Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A New Event! Colonial Life In Monroe, Michigan: Piercing the Veil of Time

~Well,  it  is  a new event for me!~

I once wrote that the only original 18th century structures still standing in Michigan,  aside from the few that were relocated here from New England to historic Greenfield Village  (thus, not  originals to our state),  are up on Mackinac Island at the northern tip of the lower peninsula in Lake Huron.
Well,  I was wrong!
Boy!  Was I wrong.
The fact is, there is a pretty awesome building directly from the later 18th century less than an hour from my home:
Crossing the bridge to the past - - 
I am talking about the Navarre-Anderson Trading Post, which was built in 1789!
According the book Michigan Place Names, Francois Navarre was born in Ontario, Canada, right across the river from Detroit, in 1763,  and would become the first permanent white settler in the area now known as Monroe in 1784.  On June 3,  1785,  Potawatomi Native American Indian chiefs signed a deed giving Colonel Navarre land on the south bank of the River Raisin.  Navarre’s homestead was located where the present day Sawyer Homestead stands.  More land was gifted to him the following year, allowing him to build a Catholic Church, and eventually bringing nearly a hundred more French settlers into the area, calling this new settlement Frenchtown. This was on the north bank of the River Raisin just a couple hundred yards northeast of the present Winchester Street Bridge,  and the Natives and the newcomers, who built log cabins and the long narrow strip farms, got along well, with many inter-marrying.  It was only the third permanent European-based community in Michigan.  Frenchtown was renamed Monroe in 1824, for the current President at the time.  Navarre is known as the  "Father of Monroe"  because of the settlement he began as well as his other accomplishments involving the War of 1812.
You are approaching the oldest wooden structure in 
southeastern lower Michigan.
The smaller building you see there is the Cookhouse, 
which was originally built as a cabin in 1810.
The Trading Post complex was established to represent a French pioneer homestead along the old River Raisin,  with the main building, the 1789, being the oldest  wooden  structure still standing in the state, according to the historical marker.  It is the most complete example of French-Canadian piece-sur-piece construction in the Old Northwest.  It has been restored to about 1797.  It was moved from its original Monroe site in 1894.  In 1969, its history was discovered.
Other buildings include the Navarre-Morris 1810 cookhouse and a replica 1790’s French-Canadian style barn.
Why I was not aware of this before, I have no idea.  But I can just hear my fellow Michigan history nerds:  "Well, duh, Ken!  Where've you been?"
Yeah...I'll take all you got to throw at me.  I suppose I do have it coming.  At least I can admit when I've blundered, right?
Tony, Ken, and myself.  
We were actually talking about the famous midnight ride of 
Paul Revere, and I was explaining to them some of the 
not-so-well-known stories about the man and the ride.
Don't you just love sharing history?
So! Knowing we have these historic structures,  let's build a few scenarios around them and the land they're on:
The reenactment wasn't large, but sometimes the smaller events can be every bit as good as the larger ones.  It helps that the location was perfect!

Here I am,  in front of one of the oldest structures built in Michigan:  
The Navarre-Anderson Trading Post in Monroe, from 1789.  
There are only three older buildings, and they are all on Mackinac Island.
Actual 18th century structures from our state are pretty darn rare,  
as you may well know, only four still standing,  and little did I 
realize that there was one only an hour from my house!
How cool is that?

There are many opportunities to utilize such a building when one is dressed correctly for its time.  It all just seems to historically come together.  So that is exactly what we did;  we created a few scenarios based on not only the history of this 18th century structure, but of its possibilities as well.

Preparing for a new day.

Time to hunt a turkey for the day's meal.

So for this scenario I am running a trading post, and I see a few potential customers:  the military men, possibly on leave for a few days.

Tony needed candles and was willing to pay cash, which is fine 
by me.  The price I charged him was 3s 6d  (two shillings and six 
pence)  for 8 pounds weight.

Ken wanted to purchase a Long Land Pattern Musket  ("Brown 
Bess")  musket that had been previously traded in, and the two of 
us bartered a bit, and he got me down from my original price of 3 
pounds to 2 pounds 10 shillings.

Of course, in hopes for another sale, 
I thought I'd entice the men with a nip of rum.

Richard enjoyed it quite a bit.
In fact...
Richard purchased the jug and kindly shared with his friends...

But he saved the greater part for himself.

As the scenery surrounding the area was historically beautiful, we did a few posed shots outdoors as well, including a couple on the banks of the River Raisin.
French settlers named it as La Rivière aux Raisins because of the wild grapes growing along its banks, since the French word for grape is raisin.  The French term for  "raisin"  is raisin sec  (dry grape).
A little bit of history about the River Raisin:
During the winter of 1813, as part of the War of 1812, the Battle of Frenchtown occurred near the river.  British and Native American troops under the command of British General Henry Procter and Native American chiefs Roundhead, Walks in Water, and Split Log, were allied against a division of ill-trained Kentucky infantry and militia under command of General James Winchester.  Cut off and surrounded and facing total slaughter,  Winchester surrendered with British assurances of safety of the prisoners.  The British and Potawatomi allies marched those who could walk to Detroit.  But the next day, many of the severely wounded prisoners left in Frenchtown were killed by the Native American allies of the British.
The Massacre of the River Raisin became a rallying cry  ("Remember the Raisin")  for Americans in the war, particularly for Kentuckians.  United States troops returned in the spring to drive the British from Michigan forever.  The original battlefield was preserved for years as a county park in Monroe, Michigan.  It has several monuments erected to the Kentucky soldiers who died there.  On October 12, 2010,  the land was transferred to the federal government.  By Congressional authorization, it is the only National Battlefield Park designating a battlefield of the War of 1812 - the River Raisin National Battlefield Park.

But at this reenactment,  we were portraying a time thirty plus years previous - a time during the Revolutionary War,  and a skirmish was held.
A 1st Continental Regiment riflemen warns a 
tavern keeper that the Regulars have landed nearby 
and may be on the march in this direction.  

Back to the 18th century.  
If you look hard, you just might see a few Redcoats across the river...
(No, there really were no redcoats there - just some photo fun)
The fighting at this reenactment did not represent an actual occurrence in this location.  However, I did find information about a smaller battle - sort of a pre-war battle -  that took place in Virginia,  for not all battles during the Revolutionary War were of large scale.  For instance, there was the Skirmish at Kemp's Landing:
With the building tension of the growing American Revolution, there was a struggle to gain control of military supplies like muskets and gunpowder.  In March 1775,  Virginia's royal British Governor John Murray,  Earl of Dunmore  (also called just Lord Dunmore)  had already raided the colonial storehouse in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Lord Dunmore removed his family from the vicinity,  fearing for his safety, even though there was no fighting.
The tension grew.  The Patriots had accumulated a group of men 
and Lord Dunmore had requested military backup.   
General Thomas Gage sent a small detachment of his foot regiment, who began raiding the surrounding villages for more military supplies, hoping to bolster their stores and cripple the Patriots.
Lord Dunmore had heard rumors of growing militia troops,  and began scouting the area.  He sent about 120 men to Kemp's Landing.
  Tony is with Lord Dunmore at this skirmish

Some of the men had been drinking and the inexperienced and 
militia ruined the ambush by firing too soon and the trained 
British regulars had little trouble returning fire. .
The militia fled,  though the militia commander, who was intoxicated and had collapsed while fleeing,  was captured by a former slave who had responded to the proclamation.  The results of the Skirmish at Kemp's Landing were 18 Patriots captured,  seven killed—five in battle and two drowned crossing a creek.  Only one British soldier suffered a minor wound.
I don't care if it is one musket, three, ten, or fifty, folks love the sound of the black powder flint-lock.  It's the sound of the past in the present.

Though shooting out the trading post window was not a part of the 
skirmish,  Ken asked if I would take  "the classic picture"  of 
heroism and of protecting the homestead.
If you look closely,  you can see a young lady inside a-fearing for her life.  
I would like to think she should move away from the window then!
My friend, Ken, has been a reenactor since the 1960s and has been involved in a few movies, including Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day-Lewis.
Ken Roberts

Though it was small,  the skirmish here was well done and well received.

Our next scenario continues on a colonial tavern theme.
Taverns were the pulse of 18th century urban life,  and their importance to the local community cannot be overstated.  The main difference from today to  "back then"  is that colonial taverns were also usually a stage coach stop for travelers;  a patron could spend the night and eat breakfast,  dinner,  and supper,  should the need arise.  Taverns were also the main source of information for the locals.
With the skirmish over, I can now get back to business and maybe 
make a bit more money from either side of the war.
Taverns,  also known as  "publick houses"  or  "ordinaries,"   have played an important part in social,   political,  and even military life,  though we see them today taking more of a back seat in their role in our Nation's history.
A few of the men were interested in having a well-cooked meal - 
something they do not seem to get very often sleeping in their camps.
The building right next to the Trading Post is known as the cook house and was built in 1810.  Research shows that the Post did have a separate kitchen built in 1789,  so though it may not be the original kitchen to the post,  it is still historically accurate to have such a building situated as it now is.
Food at a rural colonial tavern was generally fair,  and travelers expected no more than mediocrity upon dining while on the road,  with the choices limited and the prices fluctuating.  However,  there were times, especially during the harvest,  when food choices were greater and more readily available.
In the cook house we had food being prepared.
Simply prepared over an open hearth,  the types of food for dinner was what was commonly found in the cupboard of an 18th century community,  which many times meant whatever the owner had on hand for his own family and was willing to share.
Food cooked over the hearth in the cookhouse.

Or over an open-flame in front of the tavern.
That is the cook house on the right.
So,  at times the servings could be fairly well and include bread and cheese,  pigeon fricassee,  roast fowl,  pasties,  stews,  and pie, all washed down with a tankard or mug of cider.
Tavern patrons ate at a common table,  slept in common bedrooms,  and socialized in common rooms.  There was little privacy.

Colonial taverns were generally run by keepers of a middling 
class who had a steadier income than a farmer or other laborer 
might have had,  and food,  drink, and overnight accommodations 
were offered for a price. 

The tavern owner was a very prominent man in the area,  and was thoroughly informed on all public and most private matters.  He enjoyed the confidence of all who gathered around his fireside,  and he could also have held some sort of public office,  many times as postmaster,  for in an area without an authorized post office,  these ordinaries were the repositories for incoming and outgoing letters and packages.

Thus,  his wife,  too,  was considered a prominent woman.  But 
even as such,  she could have also either prepared and cooked the 
meals herself,  maybe with help from her daughter,  or,  
depending on their location,  had hired help to do the job.  
Oftentimes,  the food was grown by the owners.
In  the more rural publick houses,  the husband and wife team 
might very well had also been the servers,  eager to keep their 
paying customers satisfied.
Being that the tavern was where they lived,  the owner's house was the busiest in town.

We very much enjoyed utilizing such an ancient building,  so rare in these parts,  in ways that are of its time.  I hope to have the opportunity to do so again in the not-too-distant future.  
As you can see,  we enjoyed ourselves quite a bit here at the Navarre-Anderson Trading Post complex.  It was a first time for a few of us and,  being surrounded by a historic atmosphere,  proved to be a high note for the year.  You see,  this event was a last minute one for me;  I had only found out about it a couple days beforehand and questioned whether I should go or not,  for it was Labor Day Weekend and I was not certain on how horrible the traffic would be.  It turned out to be just fine and I am so glad I participated.  Yes,  it will be one of the many highlights of  my 2019 reenacting year.

Now,  just for trivia and knowledge sake,  here is a short list of ten of the oldest structures originally built on land that was to become the State of Michigan:
1780 - Officer's Stone Quarters of Fort Mackinac  (on Mackinac Island)
1780 - McGulpin House  (on Mackinac Island)
1780 - Biddle House  (on Mackinac Island)
1789 - Navarre-Anderson Trading Post (Frenchtown/Monroe)
1810 - Cookhouse at Navarre-Anderson Trading Post complex  (Frenchtown/Monroe)
1817 - Robert Stuart House  (on Mackinac Island)
1822 - John Johnston House  (Sault Ste. Marie)
1822 - John W. Hunter House  (Birmingham)
1823 - James H. Murray House  (Linden)
1825 - Fort Gratiot Lighthouse  (Port Huron)  1st lighthouse in Michigan

I must thank the powers-that-be
Until next time,  see you in time.
for allowing us to enjoy the building and complex in a historical way and giving us the opportunity to create some authentic-looking scenarios.  Maybe one day we can actually spend a day in a living history first-person manner there.  That's what I have been doing for years with a few of my Civil War civilians inside actual 19th century structures,  so presenting history in such a way is nothing new to me and a few others in my Citizens of the American Colonies group.
Hmmm....I will keep you posted.
Thank you to the CAMPEAU’S CO’Y, SAINT ANNE’S MILITIA for hosting and allowing us to join in.
We certainly appreciate it and hope you will include us again next year!

And with that ====================>>>>>

To learn more about taverns and traveling in the 18th century,  please click HERE
To see a general overview on everyday colonial life, click HERE
To learn a bit more on early Michigan history, please click HERE
Interested in colonial farming?  Click HERE
HERE is more on colonial kitchens

Some of my information about Francois Navarre came from HERE
Some of my Monroe  (and still more Navarre)  information came from the following wonderful book:
Monroe: The Early Years by Craig & Linda Hutchison
Also from the book Michigan Place Names by Walter Romig

My cocked hat is off to the ladies who were working inside the cook house----they really were well-versed in period food and cooking!
Loved it!

~   ~   ~

1 comment:

patriotsparade1776 said...

This event will have to be on our agenda for next year! Looks like a lot of fun and opportunity for educational presentations.