Building Carpentry into 1776 Soldiers’ Life Programs

Far from battle, the soldiers' story at Fort Ticonderoga is often one of hard labor, such as felling trees to provide lumber for military construction.

Far from battle, the soldiers’ story at Fort Ticonderoga is often one of hard labor, such as felling trees to provide lumber for military construction.

Along with the excitement of portraying 1776 and the Fourth Pennsylvania battalion as they served at Ticonderoga in that year, the Department of Interpretation is excited about expanding its soldiers’ life programs into carpentry. Over the past few years, the modern need of equipping staff with time-specific clothing and footwear has spurred on the historic trades programs of tailoring and shoemaking. As living history programs continue to expand in and around the Fort, the need for wooden items as small as shelving and pipe boxes, or projects as large as soldiers’ huts have made period carpentry the next goal.

The growth of carpentry as part of soldiers programs is also part of telling the story of 1776.  Often we imagine that the fight for independence in terms of notable battles. No doubt the men of the Fourth Pennsylvania battalion had similar visions of their service when they first enlisted in early 1776. The reality of military life was more mechanical than martial.

The fatigue partys for the future are to begin work at 6 o clock & have their breakfast before they begin…They will be dismiss’d at twelve o clock for dinner till one o clock then work till seven.

Colonel Anthony Wayne, July 30th 1776

This two-man cross cut saw   cuts remarkably fast, sectioning felled trees into manageable logs, strategically cut for an intended size of post or board.

This two-man cross cut saw cuts remarkably fast, sectioning felled trees into manageable logs, strategically cut for an intended size of post or board.

 

The Northern Continental Army’s construction projects—such as extensive earthworks, bridges, soldiers’ huts and barracks, and a whole naval fleet—all required carpentry skills. In 2014 the Department of Interpretation will be able to hint at the labor of these soldiers and the massive scale of the army’s construction in 1776. For soldiers’ carpentry programming the Fort has been acquiring tools for the last two years, slowly building its stock of hand-forged reproduction tools. The slow approach has allowed for a focus on details. With a massive collection of hand-tools recovered archaeologically during the reconstruction of the Fort, there are ample examples of the diverse types of tools and different national styles therein: French, English, and American. Where ever possible, the interpretive staff has not only commissioned reproductions of axes, hammers, saws, and the like, but actually been a part of building them. This gives staff the ability to talk about their work with a perspective that goes all the way to forging out the tools of their trade. As winter slowly turns to spring, and the Fort’s opening in May approaches, the Department of Interpretation is putting this stock of tools to work, building the soldiers’ carpentry program right before visitors’ eyes.

The technical challenge and skill of simply producing lumber is almost as interesting as what is built from it. Moving a 400+ pound log puts practical applied science and teamwork on display for visitors, just as much as its historical context.

The technical challenge and skill of simply producing lumber is almost as interesting as what is built from it. Moving a 400+ pound log puts practical applied science and teamwork on display for visitors, just as much as its historical context.

Large projects, such as soldiers’ huts, require more than merely hand tools. Winter events have provided the opportunity to put tools to work, building the frames and equipment needed to tackle larger projects. Rather than purchasing timber, Fort staff have been carefully selecting trees with which make our own lumber by hand. In this winter’s living history events the entire process of creating lumber has been on display for visitors. A thick blanket of snow hasn’t stopped Fort staff and volunteers from felling trees with hand-forged axes based on examples in the Fort’s collection. Snow hasn’t stopped visitors from lending a hand, taking their turn sawing trees into sections with our five-foot long two-man cross cut saw. With a keen eye and careful cuts, these recreated soldiers have hewn these logs down into square beams inside the Fort itself.

Careful work with an ax shapes round logs down to square straight beams. These beams will mortised together as part of the frame for a pit saw which will allow for logs to be ripped into boards as part of soldiers' life programming.

Careful work with an ax shapes round logs down to square straight beams. These beams will mortised together as part of the frame for a pit saw which will allow for logs to be ripped into boards as part of soldiers’ life programming.

No program is stronger than its foundation. Hand-hewn beams, felled by hand, with hand-forged tools will be built into a frame to support a pit-saw and a sled for oxen to move logs and beams. The pit saw will allow the Fort’s recreated soldiers to hand-saw boards for building projects. Even with a sawmill at the falls of the LaChute river, which the Continental army ran nearly continuously in 1776, soldiers were still detailed to saw boards by hand. For special events the real, modern need to move sectioned logs will be accomplished by oxen as in 1776, with soldiers serving as drovers.  In 1776 Chief Engineer Colonel Jeduthan Baldwin hired professional carpenters to teach soldiers as well as work themselves. Today, great thanks goes to the carpenters of Colonial Williamsburg and Eric Schatzel Forgeworks, for their guidance and help in developing soldiers carpentry in 2014. Carpentry at Fort Ticonderoga, like other trades—tailoring and shoemaking—is more than just tools and projects, it’s about stories. There is today’s story of recreating the trade and slowly building up the tools, equipment, and know-how to do neat work for the Fort. There is yesterday’s story of 1776 and building a fortified army camp around this Old French Fort. Hopefully, the two stories parallel each other closely enough that soldiers’ carpentry will provide moments for staff and visitors that are “living history.”

All aspects of soldiers' lives, relied on teamwork whether fighting, cooking, or surviving a campaign. Soldiers' carpentry is no exception and provide an exciting project with which to tell the much bigger story of 1776, one chop at a time.

All aspects of soldiers’ lives relied on teamwork whether fighting, cooking, or surviving a campaign. Soldiers’ carpentry is no exception and provide an exciting project with which to tell the much bigger story of 1776, one chop at a time.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.