Women in Camp.
By Ron Poppe
I am writing in regard to the article “As Accurately as Possible...” from the
summer 1998 issue of the NWTA SPY.
I think that it is wrong to tell people “no” when someone asks if there were “this many women following the army” in the eighteenth century. If we are to follow our mission statement –“ That others may learn” –then we must explain why women were following the army.
As for the number of women that did follow the army, I have some facts to share with you.
The commissary to the British Army in America was Daniel Weirs. His return for May 17th 1777 of more than forty regiments lists a grand total of 23,601 men, 2,776 women and 1,901 children. The 71st Regiment of Foot lists 1,274 men, 119 women and 83 children. The 17th Regiment of Foot lists 406 men, 67 women and 30 children. As you can see by these numbers the women and children totaled more than ten percent of the number of men.1
The other point that we must take into consideration is that not every unit in the NWTA is a regular line unit. There are a number of Militia companies represented also. Most of them (including the unit I belong to–Captain Benjamin Logan’s Company) are in settlements and the army is secondary (we are also the company that did the laundry demonstration at the Findlay event two years ago).
Our Militia Company didn’t camp with the regulars. They lived in cabins and farmed and did other things besides fight the enemy, their wives and children by their sides. Here the ratio of women to men would be more evenly distributed. Remember we must be regionally specific.
If we move the militia companies out of the military camps, the military camps will look very small at a lot of the events. Try explaining that to the tourists.
The problem is not that there are too many women and children in camp, but that there are too many women (and men) in camp not portraying eighteenth-century daily life.
If we are going to educate the public then let’s step up to those rope lines and talk to the people and show them eighteenth-century life, skills and trades.
The people may come for the battles, but they stay for the knowledge and skills that we all have. Demonstrations are the best way to get people to talk and ask questions. Like the one I hear a lot; “were there this many British troops in the west?” But that’s another article.
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