Jed Fest - Part II

 A Fall Scout with the Men of Harmon’s


By Vincent C. Spiotti

After months of anticipation and a stormy night spent in our shelters, we were ready to begin the Jed Fest scout. Today we would be patrolling the forests and trails of a crisp fall New England on a day that was simply brilliant with a canopy of bright colored foliage.

We all gathered around Steve as we made our final adjustments to our traps and equipment. “Let’s be sure to keep our internals and stay in our teams,” Steve instructed us as we prepared to head out onto the trail.

Like the good individualistic New Englanders that we are, Steve is the elected leader of our company. With a Ph.D in history, having done a dissertation entitled “Rustic Warriors: Warfare and the Provincial Soldier on the Northeastern Frontier, 1688-1748”, Steve has the right academic credentials as well as outdoor ranging and reenacting experience in the forest. Add to this the personality qualities of a stubborn native New Englander and you have all the right ingredients of a successful New England colonial provincial leader.

 “Let’s get the fast legs out first,” Steve ordered, sending our rabbit team made up of Adam and Crowee out in front the main body of the patrol. Even though we were most likely the only ones out on the trail that day, we wanted to use this day together to continue to refine our unit movements and tactics through the woods. “Don’t spread out too much,” Steve barked as Adam and Crowee pushed up the trail. “Keep eye contact on each other.” Dogediah sprinted off to join Adam and Crowee.

Snowshoemen companies of the 18th century were provincial commissioned units whose purpose was to patrol deep into the wilderness, gathering intelligence on the various French and native enemies. Quite often when contact was made with these enemies, it marked the end of the search phase and the beginning of the destroy phase of the operation. Through this time period in colonial history, the exploits of Harmon’s Company of Snowshoemen are known as being more of action than words. In our reenacting world of the 21st century, many know and emulate Rogers Rangers of the French and Indian War period. However, the original Snowshoemen groups of the early French Wars, including Harmon’s Snowshoemen, are the types of companies that people like Rodgers based their unit’s operations and actions on.

The first part of the patrol marked the most difficult terrain that we would cover. While Adam and Crowee sped steadily up the inclined trail, the intervals between the slower paced members increased. After a long sleepless night, an early morning scout while carrying heavy loads of gear, arms and food caused some to struggle. Slowly, our legs gained strength and we adjusted to the activity, propelling us faster into the colorful White Mountain autumn wilderness.

As the main body approached the first noticeable crest of a hill, Adam and Crowee appeared from secluded positions behind two large maple trees. Up high with views down both sides of the trail, it was a good place for our first break of the day. We moved into a small stand of birch trees with quacking dried leaves just off the trail. Traps and packs were loosened, with men squatting down or sitting on fallen trees. Arms were held at the ready in our laps.

Several full pipes of tobacco began to burn as voices were kept low in conversation. “How far you think we went Obediah?” Marko asked, his hat now tipped back on his head. The group discussed it and came to the conclusion it had to be three miles. “A little bit less,” I said, catching Marko out of the corner of my eye desperately drinking from his leather covered canteen bottle.

“Snowshoemen would go for hours and miles each day without stopping,” Crowee added. Silas slowly leaned back against a downed tree, his knees bent up with his hands behind his head. “We’ve done worse on scouts before,” he added in a matter of fact manner. Silas has been on patrol with us many times, having learned over time to carry less and pack your load well. “We went this way a few years back and I remember the hill being steeper,” Silas joked as the conversation continued.

“Alright, enough of this,” Steve quietly interrupted. “Let’s get up and move out.” With relatively little grumbling, the patrol members stood up, quickly tightened down their loads, cradled their arms as they moved back onto the trail.

“Remember, this isn’t a race,” Steve began. “We are supposed to be taking our time and looking around for signs of enemy activity” Steve finished. “Let’s give Marko and Silas some time up front,” Steve directed. “We can all fall in behind and follow, Jed and Obediah take up the rear.”

Walking behind everyone, Jed and I began a whispered discussion about the trail. “Do you think an 18thFort Edward and Lake George,” Jed answered, as he looked around. century road looked like this?” I asked, slowly looking up and down the trail as I corkscrewed in circles. We were on an old logging road dating back perhaps 50 to 75 years. The trail was about 12 feet wide and was relatively smooth. “Probably looks like the road between

“Well, it’s pretty neat up here,” I replied, taking in the full splash of autumn colors as the trail dipped and climbed as it rolled along. “Keep your eyes open for savages up there Ensign Sartwell,” Jed joked as we turned to another unrelated topic. Jed and I have spent many years wandering the forests on patrol and had many conversations along the way. Never have we been at loss for topics or snappy replies.

Continuing our discussion, we came upon the company stopped at a trail junction, unsure of which direction to go. “Which is the fastest way?” Marko quizzed. “How about we take the most scenic route?” Crowee followed. “You guys can stand there and debate,” Steve added, “but let’s eat a little bit while we decide.” Steve moved over to a soft patch of grass coated with freshly fallen leaves just off the trail and plopped down with a thump. Others followed, this time removing their loads, and breaking out snacks and drinking from canteens as we were enjoying a noontime meal.

Dogediah darted from person to person, begging for whatever food scraps he could acquire. “Hey,” Silas yelled, breaking our stealthy silence as he kicked at Dogediah, missing the dog but knocking his canteen over. “Did you see that?” Silas cried as he cursed under his breath and tried to save what water remained in his canteen. “He tried to grab my jerky bag,” Silas claimed. “Remember the time he stole the Constable’s jerky bag when we went on that scout to Moose Hollow?” Adam reminded. “All we ever found was a piece of chewed linen scrap in the woods” Jed added. “Don’t turn you back on that dog when you have food out,” Silas warned as we all softly laughed and continued to eat.

“I vote for the fastest trail back to camp,” Marko began, signaling it was time to move along. “I agree,” Silas added. “Jed, what do you think?” Adam asked. “It’s your scout today.” Fiddling with his musket flint, Jed replied “Either way is fine, I’ve been down both trails before.” In true New England militia fashion, rather than let Steve, the commander decide, the group voted. We decided to take the shorter way back to camp and start the evening celebration early. Steve organized our unit into our ranging teams and positions and ordered us forward back towards camp.

The day was one of the most beautiful I have spent in the forest, a peak foliage day  with a full palate of red, orange and yellow creating a glow in the overhanging branches of the hardwoods. Added to the visual splendor was the organized and stealthy unit tactics we demonstrated the entire day. While there were no real foes or aggressors waiting out there for us to ambush or be ambushed by, we wanted to spend the patrol continuing to improve our unit movements through the forest. We wanted to be a blur of muted color that moved quickly and quietly through the New England hardwoods.

As the light was fading, we burst back into camp.  Everyone immediately headed over to their shelters, and with groans and moans, wearily dropped their various packs and bags and pulled off their leggings and other accessories. Muskets were attended to and secured.

“Hey Obediah,” Marko squawked from his shelter. “Think we went 10 miles?” Adam answered quickly “More like seven”.  After doing the math in my head as I fiddled with my shooting pouch, I added “Somewhere in-between”. Silas, lying in his shelter proclaimed “Not a bad day for the men of Harmon’s”.

The banter and chatter continued as the men stretched and strained sore shoulders and muscles as they ate and drank after our patrol. We continued our discussion about the patrol. “Think anyone saw us today?” Crowwe asked the group as we all munched away. “Except for Dogediah trying to steal a bag of jerky from Silas, we were pretty quiet” Marko replied, to the laughter of the entire company. “What do you think Steve?” Silas asked, hoping that we would receive a more accurate evaluation from our leader. After a few moments of thoughtful silence, Steve said “well, we kept our intervals, stayed in our teams and made it to our objective all without seeing anyone and most likely not being seen.” Steve simply concluded “I think we fine”.  “We never got to shoot” I complained after a slight pause as we all thought about Steve’s feedback. “You can shoot your gun tomorrow” Steve mocked back at me as we all laughed and continued our conversation as we relaxed after our patrol.

Something caught Marko’s eye down the trail. “Look over there,” Marko said in his creaky voice as he stood up, standing somewhat hunched over and pointed down the trail. Someone was climbing the hill and coming towards us. First we saw a hat and then a butt of a gun stock bobbing and moving uphill upwards towards us. A person slowly appeared under the hat as he drew closer.  We could now see the trade mark white beard and set of piercing eyes. It was Posediah; he had made it to Jed Fest. I suppose it is better to be late then never.

Posediah has the reputation of being the most photographed member of Harmon’s, and thus the name. He is always fully dressed, with full kit on his back and brass kettle dangling, fusil in one hand and his copper tankard in the other, smoking his trademark clay pipe. With an eye for historical accuracy, Posediah seems to know the most specific details about every aspect of 18th century life, equipment and customs. Nothing makes it past him without an informal evaluation and verbal essay. Posediah is especially knowledgeable of all firearms and weapons, both period and modern. Before the weekend is over, we would learn that he was just as proficient.

“Hope I didn’t miss the party,” Posediah saluted as he entered camp, loaded down with his bags and pack, shelter and bedding, fusil reversed over his shoulder with the butt high in the air. “You didn’t miss much,” Steve casually said as the group chuckled. We all came up to Posediah, shook hands and launched into our various stories of the recent events.

As Posediah laid out his bedroll, we all began to huddle around the fire. The crystal clear star filled night sky arrived as the temperature quickly dropped. Marko was hard at work, seemingly in the fire, as he prepared a hearty stew for all. Loaves of bread, bags of jerky, and other trail foods and snacks were passed around for appetizers. Wine and malt beverages washed down our feast. Jed Fest, at least the bachelor’s night celebration, was in full swing.

The evening was full of stories about Jed from the past as well as more recent adventures. Steve, who has known Jed since he was a prepubescent reenactor, told quite a few amusing stories of Jed’s first reenacting adventures in various British Rev War groups. Marko and Posediah added various stories from their Civil War reenacting days. I dutifully offered tales about the trials and tribulations of Jed and I on the scouts we have done over the past years.

It might not have been a night of deviant ceremonies, dancing girls, and barbaric rites of passage rituals, but it was a memorable night. It was a night full of what we have all enjoyed with Jedediah over the years, good companionship, somewhat raunchy humor, and ultimately precious moments to savor of an evening around an open blazing fire.

We all stood and sat around the fire, illuminated in the glow of the flames with a background of blackness. Well into the evening, we laughed and shared fond memories of our past as well as made pledges for future adventures. While our primary purpose on that evening was to celebrate in Jed’s new life as a husband, we were also enjoying one more evening together. This would be our last gathering in the woods for the season as friends of another century.

Of course, no bachelor gathering would be complete without marital advice by the already married. Crowe, a quick witted and funny person by nature, launched into his best impression of the New England preacher Cotton Mather as he delivered his version of sound marital advice for the soon to be husband. With the verboseness of a preacher, Crowee lectured Jed on the important needs and desires of the married woman and thus his role as a husband. We all laughed, cheered and toasted with cups held high to each and every point of Crowee’s now animated sermon. Knowing that this was a bachelor party of sorts, the lecture predictably climaxed with a section about a husband’s carnal duties and responsibilities. It was classic Crowwe satire and a rant that drew rave reviews.

The fire eventually burned down, and so soon ended the activities of the evening. As all turned in to shelters and bedrolls, each circled past and congratulated Jed on his upcoming wedding. Jed in turn thanked each for a memorable weekend.

Later that evening, long after all were asleep in their blankets and with the fire now a pile of mere glowing coals, Jed and I quietly turned into our tent. Adam and Dogediah were long asleep as we rolled up into our blankets for a short nap before sunrise. Before we nodded off to sleep, I softly whispered to Jed and asked how he is enjoying his weekend. “The weekend is great but your best man duties aren’t over Ensign Obediah Sartwell,” Jed quietly growled as he wrestled with his blankets. “Just make sure I don’t have a panic attack and back out next Saturday!” Jed finished. “We’ll see what I can do” I joked as I turned onto my side and quickly drifted asleep. Dreams of the fall foliage and our day together were sure to soon follow.

With the sun lifting over the mountains as a steady north wind blew, a cold and frosty morning was upon us. We all slowly migrated out from our hovels and roosted around the warmth of the fire. As always, Marko was up early and made plenty of coffee for the company. We all lazily yawned and stretched in the chilly air, bundled in capotes and blankets, sipping our morning coffee and chitting and chatting as we savored our last morning together.

After our coffee and breakfast, the men of Harmon’s, with firelocks and shooting bags quickly hoisted, climbed up a trail that rose high above camp where we staged a contest of shooting. With the slightly frosted peaks of the White Mountains as a backdrop to our field of fire, we fiddled and fuddled as we agreed to the rules and targets and prepared to begin the contest. After years of bragging and boasting, we wanted to prove once and for all who is the best shot in the company.

With all rules and safety precautions in place, we began to fire away at the targets. Steve with his new fowler proved to be quite accurate. Jed, with his trademark 80 caliber doglock, was very true to the mark. I quietly wondered to myself how Jed would have done today if he had the new custom English fowler that only I knew Goodwife Ann would give him next weekend before the wedding. I just smiled inside knowing the secret as we all continued to load and fire, anxious to see the look on Jed’s face when he is presented with his new fowler. I am sure that Jed will be anxious to head out on the trail as soon as possible after the honeymoon to try his new fowler.

As the contest continued, we all quickly found that Posediah, armed with his favorite 1728 French fusil, was not just a pretty face and an immaculately dressed man. Posediah was also quite the accurate marksmen. With a deliberate and well practiced loading and firing pace, Posediah easily took first place in our shooting contest. As winner of the contest, the first pick of the various treasures from the prize blanket was not nearly as valuable as the title of “Best Shot” in our company. To date, Posediah has yet to relinquish his title within the group of Harmon’s.

Later that day, after plenty of chatter, banter and last minute antics, the camp was finally packed and we hauled our gear back to the road. We eventually bid our adieus and headed home to our families. The weekend and Jed Fest were over but it would not be long until we all gathered again next weekend at the wedding.

Jed and I shared a ride back to my home. Along the way, when I asked him again about his weekend, he simply said “special,” and then added, “but remember’ your job’s not over.”

It rained the day of the wedding but that did not dampen our spirits. Along with a gathering of families and friends, there were the men of Harmon’s. As I peeked out from behind the curtain near the altar, there in the church, outfitted now in modern suits and tuxedos, I picked out of the crowd the men of Harmon’s. They all looked strangely different and somewhat unrecognizable.  Visibly uncomfortable in their modern attire, most of our friends I only have seen in their 18th century clothing. Just as I pondered how strange to see the men in modern clothing, Posediah walked into the church, clad in some sort of reenacting clothing. I chuckled to myself as I thought how that looked much better.

Jed and I stood waiting in the wings, with the hymm“Old 100th” being played from the pipe organ in the background. As I hummed along, a tap on my shoulder from Jed turned me towards him, where when our eyes met, he simply said, “Thank You.” We shook hands and hugged. And then I stepped back, smiled and whispered, “Hey, it’s not over.”

The final official responsibility of the best man is the toast at the wedding. After thinking long and hard over the past months on what to offer, when it was finally my moment, I rose up at the head table. As the crowd silenced, I held my glass up and I began with a few barely audible clumsy words. After a bit of a stammer, I paused and thought, and then abandoning the planned speech, I stood taller, held up my glass higher, offering a simple proclamation in Italian, “La buona vita” followed by the clinking of glasses and a loud cheer followed by the sipping of champagne.

In English, my toast to Ann and Jed was “To the good life”, and thus my duties as the best man were over. It was time for Ann and Jed to begin their good life together.

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For more information on the original men of Harmon’s Company of Snowshoemen as well as the recreated unit, go to:

 

www.snowshoemen.com

 
VCS