Every January, the Florida Frontiersmen, a nonprofit historical preservation organization, stages its annual Alafia River Rendezvous. The members gather at their 325-acre field south of Homeland to live the life of 18th and 19th-century Floridians. They erect tents, cook over open fires, ply their historic trades, and dress as frontier people did 200 years ago. Men, women, and children alike participate in the activities. It is the largest frontier living history encampment in the southeast U.S., with well over 1000 participants from 47 states.
The Frontiersmen got their start in St. Petersburg in 1972 as a group of muzzle-loading shooting enthusiasts. Their first rendezvous, held in 1985, was called “The First Alafia River Rendezvous and Powwow.” It was held at a site near the Alafia River, from which its name derives. The club bought its Homeland property in 2001 and began holding their annual rendezvous there in 2002. The property’s “streets” are named in memory of members who are deceased.
The purpose of the yearly event is both social and educational. The Frontiersmen get together for up to 2 weeks in which they set up their campsites, visit, make music, play games, compete in contests, and generally live as their pre-1840s ancestors did. During the final 2 days, they open their gates to the public and demonstrate their daily activities for historical education. For example, there might be demos of blacksmithing, weaving, or food procurement, storage, and preparation. Those with Indian ancestors might present programs on their cultural beliefs and ceremonies, or perhaps on how chickees are built. An entry fee is charged. Part of the proceeds are donated to several of the local high schools for scholarships.
Inside the encampment is a lively scene. You will likely hear the sounds of fiddle and zither mixed with gunfire, see row upon row of tents, and may smell wood smoke from campfires. Many of these tents contain historic merchandise for sale: iron work, leather goods, textiles, weaving, knives, tools, jewelry, and period clothing. Some merchants sell traditional drinks and food such as Indian frybread. Modern portable toilets are available, but they are hidden behind picket fences.
As you walk around, you will encounter reenactors dressed in all types of historic garb: gentlemen in frock coats and tricorn hats; ladies in satin gowns; Scotsmen in kilts; frontier women in long gingham or calico skirts and mob caps; mountain men in fringed buckskin boots and jackets wearing fur headdresses, perhaps sporting antlers. You may even spot a pirate or an Indian in ceremonial regalia riding on a horse. There is nothing drab about these costumes!
The 2018 rendezvous just ended, but if you enjoy living history, you should make plans to attend the January 2019 event. Information can be found on the Florida Frontiersmen Facebook page, or phone 813-478-0921.
The rendezvous site is located at:
1000 Old Fort Meade Road