“Go check out sutler’s row.”
I went to my first Civil War reenactment last fall and I heard a term that I had heard at other historical reenactments and finally asked the question: What is a sutler?
Well, come to find out that a sutler is a reference to merchants that followed the military and sold them items that they might need. I have seen these at both Revolutionary War & Civil War reenactments and at a couple of other festivals and faires as well. To start off, let’s find out the history of the sutler.
The word, apparently comes from the Dutch to the English. The original Dutch word means: to foul or sully. The term referred to one that did dirty work or was a drudge. These people were the drudges that followed the military and sold them items they needed for everyday life. Many merchants made a good life following the Revolutionary War armies in America from battle to battle, often working both sides of the war. Some of them carried a little of everything and others seemed to gather one item and develop a monopoly. Especially during the Civil War, the sutler supplied all of those notions that made life bearable and also supplied all of the leisure activities that kept the soldiers sane.
Sutlers Row is the Civil War version of the merchant row or marketplace at a Renaissance Faire. I have heard the term sutler used at Highland Games as well and I am sure that you could find it crop up at a pirate festival. Certainly there would be sutlers that followed pirates from town to town and potentially beach to beach as they camped and careened their ships. The highlanders would certainly have had knowledge of the sutlers that followed colonial troops around.
So, the next time you are looking for a term to call the marketplace. It can be sutler’s row or sutler’s village. Especially those booths that sell notions and things from yesteryear, they are sutlers, whether they know it or not. Add the term sutler to your lexicon, put it firmly in your vocabulary and whip it out to impress those around you and hopefully make them ask:
What the heck is a sutler?
Then send them here, lol.