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 

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