Cold weather doesn’t deter frontier ranger re-enactors
ROLLINSFORD, N.H. (AP) — It was 18 degrees Saturday morning as members of John Harmon’s Snowshoemen, for the eighth year, assembled at the Colonel Paul Wentworth House for a demonstration of colonial frontier life. The snowshoe men were active from 1745 to 1763, protecting the British colonies from French and Indian attacks.
With the cold and the thin, icy coating of snow on the surrounding fields and woods Saturday, the group, the largest in several years, gathered inside the house, many staying near the cooking fire in the kitchen.
At the fire, Julia Roberts, in Colonial dress, cooked a fish stew; she is president of the board of directors of the Association for Rollinsford Culture and History, the organization that owns the house.
Dr. Steven Eames of North Berwick, Maine, founder of the modern snowshoe men, said the group was founded in 1994 in preparation for the Grand Encampment at Fortress Louisbourg, Cape Breton Island, in 1995, the 250th anniversary of the siege of the French fortress by British and Colonial troops.
Eames said John Harmon of York, Maine, formed the original “Snowshoe Rangers” toward the end of the French and Indian Wars. He said King George would not pay for British troops to provide year-round protection from attacks, so the snowshoe men, men living along the frontier, patrolled the frontier and were paid by the patrol.
The New England frontier at the time reached from interior Maine to the Connecticut River Valley.
The patrols and scouting missions could be any time of the year, Eames said. In summer, the men could hunt and fish as they marched, and they used oil cloth shelters in bad weather. In the winter, they had to carry food and blankets either on their backs or towed on toboggans. For shelter, if necessary, they peeled bark off trees to make lean-tos. “You can’t do that now,” Eames said.
The authentic clothing worn by the 20 participants Saturday was made of wool. The men carried a variety of equipage including the necessary flintlock weapons, cartridge boxes, knives, hatchets and bayonets. Accoutrements included blankets, canteens, haversacks and “possibles” bags. Many had pewter mugs hanging from their belts. They wore shoes or heavy winter moccasins.
After posing for a group photo during a brief trip outside, Chad Gilbert of Freetown, Mass., said the Wentworth visit was his first event with the snowshoe men. “I was researching my family history and found they came from Ireland to New Hampshire. I wanted to see about how they lived,” he said.
Steve Chappell, of Somersworth, showed off his his replica of a Second Model Brown Bess musket. “It’s a copy of one in the British Museum,” he said. He first joined the rangers in 2005, left for about ten years, then joined up again four years ago.
As her fish stew simmered on the fire, Julia Roberts showed Kristen Riddlestone and her daughter, Molly, 10, how the butter churn worked. After a tour of the house conducted by guide Nancy Dickinson, Molly said, “We saw the servant’s quarters, it was like a dollhouse, it was very small.” The Riddlestones are from Nova Scotia, but often visit relatives in South Berwick. Molly’s brother, Jack, 13, was outside learning the manual of arms from the Snowshoe Men.
Also in the kitchen, David Nunes of Harmon’s talked with Reb Mathey and William Foxcourt, both of the Colonial Maine living History Association and also in mid-eighteenth-century frontier dress. They discussed the luck of George Washington during the Revolutionary War and went on to discuss Ernest Shackleton’s remarkable survival in the Antarctic after his ship sunk in 1915.
In the parlor, Tom Leonbruno, of Moultonboro, displayed his frontier surgeon’s kit. A traveling case of herbs, potions and medicines stood behind a small trunk of surgeon’s tools including a shiny bone saw.
The Colonel Paul Wentworth House is an educational and cultural center, one of New Hampshire’s oldest surviving colonial structures. Built around 1701, in 1936, it was dismantled and moved to Dover, Mass. In 2002, it was dismantle again and moved back to Rollinsford to a site very near its original location. It opened as a museum in 2005.
Director Roberts says there about 12 events a year, some historically-themed, some just fun, like the March cribbage tournament.
Information from: Foster’s Daily Democrat, http://www.fosters.com