Joined: 15 May 2007
Location: Mohawk Valley, NY
Real Name: Mario Doreste
|Posted: Sat Jan 11, 2014 11:17 pm Post subject:
|The "south" and "frontier" are quite general statements. And 1770s-1780s is a fairly broad timeline. Best to narrow these things down as much as possible. It'll be easier on your research. and easier for folks to point you in the right direction.
I, personally, would stay away from the longhunter persona. Why?
1- EVERYBODY these days wants to be a longhunter. In the period (which was more 1760s) longhunters were not very numerous and many had other sources of income as well.
2- Most people have a very romantic image of the longhunter that is far from historical fact.
PS-Here is an essay that every newbie should read:
A Modest Proposal ?:
Some Thoughts On The Authenticity
By Alan Gutchess (not Mario)
I am continually amazed by the fervor that arises every time the word "authenticity" is used, either in print or in conversation by reenactors. As more events and individuals tighten their authenticity standards, there are many who are wielding this word like a club and a few who use it as a shield, while most rest somewhere in between. What is it about this word that provokes fear, anger, and self-righteous indignation simultaneously? I believe that the number one cause among 18th century reenactors, both individuals and units, is the endless variety of interpretations of both the word, and the larger concepts that it represents. With this premise in mind, let's examine authenticity and maybe find some definitions and interpretations we can all live with.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the root word, authentic, means, "Conforming to fact and therefore worthy of trust, reliance, or belief". Now on the surface this seems pretty simple to grasp, to be authentic is to be factual, and thus trustworthy, reliable, or believable. With this in mind, maybe the real question should be "why does it matter?". Why should we strive to fulfill this definition?
I believe the best answer to this question lies in personal integrity and believing in the importance of the truth. Usually when we think about the truth, we think of the written or spoken word, but there is also visual truth. When we put on our "historic" garb and present ourselves to our peers and the public, are we telling the visual truth? If not, then we are indeed telling a lie. Often this visual lie is followed by a verbal one, as we try to assure both ourselves and those around us of the validity of our appearance. Most of us are attracted to this hobby out of a love for history and a fascination with the lives of those who have gone on before us. Don't we owe those very same people the minimum respect of not lying about them, visually or verbally?
And what of lying to our peers, the public, and ourselves? No one is served by a misrepresentation of the past. History itself is fixed and immutable, but the perception of it is always changing. Reenactors have the power to influence this perception, for the better or for the worse. When we play with history in a disrespectful manner, we defile both our collective ancestors and ourselves. If I claim to be dressed for example, as an 18th century Indian warrior, but actually come closer to, as George Irvin has sometimes expressed, "an odd cross between Captain Caveman and Bozo the Clown", then have I not done a great disservice to both those of the past and of the present?
How does one go about portraying the past in an authentic way? There may be many possible answers to this. The following proposed "rules" and accompanying thoughts, while certainly not entirely of my own creation, I leave here for the consideration of the reader. The first item to discuss is patience. Rushing in to anything is the best way to do it poorly. The impulse to charge ahead and buy or make things for a historical impression leaves many, when confronted about authenticity, scrambling to somehow justify the form of an object or even its existence. If the time is taken first for documentation, then buying or making, there is no future clubbing in store, and authenticity can become a shield. Rule #1: Get the documentation first, buy, commission, or make last.
This word, "documentation", is also a confusing one for many, especially as it relates to authentic historic recreations. Among some reenactors, sutlers and craftsmen, it is thrown around with complete recklessness. Most definitions of this word revolve around proof and evidence. It is easier to think of this concept of documenting something if you imagine yourself much like the prosecutor in a court case. It is your duty to convince an impartial jury of the validity of your claim for an object, based on the weight of the evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt.
Acceptable documentation can be derived from period accounts, period illustrations, surviving period objects, and or from archeological evidence. By period I mean not just to the 18th century, but the more specific era within this you are representing, ideally no more than a 10 year time span, though under some circumstances this can be expanded. The first stop should be a library. A search there will reveal a myriad of books either on hand or available through inter-library loan on your subject.
For this example we'll use the Eastern American Indian, though the technique is the same regardless of the topic. Don't bother with "historic novels", even those listed as historic non-fiction, except to use their bibliographies for leads. You want first hand accounts, such as diaries, journals, official reports, and alike. The people you need to access are the traders, missionaries, soldiers, Indian captives, travelers, and others who personally may have encountered and described Indians during the 18th century, not their reinterpreted words through a 20th century writer. It will take time to assemble, but find as many descriptions as possible. Then a search through more generalized publications on the Eastern American frontier, looking for paintings, engravings, and drawings done during the 18th century, ideally from life. Then onto such things as museum exhibit catalogs and publications, (maybe even the museum itself), books for collectors, and auction catalogs, which will show surviving objects. Finally, a search of archeological reports, detailing excavations of Indian towns, trading posts, cabins, etc., occupied during the time period by your subject. A notebook of all the relevant documentation must then be compiled by topic, either with notes or photocopies. It should include author, title, page numbers, and source for each reference. Rule #2: Acceptable documentation should be derived solely from primary sources.
As you assemble this information keep in mind the three part nature of the documentation process. The first is finding that initial description, illustration, or surviving example. But this first step only documents the existence of the subject. What must be documented next is its commonality. The goal is to document it several times from a variety of sources, and ideally from different types of evidence. In other words, you cannot convict on a single shred of evidence.
What we want to document is a "pattern" of use, not the unique exception. Without the commonality factor, it is possible to have all the individual pieces of an impression be "documented", in the sense that they all existed at their own time and place, yet still have the overall effect be false or misleading. When we think of military reenactors, we know there are uniforms, gear, and weapons that are all nearly identical from person to person in each given unit. For non-military personnel, from Indians to missionaries and everything in between, there may be no uniform, but still a certain uniformity exists.
Now of course there were individualists then, who's personal appearance stepped outside the norm, but just as today, they would have been the exception in the population, not the average. Most people, regardless of time period, are captives of their culture, and subject to the pressures of fashion, tradition, and conformity. If we all decide to mimic the extreme edges of 18th century Indian fashion or individuality, we give a false impression of everyday life. In 200 years, if we are being reenacted, which would be a better source of documentation for the appearance and personal adornment of the average American, home videos of families from around the country, or clips of metal bands from MTV? There is still plenty of room for individual expression within commonality, but when you can, dare to be average! Rule #3: Document for commonality. Dare to be average!
The final stage is documenting for appropriateness. This essentially means asking yourself, "is this object something my character would reasonably have had access to physically or financially?". At this point, remember that although almost anything is possible, what you want to represent is what is probable. An example for the test of appropriateness would be a Damascus bladed knife carried by an 18th century reenactor. It could pass the first two tests, as blades of this material can be documented to both exist and to arguably have even been common, but where? After consulting period documents, archeological reports, and several leading collectors of American and European knives and swords, all were in agreement, there was no evidence of any in use in America before the first quarter of the 19th century. Even if we could prove a few were in colonial America, would your persona have the financial wherewithal and the inherent status to afford an object that only the rich were likely to possess? You may want to remind yourself that the goal is truth, not wishful thinking. Rule #4: Document for appropriateness.
This may be a good time to equally clarify what is not acceptable documentation. Usually it goes something like this, "I saw a person at the last reenactment wearing one just like this", "Somebody who knows a lot about this stuff told me this was correct", "The guy I bought it from told me this was right", "It said in the catalog it was authentic", "I saw a picture of one just like this in a book one time, but I can't find it now", "I read a description of this in a book one time but I can't remember where", "Of course I have documentation for this, but I can't show it to you because...", "Trust me, I've been doing this a long time", "Why, it's common knowledge they had ..."etc. etc. etc. All of this falls into the category of "phantom" documentation.
Documentation that cannot be produced is hearsay. If our job is to document beyond a reasonable doubt, hearsay, regardless of the source, is not generally admissible as evidence. Rule #5: Avoid all "phantom" documentation.
The ultimate responsibility for the issue of documentation lies solely on you. Don't ask the harried sutlers assistant whether that string of beads is appropriate for the F&I war. Don't ask the gunsmith with a mortgage payment due at the end of the month whether that $3,000 rifle you have in your hands is correct for your impression. Don't believe that 20th century author who says, "Indian women always wore...". Don't believe the veteran reenactor who tells you "all moccasins were made like this". Don't believe them, unless of course, they can produce the documentation to back up what they are saying.
Now don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying any of these people is going to consciously lie to you. But often their documentation may also be of the "phantom" variety. Somebody told them that the string of beads, or that rifle, or that statement, or that technique, was correct, and they pass it along in good faith, but it still may not be the truth, in spite of a trail of good intentions. It may take a little more time, but if you can educate yourself even a little about the topic first, and expect, especially on more expensive purchases, the sutler or craftsman to be able to produce real documentation, or at least steer you to where it can be found. If they can't, educate yourself a lot more, so you know before you purchase whether it is documented, or find someone to buy from that can. With tongue partially in cheek...Rule #6: Trust no one born after 1800.
Before going further, there are admittedly some items that will escape being fully documented, but still may be acceptable. There is room for speculation, but it needs to be done with logic and tact. Speculation can be used where documentation is insufficient to give a clear picture. If you choose this path, try to minimize both the speculation and its repercussions.
An example can be found in the appearance of 18th c. Native American women. There is currently no documentation for what kind of bags or pouches they may have carried personal items in. For Native American men, illustrations and written descriptions give great detail in the style of bags, size, and even contents, but for women, nothing. If you portray a Native American woman, and you want or need a bag, unless more documentation becomes available, you have two options, make do without, or speculate. If you choose the latter, reasonable speculation might be to pick a style of men's pouch that is documentable to your time and place, ideally as small as can be practicable, and leave the replica undecorated. It should then be carried in the least obtrusive and visible manner possible. Most important, as with all objects of this type, if questioned about it, make it clear that it is indeed speculative! Don't be responsible for the next "phantom". Speculation is a last resort, where there is an acceptable substitute, try to use it instead. Rule #7: Avoid speculation if you can, and where you must, minimize the effect.
After you have established a base of acceptable documentation, the next step is to finally acquire the various elements of your appearance. The next mistake often occurs here. There is a common misconception about reenacting that usually is stated something like this, "What a great hobby, I can make everything myself". This notion is fostered and even promoted in some groups of reenactors. Its source seems to lie in the false notion that our individual forbearers equally made "everything" themselves. The premise is that if they needed shoes, a gun, clothes, a powder horn, or any other necessity, they just made them. This is simply not true for the vast majority of colonial Americans, Red, White, or Black. Trades in the period were highly specialized affairs. Even the Indians clearly had a large amount of specialization of labor. If a person was not specifically trained in a particular craft or trade, attempting to make their own axe, shirt, hunting pouch, or any other object, would have been the rare exception, not the rule. It is fine that many of us have taken time to be skilled in a particular area of historic replication, but too often an individual becomes the proverbial "jack of all trades and master of none". Don't lessen the validity of an otherwise good impression with poor accessories of your own making. Rule #8: Know the limitations of your own skills and abilities.
For most of us it is best to find a skilled craftsman and have them produce a documented object, or purchase a documented object from a sutler. Whenever possible, try to buy items that have been made with period techniques and materials. If this is not physically or financially possible, choose a substitute that comes as close as possible, or go without until one is attainable. Rule #9: Whenever possible, obtain objects produced with period techniques and materials.
If you are already fully decked from head to toe, maybe it's time to sit down and reevaluate your appearance. Can you document it, or are you just fooling yourself? This process of reevaluation should be an ongoing one for all of us, and really should neither frighten or intimidate. There is no shame in admitting errors and correcting them, but I personally think there should be some shame in living with them in denial. New documentation comes to light continuously, and as living historians we should always be in search of it. Some of the saddest looking reenactors today are the ones who ten years ago were on the cutting edge, but they stopped searching and learning, and today stand firmly behind research that has now been proven obsolete. Rule #10: Be willing to periodically reevaluate your appearance and make corrections accordingly.
If you take time to acquire real documentation and then put it to use in your own appearance, what next? Make it available to others! Have it published here or in other mediums, sell it, or give it away, do anything but play "I've got a secret". We all benefit as the standards of the hobby rise. Rule #11: Don't hoard documentation, make it available to others.
Isn't the pursuit of truth and honoring those from the past that we are trying to emulate, reasons enough to both strive for authenticity and to use all of the physical and financial resources at hand to come as close as possible to grasping it? The quest for authenticity can lead us to a more complete understanding and respect for both their lives, and our own. Rule #12: Have some serious fun![/quote]