As seen in the March 2002 edition of W&ET Magazine
Experiencing The French & Indian War
By: Ed Fedory
As the Gray Lady headed up the Northway in those pre-dawn hours, she must have looked quite the sight! She bristled with the trunks of young trees, cut to serve as tent poles for the massive expanse of sailcloth we would call our home for the next couple of days. Every bump in the road was accompanied by the clatter and clang of cast iron pots, pans, and other assorted cooking accoutrements, running the gamut from iron chains to trammels. Our muskets were wrapped in thick woolen blankets that would see service as both our bed and bedding. And, it was not totally unexpected when the tollbooth attendant threw us a triple-take as he took the money from one who appeared to have fallen from the pages of a history book about life in Colonial times!
The restored Fort Ticonderoga was again the host for the Grand Encampment of the French & Indian War. Within the former barracks were artifacts, weapons, tools, and relics reflecting all aspects of life during the 1700s.
I guess it is equally strange that just the week prior, I had been digging into that same valley floor, seeking the relics, both lost and discarded, from those very soldiers I now hoped to imitate faithfully. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I sensed a growing bond with the men who had camped, fought, and died in those northern reaches of upstate New York over two centuries ago, and each dug musketball, each button and tent peg ferrule, began to hold for me a deeper feeling for the past. It was something I hadn't expected, but it was a new sensation that was totally welcomed.
The highlight of each day was a mock battle between French, Indian, and British forces. The air was filled with the sound of musket fire, cannons, and the war whoops of the Native Allies.
Having pitched our canvas tent and stowed our gear, we set out to find, amid 1,200 re-enactors, the other members of our regiment. Our group had signed on with a crew of "battoemen," a support group whose main function had been to man the bateaux and deliver both soldiers and supplies to the front lines of battle. You'll notice that I've used two different spellings for the type of ship we would crew. One is the correct French plural spelling; the other, one of many corrupted English spellings. But there is only one word that can actually define this type of craft... huge!
The menu was traditional for the 18th century, as was our "kitchen." Eating from pewter plates or wooden trenchers and drinking from tinned mugs was a far cry from the lives we had left only the previous day.
Rowing that bateau was a real hands-on experience with history. I had read many stories and articles about the importance of these ships during the French & Indian War as they plied their way along Lake George and Lake Champlain, but never once did I give any thought to the men who had to row them. I soon acquired a new respect for the men who toiled at the oars to bring needed supplies to the far-flung forts and camps on the edges of the lakes. It was a lesson that could be found in no book.
Getting into the garb of the times, with hunting frock, leggings, and loincloth, was only one small aspect of a weekend intended to transport us back over the centuries to a far simpler, yet dangerous time in our history.
Not more than 30 yards from where our tent was pitched lay the remnants of a Colonial redoubt, and within that same radius was the site of a mass grave where hundreds of American patriots were buried during the Revolutionary War. That evening I was overcome with the greatest sense of awe I had ever experienced. Under those lofty stars I was in the 18th century, and I could almost sense ghostly feet tapping the ground as the fiddle picked up its pace.
Launching and rowing a 13,000 lb. bateau was an experience my arms and back will never forget! I felt like Judah Ben Hur in the Roman galley scene.
I have to give Charlie a heck of a lot of credit. He threw every bit of determination and energy he had into that race. According to Charlie, "If we had only fifty more feet of weeds to plow through, we wouldn't have come in last!" Bedraggled and limping, he headed to the tent where the jug of "shrub," a slightly more potent variation of today's Gatorade, was stored. We didn't see Charlie again for the better part of an hour.
Along "Sutlers' Row" could be found every type of article needed to enhance the 18th century experience.
In preparation for the battle, we were drilled. Old Baron Von Steuben, of Revolutionary War fame, could not have done it better. Musket loading procedures, marching procedures, the manual of arms... trying to keep in step... wheeling the troops, marching on the oblique... presenting firelocks... grounding firelocks... To say the least, there were enough orders to remember (and forget!) to make anyone look like the village idiot! I even volunteered for remedial drilling!
For non-participants and for those who re-enacted, it was an educational experience, and through that experience I grew a little closer to the men and women who fought, died, and gave birth to a new nation in the depths of an evergreen wilderness!
During my first attempt at loading and firing in unison, I did not bite deeply enough in to the powder charge, and had to fool around for some additional time with the excess paper before joining the rest of the regiment in a volley. The second attempt was no more fruitful, as I bit so deeply into the charge of powder that half of it went into my mouth, half went into the pan, and what few grains were left got dumped down the barrel. I knew then, that somewhere there was a village looking for its black-lipped, black-toothed idiot!