Revolutionary Women Participate in War Reenactment - The Skirmish
On Saturday, June 3, 2023, the British will invade Haddonfield, NJ and face the Continental troops. The Skirmish, Haddonfield's annual revolutionary war reenactment and colonial festival, is a free, day-long outdoor event that has been running since 2014. Participants will recreate the historical event that occurred 245 years ago in June 1778, where the British forces and Continental Army head off to the Battle at Monmouth. In this exciting reenactment of the Revolutionary War, which will take place on and around Kings Highway in Haddonfield, the Redcoats will charge on their horses, muskets will be fired, and they will clash with the Continentals.
War reenactment has historically been an effort that mostly men participate in. While there is evidence that women fought in the Continental Army in the late 1700s, women haven't been part of the fighting aspects of reenactments for a long time. However, in this year's Skirmish, two revolutionary women will participate in the fight—Wendy Lucas and Maria Lemma.
Wendy Lucas is a retired Physical Therapist. She has a Bachelor's degree in Women's Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and a BS and MS in Physical Therapy from Thomas Jefferson University. When she first became a Revolutionary War reenactor, Lucas was the only woman in the First Battalion of New Jersey Volunteers, a Red-coated Loyalist Regiment. She is now the regiments' Sergeant and President.
Maria Lemma, born and raised in southern New Jersey, received her Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Rutgers University-Camden. After graduating, she began her career at a research lab, the Center for Applied Genomics (CAG), which carries out studies using the latest in genomics technology, such as DNA sequencing and genotyping. She has remained with the CAG for the past 16 years, and last year received a MS in Clinical Research Organization and Management from Drexel University. Lemma dresses as both a soldier and lady of the time period, and even sews her own dresses.
These two revolutionary women spoke with the Garden State Woman Education Foundation and shared their experience as woman war reenactors.
- How did you first become involved in war reenactment? What started your inspiration and interest in becoming a Revolutionary War reenactor?
"Believe it or not, I was actually raised as a pacifist, during the Vietnam War. I joined the First Battalion of New Jersey Volunteers in 2004 soon after getting romantically involved with Jay Weatherbee, their commander. We had been very good friends in high school and re-met while he was on temporary leave from the regiment after his divorce from its founder, his first wife. I loved that the regiment was founded by a woman when no existing regiment would take her on as a soldier. For years she was the only woman in the ranks. I too, in my turn, was the only one for a long time. The first time we fixed bayonets and charged at hay bales, I felt such a rush of adrenaline and knew this was for me! I learned so much about men, soldiering, history, and reenacting in those first years! It was initially quite the culture shock, but I grew into it."
"Becoming a Revolutionary War reenactor was a bit of an accident—as you can see from my background, I wasn't much of a history buff. I attended a local reenactment as a spectator in the fall of 2007 with some of my family and became acquainted with the First Battalion of New Jersey Volunteers, a South Jersey-based group that portrays an actual Loyalist regiment from the war. What I found intriguing was that this particular group allowed women to field as soldiers, which at the time wasn't a very common thing. They were extremely welcoming and after speaking with them for a bit, I decided to try participating in an event. What was great is that they have enough spare gear that interested individuals such as myself can be outfitted for an event without having to make the commitment to purchase everything immediately. I came out to their next event a couple of weeks later, and from there I was hooked."
- What is one memorable experience you have had during your time as a war reenactor?
"One year ago, we were coming off the field at Monmouth Battlefield State Park after a long battle. I saw the flash of recognition and big smiles as women in the audience realized some of us were women. Later that day, a woman approached us about joining the regiment!"
"There have been so many memorable experiences, but if I had to choose only one or two, I'd say the events where there are 'unscripted' battles have been my favorite. During these scenarios, my unit might have to go out on patrol for a few hours, so we'll need to bring everything we might need with us—food rations, water, and ammunition for your musket. We don't know if we'll encounter any other units, or what could happen if we do. You get to have a glimpse into what soldiers and units from the time might've experienced, and it gives you a whole new appreciation for what they did."
- What are your favorite aspects or reenactments? Why?
"I love the tremendous variety of people I meet, both fellow reenactors and those who come out to watch us. The camaraderie and the feeling of pride, fellowship, and common loyalty we share in the regiment and with many fellow reenactors are exquisite. We are truly like family to one another."
"One of my favorite aspects of participating in reenactments has always been getting to visit the various sites, especially when it's a weekend-long event. We will set up an 18th century encampment and most of us will spend one or two nights in a period-style wedge tent, have a fire, tell stories and sing 18th century songs, share our meals together—the camaraderie is wonderful. And getting to see and experience the sites during these events is really special. Although there was never a battle or encampment here, George Washington's Mount Vernon estate has been one of my favorite sites to visit; there is a yearly encampment and skirmish hosted by Mount Vernon that my group usually attends in the spring. How many people can say they've peeked out of their tent at 3am to see a full moon shining on what had been George Washington's home? It's unforgettable."
- What is the most significant part about being a war reenactor as a woman?
"It is tremendously empowering. Not only can I hold my own on the field, but I also feel invested in a community of people learning daily how to communicate to the public what the life of a Loyalist during the American War of Independence was like."
"The most significant part about being a war reenactor as a woman has been the opportunity to teach. One of the most common questions/statements I'll get from the public has been about women (or lack thereof) in the army during the revolution. It can be confusing for spectators because they will see my unit, which can have up to eight or nine women in the ranks at a given event—so I will use that as a teaching moment. While it is true women were not officially permitted to fight in the British or Continental armies, there are some documented cases of women disguising themselves as men so that they could fight, such as Deborah Sampson. She fought for the Continentals and was discovered only because she had been wounded and was receiving medical treatment. We will never know how many other Deborah Sampsons there were for either side. Regardless, the goals of my unit are to portray the fighting style of the time while being as inclusive as possible; to teach, experience, and have fun; and to honor and respect those that fought and died during the war for independence."
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