As seen in the December 2000 edition of W&ET Magazine
By: Ed Fedory
As we walked the length of the dirt trail, between tents, the air filled with the aroma of baking bread, and the distant sound of drum rolls, bagpipes, and cannon fire, it was hard to imagine that we had just entered the 21st century. The calendar said we were halfway through the year 2000, but to each of us it seemed as if we were locked in the middle 1700s.
Tons of cannon, from various eras and countries, formed a battery on the surrounding lawn. Dressed in the garb of modern times, a 35mm camera slung over my shoulder, instead of a musket, I felt out of place- literally, out of time- in my current surroundings.
Dressed in the garb of modern times, a 35mm camera slung over my shoulder, instead of a musket, I felt out of place- literally, out of time- in my current surroundings. A man just recently emerged from a time machine could not have felt more strangely. I should have expected my own personal awkwardness. After all, I had been to similar events on a number of occasions. Yet the sensation of being an outsider was overwhelming!
Each of us came to the Grand Encampment of the French & Indian War at Fort Ticonderoga with different goals and expectations, but the common denominator was a love of history, and specifically, the 18th century. Rather than picking up another book on that period of time, walking among and talking with people who were living history was far more interesting and educational.
On the edge of the encampment, a group of Provincials form ranks. The Colonial reinforcements for the British troops engaged in a mock battle against the French and Indians.
Always a constant source of fascination and interest was the care each reenactor gave to his style of dress. Each had established his own persona of the past. Some were British regulars, while others outfitted themselves as Ranger corps. There were Provincial militia units, female "camp followers," and no end to the variety of Native Allies. Each was a study and a lesson in the lifestyles of the past. It wasn't just what was worn, but how it was worn and decorated. The more you studied each reenactor, the more details you found to observe, and the greater you became aware of the breadth and depth of history and historical reenacting.
There exist numerous reenacting groups, their interests ranging from the days of ancient early Greeks and Romans, through the Civil War, and on into World War II. For a view of the variety of reenactors specializing in particular time periods, check out the website http://www.reenactorsworldplus.com/. Not only will you be given a view of the different active groups, but the links associated with the various sites will allow you to gather more information on the history of your period of interest, and upcoming reenacting events.
One of the greatest features of "living history" was the variety of crafts visitors were able to witness in the process.
As we toured the encampment and browsed through the numerous sutler's tents, I found numerous replica British regimental buttons. The problem with many of the pewter buttons we dig in the fields is that they have become so corroded over the years from constantly being turned in the soil and from the chemical reactions of the soft metal with strong fertilizers. In some cases, the buttons are barely identifiable.
While most of the tents were of the wedge & wall variety, the Indian camp was genuinely something out of the pages of a history book!
In one sutler's large tent, amid the displays of handmade knives, powder horns, waistcoats, and tricorn hats, my eyes suddenly fixed on a display of a half dozen flintlock muskets and rifles. Five of the six would have held my interest for less than 30 seconds, but the tiger-striped curly maple stock on the bottom of the rack riveted my attention. I eased my way over toward the rack for a closer examination of the rifle, hoping that it would appear as fine close-up as it did from the other side of the tent. The stock had been polished with beeswax and hand rubbed to a satiny finish, and the use of iron furniture, rather than flashy brass, added a subtlety to the finished piece.
The sutler asked if I would like to hold the rifle. My answer of "Yes" would soon prove to be a fateful one. As I held the rifle in my hands, I viewed with interest the big bore and yet the almost delicate features the rifle possessed. Holding the stock to my shoulder and sighting down the length of brown steel, I could tell in an instant she was a sweet shooter.
I've always believed that magic can be found just around the next corner, and indeed, for this relic hunter, it was a magical day. I would not only be digging relics from the 1700s, but would begin living, in some small way, a part of history I had grown to love so much over the years. It would be the last day I would attend an encampment and feel like an outsider.