Living Past Lives: History Lives on at Silvershell Encampment

As Marion’s police chief, John Garcia knows what it is like to swelter under a police uniform and gear on hot summer days, as many police officers do. Unlike most of us living now in the first quarter of the 21stcentury, though, Garcia also knows how quickly one perspires in the mid-afternoon sun while wearing a buttoned woolen vest atop white linen tucked into a pair of half leg-length knickers met just below the knee by woolen socks.

The majority of us know Garcia as a 21stcentury police chief in our everyday lives; fewer among us know him as an 18thcentury tinsmith, although that’s who Garcia is during certain weekends when he trades in his police uniform for that of a humble period tradesman as a member of the Fairhaven Village Militia.

On Sunday, August 12, Garcia could be spotted seeming right at home, seaside at Silvershell Beach in Marion standing behind a wooden table beneath a canvas tarp, captivated in his craft, his fingers nimbly fashioning a silver strip of tin into a candle holder and pleasantly presenting to the public the various steps to fasten together a genuine olde tyme pocket lantern.

During the annual Silvershell Encampment in Marion August 11-12, a familiar face or two could be found outside of the usual context in which it is normally observed; in particular, our full-time modern-day police chief, Garcia, along with former Marion selectman/current recreation director, and part-time revolutionary War-era cook, Jody Dickerson.

The two gentlemen are still relatively new to the colonial scene, with Garcia and Dickerson now in their fourth and third years as militia members, respectively; but each has brought to the militia group his own skill, honed and developed specifically for their Revolutionary War reenactment roles.

Dickerson has a slew of antique recipes up his puffy white linen sleeve, some he even borrowed from Martha herself – not Martha Stewart; rather, the one and only Martha Washington.

“Last night we cooked an entire turkey dinner for the camp,” said Dickerson, giving some of the credit to co-cook Michele Bissonnette, another familiar face in Marion as an assistant in the Treasurer’s Office. “We prepared potatoes as well,” Dickerson went on as he demonstrated how the camp’s reflection oven holds the turkey inside a reflective metal box beside the fire, a handle on the side used to turn the turkey every 15 minutes, he explained. But those fish cakes he prepared for lunch that day, he said – Martha’s recipe didn’t mention anything about adding an egg to keep the fish cakes together during the cooking process, leading to a dish that Dickerson described as “fish mush.”

Still, Dickerson’s kitchen is equipped with all the pre-modern necessities: butter paddles, wooden mashers, a butter churner, and, of course, that latest reflection oven model surrounded by various baskets, colored glass jars, and an assortment of glass containers filled with spices.

“It’s more of an educational display for people,” said Dickerson, although it does the trick in preparing a hearty meal for those staying overnight in their humble tents pitched behind their stations.

Next door, Garcia’s table is lined with various shiny examples of fine tinsmithing. As the village tinsmith, Garcia’s work can be found at other campsites as well, providing pretty splashes of light through his primitive punched tin lanterns, all made by hand. On Sunday afternoon, Garcia was tinkering various bits and bobs by hammering strips of tin on his stake anvil, a common 18thcentury technique. He’s even going on to development his tinkering skills further during his vacation next week while he attends a training in Historic Eastfield in upstate New York.

When Garcia first decided to join the Fairhaven Militia, he chose the role of tinsmith as his specialty, saying, “I thought [tinsmithing] looked cool. It’s kind of taken off and I do it all year now.”

Garcia said his family has been rather supportive of his period pursuits since he first expressed an interest a few years ago.

“I always thought that it would be fun, the encampments,” said Garcia. “My wife will sometimes come along and hang out, but she wants no part of participating,” he said with a laugh.

Most participants eventually make their own tools and clothes, but when you’re still starting off much like Garcia is, there’s really only one place to go for all your Revolutionary War-era needs: “God bless the Internet,” said Garcia. The modern-day period costume enthusiast can find just about anything he needs online, Garcia swears.

The encampment is crisscrossed by several rows of historical flags and shrouded in campfire smoke in various pockets of the field. Intermittent blings of sun are reflected in the brass buttons and buckles of the myriad historical characters, and once in a while, off the face of a digital watch, which we pretend not to notice lest we risk finding ourselves while lost in a moment from a time when life was lived simpler and has long since passed; a time and place where Dickerson and Garcia can sometimes be found looking and playing the part of a past life they perhaps once lived, and every so often enjoy re-living, given good weather, of course.

By Jean Perry


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