WALLINGFORD — If someone driving through downtown Sunday afternoon thought that visitors from the year 1775 appeared on South Main Street, well, they’d be right.
The Lebanon Towne Militia, a group of colonial re-enactors, took over the Franklin Johnson Mansion to offer a perspective on the life and times of the people who lived through the Revolutionary War. The event was presented as part of the Wallingford Historic Preservation Trust’s “Sundays in the Yard” series, taking place throughout the summer.
Dina Rawling, a board member with the trust and the organizer of the event, hoped that by throwing open the mansion’s doors in such an interesting manner, they could highlight the Wallingford Silver Museum, located in the basement of the house.
“We want them to see this beautiful house,” she said.
Costumed members of the living history group plied their respective 18th century trades throughout the 19th century house. Spinners and basket weavers worked on the front porch. A dollmaker worked up on the third floor. However, no Revolutionary War demonstration would be complete without a few examples of the martial life.
Killingly resident Kenneth Giella portrayed Major James Clark, commander of the original Lebanon militia, which took the battlefield against the British at Breed’s Hill in 1775. A group of 178 soldiers marched 140 miles and fought on the third day of the battle.
“They got pushed back because they ran out of powder and shot,” Giella said.
They served in Boston until December of that year, Giella said, and then most of the men returned to their farms.
“George Washington didn’t like militias, New England specifically, because we were a little grubby. He was a proper Virginia gentleman,” Giella said.
Ron Gresl stood on the lawn of the mansion, occasionally firing off his nine pound Brown Bess musket, a smoothbore weapon. He quickly bit open a small paper cartridge, sprinkled a bit of black gunpowder in the pan, then dumped the remainder down the barrel. A militiaman would’ve then used a ramrod to tamp down the paper, the ball, and the gunpowder in the barrel.
However, because of the musket’s lack of range, most Revolutionary War conflict took place in close proximity, both sides wielding fierce three sided bayonets, a blade later outlawed by the Geneva Conventions, he said.
“A lot more colonials were killed by bayonet,” he said.
Peter Johnson, portraying the company surgeon, spoke about the aftermath of war. If a bullet shattered bone, the limb would have to be amputated in three to five minutes because of the lack of anesthetic. A head injury would require trepanning to alleviate the pressure. Picture a large metal bore screwed into the skull and you’ve got the idea. And no matter what, if the wound didn't get you, the infection did.
“Basically if you came to me I did one of four things: purge, puke, blister, or bleed,” Johnson said, describing what strategies 18th century doctors had at their disposal. “You had something in you, and they had to get it out.”
But not everything about the 18th century was so gruesome. Denise Gresl, Ron's wife, sat in the dining room working a modern loom. Weaving using a loom is an intricate and labor intensive process. Simply stringing the warp threads — think long strands running vertically — through the wire mechanism known as the heddle can take up to six hours.
“They probably threaded a lot more, yards and yards and yards of material,” she said, noting that 80 percent of a woman’s work in the colonial period dealt with textiles in some manner.
She worked the loom briskly, weaving the shuttle back and forth, using her feet to manipulate the device, a lot of effort to make a small kitchen towel. She displayed a bit of her other work — colorful and intricate patterns, sturdy, and somehow personal.
“It’s a solitary craft where you have to stop and think,” she said. “When you are doing it, you can sit and contemplate. And when you are done, you have something pretty.
“I think everything is just too fast these days,” she added. “Everyone always asks me how long it takes. It’s a hobby, who cares how long it takes?”
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