AUGUSTA — It was 1758, in the midst of the French and Indian War. Supplies were scarce and tensions high at Fort Western, where some soldiers had been stationed for a long, lonely three years, on the lookout for any Indians or French soldiers who, they feared, might attack them from either the Kennebec River to the front or from the woods to the fort’s rear at any time.

That attack never came – Fort Western was never attacked directly in its history – but Capt. James Howard and his roughly 20 men had no way of knowing that, at the time. So they remained at the ready, armed with muskets and cannons capable of firing 4-pound cannonballs out across the Kennebec River.

A replica of those cannons fired off several shots Saturday, causing many of the roughly 25 spectators – on hand at the fort as James Howard Company re-enactors portrayed the garrison of Fort Western as it likely would have been during the French and Indian War – to jump as the black powder shot rang out and smoke billowed out of the fort’s blockhouse.

“We heard a report there may be hostile Indians coming upriver, so we’re going to use our first line of defense and fire our four-pounders to discourage them,” said re-enactor Rick Pierce of Oakland, who portrayed Capt. Howard, commander of Fort Western. He re-emerged, with about a half-dozen other re-enactors, after several loud volleys had been fired, declaring, “I think we took care of them.”

Re-enactor Peter Morrissey said soldiers stationed at Fort Western then had good reason to believe they would be attacked, as Indians could have come up the river to attack and, if they had “it would have been interesting.”

He said Indians largely avoided the fort and its cannons and musket-toting provincial soldiers defending the fort for the British. But the soldiers didn’t know that and, after some were there for an exceptionally long deployment of three years, they became bitter and questioned why they were still there. Morrissey said, in response, they were given $5 to remain.

While they didn’t have to beat off any direct attacks, that doesn’t mean life was easy on what was then a new, and remote, frontier. When they were injured or ill, treatment options were likely administered by Dr. John Calef, who aided soldiers at Fort Halifax but also likely came downriver to provide health care at Fort Western, according to Jackie Fournier of Mount Vernon, who portrayed Dr. Calef on Saturday. She showed visitors the saw and scalpel he would have used for amputations, and explained that no one knew what an infection was back then, so he’d use the same bowl of water to cleanse the wound of one soldier to tend to another soldier.

For pain relief there was likely a small quantity of pain-reliever laudanum, but Fournier said that was likely in short supply and, as she explained to a young girl touring the fort Saturday, likely would not have been given to low-ranking soldiers. They’d be on their own to deal with the pain, she said, though they did get a rum ration.

Fournier said treatment for many meant cutting them to let them bleed, the idea being to bleed the poison causing their illness out of them.

She said they also used herbs to treat a range of problems, including diarrhea, which she said was prevalent.

On a back corner of the fort’s grounds, re-enactor Cindy Arnold dipped a length of string into a tin pot of beeswax that was sitting inside a large cast-iron pot of hot water on a fire, making candles. She explained the need to dip the string in long enough so the layers of wax would stick to it, but not so long that the wax already built up on it would melt and fall off.

On Saturday night, re-enactors planned to use that same fire to cook a dinner including chicken, pot roast and veggies from the garden on the fort grounds. They planned to camp there for the night, and do more re-enactments Sunday.

Nearby, re-enactor Hannes Moll, 20, who said he first got into reenactments when he was 7, struggled with a knife to cut through a thick piece of leather to make a pair of moccasins to replace his falling-apart shoes. He joked that he planned to steal some of the melted beeswax from Arnold’s pot to help waterproof the new footwear he was making.

“As a soldier, you had to know how to do” things like repair or make your own shoes, he said, “because your mother isn’t here.”

Linda Novak, director of the city-owned fort, which is the county’s oldest surviving wooden French and Indian War garrison, said the fort gets between 6,000 and 7,000 schoolchildren, and 3,000 to 4,000 other visitors, in a typical year. She said this year the fort has had visitors from every state in the nation as well as people from Europe, China, Japan, and one visitor from Moscow.


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