Thursday, October 20, 2016

Wolcott Mill: An 1860s Harvest Thanksgiving Presentation

I can hear it now:
Ken, in the title of your post, what do you mean, "A Thanksgiving Harvest?" It's only October. Thanksgiving is over a month away!
Yeah, it certainly is! But in the old days, before 1863, a Thanksgiving celebration could be celebrated nearly anytime after the harvest was in. After all, this was, perhaps, the most important time of the year for the farmer and his family; it was the culmination of a year's worth of work, and hopefully ensured his survival for another year to come.
And that's just what we, the civilians of the 21st Michigan, tried to emulate for the third year in a row at the Wolcott Mill Civil War event in rural Ray Township, Michigan - the celebration of the harvest in as much of its 1860s glory as we could.
I believe we were successful once again.
With my 'stealth camera' in tow, I made an attempt to capture the feel of what occurred at this, our last "official" event of the season.
Of course, my commentary will follow each photo - -
So let's begin at, shall we?
There was no mistaking what was going on in our neck of the woods. The 21st Michigan certainly knows how to put on a harvest display. Even our "Harvest Home" sign was made from the wood of a hundred+ year old barn - perfect!

Under the fly of my tent, as you can see, I have apples - heirloom apples - as a display. As I told visitors a bit of the history of this fruit, many of the folks began to realize its importance in our development as a nation. 
Also on display were the beeswax candles, recently made by my daughter & her friends by dipping as well as from a mold. 
Oh yeah, there's the cider barrel!

It's kind of hard to see from this angle, but the 21st Michigan's cider press is sitting in front of the barrel.

Here are the heirloom apples I chose to display this year:
Roxbury Russett, Cox's Orange Pippin, Pitmaston Pine Apple, 
Ribstin Pippin, Maiden's Blush, and the Hubbardson Nonesuch. 
Photo taken by Charlotte Bauer

I gave presentations on the apples, the candles, 
and even the cider press.
Photo taken by Larissa Fleishman

Adding to the realism of this harvest event, I had 
a glass plate picture taken of me holding my scythe.
It's fun to use the computer to create period-looking
photos, but, as the song goes, there ain't nothing like
the real thing, which this image is.
Photo taken by Robert Beech: period photographer

My wife spent the afternoon spinning wool into yarn on her wheel.

And, yes, she also drew many visitors as she explained the process of spinning.
Our next door neighbors had a very "fall flavors" display at their site.

They presented a few items pulled from their kitchen garden as well as some of the foods they were canning.
And here are two of those who live there:
Larissa and Beckie had their tin type taken 
by period photographer Robert Beech

The neighbor on the other side of our tent was downsizing her reenacting collection, and she set up a small sutlery.

A few doors down we had the local basket weaver.

There was another farmer across the road.

As you can see, they had a bumper corn crop this year!
 All of our civilian members who came to Wolcott participated 
in the harvest in some way or another.

Churning butter did not make their son a happy camper.

But shelling corn is a family affair, and it seriously kept the kids busy for hours.


Over yonder is our local poultry farmer, who sells his eggs in the city. He was also making candles in preparation for the long, dark months ahead.
I am most proud of  the fact that our 21st Michigan members are ready and willing to portray farmers. It absolutely gave this event a very period fall feeling.
Better than going to the cider mill!
Speaking of cider...
Our unit has a cider press, and one of our biggest pleasures 
is to make pure unadulterated apple cider!
The kids really enjoyed taking part in the process of 
turning apples into the finest drink this side of the Mississippi!


Between the cider press, the corn shelling, and the wool spinning, we garnered quite a crowd.

It seemed that every visitor inside the park was crowding around all of our presentations, as the view from under my tent fly attests.
It was quite a draw.

Period music on the fiddle from Miss Pearl
Pearl's fiddle

This particular apple will soon be an apple crisp dessert as part of our thresherman's dinner.
A thresherman's dinner was the celebration meal in which the ladies of the house prepared a fine serving of food to the farming men, including neighbors who helped with the harvest. Oh! It was a grand spectacle of a meal, and wonderful servings of fresh vegetables and fruits abounded, along with fowl and other meats.

And, for the third year in a row, we made a gallant attempt to replicate this scenario.
Quite successfully, I do believe!
A line up of harvest foods and desserts! 
Photo by Larissa Fleishman

All of us farmers with our families joined in the feast...

...with the tables and chairs pulled out into the center of our pathway.
Yes, I do belong to the finest reenacting group around - my opinion - the 21st Michigan!

I'm not normally one to take pictures of my food - - but this was so good!
Or, if you prefer, we'll make my plate of food look like it was taken a long, long time ago with a period camera:

Once again, the thresherman's dinner was a great success. My heartfelt thank you to all who helped to put it together. 
We truly celebrated the past and did our ancestors proud.
And that's what it's all about, isn't it?

But wait---there's more - - - !!
Here are just some of the goings on around town - - - if it didn't rain on Sunday, I would have a quite a few more pictures....ah, well - - such is life, right?

The man in this next picture portrays a doctor not only in Civil War, but in Rev War as well.
The doctor is in.

There is a bit of a special story to this next photograph that I think you'll enjoy...and maybe even identify with. It was written by the gentleman you see in the accompanying picture, Ron Clary,who is a member of the fine 4th Michigan reenacting unit::
Heidi & Ron Clary
"For years (since I have been in the hobby) I have attempted (with little to no success) to get my wife to attend an event in period clothing, but after a while I came to realize that she would not, due to several factors (kids, work, and a perceived strong dislike for all things reenacting).
We have had several discussions on this topic, and I accepted the fact that she would never ever attend an event in period clothing. However, this Saturday (at Wolcott Mill), while in the middle of a battle demonstrations with muskets and cannon going off and me yelling at my guys to watch their feet, I hear a very specific whistle that my family uses to locate each other while we are shopping (works on the Pavlov's Dog principle), I looked up into the crowd and saw a female civilian reenactor  friend of mine, and to her left a woman dressed in period garb that kind of looked like my wife (but of course, it could not be her because she likes to wear make up, which is a strict no-no in the reenacting world). Upon closer inspection I realized it WAS her, and I damn near passed out! From what I gathered later, she had been planning this for some time to surprise me, and boy did she surprise me! We had a great day and were able to spend time together (she only stayed for a few hours), and we were able to visit with some of her friends in the community.
I believe (and hope) that she has gained an insight at how much fun you can really have at events."
What a great story, eh?

On to more pictures of this fall event:
Lest you had forgotten, this was a military reenactment as well.

The 102nd Regiment United States Colored Troops

Well, that's pretty much it for this week's post.
Unfortunately, it rained steadily on Sunday, and the powers-that-be cancelled the event, and rightfully so, because it was just a sloppy mess, so our last major reenactment for the season was cut short.
But at least Saturday did turn out to be a wonderful day, and Saturday night seemed to kind of give us a harvest moon (though the actual harvest moon occurred in September):
The moon through the corn stalks

Besides the photo above, I took a few other pictures of the moon that I was quite pleased with, including...
Moon Over Wolcott

There's a full moon rising
Let's go dancing in the light
We know where the music's playing
Let's go out and feel the night

Neil Young "Harvest Moon"

As far as reenactments go, Wolcott Mill is our last one until December when our 1860s Christmas at the Fort event takes place.
But, Wolcott Mill is always a top-notch event and I appreciate so much the willingness of my co-civilians in putting on a harvest presentation. It just makes the entire time feel like fall! 
And it brings a part of history to life that was so very important to our ancestors who lived back then.
Yessir, this is definitely a best ever event!

Many thanks must be given to the 4th Texas reenacting unit for being the hosts of this magnificent event!
You all are great!

Until next time, see you in time - - - - happy harvest to you!

To celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday the way they did in the mid-19th century, click HERE


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Muster at the Mill: A Brand New Revolutionary War Event

On the 1st Saturday in October I attended a brand new Revolutionary War reenactment called Muster at the Mill. It was held on the grounds of a centennial apple orchard farm located almost smack-dab in the rural middle of the lower peninsula of my great state of Michigan.
Yes, I know that Michigan saw little of the Rev War, but not everyone can travel hundreds of miles to see a reenactment, you know?
So anyhow, the orchard, known as Uncle John's Mill, is an excellent place to do living history. Not only is there plenty of land to reenact for soldier and civilian, but the draw of cider and apples on an autumn weekend in Michigan pretty much guarantees an audience.
I did participate as Paul Revere, but I did not set up a tent so I had nothing to display, though the visitors were still interested in what I had to say (and a few took a "quick sketch" with me!).
The battle that was reenacted wasn't any one in particular, it was put on to give the public a little idea of what skirmishes were like at the time, and, I must say, it was excellent to watch.
It is my hope that this reenactment will continue and, as such, will gain more reenactors to help create what could become a major event.
And we need more Revolutionary War events around here. That's for certain.
In the meantime, here are the best of the many photographs that I took with my 'stealth camera' while there:
How the reenactment site looked from the parking lot. Being that the lot was up on a hill, the cars were mostly out of sight of the reenacting area.

As we get closer to the camps, we find that this little tent town is alive with people.

Not too bad of a showing for a new event...especially considering the damp weather.

A young lad learning to be a drummer boy. 
These two certainly sounded fine together!

Planning the battle scenario...

Here are men who portray Roger's Rangers as they were during the French & Indian War period. The guys came out to help with this first ever reenactment.

The Massachusetts Provincial Battalion - one of the top units around who will portray American patriots.

42nd Regiment of the Royal Highlanders - subjects of the King.

The Queen's Rangers/Simcoe's Rangers

The Queen's Rangers/Simcoe's Rangers

The various units formed up for the public.

Artillery - the visitors loved hearing the cannon being fired.

French & Indian era Roger's Rangers

The battle:
Sometimes it takes a little time to get a new event off the ground. Many reenactors will opt to stay home and wait to hear how well it went - or how bad it was - before deciding to make an effort to attend.
Well, in my opinion, this Muster at the Mill went very well indeed, and those who remained in their cozy homes really missed out. I certainly hope it continues as an annual affair, for the potential here - location and size - is great and I believe this can eventually turn into a major event.
But because so many stayed home at this 'trial' reenactment, the battles had to be somewhat modified as more of a teaching tool rather than a strong depiction of an actual Rev War battle.
There were two skirmishes held on the day I was there - Saturday October 1st - so I combined photographs from both into one.
The Americans were hiding inside the orchard and the Highlanders planned to enter to snuff them out.
"Any two (British) regiments here can beat, in the field, the whole force of the Massachusetts Province!"

There was only one cannon but it certainly was a crowd pleaser when fired!

The Americans fired first, and then the Highlanders entered in.

I was sitting atop the hill as I took the pictures. I particularly liked seeing the smoke from musket fire rising above the apple trees. It had a great effect...
...and added a note of realism. None of the spectators, including me, knew what was going on. 
How could we?

The Highlanders got quite a surprise when the 42nd Massachusetts fought back twice as hard and pushed them back out onto the open field.
"They attacked with great intrepidity, but were received with no less firmness." 

And push they did!


"The battle was long, obstinate, and bloody!"

"Their husbands, fathers, and brothers lay dead in heaps...

...while others lay wounded or dying---a melancholy sight indeed!"

Fighting with the Patriots...

...for Liberty and Independence.

A lone Native American came out, which added greatly to the scenario.

"Yonder is the (enemy)...Are you worth more? Prove it! Tonight the American flag flies from yonder hill or Molly Stark sleeps a widow!" (Patriot General John Stark)

"Deny the best-disciplined soldiers of Europe what is due them and they will run away in droves...
...but from this one can perceive what an enthusiasm---which these poor fellows call 'Liberty'---can do."
And that's how this skirmish ended, with the Patriots winning the day.
It was then that the many visitors came to the campsite to learn more about this time period in our Nation's history.
The man portraying an Indian was actually of true native 
heritage, and he and I had a good conversation about 
Native reenactors and of their importance in showing 
American history. 
He hoped to get more Natives to come out to future events.

Some of the Ranger tents.

It's fall - corn is in season!

I like guns. Whether old or new, I like 'em.

I wouldn't mind getting myself a replica musket. 
All I need is money, right? 
Ahhh...maybe sometime in the future past.

When I am asked if I would actually like to live "back then" by a visitor, I usually respond with, "At my age today, probably not. Maybe if I were thirty years younger..."
I am also asked, "What's the one thing you would miss from today if you were suddenly zapped back to the past."
My answer? "Modern medicine."
No question.
Smallpox, as just an example, killed one in three of those who became infected. Washington wrote that is was more destructive to his army than the enemy's sword.
And how many do you know who've had small pox?
The surgeon, with all of his gory details about 18th century medical practices and techniques, was certainly a popular draw.

The best part about our visitors is that most that I had spoken to had never been to a reenactment of any kind, so it was a new thing for them to see, and it was great to be able to speak to these folks and give a history lesson to many who may otherwise had not seen history presented in this manner.
Up close and personal.
I really love it when we get American Indians to come out with us to speak of their various roles in the Patriot's or the King's cause. The man here representing the Native American of the period gave a wonderful description and depiction of his ancestor's role in the American Revolution.

I never thought of having a reenactment at a cider mill, but because these places have such a large draw in the fall, it only makes sense, for we had a decent amount of people coming down to see us after having their cider and doughnuts. It was a real pleasure.

Here I am with fellow Civil War reenactor, Mike Gillett. 
Yes, I said "Civil War." Like me, Mike does the 
1860s as well, but this was his first venture into 
Revolutionary War. He was there to officiate at a wedding. 
 A period wedding.
Keep scrolling to see a few of the photos taken 
at this special occasion:

Scott Mann, who heads up the Queen's Rangers (and looks remarkably like Robert Rogers himself as depicted on AMC's "Turn: Washington's Spies" TV series), married his betrothed, Carol-Anne. Yes, they actually got married right here at this reenactment.
Carol-Anne moves up to the make-shift altar.

The gentleman on the left is Scott's Best Man - his own son.

The ceremony was period-correct and taken from a replica 18th century Bible. No, the Bible hasn't changed from 250 years ago until now but the style of writing and verbiage has, which gave the ceremony that period flair.

The British army was there to honor the couple.

As you can see, it was quite a nice scenario. I was honored to be there.

Rev War reenacting is slowly picking up steam here in the upper mid-west, and I am happy to be a part of it. I believe it will grow as we continue to celebrate the events of the sestercentennial (250th). 
At least, I hope it will.
The times in which we live - we are now well into our second decade of the 21st century - has tested all Americans of all political parties, and a strong dose of American patriotism is sorely needed.
I like what Thomas Paine wrote in his 'American Crisis' (from 1776): "THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”

Until next time, see you in time.

For a closer look at America's fight for freedom, click HERE
To read how Salem stood up to the King's Army in 1775, click HERE
To read a general overview of everyday life in colonial times, click HERE