By Tessa Raebeck
At two in the morning last Saturday, some people were probably still reveling across the East End, but most of them were not listening to fife and drum music.
But that was the case for members of the Third New York Regiment, a group of Long Island Revolutionary War reenactors who made camp on Friday night at Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island, and awoke on Saturday morning to host visitors from the 21st century Saturday.
The Third New York recreates the life of the regiment as it existed in November 1775 during the campaign to seize take Canada from British control in the early years of the American Revolution. Its members—men, women and children—recreate the daily routine of Revolutionary War soldiers, their wives, families and camp followers.
“We all camped here last night, so I got to stay in the tent here with my daughter,” said Sarah Shepherd, a Shelter Island resident who participates in the group with her daughter, Mary. “It was a lot of fun. We slept on a bale of hay, played the fife and drums till two in the morning and got up and just enjoyed beautiful weather,” she said.
All clothing and equipment worn and used by the regiment are reproductions, not costumes. That means all the materials used are the same that were used during the early years of the revolution.
Ms. Shepherd was dressed in an authentic 18th century dress designed by her friend Collette Gilbert using a signature print from the Daughters of the American Revolution, an organization of female descendants of families that lived in the United States at the time of the revolution, of which she is a member.
All men aged 16 to 60 were required to join their local militia, drilling once or twice a month on “militia days.” Several militiamen were on hand at the camp, chatting by a pig roasting on a spit and showing their guns to children.
Commander of the Regiment Andrew McClain described the dress of the militiamen, who represented the soldiers fighting the British and their allied Native American tribes on the Hudson Valley frontier.
“General Washington really liked [this uniform] because the garment gave the impression all Americans were sharpshooters,” Commander McClain said of the green jackets worn by the militia.
The Iroquois Native American tribe in upstate New York was allied to the British during the war, inevitably mixing traditional European garb with their own clothing. British and American men on the frontier would wear Native American leggings, moccasins and even carry scalping knives and tomahawks, said the commander.
“Europeans would scalp Indians too,” he said, adding it was “not a very pretty part of history.”
Jonathan, a drummer boy who recently joined the regiment, was wearing a red coat, but is “American as apple pie,” his commander said. Musicians were dressed differently than other soldiers because when needed, they had to be found quickly.
Despite being ripe for the picking in the midst of the fighting, Jonathan would not have been considered a target.
“You’ve got to put your mind in the 18th century mind,” Commander McClain said, adding army musicians weren’t killed because it was not considered honorable.
Although being in war without a weapon doesn’t sound like an esteemed position, drummers and fifers were valued for their unique skills. It was easy to teach a layman to shoot, not so much to teach him to play “Yankee Doodle” on the fife while musket balls grazed his ears.
“A fifer or drummer got paid more than the private soldier—they got paid like a corporal,” said Commander McClain, adding there are reports of British drummers and fifers in their 30’s who had been playing for the army since they were 13.
Sunning and fanning themselves on bales of hay near the musicians were Beverlea Walz, Sarah Shepherd, her daughter Mary and Mary’s friend Sarah Mutter, dressed as ladies in thick frocks decorated with flowers in pink and yellow hues.
Ms. Shepherd’s family has lived on Shelter Island for 200 years. She was born, with help from a midwife and doula, on the island and gave birth to Mary on the island as well.
Surrounded by mortars and pestles, plants such as cinnamon, lavender and sage, and 18th century beekeeping skeps, Ms. Shepherd, holding her Bergere hat as the wind threatened to untie the ribbon round her neck, said of her family, “We’re very rooted here.”