By Conrad H. Wilcox
DCGS Publications Committee Chairman
How to Relive the Life of Your 18th Century Ancestor
As I had the good fortune of seeing my ancestor charts begin to move back in time, I was seeing more and more of my 3rd, 4th and even 5th great grandparents living on the expanding frontier of our country in the 18th century. As a genealogist who wanted to do more than just experience the typed name on a white chart, I kept dreaming of a simple way to relive their lives with them.
If only there was some way to actually see, feel, taste, hear and smell what made up their lives back in the 1700s. Was there a way to see the clothing worn by my 5th great grandmother, Lydia Harrington, in 1745 in Rhode Island? If only I could taste the flavor of that 18th century recipe prepared over an open fire by Mary Gates, my 4th great grandmother in Connecticut. If I could only feel my pulse throb to the beat of the Indian drums when they attacked the settlement of my 4th great grandfather, Samuel Middaugh in New York.
Could I hear the blasts of muzzle loading rifles and military cannons fired by my 4th and 5th great grandfathers, Levi and Joshua Fuller in the revolutionary war in Connecticut and Massachusetts? And how about the ring of the hammers on the Wilcox anvils? What would it really be like to experience the pungent smell of wood smoke and the molten pewter mingled with the scent of melting candle wax in the small home of my 3rd great grandmother, Jerusha Bradford in 1735 in New England?
So, I was absolutely amazed when I discovered that I could accomplish all of this in one day and in one spot and within an easy two and one half hour drive from my home in Wheaton, Illinois. A few years ago, my daughter and son in law, took my wife and me to see what was called the Feast of the Hunter’s Moon near where they lived in West Lafayette, Indiana. When they told me that it was a historic recreation of an 18th century gathering of French and Native Americans at a fur-trading outpost on the Wabash River, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
I found myself among 74,000 other people who attended this two-day 18th century historical festival at Fort Quiatenon. I could not believe it when someone told me that there were over 6,000 participants. Frankly, I found myself in genealogist’s heaven, with this astonishing and interesting way to enter the lives of my ancestors that I had uncovered in libraries, cemeteries, and county offices all over the country. The feasting and singing and dancing all seemed very nostalgic now that electricity rather than cow chips heat our homes. The further that I moved away from the 1700s and the life of my ancestors, the more essential it was to soak up the atmosphere of the Feast.
I began to sense that the old time crafts, something that the Feast specializes in, are the roots of my life today. Hundreds of costumed participants recreated the life of my great great grandparents with songs, canoe races, cannon demonstrations, story telling, military drills and an encampment. Native American lore, dancing and wigwam villages filled in another part of my ancestors’ environment.
The rowdy shouting of the voyageurs, as their huge canoes rounded Quiatenon’s wooded bend, surely was a burst of enthusiasm from the 1700s. I passed forty-three food booths that sold sixty-three different foods from buffalo stew to Indian fry bread to pea soup and ham and beans all cooked over open fires at the Feast. I felt like I was walking down the streets of my ancestors as I passed potato pancakes, parched corn, rabbit stew, forfar bridies, corn chowder, persimmon pudding and croquignolles.
As I experienced the joys and pains of the every day life of the names before me on my pedigree charts, I had a new appreciation of how far we’ve come. As I approach the new millenium, locked into a computer world, I don’t want to forget where I came from and how difficult it was to get here.
If you, too, are a genealogist like me who wants to relive the sights
and sounds of your ancestors, then this is the one event that you do not
want to miss. The Feast is held in the primitive setting of Fort Quiatenon
Historic Park on South River Road, four miles southwest of West Lafayette,
IN. The dates this year are October 10-11, 1998. Single day tickets purchased
in advance are $5.50 for ages 13 and over and $2.00 ages 4-11. At the gate
it is $7.00 and $3.00. The annual event is sponsored by the Tippecanoe
County Historical Association. For brochures and detailed information,
contact them at 909 South Street, Lafayette, IN 47901-1414, Tel. 765-476-8402,
The Review of the DuPage County (IL) Genealogical Society, March 1998, Issue #139
Reprinted on Tri-County Genealogy Sites with permission of Connie Wilcox