Monday, June 10, 2019

Spending Time in the 18th Century With The Voyageurs

If you look under the title of my Passion for the Past header, you will note the general description of this blog:  "Thoughts and Social History for the Living Historian."
Yes, what I write here almost always has its base in living history and reenacting.  My hope is that my posts can be used to help accent the good folks who reenact, at least to some degree, common life, which is why most subjects center on what is considered the everyday, mostly mundane occurrences of the past rather than the  'greatest hits of history,'  such as politics and war, that tend to dominate school curriculum.  Yes, politics and war find their way into my postings here and there, but I attempt to show how it may have affected the populace, such as the civilians who fought in the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, or how the townsfolk of Gettysburg dealt with 150,000 soldiers invading their little town, rather than focus strictly on the military or political leaders of the time.
The Lac Ste. Claire Voyageurs
on Lac Ste. Claire a few years back.
So with that being said, since my last posting, which was about our three day adventures at the Civil War reenactment at Greenfield Village, I have attended two more events:  one colonial and another Civil War (look for the Civil War posting to be coming up soon).
A week after the Greenfield Village reenactment, I visited the Lac Ste. Claire Voyageurs as they set up camp in the mini-historical village of the Chesterfield Historical Society, located in northern Macomb County (about 14 miles north of Detroit).  The Voyageurs have been doing this wonderful event for a few years now and it just continually gets better and better, for the members are an amazing living history group;  they portray the early settlers, mostly of French origin, who lived pretty much in the general area where most of their reenactments take place - in and around the Great Lakes region.  In other words, they are reenacting on the same ground where the original Voyageurs actually lived!  For a region like Michigan, this is pretty cool, especially considering it is depicting the 17th and 18th centuries.
So why do I usually portray an easterner when I reenact this period?
Well, that's my area and era of preference.  However, when I present as a farmer, I can still be a local living here in what is now Michigan.
A 1755 map showing what would become the states of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin (and the Canadian province of Ontario).
At this time this area was known as New France (as the map here states), 
as well as the Northwest Territory.
~(Thanks to my Voyageur friends for helping me out with what 
this area was called at the time)~
For a quick overview of the folks who were unique to this old northwest region (including what is now Ontario, Canada), the Ste. Claire Voyageurs were Great Lakes fur traders, missionaries, and explorers that came to the area in the early 1600's.  They were of French origin, though they did not come directly from France.  Rather, they came from the large French settlements in Montreal and Quebec.  From the 1670's until the 1800's, French fur traders and homesteaders started settling in the Macomb County area of Michigan, north of what is now Detroit.  I find this very interesting since Macomb is the county in which I have lived nearly my entire life.
The reenactors who portray this group do an outstanding job in their presentations, and I made certain to grab a few photos to show some of their ways:
Creating an earthen oven.

Unfortunately I was not around to taste the pie, but
it certainly looked good going in!

And the makeshift wood cover to keep the hot hot.

A home away from home, so to speak.  
I always enjoy seeing some of the items others bring along to their camps.  And this family looks like they could stay put for the summer season, for what they brought with them; they have a little bit of everything to show & tell the visiting public, including the art of churning butter.
The Voyageurs were known for buying, selling and trading animal fur and pelts. They adapted the Indian-style canoes and bateaux (a small, flat-bottomed rowboat used on rivers) to move their furs, as well as using sailboats.
Micki and Jerry have been Voyageurs since 1767.
Okay...a little far-fetched, but they have been replicating
this part of history for a lot longer than most.
Such great people!

Not all tents were wall or A-frame. Here is a lean-to used for some protection but mostly display.

Many original axes that were found in the area were on display.


...and the final result.

One sometimes wishes that the history of our early medicine could have been written by the patients rather than the physicians.  Those who were ill in colonial times underwent stern experiences.
Tom Bertrand explains medical procedures and medicinal cures to the visiting public
The methods and materials used by colonial doctors were based on European texts.  The English and Scottish professional pharmacy books that were used by doctors in the colonies include chemicals, plants, and other products from around the world.
While some North American plants were listed, overall the theories and practices in the professional practice of medicine remained firmly rooted in European tradition.
The Greek physician Galen (A.D. 129–199) is credited with organizing and promoting the humoral theory of illness.  During Galen's time, and for centuries after his death, it was believed that the human body had four humors: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile.
Disease was attributed to an imbalance of the humors, and treatment involved restoring the humors to their proper balance.
Anatomical discoveries by Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564), William Harvey (1568–1657), and others, as well as the budding sciences of chemistry and physics in the seventeenth century, refuted many aspects of the humoral theory.

The modern tools of the 18th century medical profession.
Of course, bloodletting is, perhaps, the most famous of 18th century medical practices.
You can say this about bloodletting: the practice of bleeding the ill patient to get his or her  "humors"  back in balance had a long and somewhat respected history.  Dating back to at least fifth century B.C. and in practice across many cultures, bad blood was blamed for just about every ill, so bleeding became a universal treatment and served as a foundation stone of Western medicine.  The practice of bloodletting came to America with the Europeans and persisted into the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Unfortunately, you can also say this about bloodletting: It was at best a useless practice and at worse a dangerous one, causing more deaths than it could ever claim to save. Today, the idea seems barbaric, maybe equivalent to torture, as I found out during an illness that befell me:
When a large cut was needed, the fleam would be used.  
A fleam was a kind of lancet, used for opening veins.
(A Richard Reaume pic)

The fleam was a handheld instrument specifically used for bloodletting 

It was hoped that the fleam was sharpened well when they were used.

The brass bowl might have contained elegant images of birds, palm trees 
and women, belying the fact that its purpose was to collect large 
amounts of blood.
The one I held here was simple and plain. 
Well, now I can scratch that  experience off my bucket list!

I am sure I will surprise most of you here, but until this day, I had never shot a gun outside of one from the later 20th century.
It's true.
Not Civil War and not Rev War.
Until now:
The smoke from my first time firing a flint-lock, belonging to Dave Pierce.
And now that I have my own gun, I plan to fire it more often.  No, I do not plan on necessarily doing military, but if needed I can maybe do some militia here and there.
(Richard Reaume Photo)

Dave Pierce is a collector of period musketry and usually will set up a display of his arms at reenactments. He did so at the Patriot's Day event in April and it was a very popular attraction.
He did so here at the Voyageur encampment as well.
(Picture taken by Richard Reaume)
And speaking of guns, this was a time-line event, so guess who else was there?
There were a few WWI and II reenactors here, 
and they gave the public a little history of firepower 
through the years
(photo by Richard Reaume)

I have fair knowledge of WWII itself, but little knowledge of the soldiers.  It is unfortunate that my father, who was in that War, passed away when I was only 20 years old and had not yet formed too much of an 'adult bond' with him, otherwise I would had been a bit more well-versed due to his passing on his own stories.
(photo by Richard Reaume)

Their camps and firepower did look cool, though.
(photo by Richard Reaume)

The guests were very interested in the procedures of loading and firing the flint-locks.

The entire process can take 30 seconds or longer.

Many in the crowd never saw (or heard live) a real flint-lock being fired.  And that's what we, as reenactors, are all about: allowing the public to see, feel, hear...experience...the past in ways that TV cannot do.
There were no reenactors depicting the 19th century (i.e. Civil War soldiers), so it jumped from the 18th century to the 20th century and WWI.

Well, now, with this being Michigan in the spring of 2019, it rained.
Then stopped.
Then rained again, even harder.
Looking at the blacksmith's shop from the fly I was under.

In this picture it was raining so hard I was able to capture the rain drops falling from the sky, which is something my camera usually doesn't do.

And this little girl completed the day, for it brought many of us great joy to watch her walk with her grandmother and splash in the puddles.   I mentioned that if only we all had the mind to do this same joyful childhood ritual, but as adults, then maybe we would be less stressed.
Nope...I didn't do it, as much as I wanted to.
And neither did anyone else.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Lac Ste. Claire Voyageurs are an amazing reenacting group, and if you live in our area, you would do yourself well to venture out to one of their reenactments.  You will learn about a different history not often told in schools.
Not even if it's local history.
And that's why we have reenactors.

With that, until next time, see you in time.

For more information about the Voyageurs, please click HERE
For life on a colonial farm, click HERE

Information on bloodletting came from HERE and HERE.

~   ~   ~

1 comment:

Barbara Rogers said...

I am following trails back to my ancestors' lives, but haven't attended any reenactments for years. Maybe I'll keep an eye out for some. There are lots of battlefields around here! (western North Carolina)