (other than cleaning them!).
Lunch on Saturday was Chicken stewed in Beer with vegetables. We had about 30 people to feed, so we plopped 6 chickens into 3 dutch ovens, and put the vegetables in in the last 20 minutes. I think in the future we need more vegetables for that many people, but everyone seemed to greatly enjoy this recipe. Many thanks to Cookie Brennan, who provided me this recipe as a starving starting reenactor many years ago, and it continuing to be a success! However, I think in the future I shall only be a cooking consultant- running back in forth from explaining amputation and bloodletting to seeing if the chicken had been cooked thoroughly was nearly my undoing. I enjoy helping people learn how to do things, but I really need to learn when to just say “hey- you can do this! call me if its an emergency!”
I received a lot of compliments from the public in regards to how I presented my surgery items, as well as the education provided to them and their children. A couple of people had actually been at Old Bedford Village previously and remembered me- including the family of the nice lady with the cast who let me “amputate”, and who’s Toddler then cried, thinking her arm was truly gone (which there was never any danger of). They told me how much they enjoyed my presentation there, and asked more questions. To me, that’s a sign that I’m doing a great job- keep them asking questions!!
Saturday evening and Sunday morning the Friends of Fort Frederick provided meals for us, which was a welcome break from having to cook over a hot fire- the heat was rather obvious on Saturday afternoon-, and made it so we didn’t need to heat much water on Sunday. Both meals were very good, and I think was a great gesture from the Fort to thank us for our coming out to play.
Recently, Stephanie Hanson had mentioned wanting to have a ladies tea in her own blog (http://theteascoop.typepad.com), and so I had suggested doing a Ladies tea at the Fort during the Muster. A great way to get the ladies all together because many don’t know each other. Ladies have busy jobs at events to cook and keep the men hydrated,etc, and don’t get a lot of time normally to socialize with women in different units. Fort Stanwix had recently done a Ladies tea for the ladies who came to visit there previously in the summer, and the ladies I know who attended could not stop talking about its fabulousness, and so thanks again to Steve Robertson, it was made an event as part of the event. We had about 12 women in attendance, including Charlotte (my female alter ego), and enjoyed rosewater scones, queen cakes, almond tarts, shortbread cookies, molasses cookies, clotted cream, and many more fantastic treats, as well as great tea. Many thanks go to Stephanie, Andrea Bain, and Susan Bortniak, for providing the victuals, as well as to Tom Hoover and Quinn for being our fabulous “man servants”, keeping our tea full of hot water.
At the tea I was gifted with bottles which were hand blown by my friend Kristen. They are absolutely exquisite- replicas of bottles seen at Louisbourg in her travels there last year. She provided me with 6 bottles, and I actually did squeal rather loudly in my delight. Mara also gifted me with freshly dried chamomile, feverfew, and wormwood, which I need to hang on a hanger in my basement soon. They’re sitting in the garage right now, but I do want to make good use of them. They are incredibly fragrant. Tad Miller was also generous in providing me with some sawdust, which I want to put into a small box at my feet at events. These sawdust boxes were put under operating tables of surgeons, to be kicked where the blood was flowing from to catch it so it didn’t cover the floor, and make it slippery, and mine will probably also be used in case someone feels ill wen I’m talking about surgical practices. He also provided me some flax seeds, which will also be used in my interpretation. And Stephanie gave me a small container with her wisdom teeth in it- many of them broken, which will also assist me in my demonstration of the tooth key and goat’s foot elevator. Its really great to me to have people encouraging me in my presentation of the Surgeon, so I am grateful and thankful for all of these things.
Sunday morning before the public was allowed on site, the soldiers had a woods tactical- not a scripted battle, but much more a “capture the flag” sort of situation, which I believe everyone had a good time with. I think it gives the people participating a greater sense of what the battles may have actually been like.
Sunday afternoon, after the morning Artillery battle, I was able to organize a Court Martial of Pvt. Ireland, who had taken my bottle of Laudanum while at Niagara. Unfortunately the tribunal has been left open as we wait for more witnesses, and for the surgeons records to be looked over, but it was a lot of fun regardless. However, I was reminded that the Maryland Forces weren’t at Niagara- they were only ever sent as far out as Ligonier, but I still found it to be great fun, and we may finish the tribunal at the Fall Ligonier by some way. I suppose if I want to be successful I need to have a passle of weeping women, my records in my hand, as well as my historical facts correct 😉
The only regret I have about the event was that it went by far too fast. I look forward to the next event- which should be the Conocogeague Institute, followed by Carlisle. Carlisle should be a blast- I’ll be teaching tons of school children the wonders of 18th Century medicine. But before that I need to get up on my studies of the new herbs in my collection, stain my table, and make sure my tent poles are ready. My job is never done!
Last weekend I had the great opportunity to play Doctor at Old Bedford Village in Bedford, PA. While mostly a 19th Century site, it is also the location of old Fort Raystown- an outpost during the French and Indian War.
I was given the Apothecary shop to operate my “hospital” from, but to also discuss the role of an Apothecary in an 18th Century town, as well as the medicines of the wilderness.
It was very hot. No matter how many windows or doors I had opened, there was little escape from the humidity and the heat. I was fortunate that the Highland Regiment kept me hydrated, my unit, Dagworthy’s Company of the Maryland Forces, kept me fed, and I had a chair to rest upon when there weren’t many people in the shop.
There was a good turnout. I had people in the shop consistently from about 10 in the morning until we closed at around 4:30 in the afternoon Saturday, and from 11 until 4 on Sunday. Most asked great questions, and were truly engaged in my speaking. Again I was told that I should be a teacher. Since last going out as Surgeon (Fort Ligonier in july), I have added about 15-20 herbs to my collection, as well as tow, sponges, and amputation leathers (to pull back the skin to expose the bone during amputation). These are great tools, as children can touch them and feel them, and they provide a physical as well as the mental education. The Leathers themselves also seem to open up a window in the imagination as well- when discussing them I had 2 individuals on 2 separate occasions pass out from my discussions. The heat was more than likely the primary factor, but I plan on keeping a bucket of water and a box of Sawdust nearby in the future.
Sunday I was also able to perform a Bullet extraction on Private Oulette. While we only had a family of 4 in attendance, they asked good questions while I was able to practice the full process. At Fort Ligonier in October I’ll be able to perform this again, and wanted to make sure that I could do it with only minor blood, as the museum curator there has asked for it to be less bloody than I would usually choose to do. Of course I was spoiled from how much blood we let fly at Niagara.
In the future, I think it may be a good idea for me to discuss with the organizer of the event the possibility of having a medical demonstration on the schedule after a skirmish, to demonstrate bullet extraction of the era on someone who may have fallen in battle. I think that’ll be the best way to get individuals to come to the hospital, and provide me the opportunity to educate even further than just discussing the implements. Additionally, I need to study up on the herbs I just added to the kit.