This page is a bit long, but it's a long story!
It all started back in 1993 in Lowell, Massachusetts.
My name is Pete. My family had been reenacting for a few years and events were filling up the calendar. One year we actually attended 35 events! I had gone through 13 pounds of powder in a single summer. We had upgraded from traveling in a 1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser station wagon to "The Mighty Dodge", a 1988 Dodge 3/4 ton van. It got 11 mpg.
We decided to do something about the rising powder/gasoline/travel/food bill. What we decided to do was to put out a trade blanket and resell stuff bought wholesale from such places as Panther Primitives, Dixie Gun Works, Mountain State Muzzleloading (now gone), and Crazy Crow. It was fun; we got to meet all kinds of people because everyone goes to Sutler's Row. My sister in law Sharon, made beaded jewelry and knitted liberty hats. My Mom, Mabel, ran the cash box while I was out participating in tacticals, etc. My brother Jim would entertain people with his bad jokes. It was truly a family affair.
In order to purchase things at wholesale, we had to have a Massachusetts Resale Certificate. On the form, there was a space that required us to fill in the name of our "business". We didn't have a name; we were just the Plunkett family. After kicking around a few suggestions, we came up with the name "Middlesex Village Trading Co." in honor of the colonial era village on the banks of the Merrimack River not far from our house.
Lowell is located in Middlesex County and was formed in 1826 out of parts of Chelmsford, Dracut, Tyngsboro, and eventually Tewksbury. It was designed as a planned manufacturing city. There are a few true colonial era houses there, but its real claim to fame is the manufacturing age. There is even a National Park there at which you can learn about cotton mills. Pretty boring huh? That's why I like colonial history better.
Middlesex Village was the terminus of the Middlesex Canal that connected the Merrimack River to Boston before the railroad. In its heyday, there was an inn for travelers, a truck house, etc. Today, the area is covered with pavement, strip malls, and fast food joints. It takes a real history junkie to know where the canal was located or that it even existed. On a recent trip there, the "Middlesex Village" sign was found to have been taken down by vandals, the wrought iron signpost twisted beyond use.
Our "storehouse" was in a spare room of a rented duplex. In 1994, I bought a single family house. The detached garage became the new home of MVTC. In the house, I built an office to start up Pinkhouse Press, a publishing company whos mission it was to reproduce "lost" books from the colonial era. Our first project was a reprint of the 1760 music book Clio and Euterpe (more on that later).
In 1999 I met Wendy, online of all places. She had never even heard of reenacting. Mabel had a severe stroke that spring. She was never able to leave the nursing home, not even to attend my wedding in July. Wendy and I were married in an 18th century wedding at the French and Indian War weekend at the Fort at No. Four.
My mother Mabel died in 2000 of a second stroke. Although we had researched 18th century wheelchairs, and come up with a workable design, her health had never improved enough to bring her to any events. We did the next best thing and had an 18th century funeral for her at the Fort at No. Four during the F&I weekend. There was a service followed by a traditional funeral procession complete with a half-scale casket. We sang hymns and fired some of her ashes out of Rachel, the big bronze gun at the fort. We later scattered ashes at Fort Ticonderoga, Castle Island, and Crown Point. At some point, we are going to scatter some at the Bennington battlefield.
As you can see, living history is more than a hobby, it is an all consuming way of life.
After the funeral, I had to take a break from reenacting for a while to rebuild my house to suit the needs of long-suffering Wendy. She was a city girl who married a reenactor! Of course, my house was crammed full of books, spare tents, reenacting clothes in various stages of decomposition, muskets, ironware, a cannon etc. We managed to go to #4 a few times, but the days of 35 events a year were over.
In 2001, a little more than two weeks after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Caleigh was born. In the hectic time when America was in a state of shock and my first child was being born after a complicated labor, I was laid off from my job as a diesel mechanic. The Middlesex Village Trading Co. was now pushed forward into a full time endeavor.
It was time to sink or swim. To pull it off we had to harness the power of the Internet and rely heavily on mail order sales. We took out a small ad in Muzzleloader magazine.
My brother, Jim, began work on this website. We started to make sales again slowly, then more steadily. Wendy continued to work part time, and I kept at it trying to grow the business into something that could pay the mortgage. I put in 16+ hour days, seven days a week. In those days, I did it all myself; the design work, the research, the desktop publishing, the gunsmithing, the packing and the shipping, I would even drive to the airport and pick up deliveries with The Mighty Dodge.
If Wendy thought living with a reenactor was rough, imagine what was in store for her being married to a full time sutler! Imagine giant rolls of bubble wrap stored in the kitchen, musket shipping boxes stacked in the front entryway, muskets filling the front hallway, pistols and blunderbusses stcked in what was supposed to be her dining room. Cases of candle lanterns were stacked wherever they would fit (note to self: never order candle lanterns again!).
We dreamed about getting out of the city. It had always been a dream of mine. A plan was hatched in which we would refinance the house in Lowell to buy raw land, then build a series of buildings. There was to be a house for us to live in, a shop for us to work in, and a little cabin for Jim. We were to build it ourselves.
It was just not to be that way, Jim died in October of 2003 at age 46.
The city is no place to bring up a little girl. In the spring of 2004, we pressed forward with the plan. We looked at property in Haverhill, NH, then Sutton NH, and came to Charlestown to look at some lots that were for sale down the road from our friends, the Millers. We stumbled on to our present house when we overshot the Miller's driveway and had to turn around and go back. The first wide spot we came to in which we could turn was the driveway of a house that had a commercial look to the first floor. It was for sale by HUD. It was perfect. There land, a bigger house and it was even built with the first floor being a shop. Never again would Wendy have to see cases of lanterns in the living room!
We bought the new place on the eve of our 5th wedding anniversary. The first thing we did was unload our camp bed, then the lathe! We basically camped out in the new house for the first month while we worked to make it habitable. It needed paint, carpentry work, plumbing repairs - an endless list of little (and big) projects.
The new place has a secure gun storage room, a little machine shop room, a packing area, a library/office, and space for inventory all on the first floor. There is also some display space for our collection of 17th-19th century artifacts. Since there is never enough space, we already have plans to expand the existing building and add some others. This will give us more display space, room for more specialized tools, a classroom and a place for visitors to spend the night.
Instead of just me doing all of the work, there is an assorted cast of characters employed here. Wendy takes the calls and order emails. Pete answers the tech questions, works in the shop, and packs the orders. It's come a long way from a trade blanket in front of a lean-to! In fact, since 1993 we have outgrown two lean-tos and a marquee.
In the name of efficiency, we have actually scaled things back a bit to specialize in guns and accessories. It is hard to do all things well, so we stick to what we are good at.
On January 18th, 2006, I sold our little pink house in Lowell, MA. So ends our connection to the historic "Middlesex Village". It is a new era for us. Like the settlers of the 18th century, we have set out for the frontier and are carving a homestead out of the forest. We have left the land of the Pawtuckets who populated what is now the Lowell area in the 17th century and have moved into Abenaki territory. We are now only 4 miles from the Fort at No. Four.
If you are ever traveling in the area, drop by and visit. Fondle our gun collection, browse through our books, and study our artifacts. Maybe even pitch your tent and spend the weekend. Reenactors are the same no matter from where you hail, and our door is always open!