Where Do I start?Where do you start in 18th century living history? Well I suppose much depends on the reason you want to get into it in the first place. Regardless of your gender, you may have multiple reasons. What was the first thing that attracted you to 18th century living history? For me I think it was the idea of frontier living & self-reliance. Outside of living history or historical trekking this does not really exist. It died sometime in the 19th century, when all the frontiers on earth had been conquered, when new gadgets came along to make life easier, & they are still being invented, all the time, & newbies no longer really know what a frontier was. Kids heroes are no longer Davy Crocket or Robin Hood, now they have super heroes who’s skills they can never hope to obtain except in their imagination or in roll playing games with pencil & paper.
But I am older, & I can still remember. I remember that young men could still go to Canada & work for the Hudson Bay Company when I was a kid. I can remember at the age of 5 years sitting in my parent’s garden with a camp fire cooking meat hanging on hooks. I remember my first knife, my first axe, & my first gun. The gun came after my first real wood bow.
So let us assume you were drawn to 18th century living history for much the same reasons as I, plus because you have an interest in history. Some people are put off by the expense, but really the cost of this activity is in your hands. You can either make your own clothing as best you can, & collect second hand equipment & tools, or you can purchase items off the shelf or even have them custom made. Personally I have never regretted making my own clothing when I started. It did not turn out so well, but I learnt a lot & I enjoyed doing it.
So let us start by kitting you out for 18th century camping. For me this is the fun part. Getting away from civilisation & camping in the woods. If you have to fit in with others in a group, then the first items of clothing I recommend are the low crown wide brimmed felt hat, & a frock. The frock will cover all manner of sins such as a modern shirt & trousers, & it is relatively easy to make. If the weather is cold, then get a blanket. This can be worn during the day as clothing, & as bedding at night. Steer away from light pastel colours if you can, but if all you can find is pink, then get it & dye it. Wear what ever you have on your feet until you can make yourself some moccasins.
This is an English moreland frock, just like an oversized shirt of the period.
A French frock, much the same. This one has no cuffs, but again it is long & covers all.
These are the real important items, & there are three major ones to get first. (1) flint, steel & tinderbox, (2) a good hunting knife, & (3) an axe or tomahawk. I will add a fourth for when the weather is wet, (4) an oil cloth or cotton canvas tarpaulin. This does not have to be large, so long as it is big enough to keep you dry when you use it as the roof of your shelter.Your steel can be a piece of broken metal file. If you don’t have a fire in the house you can use, then simply make a camp fire outside. If you heat your metal file to a cherry red or hotter, then bury it in the ashes so it will cool slowly, you can cut & file it when it is cool enough to touch. File the teeth off the file on both edges, & cut it too length if needs be. You do not need or want a full length file.
When you have filed both edges smooth, reheat to cherry red, & cool quickly in water. This will reharden the carbon steel & you will be able to strike sparks from its smooth edges. For a stone you can use flint, agate, chert, quartz, or a similar hard piece of rock so long as it has a sharp edge.
A chunk of flint & a musket flint.
For a tinderbox you can use a tobacco tin or lolly tin until you can find something better.
For a knife, all you need is a good butcher knife. The butcher knife was the most popular & most frequently used blade by woodsmen & woodswomen in the 18th century. This blade is not for cutting wood, it is for skinning, butchering, eating with & self-defence. Keep it sharp, and make a good sheath for it from a second hand shoulder bag bought at the op-shop. Check out the second hand shops & markets for your knife. You are looking for an old one with pins securing the handle, not rivets, though you can always make yourself a new handle & make the pins out of nails.
One of these I found at the second hand shop for $6, the other cost me $14 at the market in Armidale. Both good knives.
There are a variety of small axes & hatchets to be found in the second hand shops. You want something light. You can make a new helve if needs be. You can even treat the hatchet head the same as the metal file, & cut it and shape it into a tomahawk head if you wish.
This axe I made from a heavier hatchet head. It has a round to oval eye & needs no wedge to secure the helve. I just used a camp fire to heat the head.
To start you can carry your billy tied to your blanket roll slung on your back & for a water canteen you can cover a glass wine bottle in a piece of wool blanketing, though you may need more than one. Just be careful using a glass bottle, they are fairly strong, but you would not want to trip and fall on the bottle on rocks, so take care. If you have something other than glass, use it. Now all you need is some plant tinder for your tinderbox, & you are ready to go.
This is an original glass costrel with a covering of leather. The top is broken, but would have included lugs to which a carry strap was attached.