TOWNSEND -- White canvas tents dotted the side and back yards of old houses in the harbor, right in front of the railroad tracks running along the pond. Men, women and children in period garb were busy doing the things they would have done in 1775.
The Reed House was not built when the first militia men trained in Townsend marched off to engage the British in 1775. There were no train tracks either. The Townsend Minutemen Company, joined by a company from Stow, did not let that stop them from setting up camp on the grounds of the Townsend Historical Society May 11.
On display outside were a variety of period crafts and a musket demonstration. Inside the house, re-enactors took charge of the domestic arts.
A re-enactment normally draws between 50 and 100 visitors during the day in a rural setting, said organizer Ryan Hayward. The Stow minuteman's business, the Preservation Collaborative, specializes in preserving architectural resources.
A couple dozen people had already come through the display by noon, said Jeannie Bartovics, site administrator for the society.
The re-enactors shared their knowledge and skills with visitors.
A leather hunting pouch hung on display sported a heart design. In colonial times, the symbolism of a heart was different than it is now, said leather worker David Hannon of New Hampshire. The design represented courage. If drops of blood were included it meant sacrifice.
Joiners, the colonial equivalent of finish carpenters, often made their own tools, said Dan Lacroix of Westford, who is an engineer by day. Most towns had a sawmill. The joiners would finish the rough-sawn planks into smooth pieces that could be made into paneling in homes.
Inside the house, the female members of the Minutemen took care of the domestic chores. Lunch was prepared in the open hearth of the Reed House.
The cooks had hoped to roast a chicken on a spit in the yard, but those plans were scrapped because of the rain, said Lynda Craig-Bowes and Moira Macdonald. Although the day was damp, the cooks needed to step outside every now and then to cool off after standing in front of the fire.
Two members of the Stow Minutemen made lace in the front room. Linda Scheff, who trained in Europe, readily explained the differences between types of lace.
Handcrafts and professions were often passed down through families or learned through an apprentice system. Rosa Walrath, 10, worked on a simpler pattern, one used to learn the craft under the guidance of the more senior lace maker.
Drums and fifes were an important part of the early militias. The musicians relayed orders through the patterns they played. Lily Macdonald, 13, from Stow, learned a new skill when she joined the Minutemen. Now, she can play the drum.
The Townsend Minutemen often join forces with other local companies to hold musters or march in parades, said John Barrett, a captain in the Townsend company. The event was funded by historical society and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.