Monday, March 13, 2017

Citizens of the American Colonies: Bringing the Past to Life

 ~ I haven't written an opinion piece in quite a while. I suppose I'm over due ~

No...we do not shop at the Payless Shoe Store
(Photo courtesy of Lynn Anderson)
As reenactors, we certainly live interesting lives, don't we? We can experience times past in ways most folks can't even imagine. And many of these same people think we are totally off our rocker for what we do!
I suppose, in a way, we are.
Bonkers, that is.
But then, all the best people are! (Yes, I swiped that from the Alice in Wonderland movie)
Maybe the thought of our own sanity being questionable isn't very far off.
~ we spend thousands of dollars on our historic clothing, making sure it is as period correct as possible (debt be damned!)
~My period display~
Note the barrel filled with "apple cyder,"
the heirloom apples from the 18th & 19th
centuries, and newly-dipped candles 
drying on the stand.
~ we purchase "must-have" accessories to accent our tent home or our presentations - again, spending, at times, an exorbitant amount of money to have the look and feel of period correctness
~ men will grow their hair long so it can be worn in a queue (ponytail/braid), often accented with a ribbon
~ we will spend hours upon hours with our faces buried in books researching every minute detail of lives past (who else owns a book entitled "18th Century English as a Second Language"?), especially during the winter season as we 'perfect' our period lives so we can spend our weekends in the past
~ we think nothing of how far we must travel to get to the reenactment site...and our family vacations may even center around a reenactment
~ we, as living historians, will also hone our historical skills; we find ourselves learning trades of earlier eras not very often practiced in modern society. Benjamin Franklin, for instance, was a chandler (candle maker) early in his life, an occupation he did not much care for. You may find chandlers (me, for instance) making candles the way they did "back then" using real beeswax. Then there are those who will practice the art of a pewterer or tinsmith, rope making, farming, spinning wool into yarn on a spinning wheel, tanning hides, pottery, canoe building, etc. 
Ahhh...such is the life of a living historian, with the accent on "historian," for we really do spend countless hours delving into the history of our preferred era and, in doing so, we become "knowledgeable specialists."

A few years back I began a brand-spanking-new reenacting group called Citizens of the American Colonies, and, so far, it's been a pretty good success.
Like anything new, it's starting off a bit slow, with only about a half-dozen or so active members. But that's okay. It's quality I want, not quantity. That's most important to me.
At a time when the WWII/1940s era seems to be the next big destination  in time-travel, there are those of us who would rather find favor further in the past...back to our American roots - - at the time of our nation's founding.
Here is my attempt to look as authentically 
period accurate as possible.
Next to looking right is becoming 
historically accurate.
The cloak I have on was found on the 
"18th Century Trading Post" page on 
Facebook, and the mittens I am wearing 
my wife crochet for me from the raw wool 
she prepared, dyed, and spun.
This is the era that really does excite me - not that I want anyone to leave Civil War, mind you, for I continue to remain an ardent Civil War reenactor - but we in the 21st century seem to be in an era of political turmoil, and what better way to help teach about the times of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, along with the fight it took to allow us to have both of these documents, than to make the valiant effort to bring the era alive by those who continue to study and research that period in time. To me, it is an honor to do so, and I consider reenactments of this sort to be a celebration - yes, a celebration - of the generation that founded America, whether our ancestors were a "Founding Father/Mother" or a farmer.
In fact, that was one of the questions brought up at our second annual membership meeting held recently: "Who are we looking to be?"
My answer: "Citizens of the American colonies."
In other words, if you were a part of a colony in what would eventually become the United States, you are welcome to be a part of our little group.
Of course, I do have rules that I ask the members to follow, some of which may upset a few:
~dress as accurately as you can (a no-brainer, eh?).
~no phones or any modern technology except for emergencies (if you take a picture, pull the camera or phone out, take your pic, then put it away quickly. Don't keep it out waiting for the next moment).
~stay period in your conversations (there's plenty of wonderful period topics to talk about - research!! And please don't use silly idioms such as "I visited Mr. Kroger to get my pie," - Kroger being the local grocery store. "I have to check my portable telegraph" for checking your e-mail or phone messages. "I have a digital tintype" - for a camera. And "book of faces" for Facebook). Now, I will admit, I am as guilty as anyone for using these 'cutesy' idioms. But not anymore. Each of these lowers our purpose and makes a joke out of what we do. They are not acceptable in the Citizens group.
Here are some of the members of Citizens for the American Colonies
As you can see, we try to cover a variety of people and fashions in this group, 
hence the name.
The period-dress meeting was held at my "Victorian-style" house.
As noted HERE, living history can be a "very powerful tool for the promotion of cultural heritage, (but) with great power there also comes responsibility.
I have already urged my (membership) to pursue the highest level of quality and authenticity. But why do I so sternly insist on establishing and maintaining standards, when the visitors (and some reenactors) do not seem to care? Why should living history enthusiasts care about authenticity? Why should we bother?"
Lynn has more of a "French flavor" to her clothing. She
has participated with the Lac Ste. Claire Voyageurs for
a number of years, and she leans in that direction.
Of course, Dr. Franklin has always enjoyed the French!
Most modern visitors do not actually know what is authentic; they do have an interest in history, but will not devote the time to the meticulous study of details such as clothing and daily activities in the way we do. And because of this we must remember that the visitor tends to believe everything that he or she sees to be authentic.
Do you see why it is imperative to be as accurate as we possibly can?
Susan is new to the colonial period, and her clothing 
is her first attempt at making a 1770s dress.
Attempt? I would say she has it down!
What I really cannot stand hearing is, "Well, the visitor knows that we aren't actually from the past, so they'll accept seeing the modern inaccuracies."
Don't even go there with me.
In fact, get thee behind me!
Having a little fun - the ladies are showing off their fancy colonial footwear...
and their stockings!
Popular media and Hollywood movies do not help. They tend to perpetuate the myths we perpetually attempt to bust. They enjoy creating controversy because it's controversy that will get people talking, which will turn into a higher viewership, therefore more revenue.
Let's not be like that - stick to actual research - - - especially if you think you don't have to. If you feel you know it all, I guarantee you don't! 
Unfortunately, there are many - too many - who feel they do know it all and don't really feel the need to put their nose in a book or three.
I am here to tell you...yes you do. We all do. History does change. Constantly. Because there are always new things about the past to discover. And it's people like you and I - living historians/reenactors - who are part of the forefront of this research.
Please be careful with online sources, by the way - especially those who do not cite where they got their information from. And if they use citations, check them to make sure they come from reliable sources. This is imperative.
Susan helps Rae with her hat.
And those are my hopes for Citizens of the American Colonies.
I don't want us to go at it halfway.
It's all the way.
Rae has been a Civil War reenactor for a number of years,
but she also loves the founding era as well.
She has definitely started off on the right foot.
Hopefully the idea of researching to discover new things instead of passing on the old myths excites you.
It certainly does me!
Lauren has been a 'colonist' for many years. She will,
many times, travel to the east coast to take part in the big 
reenactments. But she also joins us here in Michigan
in our attempts to bring a little of the 18th century
to our local visitors.
But, It is, however, up to the individual.
Like I said, it makes no difference to me how many people join Citizens of the American Colonies. I want quality over quantity.
Yeah...I like mirror shots; the mirror you see here is from Colonial Williamsburg.
The circular tin below? Why, that's a candle box/holder. After some uncertainty, I recently found out that they were part of the colonial period. 
As living historians, we are given the task of educating the visitors at our events. Therefore I feel we should at least make the effort to educate them correctly.
Striving to create an authentic, historical environment also has helpful captivating perception with an immersion feel for both the visitor and the living historian, thus being immensely more enjoyable for all involved.

If you wish to take part in the reenacting hobby, please do your best to make sure to uphold to the highest standards of historical accuracy. Otherwise you are actively deceiving the modern visitor, passing on myths, and, in all honesty, ruining the fun for the other participants.
Time for dinner with my wife.
Yes, dinner  is our midday meal. Supper  will be eaten in the early evening.
This is what I hope the members of Citizens of the American Colonies will adhere to.
Because if we can't even attempt to "be there," then why do it at all?

Until next time, see you in time.

To learn more about a colonial man's clothing, please click HERE
To learn more about everyday life in the colony days, click HERE
Planning on doing some colonial traveling? Click HERE
Ever spent time in a colonial kitchen? Click HERE



Unknown said...

I am so excited to have found your blog! I live in SE Michigan as well and have been looking everywhere for an 18th century civilian group. I have never reenacted before but I've been putting together my first 18th century wardrobe (by hand of course) and have wanted to join one for at least a decade. I found your group on Facebook and requested to join. I'm obviously a novice at this so I hope I am not committing an faux pas. Are you interested in taking any more members?

Historical Ken said...

Hi Megan -
Yes, you certainly may join my group, Citizens of the American Colonies, as a reenactor as well as on Facebook.
Please feel free to contact me via Facebook and I will be glad to help to steer you in the right direction and get you started in this wonderful hobby.