The Revolution lives on for local re-enactor

November 4, 2011
By

(Courtesy Photo) Edward Roche (right) and Michael Bonislawski take a break during a drill near the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown.

For JP resident Edward Roche, the American Revolution is still alive and well. As a historical re-enactor, he gets to bring moments of 1775 Boston back to life as a member of the Gardner’s Regiment reenactment group.

“When you dress up like that and walk down the street, you meet people from all corners,” Roche said. “Entertainment is part of what we do, it’s not just education…We’re keeping alive certain values, certain history.”

In 1775, Col. Thomas Gardner was in charge of one of the regiments that fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill. The regiment carried his name until Col. Gardner’s death. It is this exact regiment that Roche and his comrades-in-arms bring to life.

“We have a lot to talk about and a lot to celebrate,” he said. “I tell people, you’re going to be one of the most photographed people in Boston, and in two years you’ll have the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in history.”

Because the regiment is very precise in its dating—1775 Boston—it has a precise image to replicate, which can be both daunting and rewarding.

The regiment is continuously finessing their portrayal through research and discussion. Minutiae like buckles, hat shape, fabric content are relevant to each person, Roche said, and the members of the group try to reflect that.

“It’s not cheap. Realistically, it’s in excess of $1,000, if you want to be a militiaman—maybe as high as two thousand—depending on your attire,” Roche said.

Since joining the regiment in 2007, Roche, now a lieutenant and chief of staff, has spent thousands of dollars on historically accurate clothing, equipment and weapons to support his reenactment habit, but Roche said the expense is worth it.

“I’ll keep doing this as long as I can,” said Roche, who is a registered nurse in his 21st century life.

In the early days of the regiment, he said, “We marched around [practicing] with broomsticks and prayed that the clothes and guns we ordered would come in time” for their first parade.

“Someone would show up with a hat, and we were like, ‘Ooh! A hat!’” Roche said.

The regiment’s historian is kept busy at all times, researching actual members of Gardner’s 1775 regiment and their supplies and equipment. There is a still a lot to find and learn about, Roche said.

“There are boxes and boxes of material in the state archives that haven’t been gone through yet,” Roche explained.

In the last few years, the group has grown so quickly that members now have a choice of events in which to participate. Many prefer the battle reenactments, which involve running through fields and portraying fighting, and others prefer ceremonial duties like parades and the raising of the first flag on Jan. 1 on Prospect Hill in Somerville.

The regiment has stopped in JP twice since June: to celebrate Joseph Warren, a famous revolutionary killed at Bunker Hill and buried at Forest Hills Cemetery; and to mark the re-dedication of the South Street Soldiers’ Monument in September. Their next event is the Veterans Day parade in Malden.

“We’re very fortunate. Some groups have only one event that they celebrate. We here in Boston, we have all kinds of opportunities to celebrate special events and individuals,” Roche said. “People pay a lot of money to come to Boston and learn our history and we embrace that.”

The regiment welcomes all who are interested in participating, including women and children. Even if a woman isn’t interested in wearing a corset and full skirts, she can still join.

“We’ve had young women portraying militiamen. We don’t discriminate,” Roche said. “We’ll help her get attire and weapons, and give her the same training.”

And the participants’ 21st century life mostly stays at home: “We made it clear that we come from different political, religious, socioeconomic backgrounds, but we don’t discuss that. It would divide us,” Roche said.

The regiment’s direct descendant is currently organized as the 182nd Infantry Regiment and is based in Dorchester.

More information, history and a schedule of events for Gardner’s Regiment can be found at charlestownmilitia.org.

 

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