View Full Version : Ye Olde Hiking: An Essay on the Pursuit of Hiking, History, & Family

07-05-2008, 09:17 PM
Ye Olde Tramping: An Essay On the Pursuit of Hiking, History, & Family
I’ve planned this hike for varied reasons and for quite some time. Two years ago, I took what turned out to be our last hike together with my father. His health condition revealed on our last outing that he is not able to handle the trails like he used to, and he feels in retrospect that he won’t be doing it again. This was tough to swallow, as for both my brother and me, it was my parents goal to raise us outdoors as much as possible. My first hike was when I was six years old up and down the Crawford Path. My father still lives hiking through us, and is always interested in where I’ve been, what we did, and what we saw. I wanted to find a way to say “thanks!”. While this hike was a dedication to his family’s history in NH, one is forced to acknowledge that really the initial true masters of the trail were the Native Americans. That said, this is my Pursuit of Hiking, History, & Family.

My dad’s ancestors are Willard’s, coming to MA in 1635, was our ancestor Simon Willard, since then there has been: Henry-Henry-James-James-Longley-William-Lockhart Hall-Clark Stevens-Burton Stewart-my grandmother Hazel, then my dad-Eric. Henry was the brother of Samuel, credited with some exploration of the Whites, as well as likely, the first non-Native American ascent of Osceola, looking for signs and encampments of a band of Pequawkets who had just fought at the Battle of Lovewell’s Pond. Interestingly enough, in his journal he noted his tactic of gaining the heights, such as cliffs or ledges, was in order to spy camp smoke early in the morning. This he said, was in imitation of the Native American, from whom he learned it. While Henry accompanied him, he left no written record as Samuel was required to. (Ironically, we discovered that my wife’s family came to Concord MA where the Willard’s already were in 1640, what would have been my aunt, Mercy Willard, married in 1690, what would have been my wife’s uncle, William Wheeler, does this mean we are related?!) James and Longley both fought in the Revolution, James with Artemas Ward’s militia, and then with the 9th MA Regiment, his son James (Jr.) with the 12th MA Regiment, and my grandfather Longley, with the 3rd & 1st NH Regiments. What intrigued me was that not too long after the War, Longley left for Canada. The family has a tradition that this was because while in battle at Petries Mill, Little Falls NY, he was captured by Tories and Mohawks and taken to Canada. At that time he would have been 18 (he signed up at 16) but his pension deposition and military papers do not mention being captive, which would have entitled him to a higher pension. If he was, he returned quickly, he was back in battle again in just over a month. Anyway, I digress. He walked from Swanzey, NH, to Canada and settled there. He would repeat the journey 3 more times, returning for his pension claims and to visit the grave of Gen. John Stark. James, his brother, also left NH and walked to the frontiers of the Ohio country. I realize that these men, along with thousands of others, fought to insure and protect the streams we visit, the views we encompass with our eyes, the forests and mountains which bear up under our boots and tolerate our presence. I realized that if I’m out there enjoying what they fought for, then their family blood still pumps through these veins. Our eyes see what they saw, we hear what they heard, we can feel what they felt. I decided to go back in time, as it were, to get as close to their experience as possible.

I’ve provided pictures, taken beforehand, of the gear I used. Some of it I already possessed due to involvement with F & I War re-enactment. All were made by authentic sutlers and reproductionists, and are made from available original designs and fabrics. I decided to go original on foodstuffs as well, so all provisions are dried. I picked Jackson as my test run, my wife Michele needed it for her 48, and I hoped, considering the vast amount of linen I would be wearing, for cooler weather. My goal is to get into this outfit on occasion as I bear down on my 48. When I do my last one, I’m planning on bringing my 1750’s colonial .62 smoothbore, Cora is her name, and fire off a salute. A few words on the gear. The French Fly breeches and the workshirt are both linen. The French Fly style breeches were the most common and popular style for civilian and military use. A rough estimate of the time is that 60-70% of breeches were of this design as opposed to the Drop Front style. This would change as the years ticked by from the F&I War to the Revolution. Wool breeches were usually lined, however linen was not, hence underwear would be worn, and I’m pleased to say that even today,2008,this was the case. Felt hats were popular among the middle & lower class, and were a designation of such. Also, useful for keeping lice out of your hair. The shirt is a copy of one found in the region of Fort Quiatenon. The moccasins are of the Soulier de Boeuf style. Complete elk hide, laces and tops, sheepskin lined. Became popular in the Fur Trade of the 1600’s but were so durable the style continued to be made and produced, believe it or not, even up to the troops of World War 1 ! The snapsack is also of linen, and the canteen is two halves of similar gourds, sealed with beeswax, and held together with leather straps.So how did it go?

Date of the hike was June 29. My observations are as such. First the advantages. The Soulier de Boeuf boots are the most comfortable footwear I have ever worn. The boots have been waterproofed with mink oil and despite the rain and the fact that the Webster-Jackson Trail was at the time a brook, my feet did not get wet. Nor did I slip or lose traction, even on the ledges below the summit of Jackson. Since the boots ride high up they did need to be adjusted frequently as they rely on being tied just above the calf. They are also the quietest footwear ever. My theory is that modern boots have gaps in their soles for traction, hence pockets of air. Step on a twig or branch and the resultant sound is carried and heard. However, with these boots (and I went off trail to test this many times)the elk sole engulfs objects underneath and muffles the sound. I can imagine when put to use in the skulking manner of 18th century woodland warfare that these would be deadly effective. The soles had no cracking or heavy abrasion wear, all seams held.

Disadvantages are linen. You sweat like a hog and it is very heavy when wet. The felt hat was another matter. Despite a first fragile impression, it’s not very flexible, nor does it give. On several occasions the wide brim would brush against a trailside tree, and instead of folding or being crushed on contact, it held firm. As a matter of fact, it would spin your head into the direction of point of contact. On at least three occasions my neck would get totally torqued around. We saw plenty of toads and slugs and fed one lone jay on Jackson. Weather and views at summit were very good. Got late start due to morning thunderstorms. Saw 4 people coming down and another four at the top. There was also a Fish & Game truck at trailhead lot and a crew on Elephant Head with a litter you could see from the road. Never got any other details on that.

All in all an enjoyable experience. It’s one thing to use this equipment at a re-enactment, another to put it to a more thorough test. New Hampshire has, in my opinion, the most unique hiking history ever. So, look to your hiking past, it can help map your future. Thus, to my father and mother, thanks for insisting that I be raised amongst the mountains and trails of my home state, where my energy of youth and my later years too, has been put to good use. This hike was for you. And to the Willards, from Simon, to Samuel and Henry, to Longley and all others: I have never met you, but I felt a lot closer to you today. My thanks to you as well. We are where we are today due to people like you. Some may argue for better or worse. But today, I was able to get up when I wanted to, be where I wanted to be, breathe the air I wanted to, and even hike where I wanted to.

Today I was able to be free.

Please enjoy the few photos I have provided a link to.