Monday, September 24, 2012

October 2012 Events

(latest first)

Saturday, October 13, 2012
    9 am to 4 pm

Downingtown Friends Meeting Fall Festival
Downingtown Friends Meeting
800 E. Lancaster Ave. 
Downingtown, PA 19335

Colonial Revelers will sing a concert of 18th century music at noon. Besides the music on the mainstage, the Festival offers delicious foods, children's activities, plants, crafts, and white-elephant sales, all on the grounds of this beautiful historic meeting house. At 1:30 is the annual authentic reenactment of an 1806 Quaker wedding.

Admission is free and so is the parking, across the street.  For more information and directions, go to Downingtown Friend's Festival page.


Saturday, October 6, 2012
    10 am to 4 pm

Newlin Grist Mill Fall Harvest Festival
Newlin Grist Mill
219 South Cheyney Rd (Routes 1 and 322)
Glen Mills, PA 19342

Colonial Revelers will perform at 11 am and 1 pm. In between you can listen to period harp and mandolin music as you stroll around the grounds, meeting over 20 living history demonstrators plying colonial crafts and trades such as spinning, blacksmithing, brick making, and weaving. Colonial meals will be prepared over open hearths and you can watch the mill in action.

This event is free of charge. Go to Newlin Mill's site for more information and directions.

Friday, September 14, 2012

September 2012 Events

(latest first)

Saturday, September 22, 2012
    9 am to 5 pm

Montgomery County History Fair
Augustus Lutheran Church
717 West Main St.
Trappe, PA

Colonial Revelers, in costume, will provide music for this unique living history experience. More than 30 historical societies, living history and civic organizations will be present, plus food and other vendors.

For more information, go to the W.S. Hancock Society web page.


Sunday, September 16, 2012   9:30 am to 11 am
St. Thomas Church History Day
St. Thomas Church, Whitemarsh
Bethlehem Pike and Camp Hill  Rds
Fort Washington, PA

Colonial Revelers will sing at the end of the 9:30 service, then downstairs for a signing of a book about the church's history.

For more info, go to St. Thomas's site.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

We Love A Parade

" passing thro' the City...great attention given by the officers to see that the men carry their arms well, and are made to appear as decent as circumstances will admit."
Washington's orders, Aug. 23, 1777
On August 24, 1777, Front Street in Philadelphia was the site of a Grand Parade of the Continental Army. The troops were on their way south, to defend the city from the British who were landing along the Chesapeake. Washington decided to take advantage of the situation to flaunt his troops, hoping to win support from the citizens. He took the precaution of sending some of the sutlers and less reputable camp followers (i.e. whores) down to Delaware by another route.

The word "parade"--coined in the 17th century--originally meant to prepare and was used in a military context. Parade grounds were places for troops to practice maneuvers and eventually to display the troops abilities to superior officers and important visitors. This sort of formal, ceremonial marching came to be known in itself as a parade. If the troops were cavalry, it was called a cavalcade.

In the 18th century, "parades" were always military. Civilians held processions or promenades, for weddings, funerals, religious feasts, and holidays like May Day.

By the mid-19th century, the distinctions began to fade. After the Civil War, veterans groups and Ladies Auxiliaries joined military parades held in cities and towns for holidays. Civic bands joined in, then Temperance Leagues, Scout troops, school bands, athletes and cheerleaders. As towns acquired fancy new equipment for their fire and police departments, they'd shine them up to show off to the spectators. And, naturally, all the local politicians would be in attendance, dressed up in their best and waving flags.

Parade floats supposedly got their start in the Middle Ages, when traveling passion plays put their scenery on horse wagons. The name "float" came from the decorated barges on the Seine during the Lord Mayor's Show, a public holiday in London. And, of course, traveling circuses also used floats to arouse interest in their shows. After World War II, even the military used floats, topped by large cannons and missiles.

 This past July 4th, we in Colonial Revelers walked in our first parade. In front of us were County Sheriff Department vehicles. Behind were kids from the local Tai Kwan Do school. The parade included all the traditional participants--high school band, church groups, fire trucks--but also motorcycle clubs, and even a paranormal investigation team.

The best thing about the parade were all the spectators, people from all races, religions and walks of life, all smiling, cheering and waving American flags. We discovered that day that the parade in America had evolved into something that brought everyone together.

Looking forward to next year.

Your obedient servants,

Monday, April 23, 2012

Upcoming Events

for the end of April, beginning of May (latest one first):

Saturday, May 5, 2012    11:25-11:55 am
Norristown Arts Hill Festival
Main Stage
Dekalb and Main Sts.
Norristown, PA 19401

Colonial Revelers will perform songs of early America in costume.

The Norristown Arts Hill Festival goes from 10 am to 5 pm and includes performers in theater, dance, poetry, and all kinds of music. Vendors will be on hand selling food, crafts, and arts-related items. For info, go to


Thursday, April 26, 2012     5:15-6 pm
Montgomery County-Norristown Public Library

Powell and Swede Sts.
Norristown, PA 19401

Colonial Revelers will perform as people gather for the library's One Book-One Norristown event, with author Jerry Spinelli, which will begin at 6 pm. Come early to hear us sing songs popular in the year of Norristown's founding, 1812.

Visit the library website for more info:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Washington, the Father of Election Freebies

William Hogarth's "An Election Entertainment"
George Washington entered his first election campaign in 1755, when he ran for a seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses. He lost. Just as well, because he went on to serve in the French and Indian War. He didn't exactly distinguish himself, but he learned the ways of command, and that came in handy during the Revolution.

In 1757, he decided to run for office again. This time he tried something different. To the polling booth in his district, he brought "a barrel of punch, 35 gals. of wine, 43 gals. of strong cider and dinner." It cost him 39 pounds, 6 shillings (about $6500 in today's money).

He won the election.

But the Virginia Assembly of 1699 had passed a law forbidding candidates from giving voters "money, meat, drink, or provisions"  for the purpose of procuring votes. As a result of Washington's polling place buffet, the House of Burgesses further shored up the old rule by saying candidates could be disqualified for such acts.

Nevertheless, a lot of his fellow politicians took note of Washington's success and argued against the rule. At the time, voters (i.e. men who owned property) were required to travel to their seats of government to vote, sometimes a journey of more than one day. Thomas Jefferson argued that voters who made the trip arrived tired and hungry. And that free refreshments might encourage others to do their civic duty as well.

Some states still have laws on their books against "voter bribery." Wisconsin has a law that a candidate or anyone campaigning for the candidate may not give voters anything that costs more than one dollar. Yet politicians there ignore this law all the time, most recently Governor Romney and US Rep Paul Ryan when they handed out sub sandwiches in excess of $3 each before the last primary.

So we can thank our forefathers for starting this tradition, and the Virginia House of Burgesses for never really enforcing it.

Your servants,

Monday, March 12, 2012

The American Confederation

"The better to secure and perpetuate mutual friendship and intercourse among the people of the different states in this union, the free inhabitants of each of these states, paupers, vagabonds and fugitives from justice excepted, shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several states..."

In March of 1781, the Articles of Confederation were adopted, the first document seeking to control the chaos of a king-less government. The Articles were adopted by the Continental Congress in 1777, but took more than 3 years for the states to approve. Our first clue that democracy would be a slow process.

The Articles mostly stated that the states would run themselves as nearly separate countries. Only certain interstate issues were covered, such as the rights of citizens to cross into and trade with other states. From the quote above, we see that all free inhabitants were entitled to all privileges and immunities, unless you were a slave, indentured servant, fugitive, vagabond, or poor. Then again, that's more rights than granted by the original Constitution. Yet, since the Articles said that states ran themselves, the states themselves could revoke these rights anytime they wished. The Articles provided for no Federal Government, so no enforcement of the document was possible. The Articles had no real teeth.

In May of 1787, the states sent representatives to Philadelphia with the intention of rewriting and fixing the Articles of Confederation. Within six weeks, the convention had decided to scrap the document and draw up another, completely reorganizing the government. This new document, of course, became the United States Constitution. This time, approval was fairly quick. Ratification took place in June of 1788.

Still, it took nearly a year for enough representatives to make their way to New York City (then the national capital) to reach a quorum in the House. Their first session began, appropriately, April 1, 1789. The Senate was slower. By April 6, only 9 of 22 senators were present. This didn't stop them from voting in a president, though. Luckily, they picked George Washington.

Your obedient servants,

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Happy Birthday, General Washington!

Ask any school child (at least, those who understand the difference between President's Day and presidents' birthdays) and you'll be told Washington was born on February 22nd.  Not true. He was actually born on February 11th.

During the Renaissance, astronomers throughout Europe discovered that the Julian calendar being used was inaccurate. Pope Gregory was finally persuaded to made adjustments, and most nations switched to the new Gregorian calendar in the 1500s. England did not.

By 1752, not only did this discrepancy make England and its colonies look hopelessly backward, it created havoc with trade relations, so King George II brought his country up to date by eliminating 11 days from the calendar. September 2, 1752 was followed by September 14, 1752. Many Britains objected to this, and in fact, it became THE major issue for the elections of 1754, with the Tory slogan "Give Back Our 11 Days!"

So, although Washington observed his 30th birthday on February 11, 1752, he would have observed his 31st birthday on February 22, 1753.

This year, Colonial Revelers will celebrate the General's birthday, along with Valley Forge National Historical Park, on President's Day. Bring your family to join us for revelry, fun activities, and free cake.

When: Monday, Februrary 20, 2012
                   10 am to 1 pm
Where: Valley Forge Welcome Center
             Route 23, Valley Forge, PA

Your servants,

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

You Couldn't Drink the Water, or Could You?

"Take counsel in wine, but resolve afterwards in water."
Poor Richard's Almanac, 1733

Singing colonial drinking songs often leads to questions and discussions of the drinking habits of 18th century Americans, who consumed an incredible amount of beer, wine and spirits. So much so that respected persons of the time, such as Benjamin Rush and Ben Franklin, began to preach the virtues of temperance.

Beer was the everyday drink, both strong (full-strength) and small (watered down). Even children were given small beer. The traditional answer as to why this was done is "The water wasn't safe."

Lately I've heard some historians claim this is balderdash, that one reason colonists headed for America in the first place were reports of how clean the streams and rivers were. Colonial settlers didn't know about bacteria, per se, but they did often boil water and scald milk before ingestion, especially if the
liquid seemed "befouled" (smelled bad or was oddly colored or had obvious slime).

So why exactly wouldn't the water be safe? Same reason as today. Industrial pollution.

As small towns and settlements sprung up along creeks and rivers, so did mills and other businesses. Anyone who needed water or water power for his trade built as close to the streams as possible. This included grist, paper, and textile mills, tanners, blacksmiths, iron furnaces, forges, saw mills, and carpenters. All of them created waste products and many of those wastes were returned to the waterway. The water could contain  lime, lye, and metals, among other pollutants. Using a bit of beer to at least hide the bad taste made sense.

Even if the water was safe, beer was used for basic nutrition. Doing typical 18th century farmwork, each adult could easily burn 4000 calories per day. Beer provided extra calories, nutrients and carbohydrates in a fairly easy to consume form. When the Temperance Movement started to convince people to switch from small beer to tea in the early 19th century, malnutrition was noted among farmers and other more vigorous trades.

Whatever the answer, colonial Americans liked their drink, particularly beer, and wouldn't be denied it, even if that meant being creative.

If barley be wanting to make into malt
We must be contented and think it no fault
For we can make liquor, to sweeten our lips,
Of pumpkins and parsnips and walnut-tree chips.

American folk song, circa 1630

Your servants,

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