"The fur trade era was America's period of empire building," noted Tim Lubenesky, director of the Fur Trade Rendezvous Reenactment Weekend to be held on Saturday, Oct. 30 and Sunday, Oct. 31 at Jacobsburg State Park.
"We will have about 120 re-enactors, all in pre-1840 dress, camping, cooking and demonstrating their skills," Lubenesky, the coordinator of the event for over 15 years, said. "We will have exhibits of early American domestic skills, trades, and crafts, including competitions in knife throwing, tomahawk throwing, and a special black powder trap shooting on Sunday at 12:30 p.m."
The Rendezvous takes place over the Halloween weekend at the Boulton Historic Site in Jacobsburg State Park. The Boulton site is the historic home of the Henry family of frontier rifle makers. William Henry II was a founder of the Lehigh Coal Mine Company, and along with Jacob Weiss, founded Lehighton.
Often delegated to the back burner in history books, the fur trade was a major factor in the creation and expansion of the United States. Beginning in the mid 1500s, Europeans developed the technology to make men's hats from felted beaver fur. The demand for beaver pelts in Europe drove the animal to near-extinction.
The demand for the beaver furs stimulated the French to begin trading with the native people in North America. By the time of the American Revolution, beaver were nearly extinct in the original colonies.
"The heart of the fur trade period that is most reenacted is about 1820 to 1845," Lubenesky said. "That is when the American Fur Trade Company was really in to it. Originally, it was local to the East Coast, then it moved west as they kept annihilating the beaver.
"Beaver fur was used to make men's top hats," he continued. "It was the rage in Europe and America. It lasted until around 1845 when Admiral Perry opened up the trade with the Japanese and we began importing silk."
The beaver fur trade was largely controlled by John Jacob Astor's American Fur Trade Company-the largest business in America at the time, and one the made Astor the fourth wealthiest man in the history of the United States. William Henry I produced the arms for Astor's American Fur Trade Company.
Beaver were generally trapped, and antique traps will be on display. "You didn't trap beaver just by putting a trap in the water," Lubenesky explained. "You set a trap where you figured he was traveling, and you put a stick with a scent, from the scent glands on the back legs from another beaver, near the trap. He swims over to see who is in his territory and steps in the trap."
Visitors can tour the 1832 Philadelphia-style John Joseph Henry House. The rooms on the second floor have recently been opened for public viewing. See how an affluent 19th century family lived in rural Pennsylvania and how the house and contents evolved over several generations spanning 150 years. Historical interpreters will prepare centuries-old recipes over an open hearth fire.
There will be demonstrations in the reconstructed 200-year old gun shop of Nicholas Hawk, an early American gunsmith who crafted Kentucky longrifles, often from Henry parts. Observe master craftsmen and their apprentices building a longrifle. Firearms experts will examine your family heirloom rifle and appraise it for free.
At the Pennsylvania Longrifle Museum & Henry Family Homestead there will be an exhibit of rifles and smoothbores of the American Fur Trade, tools of the fur trapper and trader, plus trade goods and antique traps of all description. Watch members of the Pennsylvania Artisan Blacksmith Association demonstrate outside of the blacksmith's shop.
Period and contemporary food will be available.
Fur Trade Rendezvous Boulton Historic Site - 402 Henry Road, Nazareth, PA 18064 Saturday, October 30, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., and Sunday, October 31, 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Best route to PA 33, Belfast Exit. Turn west on Henry Road. Follow signs to the site. For event parking and entrance gate turn left onto Schoeneck Ave, just after 402 Henry Road. Turn left behind barn complex into pasture.