PITTSTON – Men circled around a small campfire, laughing at each other’s stories, their muskets resting leaning against trees. Wood smoke hung in the warm, damp air and settled on the white cloth tents that dotted the landscape. Inside, men played cribbage while pies baked in kettle cookers heated by fire and hot coals.

“It would have been a place of mega activity and excitement,” said Pete Morrissey, one of roughly a dozen history re-enactors who turned out for a weekend encampment at Maj. Reuben Colburn’s house. “The men really believed in this cause.”

The activity around Colburn’s house in 1775 was a result of Col. Benedict Arnold’s arrival with a group of more than 1,100 members of the Continental Army. Arnold led his men up the Kennebec River to attack the British stronghold of Quebec City.

The men sailed up from Massachusetts on 11 ships, which disembarked at the home of Colburn, a member of the Maine Committee of Safety and a prominent Colonial family.

Colburn, a shipbuilder, provided Arnold’s men with supplies, including 200 wooden boats called bateaux.

Re-enactors pitched tents on the homestead’s front lawn and cooked meals inside the house, which was open to the public.

The re-enactors, members of Samuel Goodwin’s Company and George White’s Company of the 11th Massachusetts Regiment, can sometimes be found at historic Pownalborough Courthouse in nearby Dresden.

Arnold and his men met with additional soldiers at Fort Western in Augusta and began the long, difficult trip upriver toward Quebec City. The soldiers attempted to scale the city’s cliffs on New Year’s Eve in a snowstorm. Arnold suffered a serious leg injury.

“They failed in taking the city,” Morrissey said.

Even with the re-enactors, it was difficult to imagine the scene around Colburn’s home 236 years later. The view of the river below has been overgrown with trees and brush. Houses dot the landscape around the homestead, and there is the constant sound of traffic on Route 27. The boatyard and sawmill have disappeared.

“This was probably all fields,” Morrissey said.

But the re-enactors added flavor to the imagination. Perry Palmer made pies and other treats in a fireplace using period cookware.

Mike Dekker tried to teach Palmer cribbage strategy. The game was as popular with soldiers then as it is with Mainers now.

The re-enactors honor the past by remembering it and teaching others. That’s what prompted Chris and Yvonne Batson of Fairfield to visit with their 11-year-old son, Nathanael. The re-enactors create a sense of place that books cannot.

“You can come here and you’re part of the history,” Chris Batson said. “Those people really immerse themselves. That really brings it out.”

While the Batsons have visited other sites like Colonial Williamsburg, they didn’t know the Colburn house existed until reading a news article about the encampment.

“We’re losing touch with our history,” Chris Batson said. “This is where it all began.”

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Craig Crosby can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

[email protected]