The latest living history how-to video from Jas. Townsend & Son talks about creating your inner persona. I’ve been exploring previously neglected branches of my family tree; namely those containing early American colonists in the 17th and 18th centuries, mostly in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
I’ve reserved Sarah Vowell’s book, The Wordy Shipmates, at the library – the audiobook. I’ve read it before, but it feels like a good time to give it another go.
I noticed the Nathanael Greene Homestead is interviewing docents. I sent an email just inquiring. I know I’m not ready for that yet, and I don’t yet even know how I’m going to find the time to do two four-hours shifts a month through summer at Smith’s Castle. But at least I’m now aware of another site that’s kind of in my area that finds itself in need of docents from time to time.
So hard to bide my time and not buy any kit. I’ve heard several times that it’s best to be patient and keep doing your research and borrow as much gear from other interpreters as possible while you’re just getting into it, to avoid spending a small fortune on things that turn out to be wrong for you, or your persona, or your time period, or whatever. I admit, though, I’m quite curious to see how I would look in a really solid period dress, apron, and cap. I wonder how long my hair will be this time next year, now that I’m letting it grow out?
Meanwhile, I continue to “like” re-enactor groups (mostly military outfits) and New England historical sites, and also join re-enactor groups on Facebook. You never know what you might find.
As a docent at a historical site that figures prominently in King Philip’s War, I know I’ll need to be able to speak to the public about the colonists’ relationship with the Native Americans. I’m willing to believe it’s far more complex than we’re used to hearing about. I remember once hearing a docent at Coggeshall Farm saying that the colonists and the native peoples collaborated and shared information quite a bit, initially – but that after King Philip’s War, “all that stopped.” I’d like to know more about the collaboration and sharing of ideas before things went completely pear shaped between the colonists and the native people.
I’m also hoping to try my hand (as best I can replicate, given my modern kitchen) at some colonial-era recipes this winter. I find myself thinking a lot about what they would’ve eaten, and when. Currently reading American Household Botany: A History of Useful Plants 1620-1900 by Judith Sumner. It was loaned to me by a friend who works for the Rhode Island Historical Society, and was also recommended by the wife of a friend who does some Revolutionary War-era interpreting herself. I can already see I will ultimately need my own copy. Did you know that early on in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (and particularly in Salem):
Tea leaves, purchased at great expense, were boiled for a long time until a bitter decoction was produced, which was drunk without milk or sugar; then the leaves were salted and eaten with butter. In more than one town, the liquid tea was thrown out and the leaves were eaten.
I want to portray a strong, capable woman. A Loyalist (although she may keep her politics quite close, out of necessity). Someone with deep ties to England. Family from the north of England – Yorkshire, Durham, or Northumberland area. A woman, a mother, possibly a widow, during the time of King Philip’s War, and later during the Revolution (possibly the latter being a separate persona). Most likely a woman whose family had a higher station back in England – perhaps at one time, aristocratic – but whose station has sunk a bit in the colonies. Perhaps she even intends to return to England? Is her husband a soldier? An officer? What if he’s killed? Does that mean she’s stuck and can’t return home?
I am a direct descendant of members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in the Hampshire area of Massachusetts. Hadley, in particular, figures prominently. I am – somewhat uncomfortably – a direct descendant of a few officers who fought “Indians” (sometimes backed by the French) in that area; some were killed in the process. Sergeants and Captains, who may or may not have been dashing – or clever – figures; one I just read about (a Capt. Benjamin Wright b. 1660 in Northampton) rode nearly to Canada, collecting scalps, and sent the King a letter thanking him for the opportunity and offering to do it again. His father, Sgt. Samuel Wright (b. 1633 in London) was killed at the Battle of Bloody Brook in 1675 when Nipmucs ambushed a wagon train bringing salvaged grain stores from previously raided and abandoned Deerfield back to Hadley. Another, Capt. John Taylor (b. 1641, of the Windsor, CT colony) was killed in 1704 by either French or Indian fighters while leading a rescue party for colonists taken captive during a raid on Pascommuck.
There were other occupations besides soldiering and killing natives. One (Joseph Kellogg) ran the ferry across the Connecticut River at Hadley – a job that was kept in the family for a hundred years. One was a town’s “herder.” Many were farmers. One was killed in a grist mill accident, possibly involving lightening. Many of them came from aristocratic English families. Some were involved – nay, instrumental – in attempting to overthrow Elizabeth I in favor of Mary Queen of Scots, and no doubt had immediate and highly practical reasons for emigrating to the colonies (and later, may have had their own ideas about loyalty to England).
There is almost nothing known about their wives or daughters, however. I have great-grandmothers named Thankful and Mindwell; there is also Prudence and Freedom and Mercy and Deliverance. But the boys are just named John, or Nathaniel, or Benjamin – or possibly something stirringly Biblical like Hezekiah or Moses. But they never named the boys Sobriety, or Penitence, or Brotherly Love.