In Plymouth, Massachusetts- the site of the first English colony in America – Matteo Brault spends his days living a 17th-century life, along with dozens of other re-enactors on the modern-day Plimoth Plantation.
“The year is 1627. This is Plymouth Colony, an English town set up by Reformed Church people… these people hope to own land, they are struggling on the edge of a wilderness, they stayed on the Mayflower until they were able to build simple structures.”
The simplest homes in town were built using cratchets– natural forks in trees- as support for the ridgepole of the roof.
The walls are built up with “wattle”- small sticks for the lattice structure- and “daub”- a mortar of clay, earth, and grasses. Instead of using the traditional English lime wash to protect the walls, the colonists took advantage of the plentiful wood in America and created clapboard siding by cleaving wood into thin boards.
For the thatch roofs, large bundles of water reed or wheat straw are woven with a giant needle by two people working in tandem (one outside and one inside). “It’s like a giant quilt made of grass,” explains Brault, “which makes a water-tight roof that essentially acts as a giant sponge. It absorbs water and laps it off.”
Brault works full-time as a 17th-century style blacksmith, using traditional tools like a grindstone, hand-made nails, and large bellows for making the fire hot enough for forging iron and steel. He loves the challenge of this type of work, but he’s not a Luddite.
“My whole life revolves around this stuff but that does not equate that I want to go back in time and be an English blacksmith… If you do the research into this period it’s not a pleasant time to live. So I’m not nostalgic but what I am is someone who appreciates the past and I appreciate my forebears and as a modern blacksmith you have to appreciate your roots to know who you are and where you’re going.”