February 28, 2016

Winter's Eve Celebration - December 6, 2014

Ethan Allen Homestead Kitchen - A nice warm place on a winter's night.
Photo from a visit in May of 2010.
Getting back to recounting my first season as a reenactor with the recreated Seth Warner's Regiment.

The last event of the 2014 season was the Winter's Eve celebration at the Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington, VT.

I'd visited the Homestead a few times in the past as a tourist.  The Winter's Eve celebration of 2014 was my first time being there as a participant instead of a viewer.  My six year-old daughter joined me, as she was sort of curious about "the olden days", and she wanted to hang out with dad for a bit.

The day actually consisted of two parts.  The first part was a work party, where members of the regiment took over one of the museum's meeting rooms to measure out gunpowder and make up cartridges for the next season.  Having never made up cartridges before, I was given a quick overview of the process, then added to the assembly line of folks who were already there when Gabriella and I arrived.

For blank cartridges (i.e. powder only, no ball), the process was pretty simple.  Pre-cut papers were rolled around a cylindrical former of the proper caliber, then folded as the end to create a cartridge.  These empty cartridges were then passed to the next group, who measured out an amount of gunpowder, filled a cartridge, twisted the end shut, and added to a pile of finished cartridges.  The finished cartridges were then counted out into individual sets which were bagged in preparation for being handed out to individual soldiers at upcoming events.  The process, once we got into the rhythm, was very quick, and even my daughter got into rolling empty cartridges with us.

For the second part of the event, we donned our 18th century clothing and joined the public for a relaxing evening of socialization.  My daughter decided that she'd like to participate as well.  The director of the museum, who was also a member of Warner's, found some costume clothing for her to wear.  Within just a few minutes, my modern 6 year-old with pink shirt and sparkly boots was transformed into a skirted and hair-capped youngster from the 1700s.

The night was a lot of fun.  The museum gave lantern-light tours of the house, where volunteers were playing Ethan and Fanny Allen.  The house itself was lit by candlelight, and warmth was provided by the kitchen and bedroom fireplaces.  My daughter listened intently as Ethan Allen recounted his history, and talked about his book-writing.  While she received a history lesson, Warner's gathered in the kitchen, sitting around the fire and visiting.  While it wasn't quite a time-travel moment for me, it was pretty close.  It was easy to see how folks living through the winters of New England would have gathered and kept themselves entertained with stories from their neighbors.  The candlelight inside and cold weather outside actually made for a pretty incredible atmosphere.

Back in the visitor's center of the museum, in the Homestead's recreated "tavern", drinks and snacks were being served.  Another group, also in 18th century attire, was demonstrating and teaching period dancing, which was similar to a combination of modern line and square dancing.  A few of us joined the group and the public for some dances.  Many of us quickly found that we can't count to two very well, or keep up with instructions in time to music.

For Gabriella, the most exciting part of the evening was meeting the "schoolmaster".  A gentleman was set up in one corner of the tavern with paper, ink and quills.  He showed visitors how to write with a quill, a process that my daughter found fascinating.  She spent most of the evening happily drawing lines and letters with a quill and ink, occasionally bouncing up to the tavern bar to grab another cookie.  When we returned home that night, she talked all the way home about meeting "the inkmaster, and Ethan Ellen, and dancing, and olden times clothes."  She was hooked.

The end of the event came with a small sketch performed by the members of Warner's.  A dispatch arrived "from the Continental Army".  One of the men brought the dispatch to the Captain, who read it aloud to the public, then explained that one of the other men was going to be promoted.  The second man arrived, and promoted to Ensign of the company.  The sketch actually provided for two things.  First, it was an entertaining way to educate the public.  Second, it served as the actual promotion of the men in question within the unit.

Thus ended my first season as a reenactor.  The rest of the winter was spent researching, reading, and talking about the time-period.  My daughter also couldn't stop talking about the event.  She wanted to know if she could go with me to the next one, and spent her winter asking, almost every day it seemed, when the next event would be.