The Lake (Lake George) via the 18th century

Joined
Nov 19, 2013
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central NYS - 10 miles from the Baseball Hall of F
Over the last 7 years it's been my pleasure to be invited to an annual French & Indian War re-enacting event that takes place on Lake George. We begin the Sunday of Columbus Day Weekend and go through until the following Thursday. While the public tends to see us as we move about, the event is really for
re-enactors and it's where we try to emulate, as much as possible in the 21st century, what life may have been like for the soldiers and their Native allies during the late 1750s. Since Lake George was the site of a lot of action during this war, it's fitting that this event be held here.

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As we paddled in on Sunday the lake was particularly calm and inviting. We said a prayer, offered some tobacco and paddled south to meet up with our Abenaki allies. In the past few years we've base camped on Floating Battery; one of the many islands in the lake. The island is home to the remains of French fortifications from the mid 18th century; as are many of the smaller islands in that area. It's pretty incredible to see hand cut stonework as you paddle past the islands, knowing that these once protected armies in this conflict. We were also blessed this year to have a Bald Eagle flying with us as we headed down the lake (sorry no photos).

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This small chapel is dedicated to Father Isaac Jogues; a 17th century Jesuit priest. Jogues was sent amongst the Iroquois to convert them to Catholicism. Although somewhat successful, he eventually was martyred by the Mohawks near present day Fonda, NY in the Mohawk Valley. Prior to his death he survived a great deal of torture, loosing a finger and suffering a great deal of pain. Thankfully as a "Frenchman," I am allied to the Abenaki and not the cannibalistic heathens of the longhouse.

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Arriving at camp we meet with the chief and spend time renewing our friendship. This fire area is a the center point of the site and is wonderfully protected from the winds that blow in off the lake. It's also down in a hollow which makes it a great place to hide from the enemy.

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The main encampment is on the lower end down by the fire pit area. I prefer to be up higher for a variety of reasons including a nice breeze and being able to see who or what is coming my way. My "home" is a 10'x10 oilcloth that has kept me safe, dry and warm in some incredible rain & wind storms. While it doesn't look like much it has everything I need. For this event I bring two wool blankets and sleep on top of my bearskin (an 18th century version of a Therma-Rest pad). To my side I keep my musket, shot bag, food bag and clothing (my gear is closest to the camera in this shot).

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By having all this gear with me I can be assured of having everything I need when I need it. I also take a small brazier (think charcoal grill) that is period appropriate. With the brazier I can make small contained cooking fires under the oilcloth if the weather dictates. Bottom line, it's all "ancient" technology but it all works.

The weather on this trip wasn't the greatest. In fact, it was pretty typical of the lake at this time of year; unsettled. Because of that we didn't venture off the island too much but we still need to be on guard for the "enemy" who might try and sneak up on us. For that reason I would periodically go out on patrol and work the perimeter of the island. Floating Battery is considered haunted by many. There are a legion of ghost stories and the most famous one is of the ghost of the French Marine. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, I know I saw him one night a few years ago while out on a night patrol. This year we heard voices in the middle of the day. Since at least 5 other people heard them too, we went out to survey whether we were alone or not. While finding no one, I would never say you're alone on this island.
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(me on patrol looking to the western shore)

If nothing more, this week is a great time to cook period foods and enjoy everyone's company. We try to keep to food that would have, or could have, been available during that time period. Typical drinks are hot chocolate and brandy while food can range from parched corn, jerky and more elaborate meals.
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As the week's weather was unpredictable, and we weren't seeing too many other people out on the lake, we decided to get out the first break in the weather that looked good. The day before I went out there were a few others who left earlier. One of the guys has a sail set up which, I've been told, can be documented to Native use; although not common. Luckily for them, they got out while the getting was good.

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As for our little group, by the time we left the next day the weather was a lot more sour. We left Floating Battery around 7:30 AM, hoping to get going before the winds built up. Unfortunately for us, about 10 minutes after leaving the island we needed to take refuge on St. Sacrament island just to the north. We were wind bound for about 2 hours before the white caps died down enough that we were willing to get back on the water. Once we were around the island and heading north again the wind had a larger area to spread out across so it was a lot more manageable. From there we played off various points and islands until we made it safely back to the beach were our adventure had started. Since the weather was dicey, I don't have any photos from the trip back but I'll leave you with one of the elders in our group. As you can see, I'm the token white guy. All of these folks are Native and, with the exception of one person, all members of the El Nu Abenaki tribe which is recognized by the state of VT. This is their annual tribute to their ancestors and I feel privileged to be invited amongst them each year.

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That's all for now. Take care and until next time...Be well.

snapper
 
Joined
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I've been waiting patiently ever since you first spoke of these re-inactments, hoping you'd post a report. Awesome!
Can you describe your uniform? What condition are the old stone fortifications in? Are the islands part of a park system? Thanks snapper. This is an interesting way for those Abenaki members to honour their forbears and history.
 
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Just brilliant. Really enjoyed the photos and description of period gear. Can I ask about the oilcloth tarp? I'm aware of a few canvas tent manufacturers that are making oilcloth tarp for the re-enacting community. I've read conflicting reports that there is a distinct petroleum odor from the modern recipe methods used to waterproof. Does the tarp give off that aroma?
 
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Messages
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Location
central NYS - 10 miles from the Baseball Hall of F
Thanks all for the kind words regarding my trip report. Before I do my best to answer your questions I want to thank Robin who gave me the heads up on how to get my photos posted here. This is my first report that includes photos (instead of a link) and it wouldn't have happened without his help so THANKS Robin.

OK here goes...

My Uniform: I portray a low level French milice, essentially a militia man. I'm obligated to fight for the King as long as I'm between 16 and 60. The milice were essentially the teamsters of their day. Hauling gear, equipment, etc. was what they did. Because they were a quasi-military group there was a uniform of sorts; which is what I'm wearing in these photos. On my head I'm wearing a tapaboard which is essentially a wool hat. I will also wear the standard red wool toque or, on really warm days, a red silk head rag. I chose the tapaboard that day because it was kind of cold, overcast and threatening to rain. You can see that I wear glasses and the tapaboard is the only head gear that has anything resembling a brim which really helps in the rain. In fact, the entire hat is a lot like the Stormy Kromer hats that are still out there so I can pull both the brim and the ear flaps down when it really gets cold and nasty. Around my neck is a silk scarf and my shirt is a cotton/linen blend. The extra length is nice when the wind blows because under my shirt I'm wearing a wool breechclout and then wool leggings. I really do enjoy the wool but a quick breeze in the wrong location and you can understand why the longer shirt is much appreciated (LOL). One thing I'll say about the breechclout and leggings; typically in my "real" life I wear shorts almost all year and having the breathability of the bc/leggings is really nice at a warm summer event. The sash that I've got around my shirt is also a nice contributor to holding in warmth when needed. My outer layer is what's called a sleeved gilet. It's like a lightweight jacket but you can also wear a sleeveless gilet (think "vest") under the shirt directly against the skin. I do that when it's really cold out because that light layer of wool against my skin is really comfortable. Finally, on my feet I'm wearing ox-hide shoes. The French adopted (and adapted) a lot of their woods clothing from their Native allies (unlike the Brits who would rather suffer than dress like a "savage" when in the field) because they could see how well the clothing worked in the elements. As for my glasses, while I probably wouldn't have had any, they are 18th century frames with my prescription.

Gen'l Lake George Info: The fortifications are easy enough to see if you know what you're looking for. Essentially if you see hand cut rockwork on any of these islands you're probably looking at part of an old fortification or at least a wall built to protect people as they shot out from behind them. The islands are part of the Lake George campground and the lake is divided into a southern & northern region. Like with most campgrounds there is a fee involved but NYS stopped taking fees this year after Labor Day weekend; usually they go until the Sunday of Columbus Day weekend. Floating Battery, our basecamp, is part of a group of islands called the Mother Bunch. I'm not sure where that name came from but that's the common designation for the group.

Oilcloth: My oilcloth comes from a company called "Tentsmiths." They are a small family owned group in NH. My daughters purchased this for me as one of my first pieces of kit when I started out in 2007. There is no oily smell or any other chemical aroma that's ever come off of it that I can recall. I will typically spend 25-30 nights a year under it and I'm not kidding when I say it's protected me in some really unpleasant weather. One year at Fort Niagara there was a storm that came in off the lake that knocked down all sorts of tents and other shelters. We rode it out laughing and enjoying the entire process (OK, maybe my intelligence can be questioned at times but we really had a good time riding out that storm!). The trick, like with all tarps, is pitch the low end into the wind and lower the front as much as comfortable so there's a lot of room underneath. With only two people under it there's plenty of room to escape the sideways rain that seems to always try to find it's way in. And, for what it's worth, I really think the 10'x10' size is ideal. It might be a bit big if I was hiking with it most of the time but since we tend to travel by canoe the weight is immaterial. Also, in the winter you can pitch it so there are sidewalls that allow for a nice and toasty shelter.

As an aside, one of the things I really enjoy about this hobby is learning how to make our personal clothing and gear. While I certainly didn't make my glasses frames, everything else I'm wearing in these photos are hand crafted. The most difficult thing to make is the ox-hide shoes. Thankfully I have an acquaintance who lives in Illinois who makes them. Other than that, the shirt, leggings, breechclout, etc. I've made myself. I even learned fingerweaving so I could weave my sash (a word of caution; don't let your first project be a 12' sash...boy I wasn't bright on that choice!). The tapaboard was made for me by my friend who is the chief of this Abenaki band and the sleeved gilet came from another friend of mine; although I did sew up the sleeveless gilet that can't be seen. Along the way I've made my shot bag (it's green in the photos), fingerwoven bag straps, carved spoons, made canoe cups from tree burls and even made a historically inspired canoe paddle. Add to that learning about historic foods and the overall history of the time period and it can be all encompassing but getting the chance to spend time in places like this are truly rewarding and I feel honored to have been accepted by this group of Native folks.

I guess I've blathered on too long so I'll sign off for now. Please feel free to shoot me any other questions if you have them. If not, thanks for reading all of this.

Until next time...Be well.

snapper
 
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Joined
Sep 2, 2011
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"Oilcloth: My oilcloth comes from a company called "Tentsmiths." They are a small family owned group in NH."

They do have a storefront. in Conway NH but I drive by there each week and don't stop, Duh.
 
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Long Island, NY
Wowee, Snapper.

Great photos and great descriptions. This is one of those posts that gives my brain a lot to chew on.

Thanks for sharing.
 
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Messages
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Location
central NYS - 10 miles from the Baseball Hall of F
YC - I didn't know that Tentsmiths had a storefront so that's a new one for me. I usually just check their website and speak with them on the phone. Besides my oilcloth shelter I have one of their oilcloth rain garments. It's not something you can actually paddle in (too bulky), and probably not historically accurate, but if it's pouring rain and you're stuck on an island it will keep you dry (LOL). If you ever stop by the store I'd be interested in what you find.

That's all for now. Take care and until next time...Be well.

snapper
 
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