The Bonnet that Raided Richmond

Yo waddup, my peasants? It’s ur gurl back wearing ridiculous hats.

So, fun fact: when Benedict Arnold raided Richmond in 1781, he really just fed the entire town to my bonnet and everything just got sucked in. It’s true!! Anything else is fake news, trust me. I’m a real historian.

Last year, I attended this annual living history event that commemorated Benedict Arnold’s raid on Richmond and I had entirely too much fun with it; between hanging out with my friends, talking women’s roles in the revolution, and wearing a pretty yellow riding habit, I was pretty content with the world. Needless to say, I was hella hyped for this event because I knew it was gonna be lit AF!

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Hell yeah it was gonna be lit because it was even bigger and better than last year; the attendance was even bigger, which included Queen’s rangers, sailors from the HMS Otter, and my squad from Virginia  Rebecca, Aly, and Kelly.  I was gonna throw a bomb af tea party with my antique cups, Aly was gonna bring snacks,  Adrienne brought the table, Rebecca offered to serve the tea, and everybody was totally down for it. It was gonna be so lit, like literally so lit I can’t even.

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This is– like– one of the maybe three reenactments I attend and it’s one of them for a ginormous reason: everyone who goes cares about authenticity while being accepting of other impressions. There is no Jim Jones Progressive telling people to drink the Koolaid of their precious narrative– we drink Madeira instead! This inclusiveness is what everyone should strive for in living history along with authenticity; inclusive interpretations allow for spectators to see the bigger picture, which is something we need to remember when interpreting. In this event there’s militiamen, sailors, Queen’s rangers, British regulars,  male civilians, indentured servants, fine loyalist ladies, army followers, and officer’s wives all together interpreting their perspectives on the raid on Richmond as well as their daily lives.

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Photo by Bob P
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Photo by Mark Gormus
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Photo by Betsey P.
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Photo by Bob P
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Photo from the HMS Otter
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Photo by Lawrence Price

The travel-hardy crew of Erik, Coleman, Jonah, and I happily made the five and a half hour journey from New Jersey to Henricus Historical Park in Chesterfield, VA crammed into Erik’s Jeep with muskets, uniforms, cartridges, black powder, hair powder, silks, and petticoats. We arrived Friday evening to get changed and powdered before we met up with everyone in the tavern. Then Kelly and I met up so all hell broke loose! That night I wound up, once again, sleeping in my high roll in saran wrap because I haven’t made myself a night cap yet– it’s a 2019 goal– only to get myself up at 6 AM to do hair and makeup for the ladies which meant I basically destroyed the bathroom and made it look like a deleted scene from Scarface.  This weekend, I wore my monster bonnet, my new hot pink satin jacket, and bright blue petticoat topped with my sheer ruffled apron. I freakin’ love that bonnet, it makes me feel like I stepped out of a print!

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Photo by Betsey P
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The Invitation, or Camp Politeness 1781

Some of the interpreters spoke in the Historic St. John’s Church regarding the history of the raid, music of the Revolution, the defense of Benedict Arnold, and women’s roles in the Revolution. Because the ladies who spoke were all associated with the Crown forces, most of what we spoke on was the ordeals and life women on the opposing side experienced– something not usually spoken about. There was an estimated 5,000 women and children that accompanied the British army during the Revolution and these women were every bit as courageous as their rebellious counterparts. In my portrayal of a British officer’s wife, I came across harrowing experiences of these brave souls who put their lives on the line to remain with their husbands. I read stories of women following their husbands into prison, women taking prisoners, and women who gave peace offerings to smooth things over with the rebels.

The British army was accustomed to allowing wives to follow their husbands overseas; during the Seven Years War, women were following the army washing laundry, tending to the wounded, selling things, and did mending for the troops. Every woman did her duty, including officers’ wives; there was a Charlotte Brown who became the nurse matron for the general hospital for General Braddock’s army in 1754. Accompanied by a maid, she was given a  wagon to use as a shelter with horses; she kept a journal recording her daunting challenges of tending to the wounded from Braddock’s defeat in 1755 writing about the miserable roads, deserted camps, bug infested beds, and unwilling nurses. To make matters for her worse, she received word of her brother’s and her daughter’s deaths while on campaign but still continued her duties. Even though she was a lady, she endured the sufferings the rest of the army endured and we continue to see that well into the Revolution.

The women who followed the British Army in the American Revolution were essentially gambling with their lives; they were in a foreign, unfriendly group of colonies on a half ration working for peanuts. There was consolation that should their husbands die, they would get her husband’s pay, his personal property, and free passage back home, but what would she do then? If her husband’s regiment was taken prisoner, so was she, and she was granted no special treatment for being a woman; if she was pregnant, she would give birth in prison. Poor Mary Driskill endured that exact scenario when a skirmish in Philadelphia separated her and her husband in December of 1777. She was with another regiment when they were captured and, while in prison, gave birth to twins. This, however, didn’t even remotely stop her from escaping because she managed it after three tries and made it safely to New York in an attempt to find her husband then, convinced he was deceased, petitioned to receive his belongings and go home,

That your Poor Petitioners Husband was killed at Chestnut Hill, after which your Petitioner was taken prisoner, and put into Trentown Jail, out of which your Petitioner made her Escape, and was again taken and put into Lancaster Prison, from which, along with Three of General Burgoins men your petitioner Escaped Again, and was again taken and cast into Carlisle Prison, from which also your Petitioner (along with Two Women more, and With Two Twins, of which your Petitioner was delivered in Prison,) made her Escape and in a Canno came Over the Susquehana River, and thence, by many hardships, came to this City.

Little did Mary know that her husband was alive and well being shipped out to the West Indies after being transferred from regiment to regiment. There’s no record of her finding out his fate, nor is there an account of them ever reuniting, both fade into obscurity. You can read more about her and other brave followers here.

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Photo by Frank E.

Officers’ wives ran the same risks as the followers; they, too, were alone in a foreign, hostile land risking everything to remain with their husbands, but fortunately, they had something to go home to should the worst happen. Very few of the wives went on campaign with their husbands, most would stay behind in occupied homes and wait for their husbands to come back and while waiting, the ladies would do their best to make friends and try to bridge things between the warring colonists. When with their husbands, though, the wives of these officers provided comfort and joy to both the men and the colonists they came across. In 1777, Captain Jonathan Danforth raised a company of militia at Williamstown to fight the British off at the Battle of Bennington leaving his wife Miriam and their two sons to tend to the farm. After the battle, British officers and their wives found themselves quartered there for several days and during those few days, the wives of those officers embroidered Miriam a beautiful silk gown which was apparently “so thick, it could stand alone;” Miriam used this gown for her daughter’s wedding dress later in life.  More on that here. Officer’s wives also participated in the amusements their husbands put on in the winter months. When the British occupied Philadelphia in the fall of 1777, Major Andre reopened the Southwark theatre  with Howe’s Strolling Players, which consisted of Major Andre and other officers along with their wives. Generals  Clinton and Burgoyne also had his company of players to amuse everyone during the winter months, as well, and these plays served as charities to benefit the widows and orphans of war. Mistresses were also flaunted among the British officers alongside the wives; a lovely British mistress to Major Williams of the artillery participated in a grand review in 1777 rocking a royal artillery inspired riding habit

Indeed the ladies of pleasure were among the most potent influences in the pageants and dissipations of the period. One of them, a beautiful English girl, the mistress of Major Williams of the artillery, at a grand review in Philadelphia, in 1777, was allowed to drive slowly down the line, wearing a dress cut and trimmed after the fashion of the regiment, the facings and plumes of her equipage being those of the artillery. In New York, in 1779, she became the queen of the foot-lights, appearing in such high comedy roles as Mrs. Sullen in “Beau’s Stratagem” and Clarinda in the “Suspicious Husband,” with as much acceptance as any of the professional actresses who had preceeded her. (History of American theatre, pg 34)

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Judging from Burgoyne’s play schedules, this mistress traveled with Major Williams because she appears in Philadelphia in 1777 and New York in 1779, though she’s always under the name “Mrs. Williams” and not her actual name which bothers me immensely.

Not every officer’s wife had it easy, though; those who accompanied their husbands on campaign experienced the true horrors of war. Lady Harriet Ackland accompanied her husband through the dumpsterfire of a campaign that was Burgoyne’s 1776 campaign from Canada to Saratoga. Thrown from a life of luxury into the fires of campaign, she found herself burnt out and ill through the campaign but still managed to take care of her husband, Major John Dyke Ackland, after he became deathly ill. She remained with him through hell and back with a smile on her face; not even her tent catching fire prevented her from going anywhere! Her pleasant demeanor and optimism endeared her to nearly everyone she met; she would give officers in her husband’s company small gifts whenever she could. Her bravest call to action came on a muggy October 7th of 1777 while she was tending to the wounded and dying from battle; she found that her husband was injured and a captured prisoner of war. Rather than weep and wither away, Lady Ackland petitioned to Burgoyne to take her to the enemy so that she can tend to his wounds. Burgoyne, astonished by this odd request from this dainty lady, sent out a letter to General Gates, “The assistance I was able to give was small indeed. I had not even a cup of wine to offer her. All I could furnish was an open boat, and a few lines written on dirty and wet paper to General Gates, recommending her to his protection.” With her maid, the chaplain Brudenell, and her husband’s wounded valet, she made the treacherous journey across the choppy river in the dead of night in the middle of a storm to the American outposts.

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After safely arriving, she was greeted by General Gates, whose fatherly kindness ensured her an escort to see her wounded husband. Lady Ackland’s charm warmed the Americans’ hearts and her story won their admiration. After Major Ackland was released and brought to New York, he remembered the kind treatment he received whilst in the Americans’ hands and did all in his power to improve the treatment of American prisoners there and wound up losing his life defending the Americans’ honor and bravery in a duel after the war. Lady Ackland lost her sanity for two years after keeping him alive through the entire war only to lose him in a duel but would eventually remarry to the chaplain who escorted her to see Major Ackland. You can read more about her here!

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It’s these bold and brilliant women I wanted to represent for the Raid on Richmond, though I could only talk for a few minutes. I would like to portray Lady Ackland in the future, she seems amazing.

Because of the government shut down, the skirmish was cancelled, so the men drilled in the church yard.

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Photo by Peter W

I’m so proud of my bae for commanding the Crown forces!

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Photo by Robert P

LOOK.AT.HIM!!!!

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Photo by Peter W

I’m so proud of Erik for running the Crown forces, we were both so busy!

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Photo by Linda Fern 

While everyone was off drilling, I threw my bomb AF tea party!!! The pastries Aly provided were gone within seconds thanks to the younger men of the Crown forces and the tea was a happy source of warmth for everyone, not to mention drinking from original tea cups was pretty cool.

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Photo by Aly
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Photo by Bob P.

Even Benedict Arnold stopped for tea!

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Photo by Linda Fern

Our charming and super duper helpful “servant” Rebecca was a MASSIVE help to me keeping the cups clean and the tea flowing, so mad props to her! Girl is a legend!

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Photo by Aly

The only issue was that she was a runaway and kept trying to give us the slip and the soldiers were of no use to get her back, so I was in charge of making sure she didn’t make off with anything– never send a man in when you’d do a better job! Fortunately, a kind arm around the shoulder is all it takes.

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Photo by Lawrence Price

Sorry, Rebecca, no running off to the Continental army for you! I need someone to listen to my home concerts because Erik is too busy playing soldier. I promise silk for your trouble! I did lend her my lapis necklace from Sign of the Gray Horse and it matched her outfit perfectly!

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Photo by Linda Fern. Run free, queen!

I wasn’t the only one with a bigass hat, though! My girl Aly borrowed my calash since it went so well with her look!

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Photo by Lawrence PRice

The event was a massive success in spite of no skirmishing; we had drilling, tea, and cricket. The best part of the day had to have been the tavern night the site hosted! Before we could get there, though, we had to pay the troll toll!

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There was nothing modern in the building, it was one of those moments where I felt as though I was in the past. I feel bad that I didn’t get a lot of photos, but that’s because I didn’t want to bring out my phone– thank goodness others did!

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Photo by Tom Apple

We ate, drank, and sang through the night!

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Photo by Tom Apple
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Photo by Roy Draa
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Photo by Roy Draa

Needless to say, we were all pooped by the end of the night!

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Fun fact: Jonah nearly instantly falls asleep the moment he hits the floor. It’s impressive tbh. Also, I got his permission to use this pic, so no worries!

We woke the next day tired, sore, and worn out ill prepared to make the journey back home. Thankfully southern food restores life completely, so after a hearty breakfast we were on our way home– not before antiquing! I managed to snag a 1770s Chinese export plate which I totally could have used this weekend. We also hit up the Marine museum which was incredible! All in all, the Raid on Richmond was the greatest way to start my year off. I couldn’t think of a better way to do it! Okay peasants, I’m out. I have to go crash and get the much-needed rest I didn’t get this weekend! I love you guys so much!

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Edit: I want to thank John Pagano, Tom Apple, Sean Edwards, and all of the staff at Henricus for another spectacular event. This is probably the best reenactment I’ve ever been to because of your hospitality and your passion for history. This is one of those events where I meet some of the kindest souls one could ever meet and I’m so blessed to have the opportunity to get to know you. I want to thank Rebecca for being a good sport and keeping my teacups washed, it was a massive help to me unpacking everything! I want to thank Adrienne for lending me her table, Aly for bringing snacks, Kelly for adding humor and grace to our party, and all those who partook. I also want to thank everyone that set up the tavern for the evening’s entertainments, everything was gorgeous and authentic in every way possible. I love all you guys and look forward to seeing you sooner than later!

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5 Comments

    1. I do a variety of impressions on both sides of the war, but I personally enjoy British and loyalist portrayals because it helps create a bigger picture for spectators. Not everyone was a patriot, not everyone was on the winning side, not everyone had a happy ending– and that’s something that we need to remember. History is always written by the victors and because of that, a lot of heroic people get swept under the rug so it’s my duty to remember those brave ladies who didn’t make it into the books because they were on the losing side. 🙂

      Hope that helps!

      Like

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