By J.M. Wasko
Bring your whole family into the past this Saturday and Sunday for the final Living History Weekend of the summer! Sarah began her career as a historical reenactor of the American Revolution with her mother, Mandy, and younger brother, Matthew, when she was five years old. Sarah and her family are members of the Jersey Blues, a branch of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment. Originally based across the Garden State, the Jersey Blues now boast members from across the country; among them is Sarah who lives here in the Bronx.
This summer, Sarah and the Jersey Blues came to the New-York Historical Society to be a part of Living History Weekends. We recently sat down to chat with her about what it’s like to be a member of the Jersey Blues and her thoughts on being a historical reenactor.
Who are you portraying from the 18th century?
My mom and I don’t portray any specific characters from history, because we go to many different and unique reenactment sites, and there aren’t a lot of well-known women from the era that we’re able to accurately portray. Instead we represent the many women who lived during the era. We represent the women and girls who followed the Continental Army and supported its soldiers by cooking, sewing, tending wounds, moving supplies, emotionally supporting the troops, etc. On most occasions, we wear clothes that fit the role of someone who is doing all these things, clothes that are considered to be lower class. These garments include rough linens, simple, muted colors, and other pieces that were considered okay to get dirty around camp.
On the occasions that we occupy a museum, historical house, or somewhere more upscale, I might dress in finer clothes. This is mostly due to the age I am at now. In the colonial era, I would be of prime marrying age at 18-years-old, and mother would have spent more money on me to make sure I am presentable to society. This would have been done in the hopes that I might marry well and successfully raise my social class. Although we do not have specific personas, we show what many people would have done if they were able. My mother dresses up, as well if we are in a place that might not require so much work, but more socializing, as a woman of the middle or upper class might have done.
What do you do at historical reenactments?
While camp followers did not fight on the battlefield, their contributions were extraordinarily valuable. While myself, my mother, and other ladies are not running around with muskets, we do show the public the important role women played in the war. For example we sew, knit, prepare lunch, and do other things. On one occasion I remember sewing bandages, and on another I churned butter. Some ladies have specific occupations that they show off such as weaving or doing laundry. We often have blankets laid out with many items from the 18th century to show the public things such as sewing materials, cloth, tools, utensils, games, school supplies, and in the men’s case, weapons and soldiers’ supplies. While the men reenact the battles, we are either stationed near the tents at a safe distance or walking around. We are there to explain what is going on and to explain the war. We love answering questions! When I’m not sure of an answer myself I know someone near me can answer it, and I am always learning myself while teaching others.
What do you enjoy most about being a historical reenactor?
When I first started reenacting, around age five, I suppose I was mostly in it for the costumes and adventure. I was, and will always be, someone who loves dressing in pretty clothes and participating in “make-believe.” My younger brother and I loved being the center of attention. It helped us feel important and intelligent when we were able to answer questions and tell people things they didn’t know. I think this really helped contribute to developing my confidence. It was an opportunity to get outside and do something other kids didn’t get to do, which was a fabulous experience.
Now, as a teenager, I still love reenacting for the same reasons. As I’ve grown, it’s grown with me. I still enjoy the prospect of dressing up and going out for a day or two. I have expanded my knowledge of what we are doing and why, and I know quite a bit more about the American Revolution than I did as a young child. I always got excited when we started talking about the era in history class, because it’s my area of expertise. I love being able to talk to people and teach them what I know, especially because so few people know about life during the 18th century. I love seeing kids get excited about a costume or a musket or a simple wooden toy, and it’s great to see them involved and having a unique experience. Hands-on experiences are an effective teaching tool, and I believe that reenactments have the ability to inspire people, or in the very least, spark their interest. I can’t imagine how many strangers’ pictures I’m in, or how many memories I’ve helped create! It’s amazing and really fun.
We are so pleased that Sarah made the commute to the New-York Historical Society to get to know our families this summer! Sarah recently graduated from high school and will be attending the College at Brockport: State University of New York for Dance this fall. Congratulations, Sarah!
If you’d like to learn more about how the New-York Historical Society collaborates with young historians like Sarah, check out our Teen Historians blog and be sure to stop by their pop-up exhibit on Governors Island, Revolution: NYC & the War for Independence before it closes on September 27! In the meantime, don’t forget to take part in our remaining Living History Weekend at the New-York Historical Society!