Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Spending Time on the 18th century Michigan Frontier with the Lac Ste. Claire Voyageurs

 "Hi...I'm Ken and I'm an American history-holic."

But who or what instilled this love of history in me?
In all honesty, I don't recall anyone or anything in particular being the "big-bang" of my passion for the past. I think it was always there. The fact that my mother once said that I "came out of the womb into history" tends to support this.
I suppose it's one of those things that simply cannot be explained (although I have my own unproven theory involving genes, but that's a whole 'nother ball of wax).
But it's there. And it always has been there.
And as you probably know, I reenact, and have for over a dozen years now - I try to bring the past back by way of living history.
Look---do you see my tent? It's there...way down at the end of the road here. In fact, it's not even in the picture. That's how large this Voyageur reenactment was.
There never seems to be a shortage of reenactments and historical presentations here in Michigan. The fact that I participated in five different events within the four weekends of August should attest to that.
Pretty crazy, eh?
I really do make a valiant attempt to be at most of them, including this end-of-summer colonial era event hosted by our local Lac Ste. Claire Voyageurs. What you are about to see here are quite a few photos taken on the weekend of August 27 & 28, 2016 (hence the reason why you see me in two different sets of clothing), mostly depicting Michigan's frontier past. Now, there is a little bit of fun-fact history in my text that accompany the pictures, but most comments are meant to be fun and sometimes snarky, written by yours' truly.
Please click HERE for a better history lesson on the Lac Ste. Claire Voyageurs.
Hope you enjoy this little trip to Michigan's past. I certainly enjoyed taking part:
Well, good day to you! I am very glad you could make it to my humble abode.

As you can see, on my table are a few items that would have been
 common to see in an 18th century home, including a candle mold, broadsides,
 quill pen & ink well, tin castors, pewter tea pot, and a tinder box.
Just a smidgen of the daily life of our ancestors.
Photo by Richard Reaume

Part of my presentation to the public centered on candle making.
Everyone knows that the colonials burned plenty of candles, but most really have no idea how many candles were actually burned in a year. I mean, if you suddenly found yourself zapped back in time to 1770, this is something you might want to know:
An 'average' of 500 to 700 candles would have been burned in a typical middle class home within a 12 month period, depending on where one resided, for living in the rural country or in a city, or if one lived in the north compared to the south, or whether they were rich city people living in a larger home or someone with less means who lived in a one or two-room cabin would make all the difference.
Photo by Dawn Jay

During one of my presentations, a woman, who had a British accent (she told me she was from Liverpool), asked me a little about my heritage. I told her that my earliest English ancestors came over in 1710. Being that they were Quakers, they did not believe in fighting or war and, thus, chose not to take part in the Revolution against King George.
They were Loyalists.
"Good fo' them!" the woman exclaimed enthusiastically.
Yeah...that was kind of funny!
Jeff Berndt does a military impression
Photo by Kerry Dennis

In this picture, Jeff was giving the very interested visitors a lesson on loading and firing an 18th century musket. No, he didn't fire the gun, but he went through the motions to prepare it for firing.

Mr. Berndt is also quite the citizen gentleman and portrays himself as such. Where my clothing style is more English, his leans more to the French fashion.
Photo by Billy V. John

Since the Lac Ste. Claire Voyageurs were based throughout the Great Lakes region, including Michigan, Ohio, and Minnesota, I did not portray Paul Revere at this event, though I did get questions from visitors about the people of the Founding Generation.

And in doing so I did explain some of the details of Paul Revere & his famous ride.
The man you see me speaking to here had just immigrated to the United States from Italy only a few months earlier, and he had a keen interest in our Revolutionary War period, which I thought was great. 
Photo by Dawn Jay

My next door neighbors.
Though they are not practicing their craft in this photo, they are seamstresses, as you can see by the dress presented on the form on the right.

At this event there was not a tent that didn't have some sort of presentation. Rather than have rows of 'potato peelers,' visitors instead saw quite a variety of period activities.

Nearly every camp/tent has living historians working on one period craft or another, usually pertaining to the Great Lakes region.
I so appreciate folks who keep traditional crafts alive, such as the basket-maker in the following two photographs:
It is not the quick "instant gratification" process we are used to, and to own one that was hand-made is a treasure.

A craft that has made a sort of comeback is weaving, though most modern weavers do not use an old-style table loom like Mr. Grover uses.

Mr. Grover is also a chandler - a candle-maker.
Since when do you suppose a Voyageur will have time to dip candles?
He won't, so he must purchase or trade for candles from a chandler.

Next up we find a wood-carver making a canoe paddle...
...being made in the way it was done
back in the eighteen century, including tools used.
And then we see the finished product:
We know the workmanship that went into making this!

The Voyageurs were known for their fur-trading....
And this man, Jerry Smith (a man now in his 80s!), has been portraying a fur-trader for decades.

And here we have another fur-trader.

Have you ever had a meal cooked over an open fire or on the hearth? 
If yes, then you know what I mean when I say there is nothing like it. 
If you haven't, why, you don't know what you're missing!

Sunday morning church service. 
The Bible hasn't changed - we have.

A fiddler and a dulcimer player made very beautiful music together. They were set up near the entrance so, in a way, it was like a soundtrack to the scene that lay ahead for the visitors.

Could this be Fort Detroit?
It was in 1701 that the French officer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, along with 51 additional French-Canadians, founded a settlement called Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit, naming it after the comte de Pontchartrain. Under Louis XIV, France offered free land to attract families to Detroit, which grew to 800 people in 1765, the largest city between Montreal and New Orleans.
During the French and Indian War (1754 to 1763), British troops gained control and shortened the name to Detroit.

But what you see in these photos is not Fort Detroit, alas. It is, instead, a trading post that was set up a bit farther north in an area along Lake St. Clair in what is now southern Macomb County.
The Voyageurs were always on the move, therefore were always needing to replenish supplies.

And the trading post would ensure to have anything a traveler of the 18th century frontier would need. Yes, Michigan in the 1700s was definitely the frontier.

Guns were definitely a necessity for hunting...and protection.
Picture by Kerry Dennis

Powder horns to pour the gunpowder into the gun.
Picture by Kerry Dennis

Knowing they needed paddles for the canoes, our paddle maker found something he was interested in for a trade.

Speaking of trading, the following few photos depicts how the white man and the local Indian tribes may have done some of their own bartering.
But first:
In this picture we see Beth of B&K Photography 
capturing a moment in time...a scene from the past.

And here is my own image of that same scene.
The scenario the Voyageurs show of the European settlers coming in to shore to trade with the local Indian tribes is done very well.

The trading shown here between the two nations is not an action-packed, edge-of-your-seat Hollywood-style scenario, rife with bitter anger between the white man and the Indian.
Instead, the visitor will see something a little more accurate to history (which can be very unacceptable to some these days, it seems) in which people - not governments - worked well together (for the most part).
The two traders brought out their goods in hopes of striking up a mutual agreement and friendship.

There were furs, beads, blankets, tomahawks, and numerous other items available.

Ah, but the native woman noticed something she was very interested in obtaining...

...and since the two sides did not speak the same language, the woman motioned what her interest was...a musket.

Initially, the man refused to give up the gun, but the woman insisted. After trying, unsuccessfully, to interest her in other items, he finally relented and gave her the fire arm as part of a deal.

After all trading was completed, a peace pipe was smoked to not only seal the deal, but to ensure future trade between the two parties.

Back to their tribe the Indian women went, satisfied with their acquisitions.

For some reason the number of native reenactors were very few this year. As they were so historically prominent in our area, this was surprising to me. And it's such a great opportunity to teach visitors about the native peoples in southeastern Michigan.

Let's search out others on the Michigan frontier - - 
See the guy closest to the camera? That's the infamous Ken Roberts, long-time reenactor and all-around good guy.
Looking out over Lac Ste. Claire. 
Oh! The historic stories these waters could tell...

In this scene we see a few folks maybe discussing a hunting trip...or possibly looking to do some trading.

The pictures in this posting are a combination of both Saturday and Sunday. Sunday was sunny and hot. Saturday, on the other hand, though warm, was ripe for some possible severe weather.
As you can see by the clouds rolling in, we were in for some kind of weather! When she took this photo, Beth was looking south toward Detroit (about a dozen miles away).
That's Lake St. Clair you see on the left. 
Photo by B&K Photography
Then, as the sky darkened...
...I sat under my fly watching as people ran to get to shelter before the storm hit. And as they scurried along the waterfront, the black clouds quickly blocked out any sunlight. With the storm clouds coming toward us from the southwest, they starkly accented the white sky in the northeast, and this created very cool silhouettes.
Hmmm...I got an idea...I got a good idea...
"Hey Kevin! I'm going to run over by the lake. Would you take a few photos of me? Just stay right here under my fly as you take them."
My friend took about a half dozen pictures and the one posted here is my favorite.

And then it hit:
This picture doesn't do the storm justice. The wind kicked up and the rain was going sideways, pouring in the back "door" opening of my tent. It lasted a good couple of hours before letting up and eventually stopping by early evening.
The storm lasted longer than I thought...but my tent held up well in the high winds and rain.

Sunday came and all was right with the weather - -
I've fired a Civil War era Springfield, but never a flint-lock. Yep---it's on my bucket list to do.

This is not my gun - - I borrowed it for this little photo shoot.
Hey---I look pretty cool with it, eh?

I am always, always honored when my friends come to visit me at a reenactment. Especially if those friends are reenactors themselves.

The Lac Ste. Claire Voyageurs do an amazing job in their presentations, and I appreciate their acceptance of me in taking part in this event (even though I am an easterner from Boston!).
But I believe what really made this weekend even that much more special was having visitors from across the ocean come and want to learn about our American history. Besides the woman from Liverpool, England and the guy (and his wife) from Italy, there was also a young lady from France, a family from India, and another family from the middle east.
I love sharing our wonderful past with those from other countries.
That kind of brings it all home, in my opinion.

Well, that's it for now. Until next time, see you in time.


1 comment:

Tom Butler said...


Good day to you. Your email address is coming back rejected. When able, could you please email me at

It is in regards to the historical paintings on your blog.

Thanks for what you do.

Tom Butler