On this crisp spring day, Wethersfield had its local Memorial Day parade, but what’s that? A fife-and-drum corps and Revolutionary War soldiers marching alongside the Cub Scouts and Rotary? Just who is Colonel John Chester that his name should appear on these drums?
These are big questions, and there are no easy answers. But I can assure you that today in Historic Wethersfield was almost completely about the Revolutionary War, marked through its annual Heritage Weekend.
You’ve seen it all before. You know, the troops line up opposite and shoot each other like ducks in a carnival game.
Women write in their diaries with lamp oil for ink.
Your pouch can get repaired by the leatherman, who adroitly works two needles at once.
The cannon is shot periodically with a woman to help load.
The apothecary will entice you with his curious tools.
And there are the horses from the Dragoons.
The day was perfect for spinning outside.
And refreshments over the open field fire.
All the stuff you encounter all the time.
Before heading off to do my duty at the Hurlbut-Dunham House though, I became entranced with the minuteae of the militia. That is, the clothes.
I admit I didn’t know the difference between the militia and the Continental Army. Now, shwew, I do.
Membership in the militia was mandatory for all men from age 16 to 60. Wow. This wasn’t a draft situation. You just did it. Or else. If your town or village was threatened, your militia did its duty. Read, Lexington and Concord.
If you really like taking on the enemy, then you made your job the Continental Army. Like our Army today, participation was a choice, and you got paid to fight. You marched and marched and marched to wherever the next skirmish or battle took place. You want to see the world, you join the army. Defending your home? That’s when you stay at home and do the militia.
Now everyone in that period was a farmer. If you were a lawyer, you were a farmer, too. So when called, you put on your very best coat to go fight with the militia. Why? We don’t know. But the consensus here was that if you were killed, then you looked good doing it.
Most men wore shoes, then added matching-colored leather gaiters over their pants, so they looked like they were wearing boots. The officers wore boots. The gaiters helped when wading through mud, too.
Officers got the extras. Whether in the militia or in the army, officers wore a gorgette. This metal piece was a remnant from medieval fighting, when knights flung themselves at each other on horseback attacking with spears. The metal was placed at your throat to protect it from piercing. Yikes! So it’s a piece of armor. Here and then, it was honorary and a signifier of status.
Officers also wore red, like the ribbon on this Adjutant’s hat. What’s an adjutant? A secretary. A great way to keep the older officers’ knowledge and experience in military combat.
And the sash. Oh my. The sash was red, not for visibility as I guessed, but in case the officer was wounded in battle. The sash was long enough that his attendants could open it up and carry him away from the action on the sash as a stretcher, and his blood wouldn’t show. We wouldn’t want to panic the soldiers.
Well, no, but surely, the soldiers could figure out what it meant when the red sash was unfurled, and their officer was carried off the field of battle.,
This officer is part of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR). He’s been doing his genealogy and has traced it back to 600 C.E. I can go back about 125 years and am delighted to do that.
Anyway, the SAR in Connecticut existed a full year before there was a DAR–Daughters of the American Revolution. During that year, 88 women were members of the SAR. I like that idea much better than the segregated groups that have emerged and entrenched.
Now, there’s even a Children of the American Revolution. These children are also DAR or SAR, but as children learn the how to’s of their ancestors.
Ah, we’ve answered one big, burning question. Those children marching in today’s parade were CAR, building their skills, so some day, they can shoot muskets and cannons at each other. Long live the traditions!
Even the tradition of, yes, the red onion–developed here and traded out of Wethersfield’s working waterfront.