Revolutionary War-era Natives didn't wear feathers, use bows

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People who think that Revolutionary War-era Native Americans shot bows and arrows at Gen. George Washington's soldiers or wore nothing but feathers are way off the mark.

So says Col. James McHenry, played by Morristown National Park Ranger Eric Olsen, who was in character Sunday at the Ford Mansion as Washington's assistant secretary.

Olsen routinely gives tours of the historic Mansion that headquartered Washington during parts of the Revolutionary War by weaving in stories about how different ethnic groups contributed to or against the cause of gaining independence from the British.

Park Ranger Pam Dobben warned the dozen or so people for the 2 p.m. tour that, "There's no political correctness in the 18th century," as she led the tour into the mansion, where they were met by Olsen.

In 1780

The time period was April 1780, and Washington's men were having trouble with the "savages," many of whom were siding with the British.

Olsen cleared up misconceptions that some people might have about Native Americans during that time period. For one, they used muskets and rifles to hunt and fight.

They also used copper pots to cook and wore European clothing they received in trades.

And a majority of them sided against the Revolution.

"Unfortunately, most have support with the enemy," Olsen said.

Only a few tribes -- the Oneida, Tuscarora, Stockbridge and Catawba -- backed the American Revolutionaries, mostly because of religious differences between those tribes, and the ones that were faithful to the Church of England.

Washington's men and tribes sympathetic to him tried to push the warring factions westward and northward, but had little luck.

"It was like we have found a hornet's next and kicked it and stirred everything up," Olsen said.

He then encouraged those in attendance to walk through the mansion and see what the headquarters would have looked like more than 225 years ago.

Exploring history

Wes Bullock, of Dover, said he knew all about what Native Americans were like back then, but also commended the park for its presentation.

"It's very good, they're always very professional and right on top of everything," he said.

"History is not my strong suit," said Robin DeMarco, of Basking Ridge. "The Indians siding with us was something I didn't know."

She said she also was surprised that the natives were more in tune with the time period to use rifles and European-made clothing.

The park on Dec. 2 and 3 will present how members of the Continental Army spend Christmas during December of 1779. The tours run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Ford Mansion.


American Independence War