Photo Credit-Stephanie Sloman-Pratt
On the grounds of the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park
The Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous theme revolves around history, in particular, the frontier and early territorial periods of Vincennes’ illustrious past. That past includes a fascinating cast of characters. There were American Indians, French habitants, British soldiers, and frontiersmen who traipsed the muddied streets of 18th and 19th century Vincennes.
Their modern counterparts, Rendezvous reenactors, annually gather in that same city to offer a clear, accurate, “unmuddied” re-creation of the life-styles of the town’s earliest residents. This contemporary gathering occurs the Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend or, as the local residents generally call it, Rendezvous weekend.
Approximately 400 to 500 living history enthusiasts establish an 18th century military camp upon the grounds of the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park (NHP). During the two days of the Rendezvous, visitors may walk through the camp and may see how life was for the average 18th century soldier as well as for the typical camp follower.
While strolling through the camp, it is possible to view a variety of units. At least five of the Rendezvous’ participants represent military units which originally had men serving at Vincennes. Fort Sackville was established and manned by the King’s Regiment or the 8th Regiment of Foot. The 1st Illinois Regiment, under the command of Col. Clark, captured the fort in a two-day siege. Five companies of that unit are Wothington’s Company, McCarty’s Company, Bowman’s Company, Keller’s Company, and the French militia of Charleville’s Company.
Other Revolutionary War units are alsoportrayed by members of the NWTA. Congressional or American forces are represented by the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment, the 2nd Virginia Regiment, the 4th Light Dragoons, the Commander in Chief”s Guard, the Holder’s Co’y, Boonesborough Militia, and the Virginia State Navy. Another unit that always attracts attention is Capt. Alexander Hamilton’s provincial Company of Artillery. When placed in action, the company’s Pattison three-pounder cannon truly provide visitors with “a real bang-up” time.
As for the British, their attendance is formidable with soldiers from the following companies – His Majesty’s 55th Regiment of Foot, the 71st Regiment of Highland Foot, the 17th Light Dragoons, The 42nd Royal Highland Regiment (The Black Watch), Butler’s Rangers, the Brigade of Guards, the 1st American Regiment, the 4th Regiment, the 84th Regiment of Foot, and the French units of Fort St. Joseph Militia. Additionally, the British were re-enforced by the Germans, represented by the “Braunschweig” soldiers.
The most interesting, and oft-times the most rewarding, type of activity provided by the reenactors is the opportunity for one-on-one conversation with the public. Since the encampment is open for public access, visitors are invited to wander the spacious pathways which “furnish” an ample view of the furnishings within the reenactors’ tents. Most of the reenactors acquaint themselves with all the details of their camp furnishings, clothing, equipment, and unit’s history to the point that they are able to answer virtually any question posed.
Each morning of the event is ushered in with imposing pomp. The 18th century reenactors assemble in military formation throughout the plaza in front of the George Rogers Clark Memorial. Making the presentation memorable are the colorful uniforms, the impressive array of muskets, and the vast variety of flags.
Similar pageantry occurs at day’s end when all the regiments march to the Clark Memorial Plaza for the ceremonial presentation of the colors (flags). The master of ceremonies describes the significance of each unit’s traditions, history, and uniforms.
By British army regulation, each regiment had two colors – the King’s colors and the regimental colors. The latter flag originated as a means of identifying various units throughout the battlefield. Often a regiment’s ensign was assigned to carry the colors.
Victories during the 18th century were expressed in terms of the capture of colors. Many acts of gallantry revolved around the protection of the colors.
Evening colors (the specific name for the flag ceremony) during the Rendezvous is a time for soldiers to exhibit their finest skills. Lending their own special brand of respect to the ceremonies are the performers of the Celtic Cross Bagpipe Band and the Tippecanoe Ancient Fife & Drum Corps. For many, to hear the period music of fifes and of drums being played upon the actual site of a Revolutionary War battlefield is a moving experience.
Parade of uniforms and 18th century fashion show
Just as individuals are known by the company they keep, the people of the frontier were judged by the clothing they wore. It could be a regimental ribbon atop a soldier’s tricorn which served to announce the particular regiment to which the wearer belonged. It could be a red sash worn about the waist which distinguished an American officer from his subordinates. It could be the sleeve of a maiden’s gown intentionally positioned so as to expose her elbows – a sure sign of a woman who had questionable morals.
Whatever the garment, clothing was a means of nonverbal communication. During the parade of uniforms, unit members display and talk about their 18th century clothing and equipment. Additionally, the ladies’ fashion show allows another voice to be heard – that of the camp followers. Camp followers were those civilians who followed a military unit to exploit or to assist military personnel. The 18th century armies often included women who followed the soldiers, even onto the battlefields. By attending the parade of uniforms and the fashion show, visitors may learn more about both the apparel worn by and the life-styles of the military personnel and their camp followers.