America's Past Comes Alive With a Bang
A New Hampshire reenactment evokes a tide-turning siege
CHARLESTOWN, N.H. — Puffs of smoke burst from between the thick stakes of the palisade, from the watchtower, from the shingled rooftops of the unpainted, deeply weathered buildings. Capt. Phineas Stevens and his 30 militiamen fire off musket volleys, along with shouted taunts, as they defy a force of American Indians and French Canadians (rumored to number 700) who are trying to dislodge the defenders from their northernmost English outpost on the Connecticut River.
The braves and their French allies answer with musket blasts of their own, repeated assaults, and fire arrows during a three-day siege, but the Fort at No. 4 - essentially a fortified village - holds. The attackers (only 90 as it turns out) run short of food and give up their effort to block the tide of English settlement.
That failed siege likely turned the tide of history in northern New England and Canada. If it had succeeded, some historians say, the English advance might have been stemmed, if not stopped, changing the patterns of settlement and language. It was a preliminary skirmish to the French and Indian War (1754-1763).
The hundreds of reenactors who gathered here July 25, 26, and 27 were immersed in the history of that siege 250 years ago - from the historical facts on the tips of their tongues to the buckled shoes, or moccasins, on their feet. They represented English militiamen, French marines, and various Eastern and Canadian Indian tribes.
For Lawrence Aiello, captain in the 3rd Massachusetts Provincial Regiment, this reenactment evokes the turbulent years leading up to the American Revolution - a time when Americans of British descent were beginning to appreciate "their greater freedom here." Andre Gousse, from Hull, Quebec, represents the other side - the French soldiers who tried to draw a line on English colonizing. He remarks that the actual 1747 siege took place in late winter, when cold winds off the river and short supplies would have made his men's task doubly hard.
Jim Clothui, from Whitefield, N.H., and Ken Hamilton, a Bay Stater, take perhaps the most aggrieved side in this conflict. Mr. Clothui, his face fiercely painted red and wearing a silver-studded red shirt, represents an elder of the Coosuck tribe, part of the Wabenaki confederacy. Mr. Hamilton, tall and tanned, with his hair splayed out by a roach in the back, is an Odawa warrior, down from Canada, he explains, because his tribe grasps that their own homeland will soon stand in the path of English expansion.
These reenactors take their roles less as a weekend hobby than a constant sub-theme in their lives. Yes, they have present-day jobs (Mr. Aiello is a general contractor in the Boston area, for instance) and families (who are often reenactors themselves). But nearly every summer weekend is given to making history come alive.