Traditionally, the November reenactment in Camden, SC is one of the more well-attended for reenactors and spectators in the South. It always draws a variety of sutlers — merchants who sell period items such as wool fabric, clay pipes, wooden bowls, horn spoons, pewter buttons, and jewelry — plus artisans who demonstrate period crafts, such as candle making and blacksmithing, and entertainers, such as this acrobat. I enjoy strolling Sutler Row at Camden, and it’s dashed hard to keep from spending money there because everyone is so friendly and helpful.
Saturday morning, 3 November, the panel discussion on non-traditional roles of women and girls during the Revolution (Leslie Sackrison, Dr. Christine Swager, and me) went smoothly, as if the three of us had done the panel together several times before. It was also well attended. The State, one of Columbia’s newspapers, gave us publicity in the 2 November edition. Joanna Craig of Historic Camden wants us on the schedule for Camden 2007 and will try to generate more interest among the general public. Redefining the role of women in history is a timely idea. It’s a theme touched on by many historical fiction authors, such as Mary Sharratt. At the conference for the Historical Novel Society 9 June 2007, I will be on a panel discussion about this topic. How exciting to be in the forefront of this “wave.”
I missed seeing the battle on both Saturday and Sunday. I was selling and signing books. But I heard the battles both days went well, and from the sounds of the cannon and musket fire, the reenactors on the field were putting on their usual entertaining show for spectators.
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason, and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
For my family and me, one of the high points of Camden each year is the Bonfire Night celebration on Saturday night. Bonfire Night is a fine, old British fete celebrated by colonists even during the Revolution to commemorate Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot. (Guy Fawkes was one of a group of conspirators who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament with kegs of gunpowder 5 November 1605.) If you think our Guy looks a bit worn out, it’s because he’s been tortured a bit.
This year, my sons received the honor of carrying the Guy to the bonfire as we processed through the camps. Imagine torches in the night, drums beating, and a mob chanting, “Treason! Burn the Guy! Kill the Guy!” Perhaps that’s why British expatriates elsewhere in America are apt to have the cops called on them by American neighbors who mistake their jollification for a bit of backyard human sacrifice. The Camden cops don’t even bat an eyelash at us — some of them are even reenactors — and didn’t stop the Guy from being tossed onto the bonfire, where he ignited, along with all the fireworks planted within him, to provide us with a thrilling show. For an interesting twist on Bonfire Night, check out Carola Dunn’s mystery, Gunpowder Plot.
After the fireworks, Historic Camden treats reenactors to a feast of heavy hors d’oeuvres in the candlelit dining room of the Kershaw-Cornwallis house. (The house is named for Joseph Kershaw, owner in 1780, and Charles Lord Cornwallis, who briefly occupied the house in 1780.) Because there’s 18th-century dancing afterwards, some reenactors trot out their finest period clothing for the night, and this is where you see elegantly-attired men and women in velvet and lace. One fellow pulled out all the stops: white wig, black satin suit, loads of lace at his throat and wrists, black shoes with red high heels, and a painted-on mole beside his eyebrow. He looked like Mozart.
Women used the positioning of their fans at dances in the 18th century to communicate messages to potential suitors. Here’s a list of some of the signals and interpretations. The comedic theater got a lot of mileage out of misinterpreted fan signals. After a few drinks, it’s easy to forget (or pretend to forget) what signal means yes and what means no.
I admit to being a “Ramada Ranger” for this event and not camping out. By the time we left the dance, the ground was already covered in frost, and I just couldn’t envision sleeping in sub-freezing temperatures in a British Army tent as benefiting my booksignings every weekend through Christmas. Gotta vacuum the straw and grass from the inside of my car and air it out to dissipate the smells of wood smoke and burned black powder. Business as usual after a weekend of reenacting fun.
Here’s a Huzzah! for my family for helping with the mechanics of the booksigning. And another Huzzah! for Joanna Craig for providing me with the opportunity to participate on the panel and sell more copies of Paper Woman.
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