To the uninitiated, Fort Frederick, Maryland sounds like a government-installation, a place tucked away in the suburbs of Washington with satellites and secrecy, and a motto of “I’d tell you more but I’d have to kill you.”
Far, far from it. Fort Frederick is a State Park in the upper reaches of western Maryland, a lovely spot near the Potomac River about a dozen miles west of Hagerstown.
Its National Register of Historic Places Statement of Significance says:
The Southern Colonies' largest and best preserved architectural example of an 18th-century frontier fort erected for frontier defense against Indians. It sheltered some 700 people during the 1763 Pontiac War, and, from 1777 to 1783, it served as a prisoner-of-war camp for captured British and German soldiers during the War for Independence.
For the last 20 years, The Friends of Fort Frederick have gathered here for reenactments and historical events, including an annual 18th-century Market Fair. We had never heard of the fort or the event until someone we met recently mentioned it. The better half has been urging me to set up a walking tour in Old Town and suggested we go there and buy the appropriate outfit.
The drive up on I-70 included a stop at the South Mountain Rest Area past Frederick. The doors to their visitor’s centers were closed, but a nice set of commemorative markers did the job. One talks about how the mountain range was once the edge of the wilderness, crossed only by Native Americans. A few miles later, our radio reception from 88.5 began to wilt away, an interesting dovetailing with the point about the wilderness.
From day one the good ol’ USA has been a place where a person with a pocket full of determination could re-invent themselves, or at least try. These days you can do it in one hour at the Friends of Fort Frederick Market Fair. More than four score vendors sell their wares in the shadow of the old stone fort.
The only problem for the portrayer wannabe is deciding which sutler will meet your needs. Some specialize, some offer a variety of clothes and gear. There’s still nothing like local knowledge so we asked a gentleman we met as we walked into the park.
“Cobb Creek,” he said, “they do it right.”
Turns out he was spot on. Kathy Ring of Lebanon, Missouri and her friendly associate hooked us right up. We walked out with a bit of a dent in the budget, but the linen breeches, colonial shirt and weskit will do the job quite nicely.
One bit of advice. The strings for the pants go in the back. But don’t worry. If you make the mistake I did, the ladies will laugh with you, not at you.