When asked about her look, Debby responded with “well I started reading about women in the border settlements, largely around Boonesborough of which there is a lot of documentation. So I started to dress more poor. There are plenty of re-enactors doing the better dressed ladies. I wanted a settler that had been on the frontier longer - who may not have had nice things anymore. , I usually wear a raw silk skirt that has been shortened and really is wearing out. I’ve added a man’s linen shirt, which would have been correct (as the clothes wore out - people adapted however they could - since early on there was no ready source for material.) - and a man’s big floppy hat to keep the sun and rain off. I tried to go for a different aspect - than the ladies that might have been newer in the community and wearing bed jackets.
I’ve actually taken some of my persona from some family records. Although my own ancestors did not make it as far as Kentucky, most settled around Pennsylvania, I’ve adopted the background from that. I usually portray a bound servant who obtained passage by becoming bound out for a set amount of yeras. Then when I arrived in America the ship’s Captain increased the number of years I was to serve - claiming my passage cost more than he was promised.
So once free from my bond - I’ve vowed never to work for another again. I will sew or do laundry or whatever it takes to live on my own without being enslaved. This includes vowing never to be taken prisoner by the Native American Indians either. Even to the death - I will never give up my freedom.
The best part of this, says Debby is when you are talking to someone and they suddenly “get it.” That is, you have made someone see just a glimpse of what life was like for the early settlers. One of those moments cam at the first event at Boone Station. Jenkins had come for the day as a visitor. When Bill Farmer saw her he said - if you’ve brought clothes - change and come on out here. That first event set the tone for events at Boone Station. There was absolutely no controversy at all. Just the best group of re-enactors. Not all events are like that. And the area is so steeped in history that the locals who come to events there are also special.
My worst experience - a couple of times when I have been criticized by people I respect - for the way I portray the early frontier. Some people want to glorify their ancestors. I try to portray the truth as I see it. When I come out here I will add dirt to my face. I am usually barefoot. I have purposely torn my clothes to look more authentic. These people did not have all the amenities that we have today and I think re-enacting them should reflect that. And I have been criticized for it, told I am unladylike - and that really hurts.
I am enjoying this immensely. I enjoy the people. This is like a family reunion - a great bunch of cousins on the re-enacting circuit. We all take care of each other. I feel so loved and taken care of here. I hated history in school. It wasn’t real to me. As an adult when I gained access to journals and dairies - our ancestors absolutely came alive for me. At night around the fire, people will share their knowledge and resources. I will hear of a source that I am unfamiliar with and then I will have to go and look up that information. I enjoy the learning. And I enjoy sharing it with other people.
In my opinion we in America are spoiled . We need to appreciate where we’ve come from. We need to understand that we have water heaters and furnaces and all kinds of modern conveniences because of those that came before us. This is a joy to do. And besides Debby joked, “the food is good.”
One of the reasons Debby Jenkins became “Re-Enactor of the Month” is because of all the work she does with school children. When I go to a school, Debbie says “I take as much as I can possibly carry.” “I try to convey to them not only history, and stories about our ancestors. But I try to convey to them that learning can be fun. And if history is your thing - grab on with both hands and learn it all. If you love animals make biology your thing, and learn it. Whatever you want to do in life begins with learning. And I try to encourage them how hard life could have been for them. I have them feel a wool blanket or a buffalo skin. Lift a heavy pail of water, try to start a fire and understand that their lives could have been totally different if not for the time and place that they were born.