Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Pied Belcher

It was customary for 18th century diarists to note on such and such a date that nothing worth mention occurred.  Given the tedium and drudgery of soldiering during this period,  Constant Belcher would certainly be excused for following suit in his journal, but having spent a number of months now with this material, I am starting to think that for Belcher there was usually something going on to make even the most unremarkable episodes noteworthy.

So it was on a Spring day near the end of the Valley Forge encampment, when tired of endless drill under the martinet Von Steuben, and ravenously hungry after a Winter's worth of short rations, Belcher turned an ordinary day into something else altogether.

Apr 12th 1778 – This day once more calld to drill in ye model company of that damd Dutchman [von Steuben] / What his Excellency sees in this Fancy Proosian I know not, for we Jersies stood well enuf gainst ye Regulars on ye Plowed Hill & at Chew’s House while Mine Herr & his yelping hound were a-mincing round ye Continent / It does a poor soldjer hard to stand  to attention in but rags & without belly timber whilst this onion-eyed game cock splutters & crows like German George / This After noon we are to have dress Parade & no wair to find hair powder as all the flower is gone to fire-cake.  

Did hear river herring are to seen beyond our Lines in ye Skull Kill by Penny Packer’s Mill & resolved to plank sum Shad before Parade /  Passd  in stealth from Camp & made for ye River /  Hard by Mill race did see prodigious shoals of fish & so lookd within for a pitch fork or other Implement to land them by /  Discovered instead a fine goose & it not being a Friday determind  ye fowl fairer dining.

Did tuck Noble bird under my wing but soon found it made as grate Clamour as a bag full of cats /   In truth ye Goose played such a nice pentatonic scale that I feared our Sentries might mistake me for a company of Highlanders & so take Alarm /  Efforts to silence bird did only produce more Scottish Airs, so returnd  bird in hand to ye bush & returned emptyhandd.  

Happily did come upon a goatskin pack unattended behind an Officer’s Hutt, such as ye lobster Grenadiers are wont to wair, & considerd  it lawful plunder /  Found no provender within but a goodly supply of pipe clay & so fashiond  from ye bag a serviceable wig for Parade /  Receivd what Capt. Walker did say were von Steuben’s compliments /  Ye jack-a-nape Dutchman did then instruct rest of ye model company to follow my example /  British Grenadiers being in short supply in Camp, must now go aforaging for goatskin packs on the morrow.   Ye ways of war are passing strange.

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