Friday, 11 October 2013

18th Century Wilderness Living. Experimental Archaeology.

18th Century Wilderness Living. Experimental Archaeology.

The question that is always on people’s minds is “what do I carry”. To answer this question you must first ask yourself what is my persona, and what do I do in daily life. Rarely will you find a period list showing the equipment, tools and supplies carried by a woodsman. There are some diaries of travelers and settlers but these still leave a lot of grey areas, a lot of questions unanswered.
Boone was a hunter first and a farmer second. He did leave home for up to a year at a time, but we don’t know for sure where he was in that time or whether or not he had contact with other people in that time. His long hunts suggest that he did not go far, as his brother was able to return to the settlements for more supplies and horses to carry back the deer skins from that hunt.
What I am more interested in is how did people back then survive in the wilderness long term. What did they need to carry with them knowing that there were no trading posts or settlements where they were going, and they were going too far from the settlements to be able to return on any regular basis?
The only way I can find the information I want is to actually go into the woods and see what it takes to live comfortably, not comfort as we know at home, but relative comfort under primitive conditions. Most, if not all of the gear we carry is for comfort of living, that and the fact that much of it is traditionally what our persona would have owned and carried, we are after all Living Historians first, and survivalists second. We will not compromise authenticity in any way, unless our life should depend on it.
So let’s look at the life of a woodsman who is searching for somewhere in the wilderness to settle, possibly with others, maybe with family, but maybe alone. What do we need to survive in the wilderness with relative comfort? First let us make a list of the things we will need to do whilst in the wilderness, and against this list mark down what tools we will need to accomplish this chore:
·         Travel: The correct clothing and footwear. Spare moccasins and perhaps some leather to repair worn out moccasins.

·         Shelter: We do not want to have to construct a brush shelter every night, indeed we may not need a shelter at all, but when it is raining or snowing, then a wise traveller will carry a piece of oilcloth to keep him/her dry.
·         Fire: Fire may not always be needed, but being able to make fire is of the utmost importance in the wilderness. So we need flint, steel and tinderbox, and perhaps a fire-bag to keep these in along with some spare tinder and kindling.

·         Drinking: We will need to keep drinking along the way or we will get sick. We can follow a river or other water course as much as we are able, but we can not be sure of having this water source at all times. So it is a good idea to carry a water bottle or canteen.

·         Eating: We will need food. Some of this will be supplied by dry goods that we will carry with us, but there will also be a need to hunt and or trap along the way. We can carry dried meat for hard times, but we need to replace this supply at every possible opportunity. To do this we will need a good flintlock gun, a shot pouch and the normal contents, plus spare lead, spare gunpowder, a powder horn and tools to keep this gun in working order. We may need to consider carrying spare lock parts or a spare lock. We will need a lead ladle and ball moulds so we can remould spent lead that we retrieve from shot game. We will need a hunting knife, a clasp knife, possibly a third spare knife and a tomahawk.

We will need to carry some snares for small game and possibly some light rope for larger game and for hanging that game.
·         Sleeping: We will need a good wool blanket and the oilcloth we spoke of earlier.
·         Washing: Having soap to use is a luxury, but one we can afford, at least for a while. So we will carry a piece of soap and a hair comb to stop our hair from becoming unmanageable.

·         Cooking: We can quite easily manage to cook meat without a kettle, but a kettle once again makes life just a little bit easier and it gives us more food options. So we will carry a small trade kettle. You may also wish to carry a tin cup for hot drinks.

·         Semi permanent to permanent shelter construction: Much work can be done with the tomahawk/trade axe, but for heavier cutting jobs a light half-axe would be very useful. Shelters can be secured with cordage made from plant fibres, but a more permanent solution is to use wooden pegs. To secure a shelter with wooden pegs we need to make holes, and using an auger is the best way of accomplishing that task.
Small auger and gimlet.
Larger auger.

·         Repairing and replacing clothing: With all clothing repairs and manufacture we will need needles and thread. These too can be made, but it is much easier and simpler to carry a housewife sewing kit. This will contain spare bone buttons, linen thread, some beeswax, needles and possibly some pins. I also carry some sinew and strips of rawhide. Aside from the housewife we will also need an awl.
Two awls with a wooden sheath wrapped in light linen waxed thread.

·         Fishing: Fishing is another source of food, and something we should do at every opportunity. Fish too can be dried to eat later or along the trail. So we will need some fishing tackle. This should consist of lines and hooks in its basic form, and a container to secure these items. Weights and floats are easily made but you may wish to carry these also.

·         Sharpening blades: Your knives and your tomahawk will need sharpening from time to time, so you will need to carry a whetstone and a metal file.

Now as you can see from this list above, these are all common needs and chores that need to be carried out. The list of items needed to accomplish these tasks may seem long, but really there is no way around this. You could certainly save some weight here and there, but not without compromising a certain amount of comfort. Wilderness living is hard at best, we do not want to make it any harder than it already is.

Our needs for wilderness living obviously go even further that this basic list. There will be ground to prepare for growing crops, perhaps a need to spin and weave. Splitting rails for fencing will require a felling axe and so the list goes on. What you have to decide, is how much of this do you carry? How much do you make on site and what will you need to enable you to make it? If there are other people travelling with you, what do they need to carry? Do they too need to be self-reliant as well as carrying other tools and supplies?

I hope this has given you something to think about, and I welcome any ideas, questions or thoughts you may have on 18th century wilderness living and travel.
Take care out there.
Regards, Keith.
Cotton, linen and leather food bags with a rum bottle and a small bottle for containing iodine.
Shot pouch and contents.
One of four leather gunpowder bags that the author uses to carry spare gunpowder.
The author's flintlock fusil.
Tools and spare lock parts.
Turn screw and screw.


Gorges Smythe said...

Just a thought - files have been around for a long time, but they eventually wear out, and they're very breakable. I would think two stones, perhaps a large and a small, would be better; even augers can be sharpened with proper stones, though THEY would be breakable, too.

Keith H. Burgess said...

Good thought Gorges. Then again, stones weigh more than a file, & files do last quite a while. Where as stones can also be found in river beds & creeks.

Bronwyn Williams said...

Hi Keith, a very interesting read and great photographs. After my dad passed away my brother found some similar items such as the "awls" they were funny enough rapped in a cloth with string and a gum nut on the end tired around the top, when I saw your photo it reminded me of them.Dad also left my brother a carpenters axe which has been passed down through generations, it was also wrapped in cloth with leather bound around the end of the handle. I must ask my brother where they are now. My dad had tools that he used to make up himself, he was a carpenter from the age of 16 till 54yrs of age.
Kind regards

Keith H. Burgess said...

Sounds like your Father would have been a grand chap to know & talk too. So many skills being lost these days. I hope the axe & the awls are still being kept safe.
Good to hear from you Bron.
Regards, Keith.

Bardie said...

That looks heavy for trekking. As a native New Englander who started trekking in the Berkshires in the 60s I think you'd want to pare the weight down by quite a bit. Bedroll/shelter/fishskin and heavy items would be rolled and slung over the shoulder on a tumpline, and everything else carried in a haversack, as backpacks weren't in use until the Revolution and not common until well after. Powder in leather bags? Rather use a second horn, preferably a flat horn to better fit in a haversack - no damp problems. No real need for a larger axe, but 25-30 feet of 1/4" hemp line would be a handy addition. Venison jerky and parched corn for food, and a quart size copper or tin boiler weighs a lot less than a brass kettle. Likewise a copper or tin canteen instead of the leather water bottle, and no woodsman would ever carry alcohol if he wanted to keep his hair in the wilderness, and no glass containers! If you fall, they will shatter, and you'll have a dangerous mess in your pack...horn or tin containers. If you're in a group the heavy items can be split between trekkers, but a solo needs to travel light to travel well.

Keith H. Burgess said...

research everything very carefully Bardie. This may not seem sensible to you, but it is the way it was done. Glass bottles were used & reused. Knapsacks were in use way back before the 18th century.This is well documented.
I have been doing this for 40 years myself Bardie. In some instances I will favour safety over authenticity. Rum was used & carried by some. Do not assume that just because one has rum, one is a drunk. Yes gunpowder was carried in bags, also documented.
I don't know who has been giving you this information Bardie, but I can assure you they are wrong.Copper & tin boilers were not available in the mid 18th century, these are 19th century.
Regards, Keith.