Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Tents: Procurement and Materials in the Continental Army

Bunbury, British Camp, 1790 [1].

         Recently, a friend sent me a link for a blog article (excellent blog by the way) in which he was featured that also had a picture of "18th c" tents on it.  The tents in question were cotton canvas, machine stitched, and fire retardant.  I could tell this immediately from the photo.  How, you may ask?  They look exactly like the ones from my unit, with the exception of a few of the painted numbers.  This is something that has bothered me ever since I got a look at Washington's marquis and the marquis at Yorktown a few years back.  It does not have any of the aforementioned three anachronistic qualities as the tents in our organizational equipment.  So the article brought up the issue of improving camp impressions in several areas, to include tentage material.  I think this is a good direction, but its a little more complicated than saying, "Let's switch to linen."
         The problem of shelter for the 18th century soldier, particularly Continental forces, met with similar obstacles as clothing, rations, and forage.  My hypothesis is little more that this:  The private soldier did not sleep under a cotton canvas, machine stitched, fire-retardant tent. That was what did he sleep under? 
          My guess is that like that most facinating of gentlemen in the Dos Equis commercial, he would say,"I don't often sleep in a tent, but when I do, I sleep under ________." (Insert a myriad of different fabrics). This is the first of what I hope will be many discussions on tentage:  procurement, materials, design, cantonment-not to mention the alternatives to it.  I think alternatives to tents is perhaps even more important than the tent itself, since there was a persistant shortage throughout the war and units rarely carried them on active service away from the main army (keep in mind Washington was fighting a "War of Posts" that involved "Flying Camps" and small unit actions-Giap-of  Indochine/Vietnam War fame was a great admirer). I say discussion when I refer to this research, rather than article, as with the increasing availability of digitized and transcribed information at university and free libraries, it is my hope that we can spark a conversation and find even more information than my small offering. 


         Initially, tentatively setting precedents for its limited authority, Congress intended  to have the various colonies supply their militia in continental service directly. 

         Virginia had already seen fit to do so with the first two regiments it fielded in 1775, intending to provide one tent for each officer, one for every two serjeants, one for every two musicians, one for every six privates, and a bell tent for every company. [2]  This was at least the lofty goal in the initial days of the war, when even before the 1st and 2d regiments were formed at Williamsburg,

           "A camp is now marked out, behind the college; tents and other camp equipage are getting ready with the utmost expedition; and the troops, from the different counties are on the march for this city..." [3]

Artist unknown, French Camp, 1779. [4]

           When you consider the distances involved for Virginia to supply its forces in New York or New Jersey in 1776-77 the task becomes nearly insurmountable.  Shipments from Virginia were forthcoming, but could not meet the needs of its brigades in Continental Service.  This not being sufficient or efficient, Congress turned directly to contractors.

          "Mr. J. Mease having, in consequence of the resolution of the 30th August, made a report, that he cannot find there is any cloth in this city, fit for making tents, except a parcel of light sail cloth, which is in the hands of the Marine Committee: Whereupon,

Resolved, That the Marine Committee be directed to deliver to Mr. J. Mease all the light sail cloth in their hands: And that Mr. Mease be directed to have the same made into tents, as soon as possible, and forwarded to General Washington:

 That the Secret Committee be directed to write to the continental agents in the eastern states, desiring them to purchase all the duck and other cloth fit for tents, which they can procure in their respective states, for the use of the continent." [5]

       In October of 1776, Congress planned to procure 5,000 tents for the spring campaign of 1777, suggesting that the Continental Army was intended to build huts in fortified cantonments in the winter similar to European armies. [6]

       Unfortunately, their interest in the matter was more often merely an admonision to a general to "...order the deputy quarter master general of the eastern department, forthwith to provide 1,000 good bell tents, and send them to the army..."[7], rather than ensuring that the cloth or tentage was actually acquired and on hand.

Detail from "Accurate...",  by Will, 1788 [8]
Notice the narrow width of the fabric panels seams.  While this scene
is probably located in Austria, Will did serve in North America
with German troops in British service during the Revolution. 


       We have already seen sail cloth and duck used for tent material, as an expedient-and expediency was the order of the day.  In practice, it seems any type of fabric deemed heavy enough and to have a tight weave was used in the production of tents.

Hemp Canvas                                      Hemp Russia Drill

       "That the Board of Admiralty take order for supplying the quarter master general with such quantity of the duck and Ticklenburg belonging to the United States in possession of the Navy Board at Boston, as he may have occasion for, to compleat the number of tents wanting for the army, and which can be spared from the immediate use of the navy" [9]

        Ticklenburg was a coarse linen fabric manufactured in Ticklenburg, a german town near Osnabruk (Osnaburg), which suggests that the two fabrics (ticklenburg and osnaburg) were probably similar in weave and weight.  Both were used for coarse working applications and were exported to North America  and the West Indies.

Linen Osnaberg                                      Linen Duck Canvas

       "That John Bradford, continental agent at Boston, be and hereby is directed to sell all the canvas in his possession, except what the Navy Board of the eastern department
may deem sufficient for the immediate use of the navy, or suitable for soldiers' tents..." [10]

        "We have stripped the seaports of canvass to make tents; and it is of great importance to possess ourselves of about five hundred pieces of Ravens duck to keep the soldiers in health." [11] 

        "Pursuant to your order, I have purchased, on the publick credit, 261 Ravens Duck that is in Town; also, 26 bell-tents, and 635 haversacks, of Mr. Levy; one bell and one officers' tent, from Captain Devereux. I have delivered, 137 pieces duck to the tent-makers, out of which they have made 250 tents, which are finished, and in my store. There remain 124 pieces duck in my hands, which will make about 227 soldiers' tents more." [12]

Detail from "North view of Fort Royal in the Island of Guadaloupe,
when in possession of His Majesty's forces in 1759",
after Campbell, 1764. [13}

Again notice the vertical seams, consistently showing seven panels
on the enlisted tents.  This engraving was struck after a sketch by a
leftenant serving on Guadaloupe.
         "Ordered, That Mr. Peter T. Curtenius, as Commissary of this Congress, be desired to purchase the following quantities of Ravens Duck, Ticking, and Bell Tents, of such persons as will sell the same on the publick credit, to wit: 427 pieces of good Ravens Duck; 182 yards of Ticking, fit to make Bell Tents; and twenty-six Bell Tents, which are at Hayman Levy' s, if they are of a proper fashion, good, and of a cheap or reasonable price." [14]

          "Mr. Van Zandt, from the Committee appointed to get as many Tents made as they shall think necessary, reported, that they had agreed with sundry Upholsterers to make two hundred and fifty Tents, and to furnish all materials (Duck excepted) for making the said Tents, with Tent Poles, Mallets, and other necessaries for the said Tents, at the rate of fifteen Shillings for each Tent. That the said Upholsterers have agreed with them to have the said two hundred and fifty Tents finished by the latter end of next week..." [15]

[1] Bunbury, H. W. (1790), British Camp Scene. watercolor. Anne S. K. Brown Collection.  Retrieved from

[2] The Proceedings of the Convention of Delegates of Virginia, July 17 1775.

[3] Purdie's Virginia Gazzette, September 29, 1775, p. 2.

[4] Artist unknown, (1779), French Camp., watercolor. Anne S. K. Brown Collection.  Retrieved from

[5] Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. vol. 5, Septempber 4, 1776, p 735., Retrieved from

[6] Journals..., 840.

[7] Journals...vol. 10, 24.

[8] Will, Johann Martin, (1788) "Accurate Vorstellung so sich nach der erobrung von Schabaz den 24 April 1788, zwischen ihro Majest├Ąt dem Kayser, und General Lasen begeben",  Retrieved from
[9] Journals...vol. 17, 509.

[10] Journals...vol. 18, 911-912.

[11] Gerry, Elbridge.  Letter to Massachussetts Delegates., June 4, 1775, [S4-V2-p0905], Retrieved from

[12] Curtenius, Peter T., Letter to the New York Provicial Congress.,  June 28, 1775, [S4-V2-P01-sp32-D0576], Retrieved from

[13] Lt. Campbell, A (1759).,  North view of Fort Royal in the Island of Guadaloupe, when in possession of His Majesty's forces in 1759, Engraving by Charles Grignon, London:  Jeffrys (1764), Retrieved from

[14] Orders. New York Congress., June 16, 1775,  [S4-V2-p1303], Retrieved from

[15] Orders. New York Congress., June 17, 1775, [S4-V2-p1303], Retrieved from

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Disreputable Young Farrier's Underwaistcoat: A look at the levelling (or elevating) of outer and inner garments, Part II.

A farrier of questionable integrity in stable jacket/sleeved 
waistcoat and breeches.  I suppose if it was a bit colder, 
this could be worn as an underwaistcoat.

       While having made sleeved waistcoats before, I wanted, this time to take a look at the conversion of a waistcoat to be used as the aforementioned underwaistcoats referenced in the Gazette.  I say conversion, as the extant underwaistcoat (Jefferson's) was certainly a working-life alteration from a garment of late 18th c style.  The overlapping of the front panels and closed vent in the back suggested to me that it was, perhaps a double-breasted waistcoat or "jacket" that was altered to meet Jefferson's specifications.  For an example I looked to walk back Jefferson's threadbare underwaistcoat to its late 18th c prototype, perhaps something similar to the one worn by the gentleman "sportsman" depicted below.

Detail from "Autumn", Collet, 1779. [1]
        Never having had my hands on the garment, this is, at this point only educated conjecture, based on the research conducted at Monticello and the representative period engravings of similar garments, I have been able to find.

         Starting out, I knew I wanted to make the lining pieced as close as my skills would allow, since the lining was added during the working-life of the garment.  This, and the close-fitting nature of the body and sleeves, required me to make a new pattern, rather than rely on those I had made previously for waistcoats and jackets.

The pieced lining was comprised of ten panels, vice the four
of the outer shell.
Not wanting to cut up a perfectly good pair of wool socks, I cheated...
and simply backed the outer shell with an additional layer of scrap wool.

         The piecing actually went more easily than I anticipated.  That being said, I had this thing on and off the form three times.  Three alterations to get the fit I was looking for, which as fitted as 18th c clothing was, I highly recommend having a form. 
Throwing the garment on a form at various points in the project
continues to prevent me from ripping out seams and voicing expletives.

        So I'm fairly well pleased with the end product, which will debut under the old hunting shirt (and perhaps a wool waistcoat, depending on snow and temperature) at an event this weekend.

The completed under waistcoat...or stable jacket.  Not sure which it is.  I suppose
that is determined by whether or not I wear a waistcoat over it as in "Chairs to mend".

I chose to use shell buttons to have the garment wearable, however, I plan to
add thread "Death's Head" buttons at some point.

I chose to cross stitch my initials and the numerals 9 and 7 as on 
Jefferson's waistcoat "sock" lining.

 The numerals are actually 9.7 in the extant piece.  Not sure what
 the significance of that might be.

 [1] Collet, John., "Autumn", Carrington Bowles, London, 1779.  Retrieved from, 25 Jan 13.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Stable Jacket or Underwaistcoat? A look at the levelling (or elevating) of outer and inner garments, Part I.

The jacket, worn by the lowest of the low:
Sailors and Stablehands, objects of scorn and derision. [1]
        The sleeved waistcoat seems to be the common answer for the living historian who doesn't have the time or inclination to make or purchase a coat.  I have always scornfully wondered at this, since I understood that the waistcoat was considered an under garment.  The jacket was certainly worn by the working classes and the lowest of the low.  Then comes the question, what is the difference between a sailor's or jockey's [stable] jacket and the sleeved waist coat.  Were they worn by the middling classes, country people, on the frontier?  Should it be worn with a short waist coat underneath?  What station would have worn these garments?

Detail from "The Soho Masquerade", c 1770. [2]

        In Wheatley's Cries of London, the sleeved waistcoat cum jacket is indeed worn as an outer garment...

Hot Spiced Gingerbread, Smoking Hot, Cries (After Wheatley) [3]

but also-a very peculiar fashion-as an under garment.  Or is it peculiar? 

Old Chairs To Mend, Cries No. 10 (After Wheatley) [4]
Notice the man, wearing a red waistcoat over a grey sleeved waistcoat and body shirt.

        Runaway advertisements from the later 18th century in Virginia support the use of the waiscoat as an undergarment, specifically referred to as an "under waistcoat", worn in addition to other articles of small clothes.

        "RUN away from the Subscriber, in Amelia County, near the old Courthouse, on the 18th of June last, a Negro Man named JOE, about five Feet five Inches high, and about thirty five Years of Age; he is a thin made Fellow, and has lost most of his Teeth. He had on when he ran away a spotted Ermine under Waistcoat, and a Negro Cotton One with a small Cape bound with red, also the Sleeves; he had on also a Shirt of Cotton and Tread, and a Pair of Rolls Trousers. I imagine he is now lurking about in the County of Westmoreland, as he was once the Property of Colonel John Lee, deceased, of that County. I will give FIVE POUNDS Reward to any Person that will bring me the said Runaway." [5]

        "COMMITTED to the Jail of this County, on Thursday the 3d Instant, a Negro Man about five Feet ten Inches high, of a slender Stature, a small Scar between his Eyes, and a Scar on his left Cheek, has on a blue Halfthick Waistcoat with Metal Buttons, a white under Waistcoat with the same Buttons, a Pair of Trousers, Shoes, Stockings, &c. He says his Name is JOE, and that he belongs to Peter Binford of Prince George. The Owner is desired to prove his Property add pay Charges." [6] 

Detail from "A Republican Attack", Gillray, 1795 [7]

    "COMMITTED to the gaol of Prince George two Negro men, one of whom calls himself DAVY; he appears to be about 25 years of age, is about 5 feet 7 inches and a half high, and had on a broadcloth coat, red waistcoat, duffil breeches, cotton gambadoes, shoes and stockings, and a hat. The other calls himself SAM; he appears to be about 20 years of age, is about 5 feet 3 inches and a half high, and has on an old blue Newmarket coat, cotton waistcoat and breeches, a red under waistcoat, shoes and stockings, and a striped Holland shirt. They say they belong to Griffin Stith, in Northampton. The owner is desired to take them away, and pay charges to HENRY BATTE." [8]

        "RUN away from the subscriber, living in Cumberland county, on Thursday the 9th of December last, an Irish servant man named NICHOLAS M'CARTNEY, about 27 years of age, about 5 feet 8 or 10 inches high, pretty much pitted with the smallpox, of a fair complexion, with short black hair, and is by trade a shoemaker; has on a short brown coloured duffil coat, lined with plaid, a Virginia cloth under waistcoat, cross barred with red worsted, and an old pair of leather breeches. I will give a reward of FIVE POUNDS to any person that will secure the said M'Cartney so that I get him again." [9] 

         "RUN away from the subscriber, living in Sussex county, about the 18th of February last, a likely negro fellow named JAMIE, of a very yellow complexion, about 5 feet 3 or 4 inches high, about 23 years old, has a remarkable long head, and his teeth very open before; had on when he went away, a blue fearnought upper jacket, and an under waistcoat of yarn Virginia cloth, a shirt of blue striped Virginia cloth, a pair of negro cotton breeches, gambadoes of the same, and an old hat. Whoever brings the said fellow to me shall receive a reward of 10 l." [10] 

Detail from "A pretty maid buys a love song", Walton, 1779. [11] 
 Notice the tapes in lieu of buttons to close the waistcoat.

      Yet the wearing of the sleeved waiscoat was not restricted to servants and under classes, suggesting-surprise-cold did not discriminate between classes.   For example, Thomas Jefferson layering his clothes for warmth, and his (the only extant garment I can find) "under-waistcoat".

Jefferson Under-Waistcoat[13]

        "His dress when in the house, is a grey surtout coat, kerseymere stuff waistcoat, with an under one faced with some material of a dingy red. His Pantaloons are very long, loose, & of the same colour as his coat. His stockings are woollen, either white or grey, & his shoes of the kind that bear his name. His whole dress is neglected but not slovenly. He wears a common round hat. He wears on horseback a grey strait bodiced coat, & a spencer of the same material, both fastened with large pearl buttons. When we first saw him he was riding, & in addition to the above, wore round his throat a knit white woolen tipet, in the place of a cravat, & black velvet gaiters under his Pantaloons."  [12]

The white lining of the the garment is pulled back to reveal
Jefferson's initials on the "stocking lining". [15]
       According to Taylor's research at Monticello, Jefferson's under-waiscoat was an alteration from a longer waiscoat, previously having a vented back (1770's?).  Lined with what appears to be worsted and what is certainly, old pairs of woolen socks pieced together.  It is Jefferson's initials on one of the socks, along with the above quote from Daniel Webster, that confirms the provenance of this undergarment. [14]

       I had produced sleeved waiscoats before, but always as a working class outergarment.  The Wheatley prints, as well as the Jefferson underwaistcoat, demonstrate that it could be worn under the waistcoat, even perhaps beneath the body shirt?

       In any event, I endeavored to make a reproduction of the the Sage of Monticello's underwaistcoat against the cold Virginia winters (the hunting shirt just doesn't cut it).   Finished it last night, albeit with a few I'll have more on the process, once I get the photos downloaded.


             "A scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not; but knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth." 
                                -Proverbs 14:6

[1] Artist unknown, "Jack Junk leaving on a Cruize" Sidebotham, London, 1807. Retrived from, 13 Feb 13.
[2] Unknown Artist, "The Soho masquerade conference between the premier and his journeyman", London, 1770, retrieved from, 13 Feb 13.

[3] Giovanni Ventramini after Wheatley, Francis R. A. Hot Spice Gingerbread, Smoking Hot, Cries of London, 1785, 1796, National Gallery of Art, retrieved from, 18 Jan 13.

[4] Giovanni Ventramini after Wheatley, Francis R. A., Old Chairs to Mend, Cries of London Number 10, 1785, 1795, National Gallery of Art, retrieved from,  18 Jan 13.

[5] Virginia Gazette, Purdie and Dixon, 20 August 1772.  retrieved from
[6] Virginia Gazette, Purdie and Dixon, 24 March 1774.

[7] Gillray, James. "The Republican Attack"  H. Bland, London, 1795., retrieved from, 13 Feb 13.
[8] Virginia Gazette, Rind, 13 January, 1774.
[9] Virginia Gazette, Rind, 17 February, 1774.
[10] Virginia Gazette, Pinckney, 12 Jan, 1775.

[11] Walton, Henry. "A pretty maid buys a love song", Carrington Bowles, London, 1779. Retrieved from, 13 Feb 13.
[12] Daniel Webster, retrieved from, 17 Jan 13.
[13] Webarticle based upon is based on Carrie Taylor, Monticello Research Report, 2002., retrieved from, 17 Jan13.
[14] ibid.

[15] ibid.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Southern Powder Horns...scrimshaw and carving?

Mayo Island Horn, c. 1774 [1]
     Powderhorns of confirmed southern colonial provenance seem to be rare, and rather plain, or of the banded type (need to get Scott and Cathy Sibley's latest book on this style).  Most extant horns with carving/scrimshaw appear to be of New England/New York provenance (i.e. the Crosby Horn [Dutchess Co, NY] or Cranston Horn [East Greenwich, RI].  This is not to say that the art was not practiced in the Southern Colonies, perhaps time will tell if this was more common than formerly believed.

     From the Colonial Williamsburg collection:

     "Engraved powder horn with faceted & carved spout, embellished with a reinforcing ring set slightly back from the tip. The whole of the horn goes from a dark cream color to a darker greenish color as it nears the spout. Its rounded soft wood base plug is retained by 5 cast brass tacks (one of which is missing) and has a rectangular patched repair, with a tiny brass wire loop, is inlet into the center of the plug. Engraving shallowly executed, a problem compounded by subsequent wear...This horn was created either by or for a George Deval of Mayo Island in the spring of 1774. Since the only locatable Mayo Island is in the James River at Richmond, this piece is an extremely rare example of a pre-Revolutionary War Virginia powder horn.
Engraved on the horn is a scene of large masted ships and manned rowing craft filling the waterway around a hilly town, likely representing Richmond. Other decorative engravings include geometric designs, trees and a bird. In a band spanning the lower portion of the horn is the inscription "George Deval His Powder Horn Come From Isld. Mayo May 20, 1774."[2]

Sharod Powder Horn, c.1726, possible Virginia provenance[3]
    "Powder horn with honey-colored patina depicting a large, brick, double walled fortification and buildings of detailed, neatly laid brick construction; "THOMAS SHAROD HIS HORN 1726 / AUGUST Ye 7 / JORGES FORT / 1726" engraved in block letters; a large British flag on a tall pole waves above the fort; also depicted are a decorated canoe with two Indians paddling, uniformed soldiers (some with muskets, others with polearms, one holding a British flag, and two toasting one another), birds, fish, deer, plants, trees, and the face of an Indian; the flat plug appears to be hard pine and has a small, brass drawer pull screwed into the center for the carrying strap; plug was originally secured by four wood pegs, but three have been replaced by modern small nails; recessed portion begins 5" from the tip of the spout, which is raised 1-1/2" long, for the carrying strap; scalloping at the beginning of the recessed portion."[4]

    Two horns does not a "Southern School of Horners-make", nor am I recommending that everyone go out and scribe their horns and declare it sans-farbesque (historical term for devoid of farbiness-yes my personal horn is scrimshawed all over with no historical example for my persona...I should change that).  It is interesting how new information is coming to light as more privately owned artifacts make their way to public collections, existing collections are digitized and more powerful search engines than Google are available through collegiate libraries.  I suspect the increase in new information will cause consternation, accusations of heresy, angry emotocons and name-calling on living history message boards (The Copernicus Effect)! 


[1] Attributed to George Deval, Acc. No. 2011-4, Colonial Williamsburg Collection,, accessed 6 Feb 13.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Attributed to , Acc. No. 1997-229, Colonial Williamsburg Collection,, accessed 6 Feb 13.

[4] Ibid.