Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Philadelphia Campaign 1777: Brandywine Creek 2010

We spent this past weekend getting acquainted with Ashley's new GPS, Bernie, on a weekend-long adventure that went from our usual English country dance Friday night, down to Pennsylvania Saturday for Ashley's best friend's wedding, and then further on down to DE to Brandywine Creek for the Philadelphia Campaign re-enactment, and finally back up to home Sunday evening.  Let's just say that our relationship with Bernie got off to a bit of a rocky start.  He behaved quite reasonably en route to PA, though he just had to take us over one of the major NYC bridges that we specifically wanted to avoid (nightmare #1), though even that might have been forgivable if not for his very naughty behavior on the way home.  He managed to get us from PA to DE very politely and smoothly on Sunday morning, I must say, but something must have vexed him by the time we were ready to ask him to take us home, because he ended up speaking rather harshly to us when we tried to change his requested route to avoid having to suffer a second time going back through NYC.  We were punished for our disobedience by being taken - despite all our most valiant efforts - back across the aforementioned despised bridge and were stuck in traffic for a good three hours because of it (nightmare #2).  Moral of the story: Bernie does NOT know best, but you better make him think he does or otherwise you'll pay.  Big time.  So the drive home which should have taken about four and a half hours ended up being seven and a half instead.

But it was well worth it!  We had planned to attend the Brandywine Creek re-enactment attired properly in our period things, but it started to rain on the way down and just kept getting darker, so we abandoned that idea.  The weather report on Thursday (when we packed) said it was supposed to be in the mid-70s and partly cloudy, so all we brought were some nicer gowns with silk petticoats (okay, yes, it was a battlefield, but we were also going for the shopping and we so rarely get a chance to wear our posher things!).  No way were we going to risk despoiling our pretties (or my new shoes!), so we ended up playing the 21st-century spectator role instead.  It was pretty chilly while we were there, though luckily it did stop raining just after the battle began, so watching it was quite tolerable.

The Continental encampment

On first arriving, we were greeted by the sight of various be-stockinged and be-uniformed gentlemen entering and exiting a row of 21st-century portable outhouses.  Talk about time warp!  Not exactly something you see every day, and we were vastly amused.  Then we headed over to the sutlers' area to do some not-quite-needed-but-still-necessary shopping.  After a visit to Historic Delights to enjoy some graciously offered dry space (Ashley was good and restrained herself from buying more earrings, though Janice's gorgeous designs are awfully hard to pass up!), we headed over to Silly Sisters (one can never have enough hat blanks, and these are our favorites), and then on to Burnley and Trowbridge to say hello to Angela and Jim (and of course Sophie!).  I don't withstand fabric temptation as well as Ashley does, so I ended up walking away with some gorgeous worsted wool for a riding habit, a heap of button molds for that same "one day" project, and some linen for a couple new caps.  While shopping, we chatted with Angela about the excitement being generated over the upcoming CW symposium (if only they would post the registration and schedule!) and also enjoyed hearing about the developing plans for the spring workshops.  The potential for more than one trip to Williamsburg before May has now increased three-fold.  Huzzah!

The battle re-enactment was spectacular and, according to a couple of the RevWar lists, one of the best ever.  The number of participants far exceeded anything we've seen before at a re-enactment like this.  The site (Brandywine Creek State Park near Wilmington, DE) was pristine and ideal for this type of event, totally untouched and isolated from all 21st-century intrusions.  For those who need a brief history brush-up, the Battle of Brandywine Creek was part of General Howe's attempt to take Philadelphia.  Though the campaign ultimately failed, Howe did succeed at Brandywine in September 1777 in pushing back Washington's forces back towards Philadelphia.

Continental forces assembling

The battle begins

We attached ourselves dutifully to the Contintental side of the encampment and watched as the regiments assembled, taking full advantage of the protection afforded by a stone wall.  The British forces far outnumbered their rebellious counterparts and organized their ranks into imposing lines on the opposite end of the field. 

It was clear that not only the Continental forces, but also their camp followers, felt the pressure of the impending conflict.  One wife called out to her husband to be careful and went running onto the field in a desperate attempt to reach him.  As they embraced, the husband jokingly exclaimed, "Alas!  The final kiss!"

The final embrace

The Continental forces begin to repel the encroaching British

After advacing and then being forced to fall back several times when bombarded by enemy fire, the British finally reorganized and bravely charged forward, breeching the wall and chasing the Contintental men back behind their lines.

The logistics of the battle were impecably managed, and it was clear the spectators thoroughly appreciated the event as a wonderfully realistic re-enactment of history.  One very curious young man standing close behind me kept up a constant stream of inquiries to his father as the battle went on, eager to understand what he was seeing and why it was so important.  "So Dad, which side won this war?" he asked in dismay when he saw the Brits chasing the Continental forces over the wall.  Dad patiently explained the concept of losing the battle but winning the war.

By the end of the 45-minute squirmish, the battlefield was littered with "the dead," who patiently lay oh-so-still on the damp, cold ground as the medical men circulated around helping the wounded.  When the canons and firing ceased, it was declared "The battle is over.  The dead shall rise!"  If only real life had been so easy!

If you're interested in seeing some pretty amazing footage from on the battlefield, check out these videos done by one of the participants.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Game Time!

We recently acquired the Life in Colonial Williamsburg board game.  This game was produced exclusively for CW in 2001 by The Ash Grove Press, Inc, but is now sadly out of print.  We remember seeing this game sold at CW, but don't remember why we never purchased it before.  It must have been sold for a very limited time, so we've been hoping to find one second-hand.  The version we bought looked as good as new.  Unfortunately, even though the cards and pieces were still wrapped from the manufacturer, some of the game figures and tokens are missing.  Luckily, we were able to make some replacements and are still able to play.

The board is a condensed version of the town, with very nice drawings of the buildings, some gardens, and other features.  Each character is based on an 18th century Williamsburg resident and comes with a short biography.  As the characters make their way through the town (by the roll of a die) they must stop at various buildings and locations to collect "life tokens" which represent different aspects of colonial life.  The tokens must be purchased with the use of "coins" that can be obtained in a number of ways.  Landing on certain spaces requires the use of game cards which ask for answers to history questions or present 18th century situations to move your character or even send them to the stocks!  If a character finds him or herself in debt, he or she must lose a turn in the public gaol.  The first time we played the game, I chose the character of Mr. Pelham, who ended up spending quite a bit of time in the gaol!

Milliner character Catherine Rathell

I also couldn't help but notice the resemblance of the Mr. Greenhow character to a certain Mr. Jefferson! 

Thomas Jefferson (Bill Barker) of CW

Friday, September 10, 2010

Death Head Buttons: First Attempt

I recently ordered a few items from Burnley and Trowbridge, including the small book entitled “Death Head Buttons: Their Use and Construction,” by Norman Fuss. Eighteenth-century women’s clothing rarely had buttons, so this is not something that we will be needing frequently. However, recent plans to make riding habits (yes, both of us are planning an ensemble for ourselves) prompted my interest in learning how to make these buttons.

The book provides a nice overview of the history and shows numerous examples both on period clothing or displayed separately. In the back, Mr. Fuss provides step-by-step instructions on constructing the buttons. The process was easy enough for me to follow, so I imagine that most anyone would be able to pick it up; that said, it was also very time consuming and required careful, close attention to details - and lots of patience! - as I went along. Below are some pictures of my first buttons in progress. (This is actually just one button for practice that I covered and then pulled apart and recovered.)  Mr. Fuss specifically says not to use embroidery thread. Unfortunately, I have a lot of it sitting around that is not being used, so I figured it couldn't hurt to use it for some practice buttons. I also tried it with silk thread (the white thread in the photos), which was definitely easier to wrap and made a neater look. I’m going to keep practicing, especially since I haven’t chosen fabric for my riding habit yet, and hopefully it will get neater as I go.

I apologize for some of the blurry pictures - my camera had a tough time focusing.

Materials: Domed wood button with center hole, thread, needle, pin, and scissors

The anchoring wraps

Half-way done (front)

Half-way done (back)

Finished! (This was my very first try and my last wraps were too loose.)


Saturday, September 4, 2010

First Person Interpretation Retreat at Mystic Seaport

Back in January, I attended an ALHFAM event at Mystic Seaport. Mystic is a lovely village of relocated historic buildings staffed with professionals who bring 19th century maritime trades and customs to life. And just like OSV, it is a site close to home that I never had the time to visit. Our blog wasn’t around last winter, and we have some friends visiting Mystic soon, so I figured it would be fun to back-track a bit and share some stories about my visit.

The event I attended was hosted by one of ALHFAM’s professional interest groups. The First Person Interpreter’s Professional Network (FPIPN, pronounced “pippin”) is dedicated to connecting those who use first person to bring history to life so that they may share experiences and techniques and provide training opportunities. I have done some personal studying of the practice and have enjoyed observing some immensely talented people portray historical figures in various settings. Because I am currently only in the earliest stages of thinking through and developing my own first person persona, I thought it would be great fun to learn more about it from those with extensive experience, and to meet some of the people who enjoy sharing history as much as I do.

The FPIPN retreat was fantastic! (The program is still online here, if you are interested.)  Over the course of the weekend I attended several sessions, witnessed some great presentations, and had the chance to mingle over coffee breaks and meals. I think most of the sessions were geared towards beginners, which was really helpful for me, but there were definitely some very experienced practitioners among us as well. In the sessions I attended, we discussed topics such as studying historic dialects and tips for finding appropriate clothing. It was also interesting to hear about others' experiences with first person and how guests respond to their work.

The last event before leaving was a tour of the costume shop. It was a small group, so we had plenty of time to look around and ask questions. Downstairs, they have some work areas set-up with patterns laid out and works-in-progress hanging. Upstairs, rooms are lined with racks where costumes hang or shelves for shoes and hats, along with some small changing areas for the interpreters.

One of the rooms upstairs in the Mystic costume shop.

Men's costumes hang in another room upstairs.

Inspirations hang on the walls of the work rooms.

One of the first things that come to mind when thinking back to that weekend was the cold. To say it was freezing is an understatement. A BIG understatement. We kept pretty busy, but did have some time to look around the village. Unfortunately, because it was so frigid, I was only able to walk around quickly and snap some pictures. I will definitely be going back when I have a chance to look around some more. Below are some pictures from my brisk walk around town:

A personal highlight of my Mystic adventure was visiting Mystic Pizza. I think most people are familiar with the film of the same name, featuring Julia Roberts; the story is set in town and although they did not use the actual restaurant in the film, several scenes were filmed in Mystic. The restaurant walls were filled with articles and memorabilia from the film. If you know me at all, you know how much I love pizza. While the pizza wasn’t quite what I was expecting, it was very good and definitely worth the visit. I was also sure to purchase my own “slice of heaven” t-shirt!

Mmmm!  Pizza!