WILLIAMSTOWN -- For more than three decades the Silver Grey Militia Co. of Northern Berkshire has helped to celebrate the birthday of Col. Ephraim Williams Jr., founder of Williams College.
Dressed in Revolutionary War regimental uniforms, buckskin coats and Colonial-era clothing, 10 members of the militia gathered at the Williams Inn on Sunday to pay tribute to Williams, who would have celebrated his 298th birthday on March 7.
"I've been doing this since my oldest daughter was 3 months old and she's 15 now," John Sczcesniak, of Schodack, N.Y. said. "I participate in this celebration and in re-enactments, on and off, since my 21st century life has required more of me lately."
Unlike several of the militia's members, Sczcesniak said he prefers to wear Colonial-era clothing -- which would be more typical of a Colonial-era militia member.
"The Colonial militia was very heterogeneous," he said. "The wore whatever they normally would wear when they reported. I've participated in several French and Indian War re-enactments, so I carry a flint-lock gun, which was the appropriate technology for the day."
In the past, Sczcesniak and his family have participated in time-period camping events.
"You use the same tenting and the same cooking gear," he said. "It gives you a greater appreciation of what went on in the history books. You understand why the militia hated to march -- their shoes are very uncomfortable and you can't
David Williams, of Williamstown, who joined the Silver Greys in the 1980s, said the group used to march in parades and at one point marched from Stafford Hill in Cheshire to the Bennington (Vt.) Monument, re-enacting the march the original militia made under the leadership of Col. Joab Stafford in 1777 as it made its way to fight in the Battle of Bennington.
"We used to be more active, but a lot of the old members have either moved away or died," he said. "I became involved because of an old friend who was a member."
Williams, who carries a Charleyville musket, said his 1774 model is a replica of those supplied to the Americans by the French government during the war.
"People don't realize how much we owe to the French," he said. "About 90 percent of our gunpowder and musketry was supplied by France."
Wayne Tinney, who serves as the militia's scribe, said the Silver Greys still operate under the company's original charter, which was issued in 1775, about 20 years after Col. Williams died at the Battle of Lake George.
To celebrate Williams' birthday, the militia, led by Williams Inn owner Carl Faulkner, paraded through the inn's dining rooms to the tune of "Yankee Doodle," out to the front of the hotel, where a musket salute was shot off.
Lauren Stevens, who was dressed as Williams, listened as a small group sang "Happy Birthday" before cutting a ceremonial cake.
"I'm really looking forward to 2015 and the celebration of my 300th birthday," he said.
Faulkner and his wife, Marilyn, began celebrating Williams' birthday in the early 1980s, shortly after taking over the inn in 1979.
"I came to the town and wondered why there was Williams College and it was Williamstown. There were all these references to Williams," Carl Faulkner said. "I learned about Ephraim Williams and decided that we should celebrate his birthday."
Although little is known about Williams, who was born on March 7, 1715 in Newton, he left his estate to West Hoosuc upon his death, declaring that it should be used to establish a free school, should the town name itself after him. The school later became Williams College.