Twelve Tips You Can Use for Getting Started in Living History / Reenacting – Part 2

7.      It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money….

If you choose what you buy carefully. Many things you will use are costly so this is a good reason to follow the advice about joining a group and asking them for help. If you don’t, when starting out, you will end up buying a ton of gear that you don’t need or is inappropriate for your impression. Eventually you will get tired of hauling it around and after that, it just gathers dust in your basement or storage shed

8.     Get it right for your impression.

Most of the sutlers (vendors of period equipment) that cater to the 18th century are honest, and want you  happy with your purchase so you will keep coming back. Even so, you have to remember that they are not experts on what is or is not right for your particular impression and that they make their living selling things to you. If you ask a sutler if something is “period correct” or correct for your impression, most of them are going to try to answer you as best they can. Remember however, that it is ultimately up to you, or your mentor, to think about items in terms of your nationality, class, place, situation, date, and other considerations before you can say it is right for your impression. Just because the sutler tells you something is “period correct” or “historically correct” doesn’t mean it is correct for your impression.

9.     Discard 21st century priorities.

In order to live in the past, you have to begin to try to think like a person of the past. Today, we have a sense of privacy, personal space, comfort, and modesty that is quite different from what existed in the 18th century. While you certainly won’t give up your modern beliefs and wish for comfort, you need to try to keep them from creeping into your interpretation as much as possible and try to think like someone from the 18th century.

In reality, you can never think exactly like someone from the 18th century because you have knowledge and experiences that they couldn’t imagine. At the same time, they had experiences, such as Indian attacks , that you can never experience. In spite of all this, you just have to do the best job you can based upon your research and your reading of period documents.

You may find yourself tempted to argue that they must have done this or that because it is just “common sense.” The problem is that “common sense” isn’t “common.” The meaning of common sense changes over time.  Prior to the American Revolution, “common sense” told you that being ruled by Kings and Queens was the proper order of things. Before the airplane, “common sense” told you that the only way to cross the Atlantic Ocean was in a boat. At the time of the Spanish Inquisition, “common sense” told you that you got sick because someone had put a spell or curse on you. Be cautious of reasoning with “common sense.”

10. Learn to do it yourself.

The more things you can learn to make yourself the more enjoyable the hobby will be and the less it might cost. If you can master the skills to make reenactment items well, you can also trade for the things you can’t do yourself. At the same time, you have to learn to understand what you can do, and thus should make, and what you can’t, and therefore should buy.

11.   For the men – You don’t have to have a gun….. at least at first.

The first thing you want to do, as a beginner in the hobby, is buy one of those “cool” guns. The thing is, the type of gun you would have, and if you even  have one, depends on your impression. Rifles, in the 18th century, were very expensive and the folks who had them were primarily frontier folk who made a living hunting.

As a farmer, most likely that you would have had smoothbore fowler; like a modern-day shotgun. With a rifle, you can only fire round ball and that pretty much limits you to hunting deer, bear, and other large game. On the other hand, with a fowler, you could fire either round ball for deer hunting, or shot, for hunting small game, birds, and dealing with foxes and wolves.

If you were someone who lived in town, say a merchant or an artisan, then you might own a fowler or possibly no gun at all. While you may like to think of the minutemen at Lexington and Concord hiding behind trees and rock wall while they used their rifles to pick off the redcoats, the reality is that most of them, being farmers in the militia, would have carried fowlers.

A last option is a soldier. If you portray a soldier, then you would not be likely to carry either a rifle or a fowler but rather a military smoothbore called a musket. While these are similar to the fowlers, they are generally of larger caliber and built heavier to stand up to the hard military use.

A good quality gun – one you will be happy with for a long time – is not inexpensive. Since the type of gun you will need is dependent on the impression you develop, you will do best to hold off on buying your gun until you have decided on your impression and have most of your kit that you need for it.

12.  HAVE FUN!

If it stops being fun, you are doing something wrong. This is the number one rule of living history so let’s repeat it so you remember it. “If it stops being fun, you are doing something wrong!”

Sure, when you first start out it is new, maybe a bit confusing or stressful, but if it doesn’t get better after a couple of years then maybe you should talk to one of your friends about it. A lot of us have done this for 20+ years and we still enjoy it and have a great time every time we go out. There is no reason that you shouldn’t have a great time as well if this is what you really want to do.


Chuck H



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