Thursday, January 12, 2017

Colonial Ken Being "In the Moment": making pictures count

 Tell me, doctor
Where are we goin' this time?
Is this the 1860s, or 1779?
So take me away, I don't mind,
but you better promise me
I'll be back in time…
Gotta get back in time!

(Slightly modified lyrics from Huey Lewis’
“Back in Time” from the film “Back to the Future”)

I was asked recently, "If you could do whatever you wanted to do for a living, what would you choose?"
The answer was a no-brainer: "I would be a historical interpreter/living historian."
Heh - - I hear you now, "Ken! You already do this!"
Yeah...I know...but I want to do it for a know, as my wage-earning job.
I really do!
Living History Colonial:
Meet Ben Franklin, Sybil 
Ludington, and Paul Revere
Living History Victorian:
Meet a farm couple of the 

Yes, every once in a while I will do presentations for pay. The three of us in the two photos above are part of a group called "Our Own Snug Fireside," in which we do specialized historical presentations, and we do get paid. If I could do this for a living, however, even once or twice a week, I would be one happy time-traveler.
But since I'm not sure if this will ever happen on a consistent basis, I still consider myself blessed that I can do what I do as much as I have; besides the aforementioned presentations, I did 26 separate reenactments - - in other words, in 2016, I was in period clothing, whether colonial or 1860s, at 26 different reenactments plus the four presentations.
And, by the way, this is not including the five days I spent in Colonial Williamsburg (yes, I was "dressed" all five days!).
Not too bad, eh?
Now, please don't take this as I'm bragging. I'm not. I'm only pointing out that even though I am not a historical presenter at a museum, I am still wearing period clothing quite often.
And I'm lovin' it!
Off to find the past...
As there are many more Civil War reenactments and 19th century locations than colonial/RevWar, I grab any chance I can to wear my 1770s clothing. To be honest, I enjoy my colonial clothing much better - - I think they are so much cooler looking.
And people really tend to respond in a such a positive and patriotic way to me.
Unfortunately, we have very few colonial structures in Michigan, especially in the metro-Detroit area, and those we do have were transplanted here from the east coast of these United States to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, plus the restored forts and outbuildings of the period up in the Mackinac/Mackinaw region of our state, but that's about it for early American history around here.
I made sure, then, to take advantage of placing myself, along with my wife (and sometimes my daughter) in scenarios depicting the 1770s while in the historical city of Colonial Williamsburg when we went there on vacation in June 2016. I would give the camera to my daughter, who is proficient in her photography skills, and tell her to shoot away as I played out my plans in depicting one from the 18th century.
In other words, there's a lot of me placing myself "in the moment."
One of the cool things I enjoyed while in Colonial Williamsburg is how nearly everyone who works there are already in the moment. Whether they are on the streets, in the stores, a tradesperson, or presenters inside historic homes, visitors always get the impression that they are amidst America's founding generation.
It's my hope that is also what you will see in the pictures in this posting.
But I also hope you will see fun; I did have a blast in each image in one way or another, and I do hope it shows.
(By the way, the quoted sentences in italics are 18th century terminology that I copied from the book Eighteenth Century English as a Second Language. The link to this book is at the bottom of this post)
Are you ready, now, for some of my favorite time-travel in the moment pictures of 2016?
Okay, then, let's begin this journey in Colonial Williamsburg...:
I can't believe it - - we're on Duke of Gloucester Street in  
Colonial Williamsburg!
Yes we are, and here is my wife and I taking a morning stroll along this very famous colonial passageway. This was probably around 8 or 8:30 in the morning and the only people there were workers preparing for their day. It was a perfect time to wander and wonder while in period clothing.

It's not many men who can get their wives (and family members) to share in their hobbies, and I am certainly one lucky guy that Patty joins me fairly often in mine. I can't tell you how many women I know who, upon seeing what I do in my spare time, tell me they would never do such a thing and dress in this manner. 
It's not for everyone, I suppose.
Am I blessed?
You betcha!

"In truth I desire no better entertainment than her company.
The carriage ride we took was so relaxing and enjoyable.
And, look----it's my (then) 15 year old daughter!
What a treat to have her join her mother and I in this
time-travel adventure.
After our carriage ride, we took a group photo, which included our exuberant driver. This man took us all over the Revolutionary City and gave us a nice overview of Williamsburg's history.
The young man in the carriage sitting next to my daughter who is dressed kind of different? Why, that's my son, Miles, who has not yet acquired colonial era clothing. 

When you go to a place like Colonial Williamsburg (or Greenfield Village) and have your lunch or dinner in one of the historic establishments as a tavern, your meal becomes something a little more special. My family and I dined at 
Chowning's Tavern on our first full day in town. The food, although very good on its own, was greatly accented by the surrounding atmosphere and the entertainment. 
"I've ordered a pretty good dinner, I can tell you, beef steaks and onions, and I don't know what's better!"
It's not everyone that can claim to have eaten in an 18th century tavern, 
but I can say, "I did!"
And it's worth every penny for the experience.

The first time my wife and I visited the Thomas Everard House, the volunteers who give the tours were all hanging around outside, not making for a good photograph. However, a day later we came back early in the morning and no one had arrived to open it up to the public yet, so we grabbed the opportunity to get a few shots of us attempting to look like we "belonged."
It took me only a matter of literal minutes to meet and make new friends upon arriving in Colonial Williamsburg. And one of the very first was the lovely Miss Amy, who I kept up with throughout my stay there.
At one point, she and I found ourselves in a fine historical conversation. As we had our discussion, a woman happened to be passing by, so I asked her if she wouldn't mind taking a few photos of Amy and I in this manner.
Ha! Lucky me! The woman was a professional photographer and, as you shall see in the following three pictures, she went beyond what I had hoped for. 
Maybe she'll see this and know how appreciative I am.
We were engaged in a very lively conversation, which 
happened to center on Paul Revere, someone of whom Amy is 
not too fond, but a man I portray in the living history world.
We also spoke of the whys & wherefores of his/my involvement 
in the Patriot Cause, including being in The Sons of Liberty.
After a small debate, my response was:
"I shall always think myself obliged, nay honoured by
your good opinion, and you are entitled to my best 
wishes for your good health and happiness, but I have
no thoughts at all of changing my situation."
Amy is a wealth of knowledge, and she will happily discuss 
and debate the many different events and aspects 
of the American Revolution. 
The Stamp Act, by the way, is one of her very favorite 
subjects, and on this we found ourselves
mostly in agreement.

"Do you follow your opinion, and let me follow mine. Though you do me much honour, I beg you would take no further trouble about me."

This was kind of a fun shot. As I was moving along Nicholson Street I spotted this young lady directing visitors to the brick yard. My wife happened to be with me and I gave her my camera and told her to "shoot away" as I spoke to her. 
"I take the liberty to request that you will have the goodness to honour me with 
but a few moments' conversation."
She happily obliged.
The background is picturesque, don't you think?

I love the way all of these historic buildings are laid out just as they were 250 years ago. Colonial Williamsburg is such a true gem.
"Madam, I return you my hearty thanks for the favours you have confessed upon me, and I beg leave also to thank you for shewing such regard to the merits of my friend. I am much obliged to you."

"Madam, I am a silversmith, and I'd be very proud to serve you.
As I moved about town, I ran into neighbors and friends. Well, not really, but this little scene sort of gives that impression, doesn't it? 
Ha! This is the way I am in my 21st century life: I take evening walks around the block where I live in my Michigan suburb, and I, many times, will stop and speak to neighbors - - some of whom I do not even know! But, heck! they were sitting on their why not make new friends?
Anyhow, this picture is in my top 10 favorites. I just like the feel...

"Sir, some time past you was complaisant enough to let me have a gallon of your rum."
I enjoyed visiting each souvenir shop in Williamsburg, and there are quite a few. Each seemed to have different items for sale, so none of the stores were quite the same, and the Greenhow Store, above, was no different.
Most souvenir shops tend to have workers who are little beyond sales clerks. They are there for the job. But those who worked in the stores at Williamsburg were not only dressed in period clothing, but they also (mostly) knew their history as well and striking up a conversation was easy and welcoming. The gentleman who ran the Greenhow Store and I must've spoken for nearly 15 minutes before I had to leave. We could have gone on for much longer!

My daughter just doesn't seem to have learned to mind her tongue!
Now look where it's gotten her!
Think she learned her lesson? 
(This is one of my very favorite pictures!)

It only rained for about a half day while we were in Williamsburg. The weather forecast originally said most of the week was going to be filled with showers so I suppose we got pretty lucky. 
Wait---what am I doing walking past the George Wythe House? I should, 
instead, go inside and tour it. After all, Mr. Wythe was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

The presenters will sometimes allow visitors to pose for a photo in a sort of recreation of a scene, as I did here inside the George Wythe House. 
To those of you who work in a historic house, this may seem trivial. 
But for those of us who rarely get an opportunity to do something like this, 
it is a real treat, and we, as guests, certainly appreciate it.

There's almost an ethereal feel to this photo as I come from above stairs while inside the George Wythe House.

So, as I moved along Duke of Gloucester Street, I came across this young lady whose name is Devon. I mentioned earlier that I am not afraid to strike up a conversation with pretty much anyone I come across, and I found those who work at Colonial Williamsburg are not just workers there to earn a paycheck, but actual fans of history and enjoy speaking about the subject and sharing their knowledge. They are also willing to learn from others as well.

One day, being a very warm day, two Gentlemen met on Duke of Gloucester Street. After the usual compliments passed, as "How do you do?" &c and "How does all at Home?" & c., the one Gentleman asked the other "If he could answer him one question?" The latter replied "He would if he could." Then, friend (said the former) pray can you tell me "Why the weather can be like the late act of Parliament imposing duties in America, for the purpose of raining a revenue?"
"Oh!" replied the latter (after a short pause), that I can easily answer; why, because it is Unconstitutional."

(based on a notice from the Virginia Gazette - January 1768)

Lindsey is a Historic Sites Interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg, 
and she & I had been friends on Facebook for six months before I 
traveled down there, and it was an honor to be able to meet her in 
person. A few days beforehand, I "warned" her that I was 
coming to CW, and she graciously gave me her schedule, 
which included interpreting at the Peyton Randolph House, 
who happened to be the 1st President of the Continental Congress. 
My gosh! She was a wonderful interpreter and gave a very 
upbeat and informative tour!
 Thank you Lindsey, for helping to make the amazing memories 
my family and I did. 
And for teaching me how to stand like a 
proper colonial gentleman.

Walking on Palace Green Street, I lagged behind a bit and caught this shot of my wife as we neared the Bruton Parish Church.

Just walking along Nicholson Street, watching the world of the 18th century 
come to life...

I enjoyed some real  RevWar era hot chocolate at Charlton's Coffeehouse - a replica of the very same whose rooms were once frequented by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Yeah...this was (to use a very 20th century term) very cool!
"I shall be greatly obliged to you, Sir, if you will be so good as to inform me of the truth of these matters and advise me how I had best proceed."
Charlton's was not only a social gathering place, but, due to its proximity to the Capitol, was also important to Williamsburg's political and business activities as well. In fact, the front porch of Charlton's was the scene of a protest against the Stamp Act in 1765.
By the way, I cannot tell you what we were discussing here, for it was intelligence to be passed on to General Washington.

Horses and carriages were plentiful there, and they added greatly to the 
18th century atmosphere.
The driver of this team was resting in the shade during this warm summer day 

and very kindly snapped this shot. I wish I could have gotten one while 
the two of us were up in the carriage.
Oh well...something to shoot for next visit.
(Wait---did I say "next visit"?)

A tale of a three-century love-affair.
This was our last morning in Colonial Williamsburg...
~ ~ ~
Now we're going to head from historic Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia to historic Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, where we can find almost the only colonial-era houses in the lower peninsula; one must drive to the tip of the mitt to actually locate any other 18th century structures...up in Mackinaw City and then on Mackinac Island.
So, let's see just how we can get "in the moment" inside this magnificent 80 acre open-air museum that Henry Ford put together:
This picture caught something that happened 'out of the blue:' a few of us in my "Citizens of the American Colonies" living history group were at Greenfield Village celebrating the 4th of July. We had stopped to pose for a couple of photos at the mid-18th century home of John Giddings. A few visitors happened up and began to give us some very nice compliments on our clothing and asked us questions not only about what we were wearing and why, but about the "Betsy Ross Flag" I had. What a great opportunity to speak a little about the founding of our great nation, and they were certainly very appreciative of us taking the time to answer their questions and help to make their Independence Day celebration a little more special. 

Although nowhere near as extensive as Colonial Williamsburg
in presenting 18th century history, the homes from the 1700s
in the Greenfield Village collection are well maintained, though
I must admit it would be nice to see more of their structures
from that period include period-dress presenters on a regular
basis other than just the Daggett House.
By the way, it was very kind of Mrs. Ross to show me the
flag she had made for General Washington.

At least on the Fall Harvest Weekends or during the December Holiday Nights events, visitors can see period-dress presenters bring the Giddings home to life.
In the 18th century, dances were frequently held in these classic structures, and what I tried to replicate here is me thanking the young lady for what could have been the ending of a minuet, a cotillion, or, even, perhaps, a country dance.
"I hope that you will do me the honour of another dance, Madam.

By the 1760s and 1770s, taverns were the rendezvous for 
those who believed in the Patriot cause and listened to the stirring
 words of American rebels, who mixed dark treason to King 
George with every bowl of punch they drank. 
The story of our War for Independence could not be dissociated 
from the old "publick houses," for they are a part of our 
national history, and those which still stand are among our 
most interesting Revolutionary relics.

The tavern I am in here is not from the Revolutionary War-era. It is, instead, the Eagle Tavern, built around 1831 in Clinton, Michigan. Aside from a few mostly minor structural deviances, there is little difference from this one to the ordinaries of a generation earlier.

Shelley Martinez, a fellow fan of Greenfield Village, took this picture of me in April of 2016. 
There is a certain ambience about it - maybe it's the lighting - that I very much feel captures the essence of the past.

~Visiting the 1750s Daggett Farmhouse ~
Here I am being greeted by Mr. Daggett himself!
Well, not really, but it certainly does give one that impression doesn't it?
What I would love to be able to do one day is have the chance to be inside a home such as Daggett or Giddings for more than just a few minutes and have a period-type conversation. 
In a way, I kind of did - - - -

When these photos were taken, it happened to be a cold and rainy day, therefore there were very few visitors inside the Village. I pretty much had the place to myself. Well, naturally I quickly found my way to the far end where the Daggett House sits and enjoyed spending time conversing about colonial chocolate, that ever-popular treat of the later 1700s.
The thing about these couple of pictures is...they work! If there ever was an "in the moment" moment, this was it, for since the three of us know each other and are friends, it was a very casual conversation - not a posed picture.
"In the moment" indeed!
Ghosts of the past...

This next photograph is not necessarily as it seems. What I did was merge two different pictures into one to depict a cohesive image.
It's still "in the moment" because the only "trickery" I did was to mirror the image and add the house.
The Daggett House is probably my favorite building in Greenfield Village.

As the fall weather moves in, beer making becomes a priority, for that will help to sustain the Daggetts throughout the cold weather months.
Beer and ale was a major dietary staple in the colonies. Everyone partook. It was the common item which spanned generations; from cradle to grave everyone drank beer. Infants were fed beer and it was especially recommended for nursing mothers. Farmers, laborers, merchants, lawyers, and craftsman all drank beer. It was a common thread in all their lives and this beverage would even play an important role in the formation of government.
It was not uncommon for drinking to begin even before breakfast and it continued with every meal throughout the day.
Now, don't leave here thinking that our founding generation was in a consistent state of drunkenness; although there were those who drank to get drunk (just like in the 21st century), most in the colonial times drank beer because it was healthier than water. They usually did not drink to get inebriated.

My wife is an accomplished spinner and truly does go from "sheep to shawl" (so to speak) and will crochet or knit scarves, mittens, hats, sontags, afghans, or whatever her heart desires after picking through, skirting, cleaning, carding, spinning, and even naturally dyeing the wool.
Yes, she does it all.
Here she is inside the Daggett house standing at the great wheel (or walking wheel), though she didn't really spin here - that job is for the presenters.

I always arrive at Greenfield Village early to be first in line, then when they open the gates, I hustle it to the far end. It's there where I usually find, at least for a short while, a visitor-free Village. Because of this, Gigi was able to sit down with me for a short time.
No, I am not a Greenfield Village employee, so when the presenters are doing their job for visitors, I fade into the background. Nor will I pretend to work there or add to what the presenters are saying. I dress in period clothing while visiting Greenfield Village for two reasons: first because I feel more like a part of the homes I am in. It's kind of hard to explain, and I don't expect many or most of you to understand that. I don't fully understand it myself.
Second: I feel a part of history in those surroundings, and
Third: because there are always wonderful photo opportunities.
Speaking of wonderful photo opportunities: night time inside the 1750s Daggett house while in period clothing lends itself to understanding the solitude that only a home lit by lanterns can bring.
Yes, I would say that being inside an actual colonial home when the sun goes down is definitely akin to one of those "in the moment" moments. 

Looking the part in photographs takes an "in the moment" moment to come off well, and I have done my best to create - - or recreate, rather - - life as it was during the times of the founding generation. 
(Wonderful photo taken by Mary Marshall)
Reading "The Cabin Faced West" over and over as a youth and being a teenager during the bicentennial celebrations of 1976 helped to fan the historical flame in me that has continued to grow all these years later.
And now to seemingly place myself along side of my historical heroes and everyday people of colonial times...well, I am not worthy, but I do try to do them honor.

As you may or may not know, in 2016 I formed a new living history group, Citizens of the American Colonies. I am hoping for this to be a progressive reenacting group - one that will attract those with the same mindset as I and will also be known for bringing the era from 1765 to 1790 to life by way of accurate period clothing, accessories, 1st & 3rd person presentations, and through realistic scenarios.
Of course, continuous research of the time-period is a must - the times and environment of those who we emulate is something members should study…and study some more.
As head of this Citizens of the American Colonies reenacting organization, I have written the following rules for potential members. They are based along the lines of the rules of the Civil War unit I belong to.
Won't you come and join my group, Citizens of the American Colonies? It promises to be quite fun!
Here are the rules/guidelines:
1) Accurate clothing is a must. I ask that you research what you wear and the environment in which you would wear it (for instance, don’t dress in fine silks and claim to be a farmer or a blacksmith). If you are new to the hobby, some exceptions will be made.
2) Eye Glasses: please, if at all possible, refrain from wearing modern glass frames. If you are new to the hobby, modern frames are acceptable initially (especially if they are wire-framed). But I ask that you plan to purchase period replica frames for your prescriptions, which can be purchased on line at reasonable prices. Yes, there are places that will work with you on fitting prescription lenses into period frames. Our Civil War reenactors do it all the time.
There is also the option of contact lenses.
3) Unless it’s a wedding ring or a health warning bracelet or necklace, I ask that all modern jewelry be removed: watches, fit bits, nose rings, etc., or anything made of plastic are not acceptable for a colonial impression in this group.
4) While at a reenactment, please do your best to be “in the moment.” This means please do not speak of current politics, news events, movies, TV shows, music, etc. This is where research can really come in handy. Study the time period in which you are portraying and learn of your role – manners, etiquette, clothing, etc. (I’m not talking necessarily of 1st person, I just mean for us to be careful of our modern speak, especially when public is within earshot).
Not only can this be great fun, but it will enhance your presentation beyond anything you’ve experienced before. Again, in Civil War reenacting, we do this frequently and enjoy it immensely. It works extremely well. 
Are there exceptions to this rule? Of course there are: speaking about the period from a modern perspective is quite acceptable. That's a teaching moment.
My point here is when the public is in view and within ear shot, nothing can ruin their experience more than hearing (and seeing) all kinds of modernisms while at a reenactment.
And respect your fellow living historians who also may not want any modernisms to ruin their moment.
Historically accurate....
5) Hide your modern items: There is little worse in the reenacting world than seeing an impeccably dressed reenactor carrying a can of Coke, or having a 2 liter plastic bottle in plain view of the public’s eye, or a cell phone laying on a table. If you want water, go in your tent, pour it from your plastic water bottle into your period mug or glass, then head back out. Please do not pour your modern drink into your period cup while in the public’s eye.
Also, when preparing food, please prepare it inside your tent so the modern plastic bread wrappers, etc., cannot be seen.
6) Cameras and phones: This can be tricky, but we can make it work - -
Cameras - - for taking photographs: yes, we all like to take pictures, but try to utilize what I call the ‘stealth’ form of picture taking - - keep your phone or camera in your satchel or in some hidden location, pull it out to take a quick pic, then hide it again. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people tell me, “I never even seen you take a picture – when did you bring your camera out?” 
It works.
Of course, there are times for the “posed” pictures. But please keep those at a minimum, and try – please try – to only do this (or even bring your camera out) when the public is not around. In other words, be “stealth.”
Phones - - There is no reason whatsoever, unless there is an emergency, for anyone to be sitting out in the public’s eye playing with or speaking on their phone. None. There are too many spots one can go to (inside a tent is best) if one feels the need to be on their phone.
Obviously, emergencies are always an exception to the rule.

Now, there are some who may think my guidelines are a bit too strong or stringent. Yes, I am admittedly pretty tough when it comes to historical accuracy…maybe even a bit anal (I’ll admit it), but I take great pride in my presentations and I would hope members here would do the same and that we continue to always strive to be as authentic in every way we possibly can.
Okay! Time for me to return to my work. Thanks for visiting.
Until next time, see you in time...

To purchase Eighteenth Century English as a Second Language by Cathleene Hellier, click HERE and then call the number given.
To read an overview (with many more pictures!) about everyday colonial life, click HERE
To read about colonial clothing for men, please click HERE
To read more about my living history group, Citizens of the American Colonies, please click HERE
To read a much more extensive essay on my trip to Colonial Williamsburg, with a TON more pictures, please click HERE for the links


1 comment:

Bama Planter said...

Gosh Ken I wish I could do colonial. In Alabama, that would only happen in Mobile and they are all about Mardi Gras. I love looking at all the pictures you have in each post. You are indeed lucky to have family to go with you. Marshel