Sunday, May 20, 2012

Pocket Tackle Box, Pawpaw, and Wild Blackberries

Pocket Tackle Box:  a half-hour's work.

        Headed out to the creek for a trial run of the pocket tackle box.    I made these for my boys and myself a few weeks ago.  Hemp line, cork and corncob floats, sinkers from .36 and .44 caliber balls, and hooks I forged from old coathangers.  The whole tin fits in a waistcoat pocket.

The Setup

       All I brought with me was the pocket tackle box, my knapsack (tinderkit, boiler, tankard, sewing kit), belt knife, pocket knife and cane pole.  This pole is actually my son's.  It is about seven feet long.  The cane I cut for my rod is about twelve feet in length.  Its easier to get the line out into deeper water, but hard to get through the woods with it.  I cut the cane from a brake we found along Sligo Creek back in March.  I let it dry for about two months out in the sun, before I put it to use.

Brewing some tea

     After I threw the line in, I fixed a small fire for a cup of tea.  The tinder ball is the inner bark of a swamp oak.  It burst into flames after it caught the spark.

Had a visitor come calling during tea.

      Since I now now there are crawdads at this spot, I might have to bring a sein net next time.  A few hours work would fill a pot or a bait bucket when I was a kid.

Pawpaw, asimina triloba
     Though I didn't catch anything today, it was time well spent.  Found out that the .36 caliber ball is too much weight of the line, corncobs get saturated very quickly, and there are abundant pawpaw and blackberries here.   I'm hoping to plant mainly trees and foliage indigenous to Virginia in our yard.  I figure God knew what he was doing and put the plants here that would do best here.  The pawpaw are fast growing, so I'll harvest a few saplings and plant them in the back corner of the yard.  They should provide good shade and bear fruit in a few years, being out from under the forest canopy.

Wild blackberries, rubus alleghensiensus.
            I read that you want to transplant the blackberry chutes after summer when there are no berries, so I'll have to wait on that.  There's already fruit on the plants I found here.


         "He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth...O LORD, how manifold are thy works!  In wisdom thou hast made them all: the earth is full of thy riches..."
                                                                        -Psalm 104: 14, 24

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Chatham Manor, Stafford County Virginia

Garden gate on the north wall.
Spent Sunday at Chatham, in Falmouth, with my wife and children.

Chatham Manor's garden

        Chatham was built between 1768 and 1771 in Stafford County, Virginia by William Fitzhugh, grandson of "King" Carter, and overlooks the Rappahannock.  The plantation was named after William Pitt, Earl of Chatham in honor of his support for the colonies over the issue of taxation.  Fitzhugh served as a Burgess from 1772 until its dissolution in 1775.  Supporting the rebel cause, Fitzhugh was a member of the local Committee of Safety, acted as  commissioner for two arms manufactories in the area, served as a delegate to the Virginia Convention 1776-7, and finally as a state Senator from 1780-87.

Carriage House, Overseer's Office from the front lawn.
         The plantation was the site of a slave revolt in 1805 and was subsequently sold to Continental Army veteran Maj Churchill Jones in 1806.   Several outbuildings (kitchen, carriage house, ice house, summer house) still flank the gardens.

Kitchen and Summerhouse from across the rose garden.
       Chatham is only about a mile upriver from Ferry Farm, Washington's boyhood home.  Fitzhugh and Washington were political allies, the former having visited Chatham before and after the war.  The majority of the surrounding lands have been developed, but the Manor grounds are today the National Park Service's Headquarters for the Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania National Military Park.  There is still access to the river, as well, and a wonderful, if somewhat overgrown view of the city of Fredericksburg.  The plantation served as a headquarters, battery, hospital and bridgehead during the American Civil War.

       I think this would be a great place to hold a living history demonstration or some experiential archaeology.  The grounds are expansive, even leading down to the riverbank, with several islands and sandbanks up river.  A good spot for some bushcraftery or period fishing.


      "I went by the field of the slothful, and the vineyard of a man lacking understanding, and behold it was overgrown with thorns, the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down."
                                                                    -Proverbs 24:30-31

Thursday, May 10, 2012

May 10, 1775: Ticonderoga Taken By Storm!

The Capture of Fort Ticonderoga, engraving after Alonzo Chappel[1]
             "...[I]...ordered the commander, Capt. De la Place, to come forth instantly, or I would sacrifice the whole garrison; at which the Capt. came immediately to the door, with his breeches in his hand; when I ordered him to deliver me the fort instantly;  he asked me by what authority I demanded it; I answered him, 'In the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress'...If the Colonel has expressed a little of his usual severity in this place, he might have remarked also, that neither of these authorities he mentioned were much known in a British camp." [2]         

                                                                                         -Ethan Allen

         Next to Washington's raid on Trenton, this is probably one of the most successful operations involving surprise of the war.  What is interesting is that the Green Mountain Boys were militia (or in some peoples' minds, brigands).  They were formed by Allen in the early 1770's to run off settlers in the New Hampshire Grants.  

           "Last evening arrived here John Brown, Esq; from Ticonderoga, express to the General Congress, from whom we learn, that on the beginning of this instant, a company of about fifty men, from Connecticutt and the western part of Massachussetts,  and joined by upwards of one-hundred from Bennington [Green Mountain Boys], in New York government and the adjacent towns, proceeded to the eastern side of Lake Champlain, and on the night before the 11th current, crossed the lake with 85 men (not being able to obtain craft to transport the rest), and about daybreak invested the fort, whose gate, contrary to expectation, they found shut, but the wicker open, through which, with the Indian war whoop, all that could entered one by one, other scaling the wall on both sides of the gate, and instantly secured and disarmed the sentries, and pressed into the parade, where they formd the hollow square; but immediately quitting that order, they rushed into the several barracks on three sides of the fort, and seized on the garrison, consisting of two officers, and upwards of forty privates [a detachment of the 26th Foot, commanded by Capt. de la Place], whom they brought out disarmed, put under guard and sent since to Hartford, Connecticut .  All this was performed in about ten minutes, without the loss of life or a drop of blood on our side, and but very little on that of the King's troops. 
       In the fort were found about thirty barrels of flour, a few ditto of pork, seventy-odd chests of leaden ball, computed at three hundred tons, about then or twelve barrells of powder in bad condition, near two-hundred pieces of ordnances of all sizes, from eighteen pounders downwards, at Ticonderoga and Crown Point, which last place being held by only a corporal and eight men, falls of course into our hands."[3]

Less than one hundred men captured this!
Plan of Fort Carillon [Ticonderoga] by Jeffrys (1771)[4]

       The capture of Ticonderoga by Ethan Allen with his Green Mountain Boys and Benedict Arnold of Connecticut provided the rebels with a much needed strong point, provided a critical capability (heavy ordnance), and secured the New York Highlands and North-South lines of communication for at least the next two years.  Thanks to the later efforts of Henry Knox, Ticonderoga would supply the ordnance for the army's position at Dorchester Heights that made the town of Boston an untenable British garrison.  When you consider how difficult a mission was Ticonderoga;  River Crossing, Penetration, Night attack on a fortified garrison, its impressive that a militia unit could pull this off.  I will qualify that the Green Mountain Boys had been operating as extra-legal paramilitaries for about five years, but neverhteless, this was the kind of thing one might have expected chasseurs, jaegers or highlanders to pull off, not militia.


[1] Capture of Fort Ticonderoga: Ethan Allen and Captain de Ia Place. Engraving from painting by Alonzo Chappel. 111-SC-94758.  National Archives,, accessed 10May12.
[2] Allen, Ethan., A Narrative of Col. Ethan Allen's Captivity., Goodrich, Burlinton, VT, 4th ed., 1846. (14-15).
[3] Dixon and Hunter, Virginia Gazette, No. 1243, 3 June 1775, (2), Rockefeller Library, Colonial Williamsburg, accessed 10May12.
[4] Jeffrys, Thomas, A Plan of the Town and Fort of Carillon, 1758, m. 1771., G 3804 T5 1758 J4 CAR, Biblotheque et Archives du Nacional Quebec,, accessed 10May12.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

American Cartridge Box and Bayonet Crossbelt

American Cartridge Box and Bayonet Carriage
      "It is once more repeated, that every Soldier is to be completed with Ammunition to 24 Rounds a Man; and it is the duty of Officers to see that they have it — Some of the troops who went out on the covering party this morning, had not their Complement, nor had their Officers examined their Arms and Ammunition, before they marched them on the Grand Parade — This Conduct if not amended will be fatal to the Army and the Country— Where the Cartridge-Boxes will not hold the full Complement, application is to be made for Pouches, which may be had at the Commissary's Store." [1]

      An attempt at cordwainery...These are some accoutrements I constructed based off extant examples depicted in Neumann's Collector's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution.  I suspect that this may be an early war design since it lacks the features or later British (Rawle) or Congressional Model boxes (i.e. accessory pouch, spark arresting flap, leather belts).  The box [2], like the original is 8 3/8" x 2 5/8" deep by 4 1/2" in height.  The box includes 1" iron strap buckles,  and a vent pick I forged myself in a couple minutes.  The whisk I also made from brown horsehair and brass wire.  The belts on both are 2 1/2" wide hemp straps.  The crossbelt and frog[3] hold a bayonet that is fitted to a .75 cal Long Land Pattern firelock. 

Hand-forged iron buckles and hemp woven shoulderbelt.

       In the interior I have an accessories box of poplar (what I had on hand in scraps) although most originals appear to be pine or tin.  The block, unlike the original (25 holes) has only 18 holes, 3/4" diameter to receive the .70 cal cartridges.  I just couldn't seem to fit 25 on the block without it splitting.  The block sits upon the accessories box.  I plan on nailing a leather spark arresting flap to the block.  There was not one on the original (like later British Rawle pattern boxes) but for safety's sake, I believe I will add one.

Interior box has only 18, vice 25 holes.  I'll keep working on that to ensure
I am in compliance with the orders of Congress and Genl. Washington.

       In my accessories boxes I always keep a container of sweet oil (non-petroleum), spare flints wrapped in leather, a rag, worm, tow, patches, turn screw, cartridge form, and mainspring vise.  Not all soldiers were expected to carry all of these things, but a Corporal or Serjeant would (vise, turnscrew).  I always attach a bit of hemp string to my worms, in the event that they get wedged in the breach, I find it is easier to dislodge them if stuck and the tow/patch.  I always save my used tow and patches, as once they are dried they make excellent tinder with which to catch sparks.

Box contents.  Just about everything except a few spare springs or screws.

   "Praise be to the LORD, my Rock, who teacheth my hands to war, and maketh my fingers to fight."

                                                                                    -Psalm 144:1

[1] General Orders, Harlem Heights, October 2, 1776.  The Writings of George Washington,, accessed 8 May 12.
[2] 39. American Shoulder Box, Neumann and Kravic, Collector's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Reovlution, Castle Books, Seacuacus, NJ, 1975, 1977 ed., (76).
[3] 1, 4. American Crossbelt and Frog, Neumann and Kravic, (36).

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Who Goes Amid the Green Wood...

Looking up through the Beech and Poplar.

"One day I undertook a tour through the country, and the diversity and beauties of nature I met with in this charming season, expelled every gloomy and vexatious thought."

                                                                                           -Daniel Boone

A trail through poplar, beech, and laurel.
Bumps on a beech.
       I'll be coming back for these burls on this tree this winter, when the sap is not running.  They should make some fine bowls or kuksa.

Wild grapevine.

Natural Bridge, Virginia...this one was not surveyed by Jefferson.
Looking up stream.
            I'm looking forward to coming back out here with a hook and a line, as the herons and osprey seemed to have good luck fishing while I was there.

Yellowflag Iris

      I'm looking forward to coming back out here with a hook and a line, as the herons seemed to have good luck fishing while I was there.


     "O LORD, our LORD, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory
above the heavens.  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?"

                                                                                      -Psalms 8:1-4

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

1777: The Forage War, Vol. III


Washington would commit Greene's Division at Brunswick in June only after
 clear intelligence from his partisan scouts that Howe moved to withdraw from New Jersey.

             The actions between the lines forced Howe to ship provisions from New York, but the daily skirmishing continued.  Von Ewald raided to the north across Bound Brook on April 4th and returned with fifteen head of cattle. [1]  On the 14th his jaegers formed the advanced guard for General Grant's forces in an attack while light infantry was to march to Quibbletown to cut off the colonial forces escape.  Evald ran into piquets just before dawn south of the bridges.  As the sun rose, the American piquets pinned down the jaegers with musket and rifle fire until Von Donop's Hessians deployed from column ten minutes later.  Then light infantry was late, according to Ewald, and only three hundred colonials were captured once the militia outposts were over run, suggesting a much larger force was opposing the Hessian raid at Bound Brook.[2]   American reports confirm Ewald's assertion that General Lincoln may have retreated without his breeches or at least that he surrendered possession of the town, not to mention two artillery pieces, two subalterns and twenty men from Proctor's Regiment also among the lost.  To their credit, Lincoln's troops retook the fords ninety minutes later. [3]

Skirmish at Bound Brook, by Von Ewald [4]
      The weeks that followed were constant skirmishing across the Raritan River and in the area South-East of the Continental encampment at Morristown and took their toll on both Washington and Howe's forces.   Howe attempted to lure Washington out of the mountains by landing the 17th Light Dragoons, Heavy Artillery, and pontoons at New Brunswick on June 12th, with fighting instensifying from the 13th to the 19th. [5]  Wrote one Virginia officer in a letter of the 13th,

      "We have been encamped on this ground about 20 days, had just got all our old warriors drwan together, and began to live together in a most social manner.  Sir William [Howe], that disturber of man's peace, could not endure to hear of our happiness, he is likely to give us some trouble in a day or two, indeed I look for it every moment.  Our intelligence says their wagons is loaded...from every circumstance Philadelphia is their object.  We are watching them every moment...our game will be to act upon their flanks and rear...Howe has come over himself...if we can give him a rap over his fingers it settles the campaign." [6]

          Washington was further informed that Howe was moving to embark the army (on the 19th) and was convinced of it by the 20th,

          "I am now to aquaint you, that after encamping between these two posts, and beginning a line of redoubts, they changed their ground...and returned to Brunswick again, burning several valuable dwelling-houses...on first notice of the enemy's movements, the militia assembled in the most spirited manner, firmly determined to give them every annoyance in their power, and afford us every possible aid."[7]  
          Washington immediately followed by sending a reconnaissance in force towards Bound Brook, Samptown, and Quibbletown on the 21st resulting in heavy fighting at those outposts.[8]   On the 22nd, Washington committed Greene's Division, Wayne's Pennsylvanians and Morgan's Riflemen against Howe's rear guard at Brunswick.[9]   The British and Hessians surrendered the redoubts and retreated towards Amboy, dogged by the American riflemen, among whom were men detached from the First Virginia Regiment.   By the 24th it was clear even to the soldiers that Howe was pulling the army out of Amboy and embarking them for Staten Island.[10]  Stirling's Division fought a rear guard action againt Cornwallis at Short Hills on the 26th, allowing the main body of the Continental Army to retrograde to Morristown, effectively ending Howe's window of opportunity to crush the rebel army.
          Washington's partisan war had achieved the desired results, but only for the moment.  By the end of the year, Philadelphia would be in British hands with the Continentals watching from the hills of Valley Forge.

[1] Von Ewald, Diary...(55).
[2] Von Ewald, Diary...(56-57).
[3] Dixon and Hunter, Virginia Gazette, No. 1342, 2 May 1777, (3).  Colonial Williamsburg's Rockefeller Library Collection.
[4] Von Ewald, Diary...(59). Bloomburg Univ. of PA Archives., accessed 1 May 12.
[5] Von Ewald, Diary...(65)
[6] Dixon and Hunter, Virginia Gazette, No. 1350, 27 Jun 1777, (2).
[7] Dixon and Hunter, Virginia Gazette, No, 1351, 4 Jul 1777, (7).
[8] Von Ewald, Diary...(65).
[9] Dixon and Hunter, Virginia Gazette, No. 1352, 11 Jul 1777, (1)
[10] Dixon and Hunter, Virginia Gazette, No. 1351,  4 Jul 1777, (3).