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Revolutionary street fighters

Freedom Trail Players reenact Redcoats’ reign of terror

By David Filipov
Globe Staff / July 4, 2010

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A staccato burst of drum beats shattered the mercantile midday hum of Quincy Market. Pink hats and shopping bags trembled. Parents pushing strollers scattered.

Red coats and muskets emerged from a narrow walkway onto the cobblestones in front of wooden pushcarts.

The British were coming. They were scary. And that was the point.

These were players of the Freedom Trail Foundation, which has introduced a lobsterback presence to the marketplace to provide visitors a firsthand look at the force faced by the pre-Revolutionary inhabitants of the Cradle of Liberty.

“It does give people an idea of what Boston was like during the occupation,’’ said Sam Jones, creative director for the foundation. “These guys were the best army in the world at that time, and that’s what we want to portray. They were supposed to be intimidating.’’

That intimidation was evident during a drill on a sweltering afternoon just days before the nation’s birthday. The Redcoat re-enactors marched into a spot about a musket shot away from the site of the Boston Massacre. They quickly drew a crowd with their blood-red wool coats, black tricorn hats, and white linen trousers, a uniform that approximates that of the 10th Regiment of Foot, one of the units that occupied Boston before the Revolution.

“Muzzles up!’’ Doug Giglio, playing an infantryman, barked as he and another performer, Josh Rudy, raised their muskets, replicas of the Long Land Pattern Brown Bess the regulars might have carried. Tim Hoover pounded out a martial rhythm on his drum.

“Present firearms!’’ Giglio called out, and he and Rudy aimed their weapons just above the heads of the spectators. The replicas do not shoot, but not everyone in the crowd knew that, judging by the nervous stirring.

“Fix bayonets!’’ Some onlookers uttered cowed oohs when Rudy and Hoover leveled their muskets. The wicked blades looked real enough.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you might want to make a path,’’ Giglio remarked. “We will be doing bayonet drills, and we might run you through!’’

Someone dropped a Boston Chipyard cookie.

“Quick march!’’ Giglio shouted. The crowd parted as the trio stepped forward.

“Tourists are not always the quickest to get out of the way,’’ Hoover, a 28-year-old actor, said later. Like his fellow performers, during an interview he stayed in character: He plays Patrick McGrath, who enlisted to “work for the King’s shilling’’ and support his family back in Ireland.

“Sometimes we get children crying after the bayonet drill,’’ added Giglio, 19, a rising sophomore at Bridgewater State College. He portrays Joseph Wakelin, an Englishman who chose the army over the hangman’s noose after being arrested for poaching.

Rudy, 35, is a veteran Freedom Trail Player. Although he took orders for this particular show, he is the captain of the guards, who “keep the peace and enforce the taxes on the Colonies’’ during two 90-minute appearances at the market Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays. The performances, which will run until October, are based on a changing-of-the-guard drill, but part of the fun is the players’ interaction with their audience.

“Is that a real bayonet?’’ Scott Pica-Hurld, 9, of Weymouth, asked Rudy.

“Would you like to find out?’’ growled the burly musketeer.

“No!’’ cried the boy, recoiling.

“You can’t do that to my cousin!’’ 5-year-old Brandon Joyce shouted back in defiance.

Next, Grayson Ottaway, 8, visiting from Charlottesville, Va., approached and gazed in wonder at Rudy’s bayonet.

“Cool!’’ exclaimed the boy.

“Not so cool when it goes through you!’’ Rudy snarled.

Clearly these soldiers were not trying to win hearts and minds. That, too, is part of the gig.

“They are all subjects of the king,’’ muttered Hoover. “It doesn’t do to get in a fight with some- one as heavily armed as me.’’

Spectators also got in on the fun, occasionally lobbing boos and hisses and shouts of “Lobsterbacks!’’ at the occupiers.

“Sometimes, they yell worse,’’ said Rudy. “Such as, ‘Your women are ugly, and your food is bland.’ ’’

Sometimes, they may side quietly with the King’s men. Consider Martin Warner, a visitor from England who was wearing a Red Sox cap. Talk about your sleeper agents.

“I love it,’’ Warner said of the Redcoats’ act. Asked how he felt about the US-England rivalry, Warner said, “Of course we care a lot more about football.’’

If he meant the recent US-England World Cup soccer contest, the Brits did not win that matchup, either.

The Freedom Trail Foundation is planning to set up a British military encampment on Boston Common Aug. 13-15. Large-scale military drills are planned, as are skirmishes with the locals.

Beneath all the pre-Revolutionary repartee, entertaining visitors is at the heart of this effort.

During his occupation of Quincy Market last week, Hoover carried brochures in a pouch strapped to his belt marked “Take One.’’ The soldiers swapped their scowls for smiles to pose for tourists’ cameras. They politely gave directions — though always in character. They touted other street performers.

And before they marched off, Hoover offered some era-appropriate advice: “Make sure you pay taxes on your tea!’’

David Filipov can be reached at filipov@globe.com.

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