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Tea Party Winners: Vicki Talley McCollum's Never Say Goodbye, A National Park Romance novella goes to: Caryl Kane, Deanne Patterson, Deana Dick, Carrie Fancett Pagels' winners Beverly Duell-Moore and Cindy Pratt, Roseanna White's winners - Betti Mace, Gabrielle Meyer's winners -, Deb Marvin's paperback winner - Rachel Dodson

Monday, July 14, 2014

Dispelling Colonial Myths: a reenactor myth started it all

Beautiful Drayton Hall ... occupied by the British
Living in the Charleston area for more than two decades can give one an interesting perspective on history. Not only have I gained a different slant on the Civil War than my Midwest school education gave me, but the richness of colonial history rooted here took me quite by surprise.

I’d been bitten by the reenacting bug a year before when attending a Civil War reenactment, but in May 2005 a new and intriguing historical event came on the scene, the 225th  anniversary commemoration of the Siege of Charleston. This grand reenactment spanned all three major Ashley River plantations: Middleton Place, Magnolia Gardens, and Drayton Hall. Each plantation had its own encampment, and each had its own admission price, and after deciding we didn’t have the time (or energy!) to hit all three of them, my family picked Drayton Hall, simply because it was the one of the three we hadn’t seen before.

Love the expressions! And the uniforms ... :-)
Thus my introduction to the British Legion, since none of the American (patriot) camps were at this location. During our exploration of the British camps, one friendly young reenactor cheerfully bestowed all sorts of useful and interesting information upon us.

A neat cluster of muskets
One nugget in particular caught my interest. The British soldiers, he said, often brought their wives along to help with the work of caring for the army—laundry and nursing and suchlike—and they were the ones the term “campfollower” originally applied to. Only later, especially during the Civil War, did it become synonymous with prostitutes who followed the army for their livelihood, although some of that happened during the Revolution as well.

The overlap of historical and modern
The young man proceeded to tell us that if a woman was unlucky enough to be widowed, the British army gave her a mere three days to attach herself to another man before abandoning her to whatever fate might dish out.

Three days.

My imagination fired at that, and the story premise behind Loyalty’s Cadence was born.

Later, I would join an 18th century research email list, frequented by historians and reenactors of the period, and I discovered this was not the case at all. The British army had very detailed regulations for the care of campfollowing wives, and the standard policy was, in the case of widowhood, to provide for her return to England, if she so wished. (I’m sure in the field, there was much room for difference of interpretation, but that’s another discussion.) I was indignant to find I’d been handed a common “reenactor myth,” told for the sake of sensationalizing history.

Standing guard at the house
As if history needs sensationalizing.

Thus also began my quest to find the truth in research, or at least as close to it as is possible through the reports of people who see events through the lenses of very different experiences and opinions.

And if I write with too much sympathy of the British and loyalist cause, I suppose it can be blamed on the fact that we chose Drayton Hall that muggy May day in Charleston. :-)
 
(Another highlight of the 225th Anniversary of the Siege of Charleston: a lecture, complete with visual aids, on colonial battlefield medicine. Useful stuff, for a writer, though his description of amputation left me very queasy. That, too, was inspiring in its own way!)

All photos are my own.







19 comments:

  1. Shannon, I enjoyed your article very much.
    Blessings, Tina

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    1. Thanks so much, Tina! I appreciate your stopping by. :-)

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  2. Shannon, I think that kind of thing happens a lot and sometimes it isn't for sensationalism for born of confusion. I had something like that happen which inspired one of my manuscripts, but it didn't end up really mattering (to me) that the person had the info wrong because I was writing fiction. In fact, if the docent hadn't gotten her facts wrong I don't think I'd have been as inspired to write the story! Great post!

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    1. Very true, Carrie! :-) I certainly might not have set out on the journey that became my story had this young man given us more accurate information. What I left out of the story, for sake of brevity, was the glaring NONresponse I received when I wrote to the contact person for the reenacting unit, to ask for documentation on the young man's information--we writers need to cite our sources, you know! :-) But I'll always remember this event with extreme fondness. And I've learned over the years just how difficult it is, if not impossible, to get everything 100% accurate.

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  3. Hi Shannon, This was interesting! Did you find in the research that the care of widows depended on their husbands rank, or good-standing at his time of death?

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    1. I don't recall mention of it depending upon either. Interesting, that. Most of my information about this comes from the work of historian Don Hagist, here: http://revwar75.com/library/hagist/britwomen.htm

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    2. Oh, and thank you for stopping by! :-)

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  4. Thanks, Shannon, for an interesting post. Love this era! The information is always interesting and I love the process of reseach itself. I rarely read a historical novel that I am not checking some fact or the other to get a bit more information.

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    1. Thank you, Mary! How kewl that you find yourself digging deeper after reading historical novels. I find myself getting so sucked into the research, I almost forget my story. :-)

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  5. One of the things that I have learned is that prostitution paid higher than the "legitimate" professions that women were allowed to perform. Positions such as washing, sewing, etc. paid very little, and so a lot of women turned to prostitution (even when their husbands were still alive) to make more money.

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    1. Isn't that just tragic?! And it's still true today ... a woman can make more, in the short term, from peddling her body (whether as an exotic dancer or straight-out prostitution) than honest work. Ridiculous. But human nature really hasn't changed.

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  6. That was a fascinating post, Shannon. It is so interesting looking at the American Revolution from the perspective of the British.

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    1. Janet, I've found it immensely interesting! Not sure why, maybe just a different slant on what seems too familiar for some of us?

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  7. That was an interesting post. First, it is hard to imagine the wives following the men through the war. I would have thought that "the women would need to be protected from the evils of war", rather than march along with the army to every location. It is also amazing the some "stories" are embellished to make them more interesting. I think the fact that we were sort of the first country to declare our independence and fight for it would be enough of a story, without creating myths in the bargain.

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    1. Dora, I would have thought that too--about creating myths--but as we'll see (I have at least two more posts in the works about myths/legends of this time period), it isn't so. Maybe it's just human nature to take the truth and embellish it?

      And I've found that the notion of "protecting" women--in the sense that the "fairer sex" was considered too delicate to handle the harsher realities of life--seems to be more of a Victorian attitude than colonial. Maybe another post for another time? Definitely a curious thing!

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  8. WAY too cool. They have a reenactment in Jefferson Texas I got to witness once. I can't imagine being there on the land where it all took place with all the Brits and Revolutionists! How exciting. And what great information. THREE days, huh? With as many widows the war was making, I suppose those ladies might have been winking now and again just in case. It would be hard to choose - go and be with my husband - or stay home... Do you ever dress up and take part, Shannon? Or just enjoy the watching? Very interesting post!

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  9. Hey, Caryl, thanks for stopping by! And yes, the reenactments are SO much fun! If I had more time, and energy--mostly time--I would love to get into it! Last year I did make a foray into the world of historical costuming with a colonial-era shift, gown, and stays, and wrote about them here.

    And yes, there was a lot of discussion on the loop about how such a policy might have played out, how it affected relationship dynamics, etc. If documentation to the contrary were not SO clear--but I suppose in practice, finding another husband would be preferable in many ways to crossing the ocean again ... and that was the dilemma that kicks off my story. :-)

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  10. Hi Shannon--

    I've been meeting for a month now at B&N with a group of people who discuss the 18th century wars, and many of them are reenactors. Our moderator tries to be very careful with his terminology and historical points. As you said, there are some who like to sensationalize/embellish events, and thus their roles. If there's an event or an actual historical person I need to use in my story, I always double-check. By adding actual events etc. it lends credibility to my writing, and grounds the "fictional world" the reader is entering, especially if your main characters' conflicts are based on just such experiences.

    Thanks for this great post!

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    1. Thank YOU, Pat! Living history groups (aka reenactors) can be SO very helpful in doing research! And yes, that's kind of what I was trying to get around to saying ... we just need to be careful, as least as much as possible with the information available. :-) I appreciate your chiming in!

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