Colonial Settlers Travel 3. The Skills Needed.
The more skills you have, the less equipment you need be dependant on. But what about the skills required to rebuild your life? You have come from a community where item are available to you, be it beg, borrow or steal. But in this new life you have only what you are able to carry with you on your backs or possibly by horse or cattle. You have no furniture, you have no house. You construct a shelter of some description whilst you think on how you can build something better, but what do you sit on, what do you sleep on? How will you construct your fireplace so you can heat water & cook meals?
Even constructing the shelter must have been daunting for these ex town dwellers, let alone having to make stools to sit on, plus stails for rakes & hoes, and helves for axes, mattocks & picks. Had they ever used a felling axe? I doubt it, but there were trades skills that some may have had that would have been a great help in setting up a new home or settlement.
A carpenter may not know how to make stails & helves, but he does know how to use tools. It is reasonable I think to assume that such a person would take some basic tools with him. A seamstress would find plenty of work making & repairing clothes. She would have little to no experience working with leather for clothing, but she does have to necessary skills & will be able to work it out. Needles & thread are bound to have been included in the list of equipment & tools. It goes without saying that a Blacksmith would have been very welcome.
Do not dismiss the skills possessed by the average person, these skills are often discounted but actually count for a lot. Think of all the chores that the average housewife has to do in the running of her home, be it ever so primitive. The labourer too is often gifted with the knack of working things out for himself/herself, & is no stranger to hard work. A poacher from the old country would find his position elevated considerably in this New World. To him/her would fall the job of hunting for food & setting up a trap line for meat & furs. Shop keepers would have organisational skills much needed in a new community, & a farmer or gardener would be beyond price where seed has to be planted for food, & as soon as possible.
In the first of these articles I mentioned that a woodsman might accompany these new settlers, of course this woodsman may be a forester or game keeper from the old country, but he will have certain skills that will be very useful in this new place. A woodsman from the old country will know animals in general, & many in particular if not the new ones that live in these woods. He has no doubt trapped rabbit & skinned & dressed it & probably tanned the skin. He will have a knack of making & fixing things because in the old country he would have lived in the woods, as would his wife & children. To these people many of the chores here will not be strangers. He will know how to make stails & helves, how to make charcoal. He will have met with the bodgers in the forests & learnt the basics of building shelters & making chairs. He may even know how to construct a spring lath as I am sure the carpenter will also.
In many respects these people were better equipped for life in a new environment that people are today, after all, how many trades people do you know that still do everything by hand? This I guess is where those of us who practice 18th century living history have the advantage, because we practice many if not all of these skills & we only use hand tools to accomplish these tasks. For us it would be second nature to have to live this way if ever we found ourselves in the situation of having to leave our homes & live long term in the wilderness. Something for modern survivalists to think about.
So what are the basic skills of a woodsrunner (man or woman)? Well as I said before, there are woodsrunners & there are woodsrunners, not all are or were of the same calibre, & even some of the best may not have possessed all of the skills that some living historians have. But woodsrunners by their very nature had to be self-reliant. They may not have been very good at some of the skills, but they did have to know enough to make do. Boone’s Father was a Cymro/Welsh weaver, so he may have known the basics at least of weaving. A simple loom is easy to make from bush sticks, & finger weaving only requires one stick to hold the threads, & one stick to use as a shuttle. Thus he may have been able to produce his own equipment straps & garters. Let us take a look at some of these skills:
This is a list of basic skills in which I personally would expect an 18th century woodsman or woods-woman to have some experience with.
• Flint & steel fire lighting
• Wet weather fire lighting
• Fire-bow fire lighting
• Flintlock fire lighting
• Flintlock use, service & repair
• Field dressing & butchering game
• Blade sharpening
• Tomahawk throwing
• Making rawhide
• Brain tanning
• Primitive shelter construction
• How to stay warm in winter with only one blanket
• Cordage manufacture
• Moccasin construction and repair
• Axe and tomahawk helve making
• Reading sign
• Woods lore
• Primitive trap construction & trapping
• Open fire cooking
• Fireplace construction
• Clothing manufacture
• Drying meat & other foods
• Knowledge of plant tinders & preparation
• Knowledge of native foods & preparation
• Basic first aid
For these woodsrunners moving home in the wilderness was not a problem outside of the dangers involved. They knew what tools were needed, & many of these tools they carried with them all the time. The everyday chores & jobs were second nature to them as they had spent a good deal of their lives living in the woods & farming at the same time. Boone moved several times, every time too many people moved into his area, he would take his family & move on.
"I noticed particularly, one family of about 12 in number. The man carried an axe and a gun on his shoulders. The Wife, the rim of a spinning wheel in one hand, and a loaf of bread in the other. Several little boys and girls, each with a bundle, according to their size Two poor horses, each heavily loaded with some poor necessities. On the top of the baggage of one, was an infant rocked to sleep in a kind of wicker cage, lashed securely to the horse. A cow formed one of the company ,and she was destined to bear her proportion of service - a bed cord was wound around her horns and a bag of meal on her back. They were not only patient, but cheerful and pleased with themselves with the expectation of seeing happy days beyond the mountains" Diary of Presbyterian Rev. David McClure. 18th century.
This quote above gives a very good description of who carries what on the trail. My first instinct was to equip everyone much the same, so that they are all self-sufficient & self-reliant. But obviously this won’t work. There are other tools to be carried, extra lead & powder, water, food, & seed for planting. Members can’t be expected to carry their own equipment plus extras. So where there is a couple, one must be self-sufficient for both of them, if that makes sense. He or she must carry the gun, must carry the shelter for both of them. Each could carry their own blanket, but in general family members need to carry the extras as we can see in the quote above. So the larger the group, the safer you are, & the better prepared you are for long term wilderness living.
It has been said that too many in a group could cause problems, but I think this is a modern way of looking at it. They are assuming that only one person is in charge of the whole group. That only one person is to make the decisions in regard to everyone’s duties. I think that there may be one leader in such a group, but families are also a separate group in themselves. Ultimately there will have to be a group of leaders/advisors for the whole community. A council; & I think it would be important to form a militia from group if it was large enough to do so.
When you think about it this is the way of the woodland Indians. The men generally carry only the basics & the weapons, & the women & children are the burden carriers. This is done for security, & is not a matter of superiority.