Williamsburg Stories and Tips

Under the Redcoat

The 64th of Foot Photo, Williamsburg, Virginia

Under the Redcoat is the annual (now in its twelfth year!) reenactment of the British occupation of Williamsburg, VA. In 1781, while on the march to Yorktown, Lord Cornwallis stopped for 10 days in Williamsburg. He brought with him the plague of locusts known as 8,500 British troops and over 12,000 followers of the army. While UTR is not quite to that enormus scale, it is representing the Provost Guard in full strength, with hundreds of re-enactors camping in Colonial Williamsburg for the weekend.

Now, this is an event unlike most Revolutionary War events, in that it does not center around a battle, but around an encampment. There is no battle at Under the Redcoat. This is a chance for reenactors to get to play. It is basically a weekend of war games. There are people picked out to play the roles of spies and ne’er-do-wells, and it is the job of the Provost Guard to pick them out and throw them in jail. The rules given to us were: You are in the presence of a hostile army. In a bad mood. You may expect to be searched. Repeatedly. You have no rights. Welcome to life under martial law.

And they aren’t kidding. Everyone is a suspect (at least everyone in period attire). I myself was searched more times that I can count. There were numerous checkpoints throughout the town, and you were stopped at each one and questioned. You had to take an oath of loyalty to King George III and carry it with you at all times. If you couldn’t present it, into the stocks you go. Even when I had my oath, I was once almost put in jail, but thankfully, I had a friend in the British Officer’s Ranks who kept me safe from the horrors!

It may seem strange that there is no battle, but please don’t think this means that there is nothing for the visitor to see. This is an excellent chance to see what life in the camps was like. British armies had large numbers of "camp followers" with them at all times. This does not mean loose women, although they were certainly there, but rather refers to the important wives and children of the soldiers, also known as the distaff. I am one of these women.

Under the Redcoat is first and foremost an educational opportunity, and most people who do reenacting do it for the opportunities to interact with the public and teach them about the American Revolution. Going into the camps, you will get to see what these women did. You can see how food was prepared and what they subsisted on, you will see numerous women sewing and learn about period tools and techniques. I sat with women doing laundry for quite sometime (and have never loved my washing machine more!). There was even one women writing letters for the soldiers and demonstrating the use of quill pens and calligraphy techniques. This is an incredible opportunity to see what domestic life was like for the soldiers and the other people in the camps.

You will certainly get a chance to learn about military tactics as well. This is, after all, a city under military occupation. With all the different regiments there, you get a chance to see people drilling, marching, and performing guard duty. They also have various activities to demonstrate military aspects to the public. There were firing competitions and demonstrations, dragoon demonstrations, and one of the highlights of the weekend, a Tug-of-War between the Army and the Navy (won, of course, by the Army – and my very own regiment, the 64th Regiment of Foot!).

But perhaps the best thing about Under the Redcoat is the opportunity to completely immerse yourself in 18th century life. The lives of the soldiers and the civilians are all around you. You will see lines of troops marching, women chatting, Redcoats on horses riding down the street. Colonial Williamsburg is already a wonderful way to get a feel for Colonial times, but if you throw 1000 re-enactors in the mix, it only multiplies the fun. These are people incredibly dedicated to helping you learn about the past. They are eager and willing to interact with visitors, teach them something, and help the understand American History. Under the Redcoat is only of the most popular events at Colonial Williamsburg, not only for the participants, but also for visitors. If you have never seen a reenactment, this is certainly a place to get a wonderful introduction to the hobby.

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