On Saturday Tom and I had our first experience of “dressing out” at Kings Mountain National Military Park. “Dressing out” is dressing in costume and developing a first-person persona to interpret what you are doing. Tom was doing black powder training as a member of the Kings Mountain militia. I was learning how to cook over the campfire.
The militia were required to meet once a month to train together. When the militia gathered the wives and children would come along. For most of the frontier families, it was the only social gathering of the month. There would be music, dancing, preaching, games, and eating and talking around the campfire. The men marched and drilled together. The women tended the campfires and prepared their best dishes. All the men, ages 14 to 60, were required to come together to drill. So Tom and I had our first experience as a militia couple.
Tom’s militia outfit consists of an undershirt, kerchief, trousers, waistcoat, stockings, hunting frock, belt, buckled shoes and felted hat. Tom is a frontier farmer so he would have worn trousers instead of short breeches. He has to fire his rifle or musket right-handed, so he needs to turn up the right side of his hat so it doesn’t get in the way of carrying the gun in formation. In this picture he is carrying a Brown Bess Carbine.
As a frontier wife, I wore a shift, stockings, laced shoes, underpetticoat, pocket, petticoat (skirt), short gown, kerchief, apron, cape, and cap. The clothing would have been out of linen or wool that the frontier wife had raised and spun herself. Linen is made from flax and requires about 30 steps to become yarn that can be woven into cloth. Wool is a little less labor intensive, but after spinning some of my own yarn, I can understand why most people only had two sets of clothes. These clothes would be patched repeatedly until they were worn through. Most fabrics were a mix of linen and wool, often called linsey-woolsey.
You may notice in the pictures that I am wearing my hiking boots. I couldn’t find any shoes to fit so I will have to work on that before my next dressing out day. I also should be wearing a straw hat for protection and “fashion.” The women would wear their very best clothing for militia day, no matter how humble it was.
For the meal, I made an apple, sausage, onion, and molasses dish that cooked on a spider – a three-legged skillet set over coals. I also made a pork pot roast with potatoes, onions, and carrots that boiled over the fire. Pork was the common meat because the frontiersmen would brand their pigs, set them loose in the wild, and then catch them and butcher them in the fall. Chickens were for eggs and cows were for milk. You only had chicken or beef if the cow stopped giving milk or the chicken stopped laying eggs.
Our first day dressing out was fun and we learned a lot. Visitors to the battlefield were very interested in what we were doing and many asked to take our pictures! We will continue to develop our characters during the next two months and learn what is appropriate to the era. After all, we want to be the very best militia man and wife we can be!