Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Seventeenth-Century Day!

Last year after the students left, my family and I went on several adventures that got me thinking - what might we learn by trying to approximate the sites and activities of early Bermudian settlers? This experiential learning germ grew over the winter in my mind and by early May, I had an excellent day planned out. For the past two weeks, the students have been trying to ferret out of me what they'd be doing, and speculating wildly when I refused to tell. Were they to be marooned on Smiths Island? Or somewhere even smaller? Did it involve sailing? Planting tobacco? Hunting for ambergris?  On Sunday, the wait was over and we embarked on our Magical History Tour, Bermuda style...

Archaeologists' boat (above) vs. marine biologists' ship -
humanities vs. STEM funding levels...
We boarded our boat and set off for Ferry Reach - because traveling by water was the most common mode of transportation in the early decades (just ignore the V4 engine  in the stern) - destination UNKNOWN. After seeing the old ferry wharf, various forts, and shipbuilding sites along the way, we anchored at the Grotto Bay end of the Causeway and landed, ready to explore... Tom Moore's Jungle.

This part of Bermuda between Castle Harbour and Harrington Sound is geologically the oldest, full of rock outcroppings and caves and with very little flat ground. 1610s Bermuda Company investors complained so loudly that they each got an extra five acres of land in St. David's to compensate them for the difficult topography of their Hamilton Parish shares. Their servants they sent fought a losing battle to clear the land and to this day the area remains densely wooded and sparsely developed.
Our first two caves - partly filled with seawater
 Most of it is a Bermuda Government park and a Bermuda National Trust nature reserve, with a small tract in private hands - Tom Moore's Tavern, a very expensive, exclusive five-star restaurant in one of the earliest stone houses ever built in Bermuda (c. 1652). Our morning mission was to experience the forested landscape that early settlers would have encountered - and explore caves! 
And they were never seen again...
Jonathan and Kristina - and a few albino lobsters by their ankles

 After a very cool spelunk (if that's the right verb), we wended our way to a natural pool formed in the hollow made by a large collapsed cave... 
 ...which happened to have a convenient cliff from which to jump.
A flying U of R Professor!
Three of the five of us partook of briefly defying gravity (the Fricker family accrued much honour). Jonathan threw down the gauntlet in a splash off, which was caught on video - but which Blogger will not let me upload!

UPDATE: Posted to YouTube:

Who will win? Watch to find out - and note the excuses!!!

After drying off and having lunch, we upped our game to bigger and more extensive caves deeper in the forest.

The grand finale was a huge cave mostly filled with water that slants downward into utter darkness...

No gollum sightings, or Rings found - but lots of swimming

Afterwards, we emerged near Tom Moore's Tavern and saw this unique early building. Built around 1652 by Samuel Trott (the son of one of Bermuda's biggest landholders), the house has an unusual covered arched piazza flanking its original entry porch room.  

Note the tall narrow windows in this building - now sash but almost certainly originally diamond-pane casement windows like those on many 17th-century St. George's houses. From here we walked back to the boat via the main road, which just happened to take us past an ice cream parlour - and a slight lapse in our strict 17th c. dietary regimen.

The truly epic part of the day came around 4:30, when we really made the leap into the early 17th century. Readers of this blog may recall that last year's field school helped work on a c. 1612 settler house reconstruction to gain insights into timber-frame architecture. Well, this house is now finished and Rick Spurling very kindly allowed us to spend the night in it in order to get in touch with living in the distant past. We even found some reenactor's costumes  (a century or so off, but who's counting). Jonathan and Anima especially got into character! 

We had an early dinner, complements of Somers Market, from which I screened all foods that had no plausible historical precedents for 1620s Bermuda but, amazingly, a lot of that night's offerings passed muster. Besides soldier's bread (dark wheat), we had roast lamb, cassava bread, mashed potatoes (they arrived in Bermuda c. 1617), and ginger bread - eaten with only knife, spoon, mug, and bowl (no forks! how 18th century!) communally around the table.
Ravenously doth they fall upon the repast to slake their hunger.
The next challenge was making a fire without lucifer sticks (matches) and gathering wood to sustain us through the night. Leigh became our targeted thermo-optical specialist and succeeded!

With heat and light later assured, we banked the fire and walked to Clearwater Beach and Cooper's Island to catch a beautiful sunset - from the very spot that Christopher Carter (our Smiths Island hero) built his house after the Bermuda Company belatedly rewarded him for finding a fortune in whale barf (a long but very fun story).
It was fairly dark when we returned. In a very hobbit-like way, we embarked on preparing a second supper by candlelight on the open hearth. I had brought a variety of foods that early settlers would have had - flour, dried peas, potatoes, onions, carrots, salt cod, honey. We made a soup in the dutch oven and went stargazing on the hill behind Carter House while it simmered. Eating by candlelight was truly amazing, a great end to a challenging day.

Bedding was the last challenge we faced, since the Settler House had none. Historically, it would have had a half loft for its residents, but alas we had only a dirt floor. Jonathan said he only woke up once. Leigh said she didn't sleep a wink. The rest of us fell somewhere in between...
My makeshift bed - basically a Boy Scouts stretcher using a sheet
We had Monday off for all to recover and reacclimate ourselves to the 21st century: mostly we slept but a few who suffered internet withdrawal binged. We were back digging today and made some amazing finds, but that entry will have to wait until tomorrow...

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