Timothy J. Kent
Historical Author, Paddler, and Reenactor

 

 

 

 

 

Book Reviews

"I am very impressed with Mr. Kent's extensive research and have highly recommended his volumes to our staff to assist them in their research. His fascinating books are a comprehensive account of the material culture of the Great Lakes region during the French regime, from the late seventeenth century to 1760. These monumental volumes are based on a massive amount of meticulous research into over a hundred archaeological reports, French inventories (many of which he has translated and included), and also comparisons with buildings and artifacts throughout New France. Organized topically, the books are an indispensable resource for anyone interested in the material culture of colonial New France. Illustrated with line drawings, artifact photographs, and contemporary illustrations, these volumes answer questions about what people used, what they wore, what they ate, and what they were doing. Through his thorough and meticulous research, the author has created valuable reference books. No future studies of the French period in Michigan history will be complete without reference to Timothy Kent's work. His research deserves a wide audience, because he has made a major contribution to our understanding of the history of the French in Michigan and the Great Lakes region. I congratulate Mr. Kent on a work well done."-David Armour, Deputy Director and historian, Mackinac State Historic Parks

"In his remarkable two volumes, Kent skillfully guides readers back to the era of early French colonists in the heart of the North American continent. Through wide reading in historical sources and archaeologists' reports, the author has gleaned an amazing amount of fascinating information on the lives of the traders, missionaries, and soldiers who settled around the Great Lakes, in what was then Indian country. His volumes are full of great and useful information from an enormous number of sources. He has done an extensive amount of research, but it is also obvious that he loves the subject. Both profusely illustrated and a compelling read, Kent's latest publications are simply the best books yet written on the French colonial experience in the mid-continent." -Gregory Waselkov, Author and archaeologist at Ft. Toulouse, Old Mobile, and other French sites in the Gulf Coast colony of Louisiane

"His focus is Detroit, but Kent's research has a wider application as well, being relevant to most of the interior posts of New France. This work is a veritable encyclopedia of the material culture of a fortified French town in the Great Lakes region during the first decades of a momentous century. It will be a useful and important reference for anyone interested in the material culture of the European and Native American peoples that contended for control of the Great Lakes region during the 18th century."-Brian Dunnigan, Wm. Clements Library, University of Michigan, author of A Picturesque Situation, Mackinac Before Photography 1615-1860 and Frontier Metropolis, Picturing Early Detroit 1701-1838, editor of Pouchot's Memoirs, and former director of Old Fort Niagara

"Those familiar with Tim Kent's earlier works, Tahquamenon Tales and Birchbark Canoes of the Fur Trade, have been eagerly looking forward to Ft. Pontchartrain. It definitely lives up to and even exceeds expectations. Just flipping through the pages is a delight, and it is a fascinating read. Kent has drawn on research both intensive and extensive in a wide range of sources, and on his own experiences with fur trade lifeways. The results are grouped into chapters centered on a function or related functions. This makes it easy to find the desired information (there is also an excellent index), but it also makes the book fun to read since the details of daily life are presented in the context of a living whole. This book will be invaluable as a reliable source for librarians, curators, re-enactors, and anyone else who has to find information on topics as minute as starch or spades or corkscrews in French North America. But it would be a pity if it were treated only as a kind of encyclopedia. Chapter by chapter, Ft. Pontchartrain gives the reader a vivid sense of what daily reality was like for those who lived at a certain time and place in North American history. Of course, their lives were shaped by gender, class, and ethnicity, that trio beloved by academics; however, they were also shaped by how clothes could be cleaned, gardens planted, and houses kept warm. If we really want to know the past, we have to know such things as these."-Anne Morton, Head of Research and Reference Department, Hudson's Bay Company Archives

"Historians review books written by other historians; it is a normal and regular occurrence. Over the years, I have had the privilege of reviewing a number of books. But rarely have I been placed in a situation where I felt awed by the breadth and the scope of the work sent to me. This was precisely the case when I began to examine the two volumes published by Timothy Kent. Gathering an encyclopedic collection of documents, artifacts, and references, many of them unpublished until now, he has managed to amalgamate the whole into a continuous, admirably flowing story. Precise measurements, detailed accountings of supplies, lists of warehouse goods, building blueprints, and descriptions of weapons and tools, not to mention studies of canoes and other crafts: these have all become, under his pen, a major piece of enjoyable reading. Mr. Kent has transformed a monumental piece of research into a page-turner. He certainly reached his objective, which was "to shed light upon the daily lives of these [French and native] people, their customs, and by extension, even their thoughts and beliefs." When discussing communications across New France, as in his chapter "Canoe Transportation," he gives us a complete analysis, from the geographical origins of the types of wood used, to the equipment, to the sorts of personal effects that the French carried. This analysis was facilitated, no doubt, by the fact that he happens to be an ardent re-enactor who has retraced by canoe thousands of miles of fur trade waterways with his family. Likewise, when dealing with the fascinating subject of "Recreation," Mr. Kent never stops bringing out fragments that are essential to a complete picture: who smoked "black tobacco" and who smoked "white tobacco," what songs they sang, the games they played, the books they read. His work is accompanied by a series of thirty-two appendices, which should prove useful to anyone engaging in research on other French colonial sites in North America that are comparable, if not in size, at least in nature. An abundance of drawings, maps, and photographs makes both volumes an attractive set. Mr. Kent's work is on a level with the scholarly productions that we have been accustomed to reading in Les Annales, the French publication of the famous Seventh Section du Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique. It is solid monographs of this genre which enable other historians the luxury of drawing panoramic pictures. A remarkable piece of scholarship!"-Charles Balesi, Author of The Time of the French in the Heart of North America, 1673-1818, scholar-in-residence at the Newberry Library, Chicago

"A direct descendant of French Canadian merchants and voyageurs, Kent has spent his entire adult life with one foot in the past, seeking to understand his ancestors' lifeways, thoughts, and possessions. Happily, for the rest of us, he eagerly shares his findings through publications. A few years ago, Kent issued a remarkably thorough study, Birchbark Canoes of the Fur Trade. He has now topped that effort with an even more impressive work. In Ft. Pontchartrain, his search for answers involves the creative use of period documents, archaeological evidence, and extensive practical knowledge of colonial-era material culture. The result, of encyclopedic proportion, presents an integrated view of daily life and activities on the colonial frontier. These volumes establish Kent as a serious independent scholar on a plane with notables like Charles Brown, Richard Gerstell, Martha Hamilton, Carl Russel, and Arthur Woodward. No matter what your interests are in looking back at the early French presence in North America, you will want to consult Ft. Pontchartrain."-Douglas Birk, Institute for Minnesota Archaeology, Author and archaeologist at Ft. Charlotte and other fur trade era sites

"In the wake of his excellent and useful Birchbark Canoes of the Fur Trade, Timothy Kent's Ft. Pontchartrain at Detroit continues to establish him as an authority on French/American history of the 17th and 18th centuries. Meticulously researched and copiously illustrated, this comprehensive two-volume work is certain to become a major reference source for students of the fur trade, with especial appeal to material culturalists."-Thomas Vennum, Author and ethnomusicologist, Smithsonian Institution, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

"There has never been a concise history of Detroit during the French period (1701-1760), and researchers and general readers alike have had to rely on C.M. Burton's works for their information. Then along comes Kent's Ft. Pontchartrain at Detroit, a massive two-volume work that is the result of two decades of research and first person interpretation. Previous histories pale in comparison. Here is a precise recreation of daily life on the French frontier in North America, with all of its minutiae. Every aspect of life for the French is described, from what they ate and how they prayed to how they built their canoes. Translating invaluable documents located in French archives, Kent has painstakingly recreated the French establishment at Detroit, leaving nothing out. Ft. Pontchartrain at Detroit should become the standard reference work on the French era of Detroit, as well as on life during this period at other French posts and settlements."-David Poremba, Head of Burton Historical Collection and History Department, Detroit Public Library, author of Detroit, 1860-1899, editor of Detroit in Its World Setting: A Three-Hundred Year Chronology, 1701-2001

"A remarkable reference work for anyone interested in the French fur trade period. Mr. Kent is to be commended for his dedication in completing this massive work, which will be an invaluable reference for historians and re-enactors."-Phillip Kwiatkowski, Director, Michigan Historical Museum