Thursday, June 12, 2014

Common Sense, Present Dangers and Whimsical Opinions

Barbara and I became involved with muzzle loading at Friendship, IN many years ago. Over time we became involved in primitive camping and historical re-enacting. We live in an inner-city area of Indianapolis, IN where we garden, worship, and share good times with friends and neighbors. This post is the core of a presentation I am to give this Saturday at the NMLRA Library during the Spring National Shooting Competition.

Benjamin Franklin's Prayer

Oh powerful Goodness! bountiful Father! merciful Guide! Increase in me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest. Strengthen my resolutions to perform what that wisdom dictates. Accept my kind offices to thy other children as the only return in my power for thy continued favors to me.

The quotes in italics are from Chapter XI of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, a book I highly recommend. I wish I had read it earlier in life. I have been studying Franklin seriously for a little over three years now, and the more I study him the more I understand that he was truly a great man.

The quotations are about the time following the defeat of General Braddock. Ben has helped to get funding, and approval, for forming a militia to protect the North-western frontier. With a military commission, and with powers to raise the militia, and appoint the officers he takes command and proceeds with his militia to Gnadenhut, where native forces have burned the village and massacred the Moravian inhabitants.  It is considered a good location for Franklin's men to build a fort.

In order to march thither, I assembled the companies at Bethlehem, the chief establishment of those people. I was surprised to find it in so good a posture of defense; the destruction of Gnadenhut had made them apprehend danger. The principal buildings were defended by a stockade; they had purchased a quantity of arms and ammunition from New York, and had even plac'd quantities of small paving stones between the windows of their high stone houses, for their women to throw down upon the heads of any Indians that should attempt to force into them. The armed brethren, too, kept watch, and reliev'd as methodically as in any garrison town. In conversation with the bishop, Spangenberg, I mention'd this my surprise; for, knowing they had obtained an act of Parliament exempting them from military duties in the colonies, I had suppos'd they were conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms. He answer'd me that it was not one of their established principles, but that, at the time of their obtaining that act, it was thought to be a principle with many of their people. On this occasion, however, they, to their surprise, found it adopted by but a few. It seems they were either deceiv'd in themselves, or deceiv'd the Parliament; but common sense, aided by present danger, will sometimes be too strong for whimsical opinions. 

Just before we left Bethlehem, eleven farmers, who had been driven from their plantations by the Indians, came to me requesting a supply of firearms, that they might go back and fetch off their cattle. I gave them each a gun with suitable ammunition. We had not march'd many miles before it began to rain, and it continued raining all day; there were no habitations on the road to shelter us, till we arriv'd near night at the house of a German, where, and in his barn, we were all huddled together, as wet as water could make us. It was well we were not attack'd in our march, for our arms were of the most ordinary sort, and our men could not keep their gun locks dry. The Indians are dextrous in contrivances for that purpose, which we had not. They met that day the eleven poor farmers above mentioned, and killed ten of them. The one who escap'd inform'd that his and his companions' guns would not go off, the priming being wet with the rain... 

We had for our chaplain a zealous Presbyterian minister, Mr. Beatty, who complained to me that the men did not generally attend his prayers and exhortations. When they enlisted, they were promised, besides pay and provisions, a gill of rum a day, which was punctually serv'd out to them, half in the morning, and the other half in the evening; and I observ'd they were as punctual in attending to receive it; upon which I said to Mr. Beatty, "It is, perhaps, below the dignity of your profession to act as steward of the rum, but if you were to deal it out and only just after prayers, you would have them all about you." He liked the tho't, undertook the office, and, with the help of a few hands to measure out the liquor, executed it to satisfaction, and never were prayers more generally and more punctually attended; so that I thought this method preferable to the punishment inflicted by some military laws for non-attendance on divine service.

Franklin, Benjamin (1994-07-01). The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (pp. 127-128). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition. 

To note my own interest here, I have attended Westminster Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis for about 40 years. I admire the decent and orderly way in which Dr. Franklin and Mr. Beatty linked personal interests of the men to their truest interests. It seems to me that all benefitted from their actions.

If politics is the art of the possible perhaps most political problems result from a failure align people's immediate interests and their truest interests in ways that are acceptable to them? This is not an easy task. It would appear that many, like the Moravians, find upon occasion that their interests are may be different than they had supposed.

The Moravians were people whose religious convictions opposed the use of violence. When confronted with a choice between death and self-defense this particular group chose the latter. This would seem to me to be a reasonable choice. While non-violence as a way of life is desirable, I personally would not choose it in the face of deadly aggression. I think most of us would not.

The Truth of Natural Philosophy is the truth of experience. Do we experience only peace in nature? Do tribes or clans only practice peace? Do nations live completely peacefully without contention? When we look at times and places where there have been no firearms what do we see?

I would arrogant on my part to make the assumption that the reader does not have a clear idea of their own understanding of the positive and negative value of firearms! Setting aside my thoughts concerning modern arms, I want to propose some advantages to learning about black powder, muzzle loading, firearms.

If you are a person who has no interest in self-protection or hunting might you still consider learning about black powder firearms?

Can you consider the challenge of shooting accurately as a wonderful sport? Are you interested in learning the basics of safe handling of a firearm in the safest possible environment? Are you interested in historic technologies, and the experience of those who lived during the French & Indian War, the Revolutionary War, or the American Frontier of the Northwest Territory and Kentucky?

For those interested in learning about firearms but who are uneasy or fearful of buying or trying one I congratulate you. It seems prudent to me to have a healthy fear of firearms if you are not trained in the use of them.

When we look at the situation of the Franklin's farmers that were given firearms which they did not know how to use what do we see? Only one of eleven survived. Their firearms gave them a false sense of confidence that got ten of them killed. That still can happen today. What you don't know can get you hurt.

And the Gnadenhut Moravians who were massacred? Would it have helped them if they had been handed muskets at the last moment? If there is any chance at all that you might need to know about firearms, waiting until you need them is might not be a good idea!

I believe that those of us who use black powder, muzzle loading firearms for hunting or sport have an opportunity to help those who might be interested in learning about them. People may decide they want to know more, or are satisfied to know a little, about historic firearms and technologies,. They might or might not decide to investigate modern firearms. We represent a group whose interest is in firearms that are of interest to those who care about history, technology, safety practices, and the sport of shooting accurately. There are indeed some who choose to hunt with these guns but there are many other reasons to find them of interest.

I suspect that many people are indifferent to or opposed to firearms because they are afraid of them or don't see any point to them as sport. They have not used them, don't understand them, or may live in situations where they believe they can live without them. They have never experienced the similarity of shooting to golf, basketball, or even bowling. Shooting well requires skill.

If I were so persuasive as to be able to convince someone to simply go buy a gun and take it home, I would not do. Neither would encourage someone with no knowledge of football to go into a game of football. I have lived with firearms all my life and I have made mistakes. Because I was well taught and practiced safety those mistakes were not harmful!

Perhaps the safest way to know about firearms is to become a member of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association!

For about $53 annual family membership you will get a beautiful monthly magazine that will teach the history and technology of single or double shot, muzzle loading firearms. You will be able to find a muzzle loading club that is vigorous in it's dedication to safety. You become part of a sport that is affordable, family oriented, and which teaches physics and art as well as how to safely load, shoot, and maintain a firearm.

The headquarters of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association is in Friendship, IN. This weekend is the beginning of the Spring Shoot. On Saturday I will be in the Association library from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. It is supposed to be a beautiful weekend, and the drive to Friendship is worth taking for the scenery along the way.

I encourage you to come see me and talk with me about history, and muzzle loading. If you think you might like to try shooting, the NMLRA offers what I consider the best place for a beginner to start!

If you or your children were to ever find yourselves in a situation where you were required to use modern firearms wouldn't it be good so have some understanding of how to safely hold, aim, and fire a pistol or rifle?

Whether as an individual or possibly a soldier or police officer, it seems to me that waiting until you need to know such things might cost you dearly. It did the Moravians, and the farmers that Dr. Franklin supplied with guns. There is a fun way to gain some of the knowledge and experience that you or your children may someday need. The National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association (NMLRA).

For more information about the NMLRA go to

Frank Watson

PS There is a wonderful primitive camp with canvas tents and pre-1840 clothing and accoutrements to visit. There is also a huge flea market and yard sales to visit along the way!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Tom Bertrand is a re-enactor that I met at Kalamazoo Living History Show. I'm working to bring as much promotion to performers, vendors and events as possible in Indiana and the surrounding states. To do this is taking quite a bit of effort.

Choosing platforms for elegant sharing is important. YouTube seems to have a lot going for video but so does twitter! Right now I'm experimenting with how to get the biggest bang for my buck.

That means getting my online stuff done quickly and effectively so that I can work in the yard, go make presentations, or go to rendezvous!

I also have a google+ URL now: It is! That is the year Ben Franklin died.

More later,

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Goodye Watson Visits Dr. Storniolo

Dr. Storniolo is the genial oncologist who has treated Barbara McNamara for breast cancer. Barbara goes to see her for check ups on a regular basis.

Being interested in Barbara as a person, she made the acquaintance of Barbara's historical character Goodye Watson, friend and traveling companion of Dr. Benjamin Franklin.

When Dr. Storniolo expressed an interest in 18th century clothing and Barbara volunteered a visit by Goodye when her next check up came due! Of course an escort (and photographer) would be needed and I cheerfully volunteered!

 It is no longer a surprise to me that keeping up with Barbara takes me out of the usual hum-a-drum of daily life. Many people assume that because Barbara doesn't say much she is shy.

This is not the case. She is usually quiet but that's either because she is reading or because she is thinking. And the stuff she reads often results in her thinking about something that may take both of us out of our comfort zones.

So here we are, in the examination room and Barbara has removed her dress, showing the blue striped petticoat, the gold colored stays above it, and the white shift showing above that. Note the shoes are 18th Century!

Here we see the 18th Century Woman in as much of an undressed state as we are going to! Shoes, stockings, shift showing above and below the stays, round frame glasses, and topped by a ruffled cap. What you see at her right side is a tie-on pocket. The stays could be made of whale bone, metal, or (today) plastic boning!

The next step left is usually my job, that of being her "Abigail" and unlacing the stays.

Now you might think of stays as a fashion statement, and you would be correct! The 18th Century Woman thought it fashionable to protect her back while doing lots of heavy work!

Here we are with Dr. Storniolo and her team. Hopefully, some of those folks will be inspired to visit a historical re-enactment or even try doing some re-enacting!

In any case it is always a pleasure and an honor to bring enjoyment to people who do so much for the rest of us.

Barbara and I are here by the grace of God and the help of dedicated folks like these. We hope that we made their day a little brighter and their work a little lighter!

Frank Watson & Barbara McNamara

In the Spirit of

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Dr. Benjamin Franklin's Lightening Safety Test!

Dr. Benjamin Franklin’s Lightning Safety Test!

True or False:
T F    5 minutes after it thunders lightning is close enough to strike you.
T F    When you hear thunder, immediately move to safe shelter: a substantial building with electricity or plumbing or an enclosed, metal-topped vehicle with windows up.
T F    Stay in shelter for at least 30 minutes after the last thunder.
T F    It’s OK to use phones, computers and other electrical equipment during a storm.
T F    It’s OK to use sinks, baths and faucets when there is a thunderstorm.
T F    Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
T F    Concrete floors and walls are OK to lie on or lean against.
If you are caught outside with no safe shelter anywhere nearby the following actions may reduce your risk:
T F    Climb a tree or go up a hill, mountain ridge or peak.
T F    Lie flat on the ground.
T F    Get under a tree that’s away from other trees.
T F    Use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter.
T F    Immediately get out and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water
T F    Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, etc.)

Can You Find the Answers to the Lightening Test?

Lightning: What You Need to Know
  • NO PLACE outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area!!
  • If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you.
  • When you hear thunder, immediately move to safe shelter: a substantial building with electricity or plumbing or an enclosed, metal-topped vehicle with windows up.
  • Stay in safe shelter at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder.
Indoor Lightning Safety
  • Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity.
  • Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets.
  • Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
  • Do not lie on concrete floors, and do not lean against concrete walls.
Last Resort Out Door Risk Reduction Tips
If you are caught outside with no safe shelter anywhere nearby the following actions may reduce your risk:

  • Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks
  • Never lie flat on the ground
  • Never shelter under an isolated tree
  • Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter
  • Immediately get out and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water
  • Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, etc.)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Spirit of Vincennes 2013: Value and Values

When we arrived at the parking area we were greeted by this sign. Off in the distance we could see a couple of historic military aircraft. Given that I am interested in history and that I have a step son who is especially interested in WWII history I see a trip for visiting here!
It is not surprising to me that Vincennes would have a military history museum! There seems to be a decent respect for, and interest in, history here.

Daniel Boone of Kentucky, +Steven Young Caudill, sold us the coffe pot pictured here! He has a fairly large store with period items. I like being able to buy a coffee pot from Dan'l!

Daniel Boone was our "Deacon" for Parson John's Sunday service. He is the one who passed the collection hat.

This worked well. Who wants to say "No" to a man renowned for his reputation with the Kentucky Long Rifle? ;)

Daniel Boone and Parson John and others I will be telling you about are part of a community that travels to rendezvous on a regular basis, even more than Barbara and I do.

But our friends generally don't travel to more events than we'd like to! This is a community that cares about the history of our country as well as it's future. We enjoy being part of it!

Barbara came to primitive camping with a love of camping. I didn't. I grew up in the country and never saw much point in camping when I could walk out into the woods and only come home to sleep.

But now I am finding this experience helpful in many ways. At age 70, having long since left the farm, and having grown accustomed to sitting at a computer, or steering wheel, or a desk for much of my time, it's a challenge to set up and tear down a tent, to move boxes of books, and to be out in the elements for days at a time.

No, it's not "Trekking" such as Mad Anne Bailey, John Curry, or Dennis Medly do! But it's sufficient for me. It's a way for an old guy to reconnect with my 1st world, the world of direct experience. And perhaps for many young folks who attend it's a connection to a future that includes life in real life?

It's also a way for young and old to measure the customs of today against those of the past. It seems to me this is something that needs doing. Living in the "now" seems rootless, and somehow pointless, without some sense of a past that helps us place the present in a context that helps us imagine different futures.
I feel gratitude for my fellow re-enactors who go out of their way to include the young folks. Here is where boys can learn about being men and girls can learn about being women in a deep sense.

How can they appreciate how far we've come if they don't know where we've been?

In the spirit of

Your humble servant,

Frank Watson

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Spirit of Vincennes 2013: Families, Food, and Fun!

Families enjoying a variety of foods is a great part of the experience of the Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous! The food is very good, and the vendors are usually local groups who are raising money for their charitable causes. Of course I make it a point to have pie. I do like pie!

There are strategically placed picnic tables so that those who want to sit and eat without worrying about balancing a plate or making a spill with their lemonade may do so.

Some folks don't worry too much about that. This young one with an ear of corn seems to only be concerned with chomping corn and drinking his lemonade!
For me it's wonderful seeing the parade of people, but I especially love the sight of young people learning about re-enacting history!

When they read about the 1700's or see a TV show or movie they will be better able to make sense of it. And those who learn to love re-enacting will learn to dig into the realities of history!

Food is not the only fun at this event. Musical groups focusing on older song lists range from hard driving sea shanties and work songs to the mellower Folk sounds of Traveler's Dream. Kentucky folk is represented by Booneslick Strings. Of course Goodye's favorite music is the martial music of the fife and drums. And the bagpipes!

There is more. Much more! There are artillery demonstrations, skirmishes, battles, Dusty Traum storyteller, and the Budabi Brothers! Here is a look here at some serious juggling and joking around!
I think it's important that performers such as the Budabi Brothers, Common Stock Entertainment, and Storyteller Dusty Traum are represented here.

People need to know that there was entertainment before there were radios, TVs, or amplifiers! It is possible to have fun without plugging in to something!

And it is possible to have fun in the sun, and sometimes in the rain. I am pleased that there are movements to include life in the real world! Bicycling, hiking, trekking, and gardening all connect us to the earth that sustains us.

There will be more about this event. For Families, food, fun and history it is a regular stop on the Franklin Road!

In the Spirit of

Your humble servant,

Frank Watson

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Spirit of Vincennes, 2013: Cannon coming through!

The weather at Spirit of Vincennes was beautiful, and we were treated to a grand parade in front of our tent! If you enjoy outstanding military marching bands in 1800's period dress this was the place to be!

Make way! Cannon coming through! This cannon is a working piece. When they fire such guns, a great deal of smoke ensues along with a thunderous sound! A great deal of attention is given to historical accuracy of clothing and customs.  We were grateful for the location we were given which allowed us a fine spot to view the parade!

Many thanks to Patriot Paul for sending some great pictures! Including the following, of some neighbors from Woodruff Place! "Common Stock" consists of two very entertaining folk who do puppets, songs, and stories. Becky McKay and Pat Richardson may be reached at: 749-A, East Drive, Woodruff Place, Indianapolis, IN 46201. You may email at or call them at 317-635-5240.

The thing that will stay with us during this year, until we can return to Spirit of Vincennes (God willing) in 2014, is how much there is in Vincennes that we did not get to see, and how very much we wanted to do so! This is an old city, a river city, and it has a wonderful history that was critical to the establishment of this country.

The incredible heroics of George Rogers Clark and his men from Virginia and Kentucky, whose victories gave the Colonies possession of the land, were crucial for Dr. Franklin in including this Territory as part of the United States when he was in treaty negotiations with England!

The greatest attraction which we missed was a Ball at Grouseland, a mansion which was built for William Henry Harrison when he was Territorial Governor! It is a large, two story brick home which is a National Historic Landmark. 

Barbara and I work hard at these events and we have learned that we have to respect our limitations. The Ball at Grouseland certainly was calling to us, as were other sites, but sadly we missed those too. 

Had I been able to leave work in Indy and arrive a little more rested we would certainly have gone to the ball if nothing else! We would love to spend a week in Vincennes with a good bucket list!

Maybe we'll make the Ball next year?

Here's hoping!

In the Spirit of

Your humble servant,

Frank Watson