Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Reenacting Early American History

Because I reenact the American Civil War, nearly all of the living historical photographs I post on Passion for the Past pertain to that era. And since my living history keeps me pretty busy, I get little time to see other events outside "my time." I'm lucky if I make it to two a year.
Well, with this week being 4th of July week I thought I'd post some photos of other time period reenactments that I have been able to visit over the past few years, such as the eras of the French & Indian War, Revolutionary War/Colonial, and even the War of 1812, and to give some information on my localized (Detroit area) history to boot.
Let's begin our journey then, shall we?
The Great Lake State of Michigan had a group of adventurers unique to this general region (including what is now Ontario, Canada): the Ste. Claire Voyageurs. The 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.
St. Clair Voyageur reemactors
The Voyageurs befriended, learned from and intermarried with the local Indians who were already here when they arrived. They built earthen huts and farmed "strip farms," which were long pieces of land beginning at the narrow end near the lake and extended inland for about a half mile with a width of about 500 feet. In this way they were able to take full advantage of the natural waterways of the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers as well as lake St. Clair itself.
One of the presentation set ups of the Voyageurs
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.
Now, in the 21st century, the Ste. Claire Voyageur reenactors/living historians recreate this life from the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries. I have visited their encampments numerous times over the years and have befriended a few of these fine folk. They really do a great job teaching the history connected with the original Voyageurs, Coureur de bois (French/Indian trapper of the Great Lakes), early settlers, and military of the Great Lakes fur trade era. Their living history reenactments of the lifestyles and skills of the era include demonstrations and displays of canoe building, traditional crafts and skills, trade goods and artifacts, blacksmithing, campfire cooking, cannons and weaponry. They also play music, dance, tell stories, give lectures and really do a fine job teaching about the long ago culture and history.
One of the very cool reenactments the Voyageurs did a few years ago that I attended had to do with the first governor of Michigan, Lewis Cass, landing on the shores of Lake St. Clair in 1820.
The Voyageurs on beautiful Lac Sainte-Claire (Lake St. Clair)

Can you see Governor Cass on this canoe?

During the War of 1812, Cass served as a brigadier general and participated in the Battle of the Thames. As a reward for his service, he was appointed Governor of the Michigan Territory by President James Madison on October 29, 1813, and served until 1831.
The landing of Lewis Cass in 1820 on what is now near Metro Beach

In 1820, he led an expedition to the northern part of the territory. One of his stopping points on this trek was where Metro Beach - now a popular swimming spot -  is now, in southern Macomb County.
The Voyageurs did a very fine job in recreating this small but significant historic moment. Unfortunately, not many visitors were there to witness it. I wish they would get more media attention so more locals would be aware of their encampments and visit them. This group of living historians have so much to teach of our Michigan history - there's much more history in this area than industry and the automobile.

Cass continued on to the northern Great lakes region in present-day northern Minnesota in order to map the region.

In the same vein as the Ste. Claire Voyageurs, the French and Indian War, of which Detroit played a role, is also very under-represented in this area. I must admit, though I know of the war itself, I know little about the clothing of the period. And though I also am aware of how the colonists lived everyday lives on the east coat during the 18th century, there is little to go on of how they lived in the Great Lakes region during that time.
The original settlements in this area have long-since vanished. What physical remains that do survive are, for the most part, buried beneath the modern city of Detroit. The only true original site remnants in Michigan from before the 19th century that has remained undisturbed has been the foundations and other traces of Fort Michilimackinaw, at the tip of Michigan's mit. And that has been replicated to as near what it originally was as close as possible.
I, however, am sticking with my general area of southern lower Michigan in this posting, and it's unfortunate that there is virtually nothing of the European developments left from the 18th century or before.

First Foot Guards Grenadier Company Revolutionary War

One original historical gem we do have here in Detroit was built in the 1840's - Fort Wayne. This fort, once used to muster the local boys into military service from the Civil War through Viet Nam, is now used for historical purposes throughout the year, including Civil War reenactments, 1812 reenactments, WWII reenactments, ghost hunts, and the living history showing of Christmas' past.
Lately, however, they've added something new...er, old: a colonial/Revolutionary War event. In our local area there is very little here to show and teach interested spectators of the early times of our country and this area's colonial history. Yes, as I posted a few years back in THIS POSTING, Detroit was a true colonial city. In the 1970's, during the Bicentennial celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we had a ton of colonial events, including Colonial Days at Greenfield Village and Crossroads Village. But in the late 1990's, both open-air museum villages did away with their colonial festivities and now the only thing remotely large and local (besides a very few mostly unadvertised encampments) is the Feast of the St. Claire in Port Huron.
So to have Fort Wayne in downtown Detroit add a colonial-type event to their itinerary is pretty significant in my mind (the era that the Fort is striving for seems to be a time-line of the 18th century from the French and Indian War to the beginnings of the Revolutionary War). Yes, it's small (for now) but I believe it will grow, not only in size but in popularity as well. In fact, I have high hopes that I might take part next year, for I may have an opportunity to borrow period colonial clothing. How cool would that be?
I must admit that as far as colonial clothing goes I know little. So I will show here photos that I  have taken at events of what I thought were the most authentic looking of the participants.

From inside the fort. From this angle it certainly looks like a window and scene from the 1760's doesn't it?

Is there a doctor in the house? Yes, this man portrays a mid-18th century doctor with all the scary tools that go with the occupation.
Very frightening medical tools indeed! Yikes!! "No Doc, I feel fine...really!"
This man was impeccably dressed. I spoke with him for at least a half hour about men's colonial clothing, and he kind of reminded me of, well, me and my penchant for Civil War era clothing. He taught me quite a bit about garments from an era I've never experienced as a reenactor.

I've known Ross and Jeri, who have portrayed two French-colonial reenactors, for many years, and I know they also are well versed in not only colonial era clothing, but of the period in general. In fact, the gentleman here - Ross - worked for years at the Daggett Farm in Greenfield Village.

Here they are again; the gentleman is weaving and his lady is working on her embroidery.

Two other friends of mine reenacting roughly the same era as the above colonials - mid-18th century (Waterloo Farm).

Tonya, here, and her husband (that's him in the above photo) also participate in Civil War reenacting. I wish I had the resources and money to do more than one era, especially one from an earlier time like Tonya does. I've done the turn of the 20th century and the 1920's but that period in time holds no interest for me when it comes to reenacting; I prefer the pre-electric era.
Do you recognize these two people? You should - - it's Ross and Jeri from a few pictures above, only here they are making candles. Now, I have to admit I did some Paint Shop Pro photo trickery here: the background of this picture shows the saltbox-style Daggett Farm at Greenfield Village where Ross once worked, while the foreground picture of Ross and Jeri was taken in a parking lot-type location in Wyandotte, Michigan. With a little know-how and a want to have the candlemakers in a more authentic setting, I spent a bit of time making "corrections." Take it from me, all of the cars behind them would've totally taken away from the picture.
Here we are in Stoney Creek (upper rural Macomb County) where they hold a Revolutionary War reenactment every year. It usually takes place on a weekend where I'm in the 1860's. Again, it's relatively small in comparison to our Civil War events. I would love to see living history of the 1770's expand, more so than WWII, for I am of the opinion that we are not far enough removed from WWII for it to be done. Just my opinion.

I took this pic of a colonial couple at Port Huron's Feast of the St. Clair with an old-fashioned film camera back in the 1990's. They have such a great look, don't they? The guy reminds me of Jiggy Nye from the Felicity story
Here is a family of colonial reenactors. At one time I used to head up a time-line event in my hometown and that's how I met these fine people. They really did a fine job showing homelife in the late 18th century.

Here is an original Revolutionary War cannon now in the safe hands of Historic Fort Wayne.

Let's jump up a few years to the War of 1812 time period. This couple owns a sutlery where one can find all things Regency.

 The War of 1812 is another forgotten about period in the Detroit area history, which very much surprises me, for Detroit and the surrounding area played a major role in that conflict. In fact, I wrote about every day life in Detroit during the early part of the 19th century HERE (yes, you will see some pictures repeated).
War of 1812 Military

I'm not familiar with most things military, but I thought these two guys really looked the part of 1812 soldiers.

Again, War of 1812 military

My friend and fellow Civil War reenactor, Rebecca, agreed to pose for me in her 1812 garments while we were at Greenfield Village. Here she is standing by the Giddings house, built in the mid-18th century and yet fits in perfectly for the look I was shooting for.

Here is Rebecca in the garden of the Daggett Saltbox House.

Lovely 1812 ladies inside the Giddings House. The 1812 event was the only one where I've seen reenactors allowed to utilize an actual period-correct home inside of Greenfield Village. It was great!

Here is another 1812 couple very accurately dressed. In the mood for Jane Austin anyone?

These two lovely and well-dressed ladies (and friends as well) caught my eye while I was poking around the inside of the Cotswold Cottage, which was originally built in England in the 1600's and brought over to Greenfield Village in the 1930's. This photo, similar to the Daggett Farm Garden photo, just seems to epitomize the Regency era.
Samantha Bullat is well known in the living history fashion circles, and I asked her to pose for me when I caught up to her at the Greenfield Village 1812 event in 2012.
Though fewer in numbers by far in comparison to Civil War reenacting - events, participants and visitors - these reenactments showing earlier American history are every bit as important and should be brought to the public's attention. Unfortunately, the media has a tendency to overlook most things historical and would much rather tell of the latest adventures of Kanye West or some other non-important and over-paid so-called celebrity or sports 'hero.'
That's what sells the proverbial papers I suppose.
But we know better, don't we?

By the way, if you are interested in learning about the everyday lives of the east coast colonists, click HERE
And if you'd like to read my posting on the Patriot's fight for independence, check THIS out.
Then there is my posting on living in Detroit during the War of 1812 and Regency - click HERE for that



SteveH said...

Great as always Ken. I truly enjoy reading your blogs. I posted a story connected to a Lewis Cass expedition on Facebook that you might like. I don't know how to share it here. Thanks, Steve

Vivian LeMay said...

Thanks for this great post Ken. Didn't know about the Ste. Clair Voyagers.. Must check out Fort Wayne this summer.

thesurvivalnut said...

For those of you that may be interested in a Ste. Claire Voyageur program in the metro Detroit area, there will be one in August 2013. Here is a link to the flyer for more information: http://www.thesurvivalnut.com/voyageur-encampment-at-lake-saint-clair-metropark-2013/
Just click on the flyer itself, and it'll give you a printable information sheet.

thesurvivalnut said...

For those of you interested in the Ste. Claire Voyageurs, they'll be hosting an event at Lake Saint Clair Metropark in August.

Here is a link for the flyer:

Just click on the flyer image and you can print it off.


Unknown said...

Very nicely done Ken, informative and nice pictures as well. I enjoy reading your blogs

Unknown said...

Hi Ken, I'm new to your blog and really enjoying it! I work for a museum in SW Michigan and I would love to include more historical reenactors into our programs. Do you have any tips or links you could give me for finding reenactors in the michigan area? Thanks Ken!

Historical Ken said...

Kristen -
Please email me at historicalken1776@gmail.com