If you're familiar with Rendezvous I guess you'll just want to look at the pictures. But, if you've never experienced a Rendezvous, you are in for a treat. The modern Rendezvous is patterned after the annual gathering of Mountainmen. Once a year, they would meet in an agreed location to trade, get drunk and compete, not necessarily in that order. The modern rendezvous is a family event. Some rendezvous have seminars in weaving, tanning hides, canoe making, sewing and blacksmithing. You can compete in shooting, cooking, fire starting, knife & hawk throwing, just to name a few. If you don't want to compete, no problem. There's music, dancing and lots of fine company. So I don't bore you to death, I'll intermix my words with some pictures so you can get a feel for what this Rendezvous thing is all about. Like people, Rendezvous come in all sizes.
This is the 1997 National Muzzleloading Rifle Association (NMLRA) Northeastern Primitive Rendezvous in Pawlet, Vermont. The national rendezvous last ten days. This is a nice sized event with about 300 participants. What you see here is maybe 20% of the camp. The location was atop a beautiful mountain and about three miles from the nearest phone or paved road. For those of you who worry about such things, there are water tanks and porta-johns (called hooters) at Rendezvous. Modern Rendezvous require that everything you can see, look as if it were made before 1840. Great pains are usually taken to keep the water buffalos and hooters out of sight.
This is the 18th Century Market Fair, held the last full weekend in April at Ft. Frederick in Big Pool, Maryland. The fort was originally erected in 1756 and was reconstructed during the 1930's by the CCC. As Rendezvous go, this is a mid-sized event. Competition at Market Fair is kind of lacking. However, most folks don't attend Market Fair to compete. They come to shop. Most of the tents to the left of the road are personal camps. To the right of the road and around the Fort, are the tents of well around 150 Sutlers. A Sutler was an 18th Century merchant who followed the Army. The term has come to mean any rendezvous merchant. Just about everything you want or need to get active in this hobby can be bought from the Sutlers at Market Fair. Here you will find tentmakers, tailors, blacksmiths, shoemakers, gunsmiths, weavers, tinsmiths, knives, blankets, cookware, leather goods, and on and on and on.
This is the NMLRA Eastern Primitive Rendezvous in Aurora, WV. If I remember right, this was held in 1990 or '91. And yup, this is one of the biggest rendezvous you can attend. About 3000 campers. The real big national rendezvous not only draw lots of campers, they draw lots of sutlers so you need the ten days just to walk around. The Eastern offers top notch prizes for the competitions but the competitors are top notch too. If you win the Eastern woodswalk, you've done alright.
And if you can't afford new goods, then wander through the camp and checkout the trade blankets that folks put in front of their tent. Most of the items on a trade blanket are used, but some are things the owner has made. This is where the bargains are. On the blanket shown here, you can see some strands of beads, a variety of knives, eating utensils, wooden bowls, tin cups, pewter plates and some powder horns. If you have young children, trade blankets are the place to pick up used clothes. Frequently during the course of the Rendezvous, you will notice items move from one blanket to another as owners barter and swap. Haggling is not only acceptable, it's expected.
The whole family can attend a Rendezvous. This gent has three kids in tow while he checks out some of the longrifles. I know for a fact that the Mrs. was taking a nap. It's kind of hard to tell, but at least one of the kids is barefoot and all are wearing breechcloths. Leggings and breechcloth for the growing lads in your family can really keep the cost of clothes down. And, the kids love running around like indians and they sleep like rocks.
Some folks might worry about bring their children to an event with all those guns, knives, woods and streams. Lots of ways for kids to get in trouble, right? Well, Rendezvous people, called Buckskinners (or Skinners for short), watch out for each other and each other's kids too. If your young one is getting into something he shouldn't, just about anyone will reel him in and send him home. Looks like this lad wandered too far from camp. On her first visit to a Rendezvous, a friend said she had never felt more safe in her life. She new that anyone in camp would help out if there was trouble. It's also amazing how a kid you can't get to take out the trash at home will offer to help folks put up their tent or haul wood & water (for someone else, of course).
Some families prefer to just relax away from all the bustle of the modern world. But, if you want, there is plenty to do. Here is my then 10 year old son Evan entering a "knife and hawk" competition. The objective is to cut the playing card in half with your tomahawk, and stick your knife in the center of the card. You usually get one throw of each (knife and hawk) at each of five cards. Sometimes you get to pace off the distance, sometimes you don't. You can't see the adult who's there to supervise and keep score. Unsupervised children are not allowed at the range, and knives and tomahawks must be sheathed when not in use.
Here is that same kid four years later claiming second prize in Junior Knife & Hawk at the NMLRA Northeastern Primitive Rendezvous. Dave who ran the Knife & Hawk range (and took 1st in the Men's Competition) said he was not looking forward to the day he would have to compete against Evan.
What kind of people will you meet at a Rendezvous? All kinds. Some men are cleanshaven with short hair and some are Charlie Manson look alikes. Some of the women look like proper ladies from 18th century Boston and some are dressed just as rough as their men. You'll find construction workers, dentists, engineers, auto mechanics, actors, computer programers and we even let in some lawyers. Note the infant in the lap of the guy in the front row. You'll find people dressed as Mountainmen, prosperous merchants, military officers, longhunters and Native Americans. But just about everyone of them will go out of their way to help you. If you have a question about someones camp, just walk in, introduce yourself and ask. At my first Rendezvous, someone I had never met, lent me a rifle for my 13 year old son to use. You can't get much more friendly than that.
OK, it sounds like fun.
Where do I start?
Here's where I can save you some money and frustration by saying, "Don't start like I did." I looked in some catalogs, bought some clothes and a tent and was off. This was my camp at my first Rendezvous. The tent is called a Pyramid or One-Pole. It's an inexpensive way to start but unfortunately, it's not pre-1840. Most Rendezvous will allow One-Poles but Rendezvous at many historical sites will not. If I had spent some time researching I wouldn't have needed to replace a two year old tent.
I recommend you start with a persona (ie., who you are). Sounds a bit schizoid, I know, but you need to be able to answer some basic questions about your role in the 18th century. A few of them are: What year is it? Where were you born? What is your social status? Where do you live? What do you do for a living?
Once you answer these and more, it then becomes much easier to decide what tent is appropriate, what type of clothing would you wear, which longarm should you buy. There is no point in spending big money on a fancy suit if you wish to portray a Longhunter. The book to the left, Who Was I? by Cathy Johnson, is a wonderful guide to creating a persona. Click on the picture to visit Cathy's webpage and acquire a copy. Cathy is not a relative and I get nothing for the referal. She's just a fine author with a great book.
Do I really have to go through all that just to attend a Rendezvous?
Absolutely not. I highly recommend you start with your persona and some of the organizations on my Links Page even require them. Rendezvous do not. A wall tent or a wedge tent are welcome at any 18th Century event so I'd suggest you stick with them. The small tent city seen here is our current family setup. If I am alone or with just one of my sons, I use a wedge tent or a diamond shelter. Check out the links for some places to outfit yourself. I also recommend Muzzleloader Magazine and Smoke & Fire News as good sources of sutlers. Remember one thing though. Just because a sutler sells it doesn't mean it's right for your persona or even right for the 18th century. Do your research!
This isn't my tent but my big setup is just as bad (or good depending on your perspective). When I decided I wanted my wife to join us, I showed her one of these setups and that was all it took. Gracies philosophy is, "If I have it I should be able to bring it." She is not a purist by any means, but she loves Rendezvous. A bed, although a pain to transport, does free up floor space since things can go under it, and with the extra space Gracie can bring her fiddle and bowed psaltry. Yeah, I grumble about all the "stuff" but I really enjoy the music.
Sunday morning brings Church services for those who are so inclined. You couldn't ask for a more beautiful chapel. Services are usually well attended with plenty of enthusiastic singing accompanied by guitars. First timers are a bit taken aback when the minister turns out to be the guy you saw yesterday in the deerskin breech cloth, or a Native American in full face paint.
One evening some folks might get all dressed up in their finery for a dance. Those that have it wear it and those that don't, don't. If you look close you'll see some plain folks mixed in with the fancy. This particular dance was preceded by dance lessons the night before, conducted by the gentleman in the kilt. This is a Virginia Reel in full swing.
At a Rendezvous you never know what will happen next. These boys to the right, got a bit stir crazy, I think. One of the guys had a weasel skin on a string. Every time he'd pull on the string, the guy with the broom would shriek and start beating on the thing. This went on for 30 minutes and ran the length of the street.
And then, there's The Elf. This strange little fellow shows up from time to time. He's about three feet tall and very low key. He doesn't say much but when he talks, it's worth listening to. I'm sure you've all heard the tale of "The Elf and The Shoemaker". Well, this guy doesn't do shoes. He does make fine clothing though. Why, I've seen him cut out and sew a suit of clothes in the time it takes to light your pipe. The guy is pure magic.
So now we come to the big question.
Why don't you join us?
All you need is a few basics to get started and from there you can spend as much or as little as you want. It's great chance to get away from all the noise and confusion of civilization. Rendezvous is a lot of fun for the whole family and it can even be educational. (Don't tell the kids) Once you start you will never look back, except to check your back trail.
Well, I guess if you're still here, I haven't bored you to death. Where to now?
Back to the McNeal Base Camp
Watch some Rendezvous Highland Games
Check out some links firstname.lastname@example.org
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