Revolutionary War re-enactors from the Huntington Militia are shown during...

Revolutionary War re-enactors from the Huntington Militia are shown during their muster in Huntington in May 2017. Credit: Kyle Parker

In just a few short years, Americans will celebrate the nation's 250th birthday with a bevy of living history events commemorating epic battles with the British for independence.

For a small group of Long Islanders who are working to keep the region's deep connections to the Revolutionary War alive, there is fear those celebrations could be muted. Interest among Long Islanders to don British redcoats or Continental Army gear for faux battles is on the decline, they said.

"We need participants," said Justin Costantino, one of the younger members and a sergeant in the Third New York Regiment in Coram, which portrays the Suffolk County-based companies of 1775.

"We need people that want to wake up early on a Sunday, put on three layers of clothes in August and go stand in a field and entertain the public," said Costantino, of New Hyde Park, who has been with the regiment for five years.

And much like Gen. George Washington and the outmanned troops under his command centuries back, Costantino and other Long Island re-enactors said they're not about to give up on a hobby one described as being more like a "spiritual experience."

Earlier this week, members of the Island's three Revolutionary War re-enactment organizations gathered at the Arsenal on the Village Green in Huntington, a town where then-President George Washington stopped for lunch on a tour of Long Island in 1790. Dressed in the military uniforms of the late 1700s, members launched a recruiting push there with hopes of attracting new and younger re-enactors, both male and female, to fill ranks decimated by age and the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Over the years, especially since COVID, a lot of people started to drop out and a lot of our older members have decided not to come to events anymore," said Patrick Mantle of East Rockaway, commander of the Order of the Ancient and Honorable Huntington Militia.

"We've been trying to recruit new members, but this is a very niche type of thing, where you need to be able to devote your time and your money to this hobby," said Mantle, who has been with the order since 2013. "And so our recruitment has been kind of stagnant and as a result, our memberships is dwindling."

The hobby, he added, is not cheap.

While his group — which re-enacts Continental troops protecting the Town of Huntington from British soldiers — has some loaner clothes for newbies, the full uniform and equipment can run around $3,000, all of which comes out of the member's pocket.

"But the money that you will spend … will come back in dividends," Mantle said, "in the fun and entertainment and the spiritual experience that you'll have re-enacting."

Costantino said although his group has about 60 registered members, generally fewer than a dozen show up for events.

Kyle Parker is a private with the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers in America, which has a branch in Setauket. The group portrays British soldiers during historical re-enactments. Parker said membership is down from about 20 to 10 since 2005.

"In general, a lot of living history, especially here on Long Island, has not been given as much attention as it once did," said Parker, of West Hempstead. " … It might even just be that people are not being aware of the fact that these units are here."

Long Island's role in the war is well documented.

Shortly after the United States declared its independence on July 4, 1776, Washington's troops suffered a strategically important defeat in the Battle of Long Island, giving the British access to the Port of New York. The British army took control of Long Island, historians said, arriving in Huntington on Sept. 1 and remaining for the duration of the war.

In addition to portraying soldiers, the groups are also seeking "civilian" re-enactors.

"We need men, women and children to portray people of the past," said Michael Goudket, master of music for the Huntington Militia and an educator at the Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay. "It's a chance for you to share your hobbies and interests that might relate to times gone by. If you knit; if you're interested in campfire; if you're interested in growing plants and want to portray a farmer. If you're interested in trades and as a merchant or woodcarver, this is a chance to share your passion with the public. And you can do it in a way that's historical.

"Once you've done something like this, history will never be the same for you again."

In just a few short years, Americans will celebrate the nation's 250th birthday with a bevy of living history events commemorating epic battles with the British for independence.

For a small group of Long Islanders who are working to keep the region's deep connections to the Revolutionary War alive, there is fear those celebrations could be muted. Interest among Long Islanders to don British redcoats or Continental Army gear for faux battles is on the decline, they said.

"We need participants," said Justin Costantino, one of the younger members and a sergeant in the Third New York Regiment in Coram, which portrays the Suffolk County-based companies of 1775.

"We need people that want to wake up early on a Sunday, put on three layers of clothes in August and go stand in a field and entertain the public," said Costantino, of New Hyde Park, who has been with the regiment for five years.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A small group of Long Islanders fear Revolutionary War re-enactments will cease because of a lack of participants. 

  • Veteran re-enactors are looking for new and younger men and women after COVID-19 diminished participation. 

  • The full uniform and equipment can cost $3,000, but re-enactors say the experience is "spiritual."

And much like Gen. George Washington and the outmanned troops under his command centuries back, Costantino and other Long Island re-enactors said they're not about to give up on a hobby one described as being more like a "spiritual experience."

Revolutionary War re-enactors from the Huntington Militia pose during the...

Revolutionary War re-enactors from the Huntington Militia pose during the fall muster in Huntington in October. Credit: Kayla Blaine

Earlier this week, members of the Island's three Revolutionary War re-enactment organizations gathered at the Arsenal on the Village Green in Huntington, a town where then-President George Washington stopped for lunch on a tour of Long Island in 1790. Dressed in the military uniforms of the late 1700s, members launched a recruiting push there with hopes of attracting new and younger re-enactors, both male and female, to fill ranks decimated by age and the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Over the years, especially since COVID, a lot of people started to drop out and a lot of our older members have decided not to come to events anymore," said Patrick Mantle of East Rockaway, commander of the Order of the Ancient and Honorable Huntington Militia.

"We've been trying to recruit new members, but this is a very niche type of thing, where you need to be able to devote your time and your money to this hobby," said Mantle, who has been with the order since 2013. "And so our recruitment has been kind of stagnant and as a result, our memberships is dwindling."

The hobby, he added, is not cheap.

While his group — which re-enacts Continental troops protecting the Town of Huntington from British soldiers — has some loaner clothes for newbies, the full uniform and equipment can run around $3,000, all of which comes out of the member's pocket.

"But the money that you will spend … will come back in dividends," Mantle said, "in the fun and entertainment and the spiritual experience that you'll have re-enacting."

Costantino said although his group has about 60 registered members, generally fewer than a dozen show up for events.

Kyle Parker is a private with the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers in America, which has a branch in Setauket. The group portrays British soldiers during historical re-enactments. Parker said membership is down from about 20 to 10 since 2005.

"In general, a lot of living history, especially here on Long Island, has not been given as much attention as it once did," said Parker, of West Hempstead. " … It might even just be that people are not being aware of the fact that these units are here."

Long Island's role in the war is well documented.

Shortly after the United States declared its independence on July 4, 1776, Washington's troops suffered a strategically important defeat in the Battle of Long Island, giving the British access to the Port of New York. The British army took control of Long Island, historians said, arriving in Huntington on Sept. 1 and remaining for the duration of the war.

In addition to portraying soldiers, the groups are also seeking "civilian" re-enactors.

"We need men, women and children to portray people of the past," said Michael Goudket, master of music for the Huntington Militia and an educator at the Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay. "It's a chance for you to share your hobbies and interests that might relate to times gone by. If you knit; if you're interested in campfire; if you're interested in growing plants and want to portray a farmer. If you're interested in trades and as a merchant or woodcarver, this is a chance to share your passion with the public. And you can do it in a way that's historical.

"Once you've done something like this, history will never be the same for you again."

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