Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Queen’s Rangers: Rockefeller Library

Detail from the cartouch of an artist’s proof of a plan
of the Battle of Green Springs. The figure is an Hussar if the QR.

One of the only perks of frequent travel to Tidewater Virginia on business, is a brief stopover at Colonial Williamsburg. The Rockefeller Library is currently hosting a small exhibit on John Graves Simcoe and the Queen’s Rangers (First American Regiment).

Facsimile of a recruitment broadside from the British Occupation of Philadelphia.

The small collection displays facsimiles (such as the broadside above) and original artifacts and artwork.  It was with pleasure that I was able to view the incredible details of objects I had only previously seen in grainy .bmps. 

QR Light infantry and Hussar.  A plate after the original watercolor, notice the crescent is missing
from the saddle blanket.

Period print in the Murray collection of a QR Rifleman.
The Rangers were a Provincial “Legion”, that is,  a Loyalist combined arms unit comprised of Line Infantry, Light Infantry, Grenadiers, Hussars, Dragoon’s, and oftentimes; light artillery and pioneer attachments.  As such they were an ideal reconnaissance unit capable of conducting screen, guard and cover missions for the British Army’s Main Body.

The exhibit contained two buttons (one was dug at the Governor’s mansion at Williamsburg, the other at Kingsbridge in New York-both places we know the QR were posted thanks to Lt Col Simcoe’s Journal.

Button excavated during archaeological dig around Williamsburg's Governor's Palace.

Button excavated at Kingsbridge, NY- another frequent haunt of the QR.

The Star Fort at Great Bridge.  Some of the QR had fought here
previously in 1775 with the Queen's Own Loyal Virginia Regiment
under Governor Lord Dunmore.

It is the journal that was the real star of the exhibit, that is to say, the original artist’s proofs of the engagements of the QR and the disposition of the Star Fort at Great Bridge.

Detail of the Star Fort

In 1781, 100 rangers built this fort in four days on the Elizabeth River, just north of the NC border.  This was a brief chapter in the Arnold-Phillips Campaigns prior to Lord Cornwallis' arrival in Virginia.

Bombardment and feint at Williamsburg (1781)

Action at Osburn's Landing (1781)

Spencer's Ordinary (1781)


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Making the Ligonier Shoepack

Bespoke shoepacks.  One of the many messes on my workbench a few weeks ago.

The original of this moccasin/shoe hybrid can be found at Fort Ligonier.  I have found it to be a good winter moc, with a sturdier sole and thicker lining than the typical pucker-toe moccasin. 

My first pair of shoepacks. 
Kept my feet warm and dry in a Virginia snowstorm.

That being said, we only have one example in the mid-Atlantic states (Fort Ligonier), so I will leave it up to the individual as to its appropriateness outside that area.  There are examples of winter moccasins (unsoled) throughout the Great Lakes region, that may be more appropriate. 

I started by drafting a diagram based on the measurements of the foot and then transferred the lines to a paper pattern.  These shoepacks were made using 6-8 ounce oak tanned leather, the same I would use for shoes.

Liners made from a scrap of Wilde Weavery blanket.  Most of the
time I use white British Army blanket scraps.

I always sew the lining to be removable to promote drying.  The linings are sewn first as they are quite thick (2-3 layers) and I want to ensure that my leather is a little larger to accommodate that and not crowd the feet.  Tight shoes are the worst thing for keeping feet warm, as they restrict the circulation.

I sew the uppers first while wetted, using hemp thread.  Some trimming of the uppers may be needed to fit the soles.  Be sure to use a pencil to mark where your holes will be on the uppers and then soles, to ensure you don't have one extra, and that they all line up properly. 

 The shoepacks also need to be well wetted when lacing the uppers to the soles.  For finishing, I will water down dye (I prefer a greyish color to imitate brain tan, but some of my past customers have preferred a darker, more aged look). 

Soaked with my waterproofing mixture.  I have found that a hot application
in the sun works best to keep them soft outside and dry inside.

To soften them up, I'll apply a hot mixture of beeswax and neetsfoot oil and let them sit in the hot sun to get it to permeate the leather and fill the seams. 

The finished shoepack.  Like any shoe or hiking boot,
don't wear them on a  long movement without breaking them in.

Insert the liner and you are ready to go.  I recommend wearing them wet for a day (allowing them to dry out on your foot) around the home, in order to get the leather to conform to the shape of your foot.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

"Rancid Beef and Wormy Biscuit": Notes on "Improving" 18th c Cooking, Messing and Kitchens

Virginians of Bibb's Company, Prince Edward County Militia, pause to
cook rations on the march to Guilford CH, 1781. Note the use of sticks in place of fire
irons and iron trammel hooks.  We can infer that iron fire implements
were not in use from extant art and regimental orders that wagons were to be used for
the company tentage only with kettles to be carried by the men.

Recently a question was posted on an online group I follow asking about 18th c cooking.  There were the usual snarky remarks, but very little information from folks who were "in the know".  Sadly, in living history, particularly among mainstream organizations, we seem not to base our cooking on any historical research, but rather the Southern Dutch Oven Cookbook from Barnes and Noble (an admirable tome, to be sure, but not accurate to the 18th c).

I would submit several recommendations for improving upon cooking at living history events (by improving, I mean from and authenticity standpoint, of course).

1.  Rations. 

In 1775 Washington and his officers agreed on ration requirements that were seldom, if ever met throughout the war:

                "By order of his Excellency General Washington,
              a Board of General Officers
              sat yesterday in Cambridge, and unanimously recommended
              the following Rations to be delivered in the manner hereby directed.

             Corn'd Beef and Pork, four days in a week.

             Salt Fish one day, and fresh Beef two days.

             As Milk cannot be procured during the Winter Season,
             the Men are to have one pound and a half of Beef,
             or eighteen Ounces of Pork Pr day.2

            Half pint of Rice, or a pint of Indian Meal Pr Week.

            One Quart of Spruce Beer Pr day, or nine Gallons of Molasses
            to one hundred Men per week. 
            Six pounds of Candles to one hundred Men Pr week, for guards.3

            Six Ounces of Butter, or nine Ounces of Hogs-Lard Pr week.4
             Three pints of Pease, or Beans Pr Man Pr Week,
             or Vegetables equivalent, allowing Six Shillings Pr Bushel for Beans,
             or Pease-two and eight pence Pr Bushel for Onions-One
             and four pence Pr Bushel for Potatoes and Turnips.

             One pound of Flour Pr Man each day-
             Hard Bread to be dealt out one day in a week, in lieu of Flour." (1)

Throughout his narrative, Connecticut soldier Joseph Plump Martin records rations only on a few occasions and when he does, it is monotony; southern salt pork and sea bread, pork and bread, corned beef and hard bread in a borrowed pot, one pound each of beef and flour, salt shad on two separate occasions, beef and flour and finally, fresh pork and hard bread (2)

    For more on Continental Army rations, see my previous article, "18th c Military Rations and the Lack Thereof"

Rations for British army units also varied from garrison to campaign and from geographical location.  In one American garrision, soldiers were to receive:

                          "1 lb good Salt Beef per Man per Day
                            1 lb Flour per Man per Day
                            6 oz Butter per Man per Week
                            1 1/2 [lb] Rice per Man per Week
                            1 Pint Teneriffe or other Strong wine per Man per day."
Elsewhere in North America, soldiers would receive at Trois Rivieres:  

                          "A compleat Ration for one Man for one day in every Species

                          Flour or Bread. . . . . . . . . 1 1/2 Pounds
                         Beef . . . . . . ... . . 1 Pound
                         or Pork. . . . . . . . . 1/2 Pound
                        Pease. . . . . . . . . 1/4 Pint
                        Butter. . . . . . . . . 1 Ounce
                        Rice . . . . . . . . . . 1 Ounce"

The reality of rations on the march:  Hard bread, salt pork and boiled oatmeal.
The flagon contains switchel, an anti-scorbutic concoction of water, vinegar,
molasses and rum.

In 1776, the British Army Contract stipulated: 

the weekly ration contained "7 Pounds of Flour, or in lieu thereof 7 Pounds of Bread; 4 Pounds of Pork, or in lieu thereof 7 Pounds of Beef; 6 Ounces of Butter; 3 Pints of Pease; 1/2 Pound of Rice, or in lieu thereof 1/2 Pound of Oatmeal." 48  Mid-war, prior to his advance on the Hudson, Burgoyne's commissary also wrote from Montreal or in-kind substitutions in the daily ration:                                            "1 lb Broad or Flour

                                           1 lb Beef or 9 1/7 oz. pork

                                          3/7 pints pease

                                          6/7 oz. Butter or in lieu 1 1/7 oz. Cheese

                                          2 2/7 oz,. flour or in lieu 1 1/7 oz. Rice or 1 1/7 oz. Oatmeal." (4)

To these, soldiers were to augment with potatoes, parsnips, carrots, turnips, cabbages, and onions, sauerkraut, porter, various wines, spruce beer, malt, vinegar, generally intended as anti-scorbutics. (5)
While vegetables and anti-scorbutics were theoretically provided by the commissary, it seems that acquisition of fruits and vegetables was generally left to sutlers and soldiers' wives, who then made a profit in selling them to the messes (6).

2.  Messing Arrangements

Messes were ordinarily organized in 6-8 men (based on the number of men assigned to a tent), according to Lochee (7).  It follows that the soldiers were conducting the cooking rather than the wives of soldiers. 

Preparing a soup for the mess, "A Private Soldier and
Militiaman's Friend", (1786).

The cooks for a Mess of six.  Soups and stews were easily created from issued
rations and could be cooked for a few hours in the afternoon.  They were not overly
complicated and other tasks could be completed by the mess men, such as sewing,
cleaning of weapons or even diversions such as gaming.

Again, the SgtMaj recommends soup to the messes,
"A Private Solder and Militiaman's Friend" (1786).

3.  Kitchens

How differently the camp kitchens look that we see at reenactments and living history events.  Braziers, Dutch ovens, grilles, iron spits and trammels as well as cooking utensils abound in the recreated camp...yet we have no evidence of their use outside of the home or garrison.  Certainly we see iron trammels, ovens and cranes in the fireplaces of forts, however to think that these were carried on campaign in wagons meant for tentage seems impossible, given that men were to carry their mess equipment on their persons.

We find that the kitchen on campaign was much more simple than our modern recreations.  Below are some examples from period art:

"Soldiers Cooking", Rowlandson, 1798.  Here we do see the use of a chain
as a trammel, a copper or brass kettle and the use of branches to
make a frame for suspension of the pot.  Interestingly, Rowlandson has chosen to
depict all six of the mess-mates in this engraving.

Detail from "Encampment on Black Heath", Sandby, 1786. 
Black Heath was located just outside London, and according to
correspondence from Abigail to John Adams, was full of highwaymen and rogues.
A simple tin kettle resting on the ground.

Soldiers and Camp Followers Resting from a March, Jean-Baptiste Pater, 1730.
Here in this early 18th c depiction of French camp life, we do see a woman doing the
cooking for the mess.  The iron pot appears to be suspended on a line between two trees.

"Escorte d'Equipage", Painting by Car after Jean-Antoine Watteau, 1760.  A kettle suspended
from a tree stump and some plates and a pitcher in the foreground are all the
impedimenta of this French mess...even with the baggage train escort.

Detail from "A Perspective of a View of an Encampment",
Bowles and Carver, 1780.   Note the use of the sticks to make a tripod and the
simple design of the four tin pails.

...and the most impedimenta in a kitchen, I could possibly find, this at Hyde Park,
in London, presumably using existing structures or those erected for the Royal
Review.  "A Camp Kitchen in Hyde Park", Sandby, 1780.
While the previous illustrations show simple fires on the ground, it was also the practice in the British and Continental Armies to build field kitchens in the form of a round ditch with small fireboxes dug into the central mound.  This keeps the danger of fire from the tents, however, according to Reid, kettles were to be brought back to the company street for the officer of the day to inspect their contents and presumably to be consumed by the mess (9).

An earth camp Kitchen from Plate 3 in Grose, as reproduced in Neumann and Kravic.
Such kitchens would have been dug for each company, with one firebox to a mess.

Plate from Lochee's "Essay on Castremetation" depicting the
layout of a regimental camp.  The camp kitchens are represented
by the circles above the sutler's tents and officers' tents. Lochee does note
that the kitchens for the flank companies would be located on the perimeter, nearer
their post with the outer guard.
A recreated camp kitchen at Endview Plantation.  Queen's Own Loyal Virginia
Regiment member, Luke Fryer tends to the pan and kettle over the mess's
firebox.  As all the heat is directed towards the pan and kettle, the kitchen is far more
efficient than an open fire.
According to Simes, the kitchen had a diameter of 16 feet, with a three foot trench surrounding, the earth from the trench being thrown up in the center of the kitchen (10), as you see in the photo above.

4.  Cooking Equipment

If we are not to use Dutch ovens and such, what then can we use in keeping with the meagre equipment of the 18th c mess?  Period memoirs and correspondence generally only mention frying pans and kettles, and even these were scarce, although the intent was for one to belong to each mess.  Martin's memoir only mention the use or borrowing of kettles.  Just keeping this in mind (and leaving
the lodge cast iron materials at home) will go a long way towards improving the kitchen and cutting
down on weight.

The author's recreation of a repurposed shovel.  The original shovel/frying pan
is depicted in the upper left. (Neumann and Kravic).

For large kettles, I recommend Hot Dipped Tin or Carl Giordano.  Their products are heavy gauge tin and based on original designs and extant artifacts. 

On campaign in 1781.  Without wagons, the Queen's Rangers erect brush huts and
rely on a simple tin kettle for hot rations.   As the rangers operated from boats and
conducted multiple raids along the James, Elizabeth and Appomattox, we expect most
equipment of the mess was carried on the soldiers' persons.
I was able to "de-farb" a small one quart kettle I purchased on sutler row a few years back.  The small kettle had ears more suited to the 19th c.  I merely ground down the rivets that held on the anachronistic ears and fashioned brass ears appropriate to the 18thc.

Defarbing a sutler-row kettle.  Tools required:  Screwdriver, drill, pliers, tin snips,
jeweler's hammer.  This took about 30 mins to complete.

The author's inaugural use of what would be christened,
"The Pungo Mess Bacon Shovel" at a drill at Sully Plantation. 
Note the use of a forked stick in place of an iron trammel and the
use of sticks for suspension of the tin pail.  Easily constructed on the march.

This certainly doesn't mean that we are opposed to the thought of carrying a few extra impedimenta.  We do carry a blown glass bottle of rum, an 18th c tin coffee pot as well as a pewter flagon for mixing switchel and flip. Guilty...we are still a work in progress.  Oh yes, and earthen jar with a leather cover for carrying pickles.  I'm sorry, my kids like pickles.

For further reading, I would recommend the research of John Rees on the subjects of messing and kitchens and rations, found at:  http://www.revwar75.com/library/rees/kitchen.htm and the 2d NJ Mess Guide:  https://www.2nj.org/mess-guide

(1).  G.O., 24 Dec 1775, retrieved from:

(2) Martin, Joseph. "Memoir of Revolutionary War Soldier." Courier, NY, ed., 2012, pp. 55, 60, 81, 108, 110, 113, 141.

(3).  T. 64:201, Robinson to Navy Board, 4 Apr. 1781

(4) T. 29:45.
(5)  T. 64:103.
(6) . 64:106, Robinson to Gage, 9 Sept. 1775; More, Son, & Atkinson to Howe, 25 Sept. 1775; ibid.,

(7) Lochee, Lewis.  "An Essay on Castremetation".

(8) 64:103, Day to Robinson, 22 Aug. 1777; Report on Army Extras, 1778, as quoted in "The Organization of the British Army in the Revolution", retrieved from:http://www.americanrevolution.org/britisharmy4.php

(9) Reid, Thomas, "A Treatise on the Military Duties of Infantry Officers, Walter and Egerton, 1795 (25).
(10) Simes, Thomas, "A Treatise on the Military Science." London, 1780. (11)
(11 ) Simes (174)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Recreating a Virginia Shot Pouch and the Jacob Thomson Powder Horn

With my oldest son's birthday coming up, I wanted to give him something other than video games.  Hopefully this will energize him to save his money up for a firelock (thereby not borrowing mine any longer).

I wanted something for his impression that would bridge the gap from the Seven Years War through the revolution, so turned to Jim Mullins' excellent book, Of Sorts for Provincials.

Virginia Shot Pouch, Gusler collection (Jim Mullins, Of Sorts for Provincials)

The Virginia pouch depicted in this book is from the Wallace Gusler collection and is dated to the mid 18th c.  Its simplicity works, for AWI, I think, since many of the accoutrements used by Virginia forces in the 1760s were returned to the public armory and store at Williamsburg.

Thomson Horn, circa 1760 (Jim Mullins, Of Sorts for Provincials)

The horn I chose to recreate (though not in the same busy detail) is that of Jacob Thomson and is dated to the 1760's.

I drafted a pattern of the small Virginia bag (approx. 7.5" wide by 6.5" high) and used 3-4 oz leather for the body, and 7-8 oz leather for the strap.

On cutting it out, I burnished the edges and punched out the stitch holes using an awl, with two rows on the bag opening and flap, so the leather could be turned over the liner as in the original.

The liner is just scrap linen (Burnley and Trowbridge) from other projects, and I added a small internal pocket for a turnscrew, flints and an oil bottle.  The main bag will hold balls and some tow or linen scraps for cleaning.

I then dyed the bag and sewed in the linen lining, completing the front with a pewter button.  The lining is also whip stitched around the interior of the button hole.

The strap (missing on the original) is one inch in width, tooled and burnished before dying.  The left end is stitched to the rear of the bag and the right is attached by a pewter button (that is sewn to a bone button on the interior to take some of the stress.

The whisk I made from horsehair, brass wire and then used an old coathanger and a few strokes on the anvil for the pick. 

The horn, has less scrimshaw than the original, but I kept the fish, ship and the quote. 

The horn was dyed to age it and has a poplar for the plug in the spout and the butt end (fastened with wooden pegs). 

The strap is 7-8 oz leather and I used hemp twist to attach it, as well as the shot cup and spout plug. 

Not an exact replica, but close enough for a teenager's first bag and horn.