AUGUSTA — Re-enactors at Old Fort Western on Saturday didn’t have any problems recreating some of the more infamous traits of the bateaux used by Benedict Arnold’s men in their historic but brutal march in 1775 to Quebec from the fort.

Specifically, the lack of both stability and water-tightness that plagued the Arnold Expedition’s watercraft as Arnold, years before he turned traitor, led an unsuccessful effort to capture Quebec City from the British by taking 1,100 men from the Continental Army up the Kennebec River in a grueling journey. To make the journey by water possible, Maj. Reuben Colburn was commissioned to build more than 200 bateaux for Arnold’s army at his Pittston home, in just two weeks. With such little time to work on them, the flat-bottomed boats supplied to help move Arnold’s men and supplies upriver were made of green wood, heavy and leaky. Those bateaux never made it to Quebec City, with many of them falling apart or smashing into rocks.

Hodding Carter and Rob Stevens, who joined Fort Western re-enactors Saturday on the Kennebec River and who, last year, recreated Arnold’s ill-fated but determined march to Quebec City by tracing its route in a bateau hand-made by Stevens, said their boat, too, was a challenge to move upriver.

“We were never stable. We just rolled all the time,” said Stevens, who said he doesn’t swim. “Five days in a row we ended up in the water.”

Stevens and Carter, who retraced the Arnold Expedition’s route and, unlike Arnold’s men, made it to Quebec City with their bateau intact, if beaten, after a 40-day voyage fighting river currents and sometimes having to carry their wooden boat for miles-long portages, brought their bateau to the fort Saturday. There it joined the fort’s own bateau, made in 1975 to mark the fort’s 200th anniversary and later donated to the fort. Both the boats were taken down to the nearby Kennebec River for some rowing. The fort’s boat was carried from the fort to the boat landing by Carter, Stevens and four re-enactors, who used logs to carry the heavy craft and launch it into the Kennebec as at least one bemused fisherman watched from the dock.

The haul from the fort to the river paled in comparison to some of the portages made by Arnold’s men, as well as by Carter and Stevens, including a 13-mile trail at Great Carrying Place.


“That must have been brutal. Physical labor must have been in their DNA. They carried these for miles,” re-enactor Greg Edwards, of Bowdoin, said of Arnold’s men. “They were paddling for 12 to 14 hours, seven days a week.”

Carter said while soldiers are believed to have carried their bateaux when river travel was not possible, he and Stevens rolled theirs along trails on logs, or rollers, though they were still tested by the arduous hauling, including one haul that climbed roughly 800 feet in elevation.

“That was, for them, pretty rough,” Carter said. “Us too.”

Both boats, made of wooden planks without the benefit of modern materials to seal the gaps between them, started taking on water, somewhat slowly, almost as soon as they hit the water.

Re-enactor Stan Novak, who maintains the fort’s two bateaux — the small craft they took out on the river Saturday and a much larger one that stayed onshore at the fort — said it takes a lot of work to keep them floating, roughly 100 hours a year of labor to keep them in usable condition.

Re-enactors with Daniel Savage’s Company are hosting a Revolutionary War encampment this weekend at the fort, commemorating Arnold’s march to Quebec. The public is invited to join Savage’s company at 10 a.m. Sunday at Viles Arboretum on Hospital Street, where the company will march to symbolize the march of the soldiers of the Arnold Expedition.


Dozens of visitors toured the fort during Saturday’s events, which included re-enactment of the daily life of local militia during the American Revolution.

Waterfall Perry, of Massachusetts, touring the fort with her husband, Billy Kean, held a long Queen Anne’s musket up to her shoulder, pointing it toward the river out the window of the two-story wooden gatehouse, after historic interpreter Cody Blackburn explained how soldiers fired their muskets and 1-pound and 4-pound cannons to deter attacks, primarily from the river, which he said was the superhighway of transportation in those days.

Bruce Fish, of Bend, Oregon, also took a turn holding the replica Revolutionary War weapon, pointing it through a slit in the blockhouse toward the river below. He also went through some of the steps a soldier would have done to load it, including sliding a metal ramrod down the barrel to pack the shot into the barrel. He said he’d heard sometimes soldiers, rushing, mistakenly would fire the weapon with the ramrod still in the barrel.

Blackburn, who led groups of visitors on tours of the fort Saturday, said such mistakes were understandable, when you consider that the men going through the elaborate loading ritual of the day often were loading while enemy soldiers were shooting back and trying to kill them.

“When your life is on the line, that can be a factor” that can make it even harder to load and fire one’s musket, Blackburn said, noting that experienced soldiers could load and fire five times in a minute.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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