One Dorchester teen will have a unique “what I did this summer vacation” story to share with his high school classmates in September.
Rasheed Walters, 17, spends many of his weekends as a Revolutionary War re-enactor, donning the burgundy coat and feather-festooned black hat of a British Redcoat to participate in living history events around the region.
For Walters, who lives near Lower Mills and attends Fenway High School, it’s a duty and an honor to help Americans better understand our shared history. It also re-establishes a link to his own ancestors, including two great-grandfathers who fought in the British Army during the First World War.
As one of the few African-Americans involved in re-enacting — especially in Revolutionary units— Walters sees his hobby as serving a larger good.
“As quiet is kept, African Americans really played a big part in the Revolutionary War,” Walters said. “But, honestly, you rarely see black re-enactors. I see it as my responsibility, as a young African American male, to take responsibility and represent those men in the British army, because they did play a very important role.”
Next weekend, Walters will be one of 800 re-enactors who participates in the region’s largest “battle” and encampment as the two-day “Rebels and Redcoats” event returns to Old Sturbridge Village.
Walters has been a member of the First Foot Guards since he was 16 when he first approached the unit’s leader, Quincy resident Graeme Marsden.
“Rasheed’s a young man with an interest in history and a lot of potential,” said Marsden, who also serves as president of the Guild of Historic Interpreters, which organizes living history events throughout the year.
For a year or so, Walters was not permitted to carry a musket alongside his fellow Redocats, but now that he’s of a certain age— he can and does join in during the mock battles. The First Foot Guards appear each year at the commemorations of battles, including Lexington and Conord and Ft. Ticonderoga, which was observed last weekend.
Marsden says that Rasheed’s involvement adds an important element of historical authenticity to the regiment. The Redcoats were known to enlist soldiers of color hailing from all over the world where the British had colonies, including Caribbean islands like Trinidad and Tobago. Also, the Redcoats often had boys even younger than Rasheed in their ranks, including some who served as commissioned officers.
Rasheed points out that many American blacks flocked to arms on both sides of the conflict in hopes of winning or cementing their own freedom.
Last February, Marsden cast Rasheed in the role of Crispus Attucks in the annual re-enactment of the Boston Massacre outside the old State House. Even though Attucks was in his 30s when he died in the seminal 1775 confrontation between rebellious Bostonians and the imperial Redcoats, Walters leapt at the chance to fill the shoes of one of his heroes.
“I’m told that I was the first African American to portray Crispus Attucks at this event. It was big for me, because I feel like he’s been misrepresented in the reenactment.
He was just a bystander who got shot. He had a really big role in the Boston Massacre. He was the one who planned and plotted out the whole attack.”
Walters, who hopes to one day attend Howard University and study political science and international business, credits his mom, Angela Walters, with supporting his passion for history. Originally from Trinidad, Mrs. Walters traces her ancestry to Grenada, where two of her grandparents became soldiers under the British flag during World War I. One lost a leg in action in Africa, Walters says.
Rasheed says he decided to link up with the First Foot Guard, in part, because of his ancestral connection to the British Army, but also because it is so active locally, staging annual events throughout Massachusetts. Walters has also become active with the Mattapan-based Massachusetts 54th Volunteers, which re-creates the famed Civil War regiment of African-American fighters.
Walters says he loves sharing his own interest in military history with other young people who come to living history events, like the one at Sturbridge Village next weekend.
“The history you get in school, a lot of young people find it boring. If you have another young person telling you the history, it’s more exciting.”
For more information on next weekend’s Redcoats & Rebels event at Old Sturbridge Village, see osv.org or call 800-SEE-1830.