CANTON — The white-canvas tents and rustic cooking areas scattered around the private field in this remote, wooded town appeared deserted after a torrential May rainfall. The downpour seeped into the tent of Gordon Thebeau and Penny Minto. So the couple from Somerville packed up their baskets, wool blankets and Thebeau’s muzzleloader and headed home to dry off. But vowed they’d return.

More than 60 other experts of early American frontier life stayed. They merely used their cast-iron kettles and pans to boil hot tea and honey for bread. They kept their moccasins by the fire and waited out the rain, while their tents shed the pounding water.

The annual spring rendezvous held by the Ancient Ones of Maine is a historically accurate encampment where dozens camp using camping equipment and clothing similar to those used in the primitive, far-more-difficult way of life in Colonial America.

But what makes this gathering special in comparison to similar gatherings across the country is that Maine’s is more intimate.

“The one in Florida draws as many as 6,000 spectators. And it’s all pre-1840s,” said Minto. “I like this one better. It’s small, more personal. The Florida one is good to go to if you’re learning. This is fun because nobody brings a TV, no radios, there are no cell phones. Everyone who comes is part of one big family.”

According to the National Rendezvous and Living History Foundation in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Colonial-era rendezvous are held in 49 states.

“Ohio’s clubs have one every month of the year. If we lived in Ohio, we would be in a tent the entire winter,” said Beverly Heister, office manager for the foundation. “Quite a few (states) have rendezvous year-round. I’d say there are at least 1,000 rendezvous across the country.”

The massive rendezvous hosted by the Florida Frontiersmen in Homeland, Florida, is believed to be the largest. It draws 1,200 participants and thousands of spectators.

But according to those who attend Maine’s, the Ancient Ones’ encampment in Canton is more down-home – and a bit more friendly.

“It’s the difference between going to a country store and going to Walmart,” said Charlie Oaks of Tenants Harbor, who has attended Maine’s rendezvous for 20 years.

This is what draws Paul Johansen of Billerica, Massachusetts, to Canton. Johansen attends rendezvous in Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. While he has a Colonial-era campsite, he attends largely for the shooting competitions, where he excels with his blackpowder rifle.

A deer hunter and marksman, Johansen loves teaching others how our forefathers hunted and survived with primitive firearms. And he likes the family feeling of Maine’s rendezvous.

“If you see 80 people here, it’s a lot. Others have 400 to 500,” he said.

The participants in Canton use historically accurate clothes and artifacts from the period between 1640 and 1840. The first Ancient Ones encampment was in 1984, said Ray Hamilton, the group’s president.

While it began as a Maine-based club, the Ancient Ones have attracted out-of-staters who look forward to the chance to camp in Maine twice a year in a historical encampment. Many pitch their tents in the same place and visit with the same neighbors in this small, primitive tent village.

On the second day of the encampment each May, a large bonfire draws the entire group to a circle of wooden and stone benches, and the names of Ancient Ones who have died are read. Then a “wind ceremony” celebrates nature and our connection to it.

“We face the north, south, east and west. It’s symbolic. It’s a tradition of remembering our friends,” said Merilyn Littlefield of Tenants Harbor.

“We know everyone here and everyone knows us. I like the people. They’re friendly and they take you right in.”

Hamilton said it’s sad seeing older members pass on or simply not return, and recruiting younger members is tough.

But the group is resilient in its traditions and heritage.

“We still try to show folks the old ways so they are not forgotten. After all you can now take a photo with a phone,” Hamilton said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

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