Friday, November 27, 2009

Hunting Frocks and Hatchet Cases

I see them quite regularly at events. The caped, fringed frocks worn by riflemen and militia during the War. They were fairly prevalent, easy to make, durable and effective as an outer garment.

What's the problem you ask?

We didn't have them on this end of the frontier... Other than the rifle companies that journeyed North to fight under Washington and some Continental units that used them as impromptu regimentals, you shouldn't be wearing one if you re-enact a unit of the NY Frontier. Yet I see "milita" wearing them all over the place. Why? For the same reasons they were popular in the period. Except now you can add "it's close enough" to the list.

"...he has a rough case for his tomahawk with a button, and it hangs in a leathern sling down his side like a hanger, between his coat and waistcoat..."

I've been "working on" a case for my hatchet for months now. I finally got it done tonight. It's a light, efficient and comfortable way to carry my "Mohawk belt Ax". I got the idea from the above F&I era quote, fortified by a Mark Baker article and then was provided this pic of A. Henry's tomahawk case, ca. 1786:


I just greased it lightly with some deer tallow/beeswax and am letting it dry. Perhaps I will do a little incise decoration on it later on.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Provisioning at events

Camp detail from Mike G.

Recently on RevList, a discussion has taken place over food at events. One side basically proclaiming that they'd die of food poisoning by Saturday afternoon if they didn't have modern coolers in camp. The other saying that if you stay period, you don't NEED coolers.

The basic diet of a soldier on campaign consisted of bread and meat. The daily breakdown for a British soldier was:

1 pound bread
1 pound of beef (or a little less of pork)
1 oz +/- of rice
7 oz of peas
1 oz =/- of butter

Of these, only meat would require refrigeration and ONLY if it was fresh. By boiling the meat in a mix of water, salt and apple cider vinegar, you'd easily get hrugh a couple of days without a cooler. More if the pork was a brined/smoked product.

So why don't we eat this way? Because some of us see the events as a party and don't want to "suffer" under a period diet. They eat better at events than many of us do at home. At Saratoga in 2007, one Rebel militia unit had lobster for Saturday supper!

As a raiding party, those of us in Brant's or other NY Loyalist units do have some options. Raiding parties foraged as they traveled. Produce from Rebel farm fields was easy pickings (no pun intended) and sympathetic farmers helped as much as they could. So add in things like sauerkraut, fresh corn, potatoes, etc according to season and you're still within period bounds and you're eating pretty well.

Alcoholic beverages were also discussed. Warm beer!?!?!?! Oh heavens no! Well, if you drink something other than light American-style beers, room temp is just fine. And don't forget rum and Madeira don't need refrigeration.

A little research and creativity will prevent ou from having to "suffer" under a period diet...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What should we look like?

Mark Baker has used the term "frontier trash" in his writings to describe the type of folks he and his friends portray. When asked about Brant's men, I sometimes use the same term.

I've likened them to the men that Mel Gibson and Tcheky Karyo recruit from the tavern in The Patriot. The rough, backwoods guys that Heath Ledger looks down on in the movie.

Only 2 of Brant's men, Richard Dingman and George Barnhart, were men of property. The rest were of lower financial station and some downright poor. All were farmers. They came from the western Catskill Mountains, the valleys of the Susquehannah and Delaware rivers. Rough country breeds rough men.

Our camps need to be minimal. Not only for reasons previously explained, but because these guys were BROKE. Everything they had was taken from them. This is likely half the reason they dressed as Indians (the other half being disguise). Indian dress was cheap and the men were destitute:

" doubt he will bring those white people who have been fighting with him all this summer. We are told they are naked..."

Taylor & Duffin to Daniel Claus, 26 Oct. 1778

"Last sunday also came to this place eleven men who served last year under Brant as volunteers and for want of clothing and ammunition were dismissed by him until spring..."

Daniel Claus to Gen. Haldimand, 9 December 1779

"(Brant) entreats me much to remind your Excellency about the clothing for white men that are with him, as they are quite naked and could not be expected to go on Service without covering."

Daniel Claus to Gen. Haldimand, 17 May 1779

Haldimand wrote back saying he was sending:

"100 suits of clothing, leggings & blankets."

20 May 1779

We have at least one primary source of documentation showing they did dress as Indians:

"Dear General; I have the honour to Informe you that this Morning a Scout of mine Came in who have been Peace Down the Suscohanna taking their rout round by the Butternuts and Returnd by the way of one Tunecliffts who they have, with fourteen or fifteen other Torrys, Brought In Likewise two of Brant's party, who ware Collecting Cattel at the Butternuts for Brant. Ware Clothed and painted Like Indians..."

Colonel Alden's Report To General, Stark.
Head Quarters, Cherry Valley Aug'st 12th 1778.

So what should we look like?
We should NOT look very uniform. Some of us in white man's clothing, some in Indian dress.
We should wear our clothing in (NOT artificially) so that we look like we've been around.
We shouldn't buy new shirts, leggings, etc all that often.
We should patch our clothing and gear (knapsacks, etc) rather than replace it.
We should take care of our firelocks, but NOT polish them like Regulars.
We should use Runaway ads to show us what lower class people wore.

In short, we should look like crap...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sugaring Off 2010

Plans are already underway for Sugaring Off, April 10-11,2010.

This is a small event that I help put on for the Herkimer Home State Historic Site in Little Falls, NY. We have 2 woods tacticals, 1 public battle, a seminar or 2, sutlers selling their wares, ca. 1763 home on 160 acres and just a good time in general. We max out at around 60 participants and that's how we like it.

Been thinking of doing a scout for a couple days before. Got a couple interested parties already.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The right firelock

There are lots of things that aggravate me about re-enactors. Beards, too much stuff, too nice of food, etc. But the one that generally gets me the most is choice of gun.

For the most part, unless you are a Continental, you shouldn't carry a "Charleville", and if you aren't a British regular, you shouldn't carry a Short Land (2nd Model Bess). As an irregular (Tory/Rebel milita, Indian Dept., etc) we should be carrying fowlers, trade guns, composite guns, older muskets.The Short Lands and the "Charlevilles" used to be the only affordable options. Now it isn't the case.

For me, a trade gun would be a good option since I work along the Iroquois. These firelocks were imported by the hundreds by Sir William Johnson in the 1750-1774 time frame. They could be Type Gs, or O'Connor gun styles, etc. Light and fairly cheap, they would be an excellent choice.

The only mentions I have found of what anyone of Brant's Volunteers carried are a rifle that Joseph received as agift and Robert Land who was captured carrying a "musket with bayonet affixed."

A rifle is a possibility since my persona is a bit better off than most, but still fairly rare in 1770s NY. A trade gun sold for about 16 shillings, rifles at around 80 shillings. The Indian Dept. imported quite few Indian trade rifles, but where would a displaced Loyalist come up with that kind of cash? It's possible I could have owned before the "Troubles" and brought it with me.

Anyone showing up with something like a CVA "Kentucky" is strictly rediculous. Every unit shouls have at least one loaner gun (more on that later).

Another option for most of us is a composite musket. Built after a british pattern in the colonies by local gunmakers, these used whatever was handy. A British barrel, Dutch lock, homemade triggerguard, etc could all be found on the same piece. Many of these type turn up in collections, yet we rarely see one on the re-enactment field.

One such is the "Veeder Gun" in the collection of the Herkimer Home SHS in Little Falls, NY:

Veeder gun

Veeder gun

This is a British LLP (1756) re-stocked by a local gunsmith in what looks like curly maple. Carried by Tryon County (Rebel) Militiaman William Veeder from about 1778-1781, this is a prime example of what militiamen's guns looked like.

Loaner Guns

EVERY unit should have at least one loaner gun. Your 2 biggest initial expenses are usually your firelock and a tent. The guy new to the hobby isn't going to want to put out $600-1000 right off the bat before he knows whether or not this hobby (or your unit) are for him. Loaners are serious recruiting tools.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Why carry so much?

In the RevWar, we call it "Williamsburg on Wheels." In the F&I it's "Quebec en derouine". ("en deroine" is a French term for a travelling trader, hence carrying a lot of goods.)

They are they people that take so much gear to an event that it takes up their entire vehicle (sometimes a trailer, too) and require a small army to set up camp. Granted, I don't like to be uncomfortable, but it does get downright silly. Dining flys, chairs, tables, stoves, 40lbs of iron fireplace tools, huge tents, trunks...

The worst part? Noone we portray carried all this crap. Not even the officers. I love walking up to a re-enactor as he is speaking about his persona of a simple farmer while standing in front of $4,000 worth of camp gear. This is one of the reasons that people new to the hobby think it's so damned expensive (it isn't exactly cheap, but it's not that bad.)

A good rule of thumb is, "If the soldier/militiaman couldn't carry it on his back, you don't need it."

For most of us portraying militia/irregulars during the AWI, the following is a good start:

Hat: $25 blank, finish to suit yourself.
Trousers: $90. Linen or tow cloth.
Linen shirt: $35
Workmen's jacket/Sleeved weskit: $140-175. Linen, fustian or wool.
Mocassins: $40 worth of deer/moose hide will get you enough to make 3-4 pairs.

Firelock: $600-? Depends on what you get. An India-made Brown Bess is at the low end of the price spectrum and will work well as a starter gun. Custom fowlers (which are generally more appropriate) run in excess of $1000, although you can find a used piece once in a while.

Cartridge box: $50-100

Blanket: $40 for a simple white, surplus British army blanket.

Knapsack or snapsack: $45-100. Just to carry stuff in.

Tumpline: An inexpensive tumpline/blanket sling can be made from $20 worth of hemp webbing.

Wood bowl, folding knife and horn spoon: Around $40 total.

Canteen: Various options, $35-75.

With these basics, you can sleep, eat and fight. Everything after that is just gravy. Most units have loaner tents/shelters, some even have loaner guns and clothing.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

June Scout

I am in the planning phase of a scout in NY's Adirondacks this June. A few of us will be taking either a section of the Northville-Placid trail or another (I can't think of the name right off) a few miles away. Perhaps a 15-20 mile round trip over 2 nights/3 days.

These scouts help us understand how folks in the period utilized their equipment and skills to survive and travel through wilderness areas. Specifically for us would be travel to/from a Rebel (Patriot) settlement in the Mohawk, Schoharie or Delaware Valleys of NY. We raided Rebel settlements, burned crops, took livestock and other provisions and helped Loyalist families escape the Rebel Commitiies of Safety that terrorized them.

We hope that unit members will come together at least 2x a year to perform a period scout. Scouts may be tactical in nature (military-themed) or civilian in nature (hunting/trapping camp, etc).
The original Volunteers travelled the backcountry quite often and had to be familiar with period outdoor skills (mostly adapted from the local Iroquois).
Skills that we work on during these events include:
-Shelter building
-Flint and steel fire building
-Wilderness navigation
-Hunting (in season)
-Period cooking

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Who I am


My name is Mario and I live in NY's Schoharie County. In the 18th century, this was NY's frontier. During the Revolution, it was raided by Loyalist and Iroquois during the period known as the "Burning of the Valleys."

I portray a white Loyalist fighting alongside Mohawk leader Joseph Brant. "Brant's Volunteers" were known in this area as fierce fighters. They raided settlements like Cobuskill (Cobleskill), German Flatts, Springfield, etc as well as taking part in the amush of Rebel militia at Oriskany on August 6th, 1777. They were one of the most active units of Loyalists, yet they received no pay.

In the following pages, I hope to share research and my adventures in re-enacting and conducting period scouts throughout NY's wildlands in 18th century garb.

This is our website: