For Ted Borek, each historic reenactment in Old Town presents a new challenge. Which historic personality to interpret? The possibilities are endless because the cast of characters goes on for centuries. And now, with the arrival of spring in Alexandria, Borek has been once again faced with the question of which character from the past to portray for “Braddock Day” at the Carlyle House.
“I will be there as William Johnson, easily the most interesting character most people have never heard of,” Borek said, adding that Johnson was an emissary to the Iroquois Confederacy. “He was called “Warraghiyagey,” roughly meaning ‘he who does great things,’ and came to Alexandria to receive the king’s commission as the person solely empowered to treat with the Indians.”
Borek is one member of the city’s burgeoning subculture of historic reenactors, a group of people who seek out new roles for a number of events that take place throughout the year. Other yearly events include the death of John Carlyle, George Washington’s birthnight ball and a Revolutionary War battlefield recreation at Fort Ward.
Braddock Day is now in its second year, as the Carlyle House continues to create new historic reenactment events. From noon to 4 p.m. on April 2, costumed reenactors will be using documentary evidence to portray the world of the past.
<b>HISTORIC REENACTORS</b> like to find old documents that bring light to the past. One diary entry from John Carlyle is key to interpreting the events of 1755 that brought British General Edward Braddock to the Carlyle House. He called the meeting the “grandest Congress” that had ever assembled in North America, but he also complained about lousy treatment from the British soldiers. He compared their disregard to the way a jailor might treat litter on the floor of a holding cell.
“In so prejudiced against us, our Country & etc. that they used us Like an Enemy Country: took everything they wanted & paid Nothing, or Very little for it. When Complaints was made to the Commanding Officers, they Curst the Country & Inhabitants, Calling us the Spawn of Convicts, the Sweepings of the Gaols & etc., which made their Company disagreeable.”
The day was April 14, 1755 — one of the most important dates in Alexandria history. That was when five royal North American British governors met to plot their strategy against the French in the Ohio country. The two world powers were fighting each other for domination in Europe and the Americas, both using Indian allies for intelligence and support.
“People should be interested in the French and Indian War because the forces it let loose — indeed, they were let loose right in the parlor of the Carlyle House — were greater than anyone understood at the time and led more or less directly, if not inevitably, to American independence a quarter of a century later,” Borek said. “It was also, of course, the so-called ‘First World War’ in that it boiled down to a titanic struggle for empire between Britain and France that was played out on all continents and all the seas.”
<b>USING CARLYLE'S</B> house as a headquarters, General Braddock assembled two regiments of troops — the largest military presence that had ever been seen in North America at that time. King George II was determined to corner the market on the profitable fur trade from Ohio, and the crown trusted Braddock to fulfill the royal prerogative. A 35-year veteran of the British army, he was an expert on war tactics of the era.
Governors from Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia met in Carlyle’s stone mansion on Fairfax Street to discuss the logistics of attacking Fort Duquesne near modern-day Pittsburgh.
The military objective from London was to secure Fort Duquesne, then expel the French from their forts on the Great Lakes and eventually claim all of Canada. But the plan did not account for the ferocity of the American Indians or the ruthlessness of the French in the American wilderness.
“No one even remotely familiar with the mountains, rivers and Indian tribes within this terrain would have drawn up such orders,” wrote historian Joseph Ellis in “His Excellency.”
“Braddock’s mission, in effect, was inherently impossible.”
In the spring of 1755, Braddock plotted the attack. In a daylong meeting with five royal governors, General Braddock demanded money and resources. Over maps of North America, a strategy was devised to march into Fort Duquesne with a British show of power — a crushing force that would shock an overwhelmed foe.
But the general was faced with serious logistical problems. Leading more than 2,000 men with heavy artillery through a wilderness would present difficult challenges. The cannons needed a team of horses to pull them through the mud, and the horses needed food. The wagons carrying food for the horses needed to be carried by more horses. The troops had 2,500 horses and a handful of camp women who followed the convoy. The entire cavalcade stretched six miles, an easy target for an enemy that could attack from any angle at any time.
Just as the British juggernaut was reaching its location, it was attacked by the French and their Indian allies. Braddock was mortally wounded, and a 23-year-old George Washington led the retreat. His heroism in the heat of battle raised his profile, and the master of Mount Vernon was vaulted onto the public stage as a consequence of Braddock’s failure.
Planning the attack was a difficult negotiation, and visitors to Braddock Day can expect to hear a detailed discussion of the best way to launch the campaign into the wilderness of the Ohio country. Borek will play a central role as chief Indian negotiator and diplomat to the Iroquois Confederacy.
But why does he do this?
“I certainly like to be stared at” Borek said. “I certainly believe that it’s vital to do whatever one can to convey at least some glimmer of a sense of our history to the public, as they hardly get it anywhere else.”