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The Citizen

Monday, July 21, 2003
Laconia, New Hampshire
By Barry W. Walker, Staff Writer

Making the past come back to life
   Webster birthplace plays host to Colonial-era re-enactment

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FRANKLIN- The short skirmish line of five men moves in march step across the open field of yellow stubble grass, muskets on their shoulders.

Suddenly, a yellow flash, a sharp bang of exploding powder and a cloud of white smoke stabs out from the treeline at the field's edge. It is followed by another, then another.

The line of men and boys, each one wearing knee-britches, white hose and tri-cornered hats, stops at the crest of a hill. They lower their muskets into firing position and with flashes and popcorn-like volley, return fire.

After another round from the three rangers hiding in the he treeline, one of the men in the field yells, "Come out of those woods, you rebel scum!"

The combatants were actually all on the same side, a few of the nearly 30 Colonial-era re-enactors gathered for the Militia Muster Sunday at the Daniel Webster Birthplace just southwest of Franklin.

Stephen Gove, left, a professional re-enactor from Tennessee, shares notes with "Ebenezer Webster,"
played by Andy Cheney at the Militia Muster held Sunday at the Daniel Webster Birthplace.
Citizen Photo / Barry Walker

"The annual muster was a social event as well as a military event," said organizer Sharon Burnston, adjusting her white linen cap. "Families would come to catch up on news, picnic, settles up debts and socialize while the men would drill." Burnston said.

The units were comprised of farmers, merchants, trappers and anyone else who wanted to participate.

"They weren't necessarily what you would call crack units," Burnston said. They were formed to protect the community, the frontier and each other from marauding Indians, French from the north and later, during the Revolution, British "redcoats" and colonial loyalists, called Tories.

"When Ebenezer Webster owned this place, it was the frontier," Burnston said. Ebenezer was Daniel's father.

"His was the last farm before the Canadian border," she said. "It was given to him for his service during the French and Indian War and as a militia colonel, he would naturally call the muster and provide a site for it to meet.

Burnston, however, took on that role when she moved here from Pennsylvania about 7 years ago where her family had long been involved in the colonial re-enactment hobby.

She approached the Franklin Historical Society with the idea of creating re-enactments at the Daniel Webster birth site.

"They were wonderful and they've been extremely helpful over the years," she said. Six years ago, she called the first muster.

On Sunday, while women knitted or served meals of venison, soda breads and other period foods to the re-enactors, the men demonstrated their weapons and participated in the skirmish line and re-enactments.

"I've been a re-enactor for 30 years," said Amy Wilson, while she helped serve the meal. Her parents were both black-powder shooting enthusiasts and her father was instrumental in starting French and Indian War Re-enactments, she explained. She took on the role of Colonial child, just as her children, Hannah, seven, and Seth, four, do now.

Her husband, Lance, an officer with the Army Reserve, was one of the Rangers shooting from the tree line.

"I got him involved," Amy said. When they moved up to Nashua from Pittsburgh, they quickly found the local re-enacting community and volunteered at the Daniel Webster birth site.

Oddly enough, "women first" seems to be a common theme.

"I hated history," said Andy Cheney. He was another of the rangers shooting from the tree line and was serving as the designated "Ebenezer Webster" for this year's Muster.

"My wife got me involved," he said. "She's a history buff. She wanted to see what it was about, so we went over to a re-enactment at Fort Number Four."

The fort is a French and Indian War-era site in Charlestown.

"Quite frankly, I wasn't impressed," Cheney said. "But then we went to one at Fort Ticonderoga where they really did it right and I was hooked."

So hooked, in fact, that he not only is an avid re-creator, he also specializes in Colonial-era story telling.

"History is a lot more interesting when you can live it," he said. "Ebenezer Webster was a ranger, so it's fitting for me to portray him today." He begins comparing notes on his character's life with another re-enactor, state Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston.

"I haven't chosen a persona yet," the chairman of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee said. "I'm too old to go out and fight, so I'm thinking of being a school teacher where I can watch from the sidelines."

Re-enacting is a family pastime," Cheney said, "and it becomes like an extended family."

"You don't have to worry about your kids when your at a re-enactment," chimed in Stephen Gove. "People watch out for other peoples' kids, just like they did back then."

Gove, a New Hampshire native living in Goodlettsville, Tenn., heard about the Muster and arrived in his Mansker's Militia regalia. He is on vacation from his full-time job. He is a professional re-enactor with the Mansker's Station Historic Site.

"I'm actually more comfortable dressed like this than in modern clothes," he said before shouldering his French musket to be shot at marching across the field.

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