Monday, September 24, 2012

"...Hunting Shirts, which have been washed only in the rain since they were made..."

A Virginia Shirtman, 1775-76
                      “…That it be recommended, particularly to the counties of Brunswick, Dinwiddie, Chesterfield,  Henrico, Hanover, Spotsylvania, King George, and Stafford, and to all counties below these, that, out of such their volunteers, they form each of them one or more troops of horse; and to all the counties above these, it is recommended that they pay a more particular attention to the forming a good infantry.  That each company of infantry consist of sixty eight rank and file, to be commanded by one Captain, two 
Lieutenants, one Ensign, four Serjeants, and four Corporals; and that they have a Drummer, and be furnished with a drum and colours: That every man be provided with a good rifle, if to be had, or otherwise  with a common firelock, bayonet, and cartouch box, and also with a tomahawk, one pound of gunpowder, and four pounds of ball at least, fitted to the bore of his gun; that he be clothed in a hunting shirt, by way of   uniform... [1]

                                            -Resolution by the Delegates at the Convention in Richmond, 17 Jul 1775

          The hunting shirt has been the topic of much argument in living history and research, and no wonder that it remains so difficult for us to define today.  It meant different things to different people even during its development in the latter quarter of the 18th century.  John Trumbull, American painter and veteran officer vehemently commented on the dress of Daniel Morgan in one of the painter's many subjects containing the hunting shirt:

Gen. Morgan, after Trumbull's Surrender of
Gen. Burgoyne [2]

                     You expressed an apprehension that the rifle-dress of General MORGAN may be mistaken hereafter for a wagoner's frock, which he, perhaps, wore when on the expedition with General Braddock ; there is no more resemblance between the two dresses, than between a cloak and a coat ; the wagoner's frock was intended, as the present cartman's, to cover and protect their other clothes, and is merely a long coarse shirt reaching below the knee; the dress of the Virginia rifle-men who came to Cambridge in 1775, (among whom was MORGAN,) was an elegant loose dress reaching to the middle of the thigh, ornamented with fringes in various parts, and meeting the pantaloons of the same material and color, fringed and ornamented in a corresponding style. The officers wore the usual crimson sash over this, and around the waist, the straps, belts, &c., were black, forming, in my opinion, a very picturesque and elegant, as well as useful dress. It cost a trifle; the soldier could wash it at any brook he passed ; and however worn and ragged and dirty his other clothing might be, when this was thrown over it, he was in elegant uniform...which the battalion companies had adopted this rifle-dress of white linen with black straps and hats...the rifle-dress is loose, and the sleeves above the elbow loose like the ladies' dresses of the present day.. -.J.T." [3] 
        Trumbull, adamant about the difference between the waggoner's frock and the venerable hunting shirt, served in a Connecticut Regiment and had the opportunity to serve adjacent to Morgan and his Maryland and Virginia riflemen in 1775.  We also have a period description from Philadephia during the early war,

        "...They have besides a Body of irregulars, or rifle Men, whose dress it is hard to describe.  They take a piece of Ticklenburgh, or Tan Cloth that is stout and put it in a Tann Vatt, untill it has the shade of a dry, or fading leaf, they they make a kind of Frock of it reaching down below the knee, open before, with a large Cape, htey wrapp it round the tight on a March, & tye it with their Belt in which hangs their Tomahawk, their Hatts as the others, and take their posts, to hit their mark..."[4]

                                                                     -Silas Deane to Elizabeth Deane, 3 Jun 1775

         The fact that the Hunting Shirt needed to be defined to citizens north of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of the Appalacians may suggest that it was an article typical to Maryland and Virginia. Thankfully it needed explaining (in letters and orders of the day), or we would have even less information to go on today.  The two extant shirts, of which I am aware, from the period are similar:  cut to the waist, cape reaching to the shoulder, and remarkably similar fringe to those seen in contemporary paintings and engravings. 

Duryea Hunting Shirt, Washington's Headquarters SHS [4]
Hunting Shirt, Late 18th c [5]
            Both appear almost white, however, from primary sources referencing darker, unbleached cloth, its safe to assume that these were originally osnaburg or tow "brown" linen, as linen, in my experience, will lighten as it ages. 

          "...We encamped in Clayton's old field.  Some had tents, and other huts of plank, &c,  The whole regiment appeared according to other in hunting shirts made of strong brown linen, dyed the color of leaves, and on the breast of each shirt was worked in large white letters, the words, 'Liberty or Death'...

                                                       -Captain Slaughter, Culpeper Minute Battalion, 1775 [6] 

         "My last Letter from the Honble. Continental Congress, recommends my procuring from the Colonies of Rhode Island and Connecticut, a Quantity of Tow Cloth, for the Purpose of making an Indian or Hunting Shirts for the Men, many of whom are destitute of Cloathing.  A Pattern is herewith sent you; and I must request you,  to give the necessary directions throughout your Government, that all the Cloth of the above kind may be bought up for this use, and suitable Persons set to work to make it up, As soon as any Number is made, worth the Conveyance, you will please to direct them to be forwarded.  It is design'd as a species of uniform, both Cheap and Convenient..."

                                                        -Genl.  Washington to J. Trumbull, 4 Aug 1775 [7]

             According to Slaughter and Washington, the shirts were made of tow (brown) linen, but no mention is made of the amount of fringe upon the shirts and unfortunately we do not have Washington's "Pattern".     A minimal amount fringe, certaintly less than the Duryea shirt, is mentioned in the regimental orders of the 6th Virginia (some of which had served in the aforementioned Culpeper Battalion):

           "...It is recommended to the Colonels to make their men appear as uniform as possible in their Dress, that their Hatts may be cut, all cocked in Fassion, that their Hair be likewise cut exactly the same length.  When the Regiment are under arms, the Officers to appear in Hunting Shirts; the Officers as well as men to die their shirts in an uniform manner.  These essentials may appear trivial, but they are in fact of considerable importance, as they tend to give what is call'd Esprit de Corps, without which Regiments never grow to Reputation.

R.O. The Captains of the 6th Battalion, together with the other officers, a re immediately to provide themselves with Hunting Shirts, short and fringed; the men;s shirts to be short and plan, the Sergeants' shirts to have small white cuffs & plain; the Drummers' shirts to be with dark cuffs.  Both Officers & Soldiers to have Hatts cut round and Bound with bloakc; the Brims of their Hatts to be 2 inches deep & cocked on one side, with a Button & Loop & Cockades, which is to be worn on the let.  Neither man nor Officers to do duty in any other Uniform..." [8]

          The 6th's design of minimal fringe appears to be common among Virginia troops, perhaps a time and money saving measure in the early days of the war. 

Will, Johann Martin. [9, 10]

          In support of the two extant shirts fringe as commonplace, Johann Martin Will's watercolors look very similar to the Duryea and Heiz collection shirts.    Later in the war from the southern theater a similar supporting depiction would also be produced by the French Captain de Verger at Yorktown.  Although, seen from the side only, the de Verger watercolor implies much of the same detail from the Will illustrations.     

Soldats Americains, watercolor by de Verger[11]

          From deserter advertisements for wayward Virginia troops, we find further information, confirming the practice of dying and the addition of capes, which supports the orderly book of the 6th, as well as other contemporary written sources:

Purdie's Virginia Gazette [12]

Purdie's Virginia Gazette [13]

Dixon and Hunter's Virginia Gazette [14]
      In closing ( or not to close, as I hope to stir up debate and comments as well as additional resources) I feel the average hunting shirt was certainly made of natural tow linen, open fronted, caped, with a moderate amount of fringe reaching not below the thigh,  and sometimes dyed.  It would be issued and worn from 1775 throughout the war by the Continental soldier, it being specifically mentioned in the clothing warrants of 1778[15] and 1779[16].  As we have even more extant examples from the early federal period, the hunting shirt certainly continued in popularity and evolution as a symbol of the American warrior well into the 19th century.


                            "And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well."

                                                                                        -Jesus (Matthew 5:40)
[1] 17 Jul 1775 Page 20 Hering, Wm. Waller, The Statues at Large, Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, Vol IX J&G Cochran, Printers, Richmond Va 1821 
[2] Longacre, James B., and Herring, James; “The National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans.” Volume III. Henry Perkins, Philadelphia. 1836, Morgan 8,  accessed 22FEB12
[3] ibid.

[4] Silas Deane to Elizabeth Deane, 3 Jul 1775, Letters of the Delegates to Congress, Vol I, AUGUST 1774-AUGUST 1775. accessed 24 Feb 12

[5] Fig 100, Baumgertner, Linda, What Clothes Reveal,  Colonial Willamsburg Foundation, 2002, 2005., 70.

[5] Heinz Collection, American Rifleman Exhibit,  Fort Pitt Museum,
[6] Travers, Raleigh, Ed., Journal of Captain Slaughter, as quoted in Notes on Culpeper County, Virginia; "Embracing a Revised and Enlarged Edition of Dr. Philip Slaughter's History of Saint Mark's Parish".  Compiled and Published, Culpeper Va, 13. 

[7] Washington to Trumbull, 4 Aug 1775, The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor.

[8] Lewis, Andrew. The orderly book of that portion of the American army stationed at or near Williamsburg, Va., under the command of General Andrew Lewis, from March 18th, 1776, to August 28th, 1776, Yale Press 1860., pp13-14, accessed 24 Feb12.

[9] Will, Johann Martin, Amerikaner Soldat, 1776., Brown University, accessed 24 Jun 12,

[10] ibid.

[11] Deverger, Jean-Baptiste Antoine, Soldats Americains, Anne S K Brown Military Collection, accessed 24 Jun 12,

[13] Virginia Gazette, Purdie ed, 13 Sept, 1776, page 4, Rockefeller Collection, Colonial Williamsburg, accessed
23 Feb 12.

[14] Virginia Gazette, Dixon and Hunter ed, 21 Sep 1776,
Rockefeller Collection, Colonial Williamsburg, accessed

23 Feb 12.

[15]  Clothing Warrant of 1778, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation:  U.S. Congressional Documents and Debats, 1774-1875, Volume 10. Journals of the Continental Congress.
[16]  Clothing Warrant of 1779, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation:  U.S. Congressional Documents and Debats, 1774-1875, Volume 13. Journals of the Continental Congress.


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