Thursday, March 7, 2019

Celebrating Washington's Birthday (and other February fun)

I don't know about you, but I can only take
so much of writing in my journal on these 
dreary winter days. I need to do something!
Let's face it - as reenactors living north of the Mason-Dixon Line, February can be a pretty dull month. I mean, it's freezing cold, gray, snowy, and, well, not very suitable weather for a reenactment.
Unless...unless you know the right people.
I've mentioned numerous times before that we, as living historians, need to stick together and find those with the same like-minded ideas and passions to help make the bleak mid-winter a bit more exciting and fun. This past February here in the metro-Detroit area we've done a couple of things to help stave off the winter blues, and what I did for this week's posting is mesh the two together, including celebrating George Washington's birthday. But before we get to that, please allow me to introduce you to my friend, Tony, who has been a Revolutionary War reenactor for a good many years, starting out with his parents in that great year of history 1976, and continuing off and on through our current time, and now with his own children.
Tony is still in that same military unit as he was back in '76, the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment, though most members from those early days are no longer reenacting. But he is carrying it on here in the 21st century, recruiting new men and preparing for the sestercentennial of the American Revolution. He was kind enough to give me a bit of history of this unit he so passionately portrays:

"In the summer of 1775, not long after the battles of Lexington & Concord and Bunker Hill, the Continental Congress called for the raising the riflemen to go to the aid of Boston. They were trying to figure out the cheapest way to clothe such an army, and hunting shirts and trousers were put forward as a cheap solution. This was the dress of the true frontiersmen from Pennsylvania and Virginia, though it is clear that this was a uniform that was contracted out to be made and issued to the men, not their native clothing. Col. William Thompson, the first colonel of the Pennsylvania Rifle Battalion, appointed Reading, Pennsylvania to be supply depot. The Industrial Revolution had not yet occurred, so the clothing was made, sewn by hand, under contract by suppliers in Reading and possibly other locations. In subsequent years, the army continued to let out contracts for clothes, though tailors who had enlisted as soldiers were brought together to make additional clothes. The men from all the companies of riflemen were instructed to march there where they would receive their uniforms, knapsacks and blankets.
Photograph courtesy of Kerry Dennis
Many of the men who enlisted in the 1st Penn in the summer of 1775 were actually recent Irish or Scotch immigrants who had little to no experience with rifles. Their clothing would have been the typical clothing of the era, not unlike that worn by New Englanders. However, the hunting shirts and trousers were specifically made to give the riflemen that "frontier" look, which was so foreign to New Englanders. It really was a sort of "costume" in that it was not the normal clothing most of the men would have been wearing at the time. Congress specifically called for the men to be armed with rifles, which were much more accurate than the smooth bore muskets and fowling pieces of the New England militias. These firearms were accurate out to 300 or 400 yards in skilled hands and could be quite deadly.
The clothing that was issued to the men in the summer of '75 was likely worn out by that autumn or winter, for the men initially marched from Pennsylvania to Boston for about 4 weeks wearing their uniforms, and then served in and around Cambridge until March of 1776, when they marched from there to New York to begin the 1776 campaigns.
They were known as the Pennsylvania Rifle Battalion in the summer of 1775. When Washington reorganized the army, the battalion became known as the 1st Continental Regiment throughout 1776. Washington reorganized the army again in late 1776, and, starting in January 1777, the regiment  became known as the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment, and that is the name it fought through for the rest of the war."
I did a bit of research on my own  and found that:
Along with the American long rifle, the American hunting shirt became famous in the American Revolution. It was generally made of homespun linen and cut in a long overshirt or wraparound style. It had rows of fringe around the edges and fit loosely so the wearer could move easily. Favored by General Washington, it was frequently worn by both Continentals and the militia. In 1776 Washington described it: "No dress can be cheaper nor more convenient, as the wearer may be cool in warm weather and warm in cold weather by putting on [additional clothes]. . . . "
Tony put together a hunting shirt sewing day, where members of his regiment could get together and hand-sew authentic replications of the originals worn by the 1st Penn back during the Revolutionary War.
In 1775 when the North Carolina Congress raised a battalion of ten companies of minutemen, or militia, it called for these men to be uniformed in hunting shirts. General Washington stated that a man wearing a hunting shirt created "no small terror to the enemy who think every such person is a complete marksman." Aside from hunting shirts, the militia usually wore homespun wool coats in a variety of colors and patterns and waistcoats, breeches, and stockings.
(Outfitting An American Revolutionary Soldier)
Tony went around from table to table to answer questions and help or guide anyone in need.
This sewing day for soldiers took place inside the original mess hall in the 1840 Historic Fort Wayne barracks in Detroit.
Before the sewing began, Tony explained the
history of his hunting shirt.
After hearing a bit of the history, the members of his 1st Penn Regiment got to work in making their own hand-sewn shirts.
Each member received a "kit" that included everything needed.
Some of the members wore their period clothing during sewing day while others chose to come in modern wear.
My son was lucky, for his girlfriend, an accomplished seamstress, came along to help him out.

As I am not portraying military, I didn't make one for myself, though I do plan to possible go out here and there as a Minute Man every-so-often. So after hanging around inside for a while I decided to go out for a while and enjoy a rare, sunny (albeit very cold) February day.
For the first time ever, I purchased for myself a musket!
It is a Gentleman's Fusil Musket - yes, here I am with it.
As noted by Access Heritage, the company I purchased it from: "Having a 'fusil' or smaller and lighter calibre musket was both more comfortable and was an excellent muzzleloader for hunting or target shooting.  A number of London gun makers catered to this market including Thomas Ketland.  Ketland started making flintlocks in 1760 and his business grew.  By the 1790s, Ketland expanded in order to take advantage of the export market.  Not only did British and American officers and civilian gentlemen demand his guns but also the North America's Native chiefs."
This is the company picture of the gun I purchased.
I plan to use it once in a while during early battles, but mainly I wanted it for presentation purposes, especially the hunting aspect, for I do portray a farmer. Tony helped me in choosing the piece that would work for me, of which I appreciate.
Gentlemen hunter resting after a day of fowling, 1783.
Hey! He has my gun!
"Gentleman hunter resting after a day of fowling, 1783."
"This smooth-bore flintlock muzzleloader has a 36-inch tapered barrel with a .62 calibre bore.   The overall length is 52 1/2 inches.  The barrel has engraved on it "LONDON" like most pieces manufactured by Kentland gunmakers in the 18th century." 
The young man in the following two photos willingly and happily posed for a few shots:
Though a little too young to be fighting in the War, he is definitely of age to go hunting.

Then again, if he sees a Redcoat, he may just take aim!
During a break in the sewing, a few of the guys also came outside and I took a few moments to snap pictures of some of them. I'm not going to lie---it was pretty cold out. We were at the tail-end of the so-called "Polar Vortex" where we had very bitter temperatures dipping down to near 20 below (actual temps!) and highs hovering around zero (one day we had a high of minus 4).
If these two looked cold...they actually were!

My son and his girlfriend.
Our woolen cloaks definitely kept us warm, To be honest, I felt that my cloak actually kept me warmer than my modern coat, though my legs below the knees certainly felt the sting of the air.
It's February in Michigan. It's cold. But at least we did have sun!
But the fun wasn't over yet - - -

Our next February excursion was to celebrate the birth of the Father of our Country, George Washington. Here are the photos taken at this celebration:
A toast!
Washington's Birthday has a history as old as our country. It was celebrated publicly for the first time in the late 18th century, while George Washington was still president.

"Washington's Birthday" became an official holiday in 1885, when President Chester Arthur signed a bill stating so. Meanwhile, there was President Lincoln's birthday on Feb. 12, which never became a federal holiday but was celebrated as a legal holiday in many states outside the old Confederacy.
Today, we celebrate Washington’s Birthday on the third Monday of February each year—the result of the 1968 law mandating that a number of federal holidays occur on Mondays.
George Washington was born in Virginia on February 11, 1731, according to the then-used Julian calendar. In 1752, however, Britain and all its colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar which moved Washington's birthday a year and 11 days to February 22, 1732.
A year and 11 days??
But, how can that be?
New Year's Day had been celebrated on March 25 under the Julian calendar in Great Britain and its colonies, but with the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar in 1752, New Year's Day was now observed on January 1. When New Year's Day was celebrated on March 25th, March 24 of one year was followed by March 25 of the following year. When the Gregorian calendar reform changed New Year's Day from March 25 to January 1, the year of George Washington's birth, because it took place in February, changed from 1731 to 1732. In the Julian Calendar his birth date is Feb 11, 1731 and in the Gregorian Calendar it is Feb 22, 1732. Double dating was used in Great Britain and its colonies including America to clarify dates occurring between January 1st and March 24th on the years between 1582, the date of the original introduction of the Gregorian calendar, and 1752, when Great Britain adopted the calendar.
George was the oldest son of Augustine and Mary (Ball). His birthplace is located in Westmoreland County, Virginia, at Popes Creek Plantation (also known as Wakefield), with the plantation house, which was probably a simple one, built by his father, Augustine Washington, in the 1720s. Augustine, with his wife (and George's mother, Mary Ball) controlled a plantation of 1300 acres with several outbuildings and twenty to twenty-five slaves from this home.
The family moved away from Popes Creek when George was only three.
It is unfortunate that the house was destroyed by fire about sixty years later, in 1779. Later, Washington's step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, placed a stone marker on the site in 1815 or 1816 commemorating his grandfather's birthplace, explaining, 
"Here On the 11th of February, 1732, Washington Was Born.
Washington's nephew, William Augustine, was the owner of Pope's Creek when it burned down.

Yet despite the holiday often being referred to as “Presidents’ Day” in practice, the official federal holiday is actually “Washington’s Birthday.” When George Washington himself was alive, people honored the occasion with balls and banquets. The celebration continued after his death as a way to remember what America’s first president did for the Nation.
For our celebration we had period music played beautifully on the hammered dulcimer. 
And here is the dulcimer player with his wife and child.

Checkers and peanuts - - - - 

Plenty of talk, mostly about reenactments past & future and historical accuracy of period clothing, muskets, and other items used, abounded. Having a period party doesn't mean one must necessarily stay in 1st person to keep it authentic, just keeping away from modern politics, non-period movies/music, and other contemporary topics. 

Even though the celebration took place in an 1872 school house, the atmosphere still had that period wooden feel that most modern buildings don't (obviously) have.

Most of us brought along our own light.
In fact, here are a couple of my lanterns,
including my favorite on the right.

Together with the members of the 1st Pennsylvania dressed in their 1770s finest, along with most of the rest of us also dressed in an 18th century manner - and throw in the lanterns that helped to complete the ambiance - this 19th century structure certainly did indeed work well as an 18th century backdrop.
By the way, this was not my first time participating in such a birthday celebration; ten years ago I was part of a commemoration for the 200th anniversary of President Lincoln's birthday.
I suppose this was a sort of unofficially the first event of the 2019 season. It was good to be around like-minded folk who enjoy bringing the past to life.
Once again, many thanks to Tony for putting all of this together. It was a really fine time.
Until next time, see you in time.

Sources for this posting:
The White House
Julian to Gregorian Calendar
Outfitting An American Revolutionary Soldier

And if you would like to know more about George Washington's death Click HERE
Interested in hearing about the beginning of the Revolutionary War from those that were there? Click HERE
Interested in everyday life in colonial times, click HERE

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