Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Early to Mid 18th Century Woodsman & Woods Woman. Who & what they were.

The Early to Mid 18th Century Woodsman & Woods Woman. Who & what they were.

From here on I will refer to this persona as a Woodsrunner, which covers both genders. The woodsrunner was a person with certain skills that enabled them to survive with reasonable comfort in the woods & forests. Today we call this combination of skills & crafts woods lore. Not all woodsrunners came from the same mould, not all had that “brier in the eye” look. Daniel Boone by all accounts was a very skilled woodsman & a decent human being that would rather make friends with the woodland Indians than cause them any harm. But was Boone a typical woodsrunner of the time?

Our aim is to interpret the lifestyle of the common woodsrunner, but in doing this we also want to be as good as we can be in regard to woods lore knowledge. Even so, we are individuals, just as they were 300 years ago, & it makes sense that some of us may be better at some things than others are. So this is our quest then, to learn as much as we can & to practice these skills, this lifestyle as much as possible in the time that we have. Our quest in fact then is to become a woodsrunner.

So what did the woodsrunner wear? Well typically they wore a workman’s frock to protect their other clothing. Their clothing consisted of a shirt and breeches or a breechclout, a weskit/waistcoat, neckerchief, a broad brimmed felt hat with a low crown. Leather woodland Indian style leggings and woodland Indian moccasins. A leather belt went round the waist though this could also be a woollen sash. This belt or sash secured a hunting knife, a tomahawk/axe, possibly a flintlock pistol, and a belt bag for carrying flint, steel and tinderbox and possibly other items as well.
 In winter they may wear stockings, woollen mittens, a half-blanket or even a French capote or a frock coat. If it is very cold they may also wear two shirts or a woollen shirt, and two weskits. Whatever it takes to stay warm.

There is no evidence to show that they ever carried more than one blanket, summer or winter. But the woodsrunner knows how to stay warm with only one blanket. Rolled up in my blanket I have a spare woollen weskit, a woollen shirt, and a woollen Monmouth cap. These items of clothing are for wearing on cold nights.

The woodsrunner could take a variety of jobs that they were well qualified for. Militia duty fell to every male between 16 and 60 years of age. Ann Bailey was also known to accompany the militia. Rangers as they were called were hired to range the surrounding country round settlements, looking for sign of any enemy. Couriers, hunters, scouts, trappers, all needed to be skilled woodsrunners. Even traders such as Mr and Mrs Pentry were woodsrunners. But many were also farmers and land owners like Boone.

Here are some skills that a typical woodsrunner might be expected to know:

• 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
• Sewing
• Axe and tomahawk helve making
• Fishing
• Hunting
• Evasion
• Tracking
• Reading sign
• Woods lore
• Navigation
• 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
• Scouting
• Basic first aid

Here is a list of equipment that I carry on a long trip:

• .60 cal/20 gauge fusil. 42 inch barrel.
• Shot pouch and contents.
• Powder horn.
• Butcher/Hunting knife.
• Legging knife.
• Clasp knife.
• Tomahawk.
• Tinderbox.
• Belt pouch.
• Fishing lines in brass container.
• Two snares.
• Gunpowder wallet (contains spare fungus tinder at present).
• Knapsack.
• Ball mould and swan shot mould.
• Lead ladle.
• Cup.
• Trade kettle.
• Medical pouch.
• Housewife.
• Piece of soap and a broken ivory comb.
• Dried foods in bags.
• Wooden spoon.
• Gun tools and spare springs.
• Compass.
• Whet stone.
• Oilcloth.
• One blanket (Monmouth cap, spare wool weskit and wool shirt rolled inside blanket).
• Leather costrel.


Gorges Smythe said...

Good post!

Keith said...

Thank you Gorges. It is difficult to keep coming up with stuff. Still I guess it keeps my brain working!
Regards, Keith.

Martin said...

Hi Loup!

Thanks for sharing the list and the thoughts behind what you carry. It give me the chance to compare and contrast it with the stuff I lug around and see if there is a way to lighten the load!

I noticed you listed a pistol. I have found that a second "quick shot" can come in handy from time to time. Where do you carry yours? What kinds of load do you use in it? How do you clean and maintain yours?

All The Best,


Keith said...

Sorry Martin, wrong list! I do carry everything else, but not the pistol. This list was a reccomendation from another article I wrote. I did carry a pistol in the Territory many years ago though, & simply carried it stuck under my belt. I found this to be the safest place. Pistols are prohibited here now in NSW, unless one belongs to a pistol club, & then you can only use one on the club range.


Norsk Ridder said...

Many thanks Keith for this very informativ post which helps me a lot. I'm still in the process of making my first woodrunner outfit. Since it could be very cold and rainy here in Norway I decided to make a capote from a HBC blanket, but didn't know if it is period correct. Your post gave me the answer. :)

Buzzard said...

Probably the best article I've read on a blog in months, superb!! Thankyou.

Keith said...

Thank you both for your comments, much appreciated.
Regards, Keith.

Keith said...

Norsk. There are many items that various personas may own & use, but it depends on where they are from & what period they are in. A French woodsrunner is more likely to wear a capote than an Englishman, but on the other hand he could have taken it from a dead French man, or he could have traded for it. He may have a French or Indian wife who made him a capote. So long as you research & make sure it is possible, no problem.
Using a Hudson Bay blanket may depend on the date of the particular style, for instance if it has stripes, was it available in your chosen period? How did your persona get this blanket? etc, etc.

Anonymous said...

Hi Keith, I've been working on a generic New England Militia Impression for the last few months. I'm considering what to do for an oil cloth, I haven't really found any information on 18th century oil cloths. I'm thinking linen canvas painted with a linseed concoction. Any suggestions?

Keith said...

"I'm thinking linen canvas painted with a linseed concoction. Any suggestions?"

Lindseed oil will aventually rot the canvas due to the acid content. You can add a brown coloured oil base paint to nuetralise the acid.
This type of oil cloth can be heavy, & sticky.
A friend of mine purchsed some "dry as a bone" stockman's coat material & gave it to me as a present, & I am still using it. Before that I was using a plane light cotton canvas with no waterproofing & it worked well. My younger son has it now.
I did use a lindseed oil cloth for many years, & repaired the tears as they appeared. Personally, I recommend you use a plain canvas or one like I use. Even in a heavier material it is not likely to weigh more than a lindseed oil one. My friend purchased the material from a lady at a market, so I can't say where you can get the "dry-as-a-bone" one from. Perhaps if you contact the manufacturers.
Regards, Keith.