18th Century Ramblings

These last few days I've had my head in books .... loads of them. I've reviewed youtube channels and I've searched the web for information on the 18th century and frontier life in general and I have dug up some gems for sure.

Knowledge is power and slowly but slowly I am coming to learn more and more about this period, and some interesting changes have been brought about.

Firstly, it has become apparent that facial hair wasn't the in thing in the 1700's, two reasons for this firstly fashion but secondly among the frontiers men it was also a kind of practical thing too - native Americans don't have facial hair so for the frontiersman trying to merge in, and live along side tribes like the Mohican, the Algonquin and the Abinaki a lack of facial hair may have made that easier - regardless of reason beards were out. Personally, I grew myself a beard in 1999 when I left Her Majesties Forces and have had facial hair ever since (so 19 years or so) well in the interest of accuracy the first thing to did was shave it off - much to the shock of my friends and family ......

Secondly, I initially searched the web for kit, yep we are all kit hounds at heart. I soon realised that frontiers folk didn't have a local "outdoors" store to pop into, or more pertinently, the disposable income to just buy kit. Some gear they would have as part of their everyday lives, knives and axes, hunting tools etc but the rest they likely made. And made from materials they had access to. Maybe they were the first and greatest make do and mend practitioners!! Of course items common to the 17th century are in some cases rare or expensive in the 21st century, decent wool blankets for example - so our problem is finding materials to work with of a similar type and quality. All that said the kit required isn't much, those guys really lived the carry less by knowing more life.

Typically, if we take out the items required for the flint lock aka hunting we are left with a very small, neat, practical kit --

  • Blanket roll - One or two blankets carried on a tump line
  • Tarp or oil cloth - part of the bedroll in a shelter or a shelter in itself.
  • Belt knife - Pocket or jack knife - both items were common the belt knife for game butchery etc, the pocket knife for everyday chores.
  • Tomahawk or hatchet - Tomahawks are great lightweight multi use tools but hatchets were common place too, maybe more so as soldiers were issued belt axes and ever homestead would have had axes and hatchets as everyday tools.
  • Fire-making kit, candle and tinder - again everyday items fire skills were probably learnt from child hood.
  • Canteen - wood or a gourd? Military canteens were tin or copper and kidney shaped how much access to these would frontiers folk have unless they served in the local militia maybe - or had traded them somewhere?
  • Food - is a whole subject we will look at below
  • Boiler or folding skillet and eating utensils - again kitchen items they could easily acquire although I am sure cooking without pot was also a very common place skill. 
  • Period compass - if they had one it would likely be an expensive item and much treasured.
  • Primitive fishing kit - something they could make however again something likely to have been common enough around most farms if close enough to a fish bearing water source.

Personal items might be added to this, as well as things like soap etc but the basic kit was pretty simple.

The third thing is food, the woodsman while able to eat tasty meals at home was hampered by the ability to preserve foods for the trail. The choices for preserved trail foods were parched, smoked, salted - parched corn, salt pork or Jerky for example. Beans and Rice were available, wild greens could be foraged and fresh game harvest potentially - but generally it appears sous and stews were common and the food rather bland by modern standards. 

A typical ration would have been - 
  • Salt Port or Jerked Beef, Pemmican or Sausage - about a pound
  • Bread or flour - about a pound - potentially hard tack was made and carried as this lasted longer on the trail.
  • 2oz of Beans or Rice
  • Coffee or Tea 
  • Sugar - probably a much treasured resource
  • Salt - likewise a valuable resource (during the revolutionary war salt was considered more valuable than Gold)
  • Cheese - brought from the farm
  • Whisky or Rum - real luxuries maybe but I'd guess most farms or farming communities had stills or some sort or other.
The list itself isn't to bad but as with modern day outdoor life weight would have been a factor! 

So, kit and food items are simple but effective - home grown or home produced mostly. My own "kit" is slowly coming together (more on this later)

Let us not forget however, these people were not stupid and would have made their gear to suit themselves and their own needs - modifications would have been common place - for example why not make your tarp or oil cloth into something you could wear as rain gear? Or as we see with a match coat, your blanket into a coat for cold weather?

Clothing it appears maketh the man in the 17th Century woods and we will talk more about this later. 

Watch your top knot 


Man off the Mountain - who, what, why and where.

"It seems hardly necessary to say the best way to travel across country in summer is the Indian way; with an absolute minimum. An Indian would sooner live hard and carry a light pack than live well and carry a heavy one. A few pounds of dried meat, a very light woollen blanket, a .22 rifle, and enough tea to last him at the rate of three cups per day is all he will take" Michael H Mason - The Arctic Forests - 1924.

Last weekend I went for an overnighter .... and I packed in a 70 litre rucksack crammed to the gunwales with kit. Huffing and a puffing I wandered across the moors to my favourite forest spot and dumped my load. I started my fire and unpacked ...... and it was then I wondered what in the name of Thor's balls I was doing?? Why was I carrying so much kit?

I filtered through my kit and found half of what I was carrying was surplus, I'd fallen into the trap of filling my pack with stuff just in case or because there was room.

This got me thinking. When I go hiking with the missus - yes modern kit all the way - but for bushcraft? When the ideal of has always been Blanket, Billy and knife?

Now those of you who know me or have read the blog before or have seen my youtube stuff know I'm keen on the 18th/19th century. I love the romance and the adventure of the fur trade era and the French Indian wars. Hell, my greatest wish and deepest regret is that I couldn't stand with Bowie, Crockett and Travis at the Alamo, even knowing the outcome of doing so.

Having spent my entire adult life (and that's a long time having celebrated my 52nd birthday only a few days ago) working and living in the outdoors either as a soldier or a wilderness living skills practitioner and instructor I figured my abilities aren't to shabby and I know how to rough it with the best of em. So why not join my hobby and my historical interests together? It will be fun! Hard work maybe but fun for sure.

And that's what I plan to do ...

Before I do anything I need to establish what kit I have relevant to the period - in an article or two I wrote some time ago for this blog under its old name (Oh and yes Ive changed the name to reflect my interest better) I wrote about the 18th Century soldiers issue kit so I figured this would be a good starting point. (see below)

What would a 18th Century soldier have?? Below is a list taken from the diary of a French officer from the 1700's, I have left out none relevant items like gun flints and powder horns ect btw.

Summer issue items
  1. Blanket
  2. Capote
  3. Shirt x2
  4. Trousers
  5. Underpants
  6. Socks
  7. Hussif
  8. Fire Steel and Flint
  9. Butcher knife
  10. Comb
  11. Mocassins
  12. Tomahawk
Additional winter items
  1. 2 extra pairs of socks
  2. Mittens
  3. Vest
  4. Folding knife x2
  5. Long underwear (material for the use of)
  6. Bearskin
Also issued per 2 men
  1. Cooking pot
  2. Axe
  3. Tarpaulin

My own research has dug up a few examples of kits carried by backwoodsmen and rangers (Rogers rangers for example) and if we look at them closely we can see similarities between 17th/18th century gear and the gear we carry now ...............
  • Blanket roll
  • Tarp or oil cloth
  • Rifle or smoothbore, shooting pouch and horn
  • Belt knife
  • Tomahawk or hatchet
  • Fire-making kit, candle and tinder
  • Canteen    
  • Food
  • Boiler or folding skillet and eating utensils
  • Period compass
  • Primitive fishing kit

Below is a list of clothing worn by a typical ranger during the French and Indian war, we will use this as a comparison to what modern equivalents there are.

Ranger -
Hat - knitted torque, Canadian cap, tri-corn or wide brimmed.
Shirt - typically linen or wool
Waist coat (short or long sleeved) - typically cotton, linen or Wool
Trousers - breeks or long trousers generally a canvas or wool make
Shoes - 18th century model leather shoes with brass buckles but when these wore out moccassins.
Hunting Shirt - often canvas or Linen - sometimes wool (used as a protective coat over normal clothes)
Ranger Uniform coat - wool coat usually for dress with wool facing and pewter buttons etc.
Blanket - says what it does on the tin.
Blanket coat - wool
Gloves and scarf - wool

I will elaborate on these in a later article (but note how little is kit - mostly its just clothing - thats not to say they weren't eager gears hounds like we are today but I think rather they weren't as wealthy and as such learnt to use the minim kit to the maximum effect) but for now, as per side articles, I have plenty of 21st Century equivalent items so I've put together a outfit which I will also review in a later article. My plan is to slowly gather or make authentic items that are period correct, to research in depth before I do so, so as to justify its inclusion. I will of course review each item as I do so, should anybody else wish to follow suit. 

I don't see this as a problem as like any farm boy setting off for the Rocky mountains to trap Beaver for the first time, or any soldier returning from a war to find his family gone and his homestead burnt to the ground by Huron war parties the kit I have will be basic and what is easily gathered. This does two things, firstly it allows me to relearn the skills more thoroughly and secondly it means I will soon learn what kit is important and what isn't.

What do I hope to achieve by doing this? 

Well, firstly a greater depth of understanding for the skills - logic dictates that if we can master bushcraft with traditional tools then the use of modern gear designed to make life easier will be a doddle! Secondly, to learn to appreciate time .......modern gear is designed so we can go faster and further (as well as to empty our wallet -- and our soul) - I want to take a step back, to appreciate the need to correctly prepare all aspects of my fire before I try to light it, to learn to slow down and be more aware and mindful of the nature around me, to be able to take the time to enjoy the forest or the moors, to look at the stream and read it rather than just jump over it and stomp the flora on the far bank and not to just pass through the wilderness or feel I'm in contest with it. And lastly to get out of the laziness that modern and smugness gear brings - after all why build a good shelter when we can rig a tarp in 5 minutes, why bother to learn how to light a fire at all when we can set up a stove and cook pot and have hot water almost instantly? 

So my friends I hope you will enjoy my trials and tribulations .. my failures and successes and maybe one day join me on the trail with a traditional kit of your own where we can share the warmth of a good fire with a blanket around our shoulders to ward off the wind as we smoke our pipes and broil our bacon over the glowing coals.

Real woodcraft consists rather in knowing how to get along without the appliances of civilization than in adapting them to wildwood life.
Kephart, Horace, 1862-1931.

As a foot note anybody who has any kit relevant to my goals and doesn't want it .... or who makes it and wants it reviewed I'd be more than happy to talk to you. Like wise anybody with good links to books or websites they'd like to share please drop me a line .........

So for now, watch your top knot!