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See also: thehistoricfoodie.wordpress.com for all things 18th century.
Whenever I hear anyone use words like always, never, the first, the only, etc. etc. etc. I immediately find myself questioning the person’s credentials and knowledge base. There are exceptions to every rule as the following photos will show, and no one can with any certainty prove an illustration or an item is THE first ever to hit these shores. It may simply be the first the speaker/writer was aware of. Can any among us claim we know everything about everything? New sources become available every day and if you use those words someone will eventually prove you wrong.
As a writer I’ve encountered these situations more times than I can count. In writing about the introduction of Emden geese I found articles claiming a gentleman was the first to import them into the U.S. from Germany. I easily found someone who was the subject of a newspaper article with several people attesting that they knew he was raising them some 10 years earlier. I don’t have a crystal ball or a time machine so I can go back and interview these people myself, but the safe bet is Never say Never.
I’ve read articles that claim no one EVER made clothing out of toile fabric, yet I did find one. Does that one instance mean we can all make a toile dress? No, because I do not know the circumstances of how the dress came to be. Was it a spoof? Was it for a masquerade ball? Did a salesman or manufacturer use it to sell more toile? We don’t know, but I wouldn’t let one example prompt me to use this fabric for clothing, yet Never say Never.
There used to be a hard and fast notion that women NEVER wore stays or jumps without a gown or jacket over them, however, in studying paintings actually painted during the 18th century one can easily find documentation that this is also a myth. Never say Never.
I’ve heard that women always wore neckerchiefs, also known as a fichu, or in modern terminology a modesty piece to fill in the neckline on gowns or jackets. Women usually did wear such an accessory, but again, Never say Never. A cursory search of paintings and sketches actually done during the 18th century yields women not wearing a neckerchief yet are working in a well-to-do home where modesty would have been demanded or outside in a work situation where they performed respectable work.
I leave you, gentle reader, with the idea speaking in absolutes is a dangerous endeavor. These are but a few examples.
These are some of the Sons of the American Revolution services and ceremonies we have attended/participated in. If you are interested in the Sons or the Daughters of the American Revolution you may email us at thistledewbooks @ yahoo . com (type all together) and we will put you in touch with someone to assist you.
The ALSSAR, participated in the re-burial of the remains of Ralph Battle, sailor, who died December 7, 1942 aboard ship during the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Battles was unmarried, and 25 years old. His remains were identified by matching his DNA with that of living relatives and he was brought home for burial. His parents were L. E. and Beulah S. Battles. Ralph Shell, nephew, officiated, Bro. Ben Jones delivered the message. The ALSSAR posted the colors and led the Pledge of Allegiance. Honor Guard was members of the U.S. Navy.
We had a table at the Contemporary Longrifles Association national show in Lexington, KY. We visited with old friends, made new friends, and sold or bartered some goods. It was very informational and fun was had by all. Of course, we shopped till we dropped.
One of the ALSSAR Honor Guard drills. Hot Southern Alabama weather did not stop these guys from learning and practicing during which some of the wives enjoyed each other’s company. There is always lunch following drill, after all what good Southern hostess would let anyone get away without feeding them first?
Martin and I had a blast presenting for the residents of Cedar Creek Assisted Living facility in Selma, AL. We shared about life for Rev War soldiers and for the families left at home or who became camp followers, providing various services for Washington’s Army. We were joined by Rick Wells from SAR and his wife, Donna, a DAR member, who took photos during the presentations. We met some interesting people and enjoyed our visit.
The DAR and SAR participated in the Autauga Co. Independence Day parade. It was a very enjoyable day.
The ALSSAR Color Guard posted and retrieved the colors at the marker dedication for Rev War veteran, Owen Dailey. Also in the photo are Mr. Kirkland, current President, and Mr. McKinley, a previous President.
Members of the Gen. John Archer Elmore chapter SAR who took Martin’s black powder safety course at Brierfield Park. Left to Right: Allen Herrod, Bill Stone, Arnie Burris, and Martin Brady.
The ALSSAR Board of Management meeting held at American Village in Montevallo, AL.
The first black powder shooting and safety class for the ALSSAR Honor Guard, held at Brierfield Ironworks Park in January 2021. It was freezing cold and spitting snow. It will be a memory these guys will share for years to come. Most of them thawed out within 2 or 3 days.
Martin and I after another grave marking ceremony. It was a beautiful spring day, lots of sunshine, and good camaraderie.
The annual CLA show was cancelled in 2020 due to the plague and the restrictions imposed, so this year was especially enjoyable for all. We made new friends, reconnected with some old friends, did some bartering and selling, learned a lot, conversed with some individuals about Sons of the American Revolution, and admired the work of some very talented people. We are already looking forward to attending next year’s show.
On July 24, Martin and I, along with Rick Wells, presented, on behalf of the Gen. John Archer Elmore Chapter SAR, and Atagi Chapter DAR, the life of a common soldier, women on the home-front, and Camp Followers in Washington’s Army. The latter worked as cooks, laundresses, mending clothing, filling soldiers’ canteens, even on occasion taking up arms.
Camp followers were unfortunate wretches, men, women, and children, whose best hope for their well-being was to follow the army and work at anything for which they could be paid and/or receive rations from the army. The first thing that comes to mind for many is prostitutes, however, those were few, there being more washer-women, seamstresses to patch and repair, cooks, nurses, sutlers, carriers of water, communications, and ammunition, laborers and even a precious few women known to have taken their place alongside their soldier husbands in battle or provided aid for the fighting troops.
John Joseph Henry left an account of two of these women, Mrs. Grier, wife of Sgt. Grier, “a large, virtuous and respectable woman”, and Jemima Warner, “the wife of a private in our company”. He said of Mrs. Grier that as long as she was known to the soldiers, no one dared intimate a disrespectful idea of her.
Jemima’s husband was James Warner, private in Capt. Matthew Smith’s company of Col. William Thompson’s 1st Pennsylvania Regt. She accompanied her husband on Col. Benedict Arnold’s expedition to Quebec through Maine in the fall of 1775.
History has not been kind to these women in that few of them were documented well enough for their descendants to honor their service in lineage societies such as DAR, SAR, or Descendants of Washington’s Army at Valley Forge (DVF), but there are a few who are remembered.
We find mention of women followers but usually not by name, for example a woman at the Battle of Brandywine in 1767 cited as trying to cook while under fire. Another was women of the 6th PA Regt. who took empty canteens from their husbands and friends and returned them filled with water, “during the hottest part of the engagement” [Birmingham Hill]. There were two accounts of unknown American camp followers killed in fighting near Saratoga, NY in 1777.
Anna Maria Lane is remembered as dressing in men’s clothing and contributed the same sort of service as the other soldiers. On February 6, 1808 John and Ann Maria Lane were placed on the pension roll to receive $40 each, “and the said Ann Maria, who in the Revolutionary War, in the Garb, and with the courage of a Soldier, performed extraordinary Military Service and received a severe wound at the Battle of Germantown [Oct. 4, 1777] shall in consideration thereof, be entitled to receive one hundred Dollars per annum from the public Treasury”. Anna Maria died June 13, 1810.
Some 400 women were reported present at Valley Forge in December 1777, roughly one woman for every forty-four enlisted men. In January 1783 the return showed one woman for every twenty-six enlisted men at New Windsor.
Four months prior, General Washington wrote, “the multitude of women in particular, especially those who are pregnant, or have children, are a clog upon every movement. The Commander in Chief therefore earnestly recommends it to the officers commanding brigades and corps to use every reasonable method in their power to get rid of all such as are not absolutely necessary…”.
Sarah Osborn was one such washer-woman who, “took her stand just back of the American tents, about a mile from the town, and busied herself washing, mending, and cooking for the soldiers, in which she was assisted by the other females…”.
Sarah was the wife of Aaron Osborn, a blacksmith and later commissary Sgt. in the American Revolution. In her pension application she, “recollects no other females in company but the wife of Lieutenant Forman and of Sergeant Lamberson” and further down included “a colored woman by the name of Letta”.
Mrs. Osborn “cooked and carried in beef, and bread, and coffee to the soldiers in the entrenchment” at Yorktown in 1781. She “carried the same down to the entrenchments that morning [Cornwallis’s surrender] and four of the soldiers whom she was in the habit of cooking for ate their breakfasts”.
Maria Cronkite accompanied her husband into the service with the First New York Regiment. He was the fifer while she, “continued in said service in the capacity of washerwoman for the officers until the close of the war where her husband was duly discharged. That she had while in said service several children…”.
Margaret Johnson, wife of Sgt. Samuel Johnson and Elizabeth Evans, wife of Private Emanuel Evans, were noted in two mess squads of Capt. John Ross’s Co., 3rd New Jersey Regt in 1777. These women shared tents with the men.
Having been turned away because of being a woman when she first tried to offer aid, Deborah Samson next went against traditional behavior and pretended to be a man (Robert Shurtleff) in order to enlist and fight. It wasn’t until she was injured and examined by a physician that her secret was discovered. A neighbor discussed in his diary the scandal this caused in their neighborhood.
Others, like Mary Ludwig Hayes, joined the men in battle without any effort to disguise their gender. Mary is remembered as one of the women who inspired the legend of “Molly Pitcher”.
Mary was the daughter of German immigrants; the wife of John Hays having married in 1769. Her war record starts June 28, 1778 when she signed up two years after her husband and served with Capt. Francis Proctor’s Co. in the Pennsylvania Artillery. She was described by the men as being 22 years old, illiterate, pregnant, smoked and chewed tobacco and swore as well as her male counterparts. Mary Ludwig Hayes McCauley drew a pension of $40 for her heroism at Monmouth. She died Jan. 22, 1833 and was buried at the Old Graveyard near Carlisle, PA.
Margaret Corbin, wife of artillery man John Corbin, served in the same artillery regiment as Mary, without any pretense of being a man, under Capt. Francis Proctor, First Company of PA Artillery. Mary was pensioned by the Continental Congress (reported to be the first woman to receive a disabled veteran’s pension), and also said to be the only soldier of the Revolutionary War buried at the Military Academy at West Point, NY.
“Resolved, That Margaret Corbin, who was wounded and disabled in the attack on Fort Washington, whilst she heroically filled the post of her husband who was killed by her side serving a piece of artillery, do receive, during her natural life or the continuance of the said disability, the one-half of the monthly pay drawn by a soldier in the service of these states; and that she now receive out of the public stores, one complete suit of cloaths, or the value thereof in money”.
Private Joseph Plumb Martin wrote in his famous diary about the woman firing cannon. “A woman whose husband belonged to the artillery and who was then attached to a piece in the engagement, attended with her husband at the piece for the whole time. While in the act of reaching a cartridge and having one of her feet as far before the other as she could step, a cannon shot from the enemy passed directly between her legs without doing any other damage than carrying away all the lower part of her petticoat. Looking at it with apparent unconcern, she observed that it was lucky It did not pass a little higher, for in that case it might have carried away something else, and continued her occupation”.
Mary Waters, born in Dublin, immigrated to PA in 1766 and became a nurse when the war started, working with physician Benjamin Rush.
A multitude of images document women working near the army such as A Military Encampment in Hyde Park, 1785 by Paul Mellon reminding us how prevalent their presence was. It is a shame more of these women aren’t remembered by name for their heroic efforts at gaining independence whether it be in any of these capacities or simply feeding hungry soldiers from their homes.
How often have we heard someone say people only had one or two changings of clothing during the 18th century? There are a great many factors that determined this in each family just as there are several ways of seeing exactly what sort of clothing someone had.
A perusal of estate inventories will show exactly what someone owned when they died, at least what they owned that was in good enough condition to sell.
An estate inventory is a legal accounting of anything of value owned by an individual at the time of their death, and given there was a huge market for used clothing in Europe and the colonies articles of clothing could be sold along with livestock, household goods (bed linens, pots, pans, candle sticks, furniture, crockery, etc.), farm implements, tools, food supplies on hand (bushels of grain or produce, salted/smoked meat, molasses, pickled herrings), lumber, fabric, books, etc. Only rarely did this include every day work clothing the condition of which made it of value only to the rag buyer.
There is a difference in patched and well-worn work clothes and average “every day” clothes. In examining an estate inventory from NC, 1753 we find an old mantle (cloak or shawl), old woolen jacket, 5 homespun petticoats, a cotton jacket, 2 pairs of stockings, a quilted petticoat, 3 homespun petticoats (probably of a different fabric to be listed separately), 2 shifts, 6 aprons, 4 “fine” caps, a checked handkerchief, a half yard of homespun, a pair of pockets, a single pocket, a hat, basket, and pair of gloves.
When Mary Wickham died in 1705 the following articles of clothing were enumerated: 4 petticoats, 2 gowns, 7 hoods, 11 handkerchiefs, 6 aprons, 10 caps, 4 cornetts, 2 pair sleeves, 1 neckcloth, 1 pair of bodyes (stays), 1 pair of stockings, 3 hoods, 2 shifts, 2 waistcoats, and 2 pairs of women’s gloves.
An estate inventory from 1770 in NC listed two bonnets, one white and one black. We can sometimes compare articles of clothing with myths about the age of women who wore various garments. Example: the myth that only young women wore short gowns is debunked by the inventory of an unmarried woman approaching 50 dying in the 1770s with short gowns listed in her estate inventory. The same inventory proves that short gowns were worn outside of Pennsylvania, despite some previously expressed thoughts to the contrary, and that gowns were often of brilliant colors – in this case crimson silk and purple and white chintz.
Another from 1755: 1 pair of stays, 1 silk gown, 1 chintz gown in black and white, 1 calico gown, 1 striped gown, stockings, 1 skirt, 1 cloak, a velvet hood, a muslin (fine sheer cotton) apron, 3 shifts, 2 handkerchiefs, caps, and an apron.
The estate inventory of Andreas Hagenbuch, PA, 1785 listed 2 hats, a brown coat and a blue jacket without sleeves (waistcoat), a brown jacket and a white jacket without sleeves, two jackets (unspecified), a greatcoat, 2 pairs of deerskin breeches, a linen jacket, linen drawers, four shirts, four new shirts, stockings, two pairs of shoes, and a great deal of linen fabric, in varying grades (almost 60 yards), mittens, and 3 caps.
On the more elaborate end of the scale, we see Mary Cooley’s [1778, Williamsburg] clothing consisted of: 1 Brown damask Gown, 1 black Callimanco Gown, 1 Striped Holland Gown, 1 dark ground Callico, 1 Callico Do, 1 flower’d Do, 1 India brown Persian Do, 1 Purple Do,1 flower’d Crimson Sattin Do.,
2 single Handkerchiefs,6 double Do, 15 Caps, 4 Aprons, 1 Sattin Cloak1, 1 Sattin Hat, 1 Fan,
1 black Shalloon Petticoat, 1 blue Callimanco (fabric made of worsted, long fibers of wool, it came in a wide array of patterns, stripes, floral, etc., and brilliant colors) petticoat , 1 India Cotton Petticoat, 1 pair Stays , blue Quilted Petticoat, 4 pr. Leather Shoes, 1 pr. black Sattin Shoes, Parcel Stone blue, Parcel Tape, parcel Thread, 2 black Laces, Parcel of Ribbon, 36 Needles & Case, Parcel Sewing Silk, paper Pins, and 1 pr. Silver buckles. [Do, aka Ditto, means Same].
Martha Jefferson, wife of Thomas Jefferson, not surprisingly left even more clothing including 16 gowns, two gowns to be made up, 9 petticoats, 18 aprons, and 20 shifts plus stockings, night caps, bonnets, shoes, handkerchiefs, pockets, etc. She was obviously able to afford what she wanted.
At this point, the reader should be asking if these are a small sample of what people had when they died, what were they purchasing in their lifetime and how much? The Diary of William Sample Alexander in the Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, UNC at Chapel Hill is one of many documents which answers this question.
A 1770s, NC, shopping list entitled “Memorandum of things to fetch for the family [probably including extended family]” lists the following clothing items: blue Sagathy [light weight wool, sometimes wool and silk] for one suit of clothes, a piece of linen, pairs of silver buckles, 1 dozen linen handkerchiefs, white persian [thin plain silk] red lining and black tafety [taffeta] with trimmings (bonnets), a yard of cambric (fine white linen), half a yard of lawn (delicate linen used for shirts), 2 calf skins, check silk handkerchief, 2 pairs men’s stockings thread and cotton, 1 pair black silk mitts, red Durant (Durance, glazed worsted) for two petticoats, 9 yards pale blue calamanco, 2 ¼ yards of fine holland (good quality linen), 1 ladies Barcelona handkerchief black, 11 yards crape black and blue, 1 yard black ell wide persian, 3 yards black ferritin, 1 pair black gloves, 1 pair women’s shoes white or blue damask, one pattern for gown red and white calico, 2 silk handkerchiefs, 2 black 1 check, and light colored Sagathy for coat and jacket. Lawn and cambric fabrics in this quantity were probably for ladies’ caps or fichus.
I’ve heard that women had their gowns professionally made because they lacked the skills to make them at home. The amount of fabric purchased here and found in the above inventories indicates gowns and other clothing were being made at home. Perhaps the blog writer meant to say formal gowns weren’t made at home. A great many men and women had sewing skills enough to make their own clothing or to remake used clothing.
These are just a smattering of available estate inventories, and the reader may have one belonging to an ancestor for comparison. Good luck with your research and your sewing! Posts are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission. Thistledewbooks @ yahoo . com
The source of this information is given at the end. It is a condensed version of the Introduction found in an 18th century Bible. Anyone interested in purchasing a period Bible might want to check out Greatsite.com. They offer quality facsimile editions of several historic Bibles and they are knowledgeable, friendly and eager to assist customers who seek to match a Bible to their impressions. Below, right, is the Bible I purchased for Martin and we are well pleased with the quality. 1769 Oxford Standardized Revision of the 1611 King James Bible containing the 14 books of the Apocrypha which were later removed in the 1880s.
In the reign of Josiah, copies were written out, and a search made for all the other parts of the Scriptures by which means copies of the whole became multiplied among the people, who carried them into Babylon in their captivity. (2 Kings xxii. 10, &c. 2 Chron. Xxxiv. 14, c.)
After their return from captivity and re-settlement in Jerusalem the prophet Ezra collected as many copies as he could of the sacred writings and translated into the Chaldee language. About two hundred years later translations into Greek were made.
After the establishment of Christianity, authors undertook new translations claiming to make them more conformable to the Hebrew text. The first was the Jewish proselyte Aquila. Others followed including Symmachus (a Samaritan).
During Solomon’s time he complied and sent the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Solomon’s Song, and Job, the only books then extant.
Latin churches had in the first ages a translation of the Bible in their language, understood by every one and many versions followed. One was called the common translation by St. Jerom the Vulgate. This translation was so highly applauded by the Christian church, that some authors have pretended it was brought to perfection by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. St. Jerom’s version was soon received in many churches and in the 6th century it became as general, and in as great esteem, as the ancient Vulgate.
The sixteenth century brought new Latin translations made of the Bible from the Hebrew text. Sanctes Paginus, a Dominican monk, was the first. He was encouraged by pope Leo X. Paginus’s version was first shown at Lyons in 1527. His work was revised by Arias Montanus.
Cardinal Cajetan next attempted a translation and while he was not versed in the Hebrew he sought the aid of two persons, one a Jew and the other Christian. Next Isidore Clarius, monk of Mount Cassin, undertook a translation which he claimed corrected some 8,000 passages of the Bible. Besides translations made by catholic authors, there are some performed by protestant translators, the first of whom was Sebastian Munster.
Munster’s version is more intelligible and written in much better Latin than that of Pagninus. Leo Juda, a Zuinglian, printed a version in Zurich in 1543 which was followed by that of Robert Stepohens in 1545. His was written in a more elegant style than Munster’s but some thought he often departed from the literal meaning of the Hebrew text for the sake of an elegant Latin expression.
The next generation of translators included Sebastian Castalio, Junius and Tremellius, and Theodore Beza. At this time there were versions done in Arabic, Coptic/Egyptian, Persian, Armenian, Georgian, Roman, and French. Peter de Vaux, chief of the Waldenses lived about 1170. Raoul de Presle’s translation was done during the reign of Charles V, King of France about 1380. A version was published at Louvain by order of the emperor Charles V in 1550 and Isaac le Maitre de Sacy followed with his version published in 1672. Versions followed in 1666, 1667, and 1670 and multiple translations of the New Testament.
Nicholas Malerme, a Benedectine monk printed the first Italian version at Venice in 1471. It was translated from the Vulgate. The first Spanish Bible mentioned by Cyprian de Valera appeared about 1500 followed by epistles and gospels by Ambrose de Montesin in 1512, the whole Bible by Cassiodore de Reynas in 1569 and the New Testament dedicated to the emperor Charles V byt Francis Enzinas, aka Driander, in 1543.
The first known German translation of the Bible is that of Ulphilas, bishop of the Goths, about the year 360. At the time the source of this information was printed, the oldest German printed Bible extant was that of Nuremberg printed in 1447, author uncertain. The German Bible of John Eckius of 1537 has Emzer’s New Testament added and one by Ulembergius of Westphalia followed in 1630. Martin Luther worked eleven years in translating the Old and New Testaments and published his work in 1522.
There were Flemish Bibles, Danish versions, and Swedish adaptations including a revision in 1617 by order of king Gustavus Adolphus. Near the mid-16th century, Bedell, bishop of Kilmore had a translation of the Old Testament in the Irish language.
Adelm, bishop of Sherbourn who lived in 709 created an English-Saxo version of the Psalms, and Eadfrid, or Ecbert, bishop of Lindisferne, about te year 730 translated several books of scripture. The Venerable Bede who died in 735 translated the whole Bible into Saxon. A work made by Elfric, abbot of Malmesbury followed, published at Oxford in 1699. Matthew Parker, archbishop of Canterbury published an Anglo-Saxon version of the four Gospels in 1571, author unknown.
John de Trevisa, a secular priest translated the Bible into English at the request of Lord Berkeley and finished it in 1357. Wickliff followed during the reigns of Edward III and Richard II. Manuscript versions are found in libraries today. In 1534 an English version was done by William Tindal and Miles Coverdale. During this time Cromwell and Cranmer voiced opinions on whether or not the people should have access to English Bibles.
Queen Elizabeth I caused to be done a version worked on by several learned men to compare it with the Hebrew and Greek languages and the effort was directed by Archbishop Parker.
Perhaps the best known today, is the King James Version which proceeded from the Hampton-court conference in 1603, where many exceptions were made to the Bishops Bible, king James ordered a new one. Fifty-four learned persons were appointed by the king as appear in his letter to the archbishop, dated 1604. The King James Bible was published in 1610 and dedicated to the king. Previous versions fell into disuse except the epistles and gospels in the Common-Prayer book which continued according to the bishop’s translation till the alteration of the Liturgy in 1661. The psalms and hymns continued.
The men dedicated to producing the King James Bible included Andrew Downs who was responsible for the work on the Apocrypha.
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Source: “The Holy Family Bible Containing the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, and the Apocrypha at Large, with Concise Explanatory Notes, on all the Difficult Texts of Scripture; wherein the Objections of Infidels are obviated, and the obscure Passages explained to the meanest Capacity”. MDCCLXXVII. Preliminary Discourse dated July 25, 1777.
There has been some notion espoused among a few amateur historic clothing enthusiasts that there were no cotton woven checks or plaids in the 18th century or that checked cotton was not used for clothing. I don’t agree, but after reading a few notations, you may decide for yourself what you think.
The theory that checked cottons were only for furniture is like saying toile was never used for clothing – a statement proven unfounded by the existence of such a dress, ca. 1780, in the Snowshill Collection. There is no known history on this dress so we don’t know why this fabric was used or where the dress was worn. It could have been made to showcase the production of the toile fabric, as a promotion, perhaps a prize was offered for any item promoting its production, or as a costume of some sort as easily as it might have been worn like any other dress. Admittedly toile was very rare in clothing based on the absence of it in paintings and extant 18th century garments but, at least once, it did exist.
The dress from the Snowshill Collection is also found in the 1988 edition of Nancy Bradfields’s “Costume in Detail”. The man’s robe is later, ca. 1830, in printed cotton toile, found in the Victoria & Albert Museum collection, London.
The Chester County Historical Society in Pennsylvania has in its collection a man’s banyan (robe), attribution ca. 1780-1830, made of small checked cotton in brown and white. See Burnston’s “Fitting and Proper” pg 73.
Beverly Lemire in “The Cambridge History of Western Textiles” notes more than a million pieces of cottons were imported to England in 1684. The inadequate ban of Indian fabrics in Europe about 1720 was due to the fear they would wreak havoc on the economy by lessening the consumption of linens and wool produced at home.
“The cotton-thread is always washed before it is given to be woven. The method of washing in question renders it whiter than the ordinary bleaching. It may be performed equally well upon the woven cotton…where four families have for a long time possessed it as a secret”. Having been written in 1805 “for a long time” definitely puts woven cotton firmly in the 18th century and the washing process consisted of washing and placing into a lye solution several times, each time rinsing with clear water. It was then put into a mordant and dyed.
Pre-1800 sources mention a check apron numerous times, and these are enumerated seperately from linen aprons indicating the checked aprons were either cotton or wool. The records note one man stole “five checked aprons” among other things – again separated from linen aprons. The piece also lists a check gown. Check neckerchiefs and scarves, are easily documented.
“In John Holker’s manuscript of about 1750, swatches…of blue and white linen and cotton checks were made in the Manchester area for home consumption and for export, especially to the colonies. They were used for sailors’ blouses, children’s clothing and linings”.
Rhode Island and Pennsylvania were producing stripes, checks, and ginghams, before 1810, and the Germans of Pennsylvania were said to be fond of checks. “But by far the greater part of the goods made of those materials (cotton, flax, and wool), are manufactured in private families mostly for their own use, and partly for sale. They consist principally of coarse cloth, flannel, cotton stuffs, and stripes of every description, linen, and mixtures of wool with flax or cotton”. – 1810.
Before 1809 a Pennsylvanian wrote, “My family of eighty persons are clothed in our own homespun. Our wool, flax, and cotton, are of our own raising; as are our dye-stuffs. Our wheels and looms are also of our own manufacture”. We can’t say what sort of clothing was made from the cotton, but we certainly can’t claim checks and stripes weren’t produced or how much earlier production began.
A premium of five dollars was offered for the, “best specimen of Cotton Homespun, not less than ten yards”, in the “American Farmer” March 7, 1823, published in Baltimore, just one of such occurrences.
Primary sources note woven cotton and cotton checks were worn by the German emigrants in Pennsylvania so let’s take a quick look at the industry there. NOTE: Because these sources were published just after 1800, doesn’t mean they weren’t already in existence and successful by the date of publication.
Prior to 1810 factories in New York were weaving cotton fabrics from cotton grown in New Orleans and Alabama – some 1000 bales annually. John Siddal of Wilmington, Delaware, was, “intimately acquainted with spinning and weaving cotton, for nearly 40 years” and employed some forty hands.
“Pennsylvania exceeds all the other states…there were 64 cotton manufactories”, in 1810 with eight in Philadelphia alone.
In 1826, we find, “There is Goody, with her clean check apron, quite nice and spruce, just as was common fifty years ago, in my grandmother’s days, though now almost out of fashion”. The author went on to say, “Let us first state, that stripes, checks, and ginghams are figured by different coloured threads in the weaving; but any thing of a varied pattern, must be printed”, clearly differentiating the block printed cottons from the stripes and checks achieved by the weaving pattern of different colored cotton threads. If common fifty years before her grandmother was wearing them ca. 1776.
The author noted that at the time of publication (1826) spinning jennys were used to spin this fabric but in former times they were spun by hand.
Norway produced 923 yards of striped cotton, in 1818 and in 1819 reported another 399 yards of checked cotton. British Northern Colonies produced 797 yards of striped and checked cotton. These were noted in just a single report published in 1823, certainly not a full accounting of the fabric thus produced.
Catherine Parr Strickland penned in 1826 a description of her clothing that differentiated between a checked apron and a linseywoolsey apron further solidifying that at least some of these checked aprons were made of cotton.
“…a piece of checked, or other cotton cloth…” – 1821.
“There, opening a chest of drawers, she drew out a piece of pink-checked cotton…”.
Checked cloths of red and yellow. 1820.
Blue checked cotton cloth. 1829.
“…their bathing-cloaths, which are usually of blue and white checked cotton”. 1768.
A chest having been opened, “It was discovered that a checked cotton dress…”. 1802.
Note: the publication date is given for the entry below, however, this industry didn’t just spring up the day before, weaving of cotton had begun years before and it is the growth of the industry that is being reported. That growth was due in large part to the revocation of a heavy tax on British cotton thread and cloth in 1774, the introduction of the Flying Shuttle (1733) and the Spinning Jenny (1765), and invention of the cotton gin in the 1790s.
The same source as the first entry below also said, “The number of criminals, in December 1781, was 206. They were spinning, weaving, making nets, making and mending clothes, or working in the bakehouse and kitchen…”.
“For the following information respecting the number of hand Looms in the city [Philadelphia] for weaving cotton goods, we are indebted to a member of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting Domestic Manufactures…There are in Philadelphia and its vicinity 104 warping mills at work, each of which is sufficient to employ from 40 to 50 weavers, making the number of weavers about 4500. Dyers over 200; spoolers 3000, bobbin winders 2000. Weavers can now average 5 dollars per week, dyers 5, warpers 5, spoolers from 50 cents to 1.50, and bobbin winders 1…Houses occupied by weavers about 1500, average rent 60 to 80 dollars per year, Indigo used per week 2200 lbs., flour used as sizing per week 30 to 40 bbs., quantity of goods produced per day 81,000 yards, average value 16 cents per yard.” Philadelphia 25th June, 1827.
A parade of sorts was held in 1828 and reported in July to promote the industry, “Mrs. Hewson and her four daughters, all dressed in cottons of their own manufacture; on the back part of the carriage, on a lofty staff, was displayed the calico printers’ flag; in the centre, thirteen stars in a blue field, and thirteen red stripes in a white field; round the edges of the flag were printed thirty-seven different prints of various colors…as specimens of printing done at Philadelphia…Then followed the weavers’ flag, a rampant lion in a green field, holding a shuttle in his dexter paw…behind the flag walked the weavers of the factory, accompanied by other citizens of the same trade, in number about one hundred; the cotton card makers annexed themselves to this society”. 1828.
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Hazard, Samuel. “The Register of Pennsylvania”. 1828.
One of the least understood aspect of 18th century clothing is the colors available in fabric, threads, and other materials such as embroidery floss. A common myth is that they wore only blue and brown and nothing could be farther from the truth. A cursory look at fabric swatch books from the period will quickly dispel this myth, but also remember when viewing original garments, they were made with dyes that faded with time and laundering. Garments in which one can see the fabric inside a seam where it wasn’t exposed to light for over a hundred years are a better indication of the original color.
Early designs were painted or stamped onto fabric and we know that prior to the 19th century dyes were natural vegetable or in a few instances animal-based products, for example cochineal. Mordants allowed a wider range of colors from dyes.
Even homespun wool, linen, linsey-woolsey, etc. could be dyed in a wide variety of colors.
Some “in-the-know” textile aficionados like to claim there were no 18th century woven cotton checks or plaids, however, others, like myself, disagree. One such source is Florence Montgomery who lists these in her “Textiles in America 1650-1870”. I wouldn’t recommend making an abundance of such garments, however, I don’t think it is possible to declare they were never used either.
RED: saw a red petticoat hanging to dry. 1769. …used to shew her old red petticoat on the next hedge as often as she washed it. 1754. …judged from his red coat to be high in office. 1709. …deep, ruby glowing red—old curtain of the window. 1709. Mrs. V. herself…stood there in a gown of red and white. 1709. A regiment of soldiers clothed in red. 1709. …a red waistcoat appears at an opening below. 1789. He wore a red waistcoat. 1738. Scarlet petticoat. 1791.
Madder produced anything from pink to red, purple and black, etc. Brazil wood from the East Indies and other plants produced shades of red. Cochineal was an excellent red dye. It is scale insects raised on cacti and both the cacti and cochineal were farmed.
YELLOW: Marigold, turmeric, golden dock, nettle, fustic (Morus tinctoria, from America), purging buck-thorn, sumach [sic], barberry, plumb-tree, apple tree, lesser burdock, sweet willow, birch-tree, hedge-nettle, St. John’s wort, Queen Anne’s Lace, anatto, etc. dyed a lovely yellow. Saffron was used to dye yellow, however, today genuine saffron is very expensive.
BLUE: Duke of Dorset…blue striped coat and breeches with white silk waistcoat embroidered with silver spangles. Woad and indigo produce shades of blue as will logwood, Prussian blue, or ultramarine.
Recipes: Take a sufficient quantity of urine and four ounces of indigo, pound to powder and dissolve in the urine by gentle heat, close-covered. The longer it stands the darker the color will be.
Another: To a gallon of water put a pound of woad, infuse it in a scalding or almost boiling heat for 24 hours; then put into it wool, cotton, stuffs, flannel, or cloth of a white colour
VIOLET: Logwood from the West Indies imparted a lovely violet color as did a number of berries.
GREEN: Green came from ragwort (introduced into the U.S. from Eurasia), wild cicely, Iris germanica, etc. as well as from an over-dying process of blue on yellow.
Duke of Queensbury, a plain green striped silk coat, waistcoat and breeches. Green dress trimmed with gold. 1791.
Recipe: First make it a sad blue, then take aum two pounds; boil and enter your cloth; boil three hours, and wash it, then dip it into a good yellow dye.
Another: Take water a sufficient quantity, make it as hot as you can endure your hand in, in which put verdegrease two ounces in fine powder; enter twenty yards of stuff, and handle it well with your hands; let it lye in the liquor all night, stirring it some time, and then let it lie till it is deep enough.
I’ve heard people comment on the absence of greens during the 18th century, however, as will be seen below, greens were actually common. The difference with green is that it often required a two step process, especially for a dye that resisted fading quickly, first dying yellow then overdying in blue.
BLACK: Black was colored with water horehound, herb-christopher, barberries, Genipa Americana (an American tree, and oak. Black was sometimes a process of over-dying.
Recipe: Alder-bark or tops, boiled in a copper pot, to which is added nut-galls, bruised, a pound of sumach, and 4 oz. of log-wood is a typical period recipe to dye cloth black. First dyeing in walnut hull dye and then over-dyeing in log-wood will also produce black.
Let’s look at examples from sources actually published during that time and see if it doesn’t open up a world of color and brightness.
“Sacques of plain silks, the most favourite colours are Aurora, apple-green, and deep blue”. 1774.
PINK: Pink striped silk waistcoat. 1791.
PURPLE: A purple English broadcloth coat…richly embroidered in gold. A purple figured velvet coat beautifully embroidered… Their dresses were an embroidery of purple velvet… 1792. Court attire.
COMBINATIONS: A lilac figured velvet coat, green silk damask waistcoat, black satin breeches, scarlet stockings.
RUNAWAY SLAVES, INDENTURED SERVANTS AND APPRENTICES. “Pennsylvania Gazette” 1795-96.
Green coat, green under vest, blue cloth coat, grey cloth under jacket, black velvet breeches, deep blue waistcoat, dark olive coat, pale blue stockings, two homespun linen shirts, striped jacket of linen-blue and white stripes, yellow linsey trousers, a chip hat with a broad striped green, blue, and yellow ribbon, blue stockings, olive corduroy vest, striped trowsers in cotton, grey woolen stockings, striped brown linsey trowsers, brown stockings, striped green cloth coattee, linsey vest and trowsers-striped red and blue, blue cloth trowsers, three shirts, one of which was check, the others white, forest cloth coat turned of a brown and yellow mixed colour, striped nankeen coat, grey coat, one spotted velvet jacket, stampt cotton waistcoat, red striped trowsers, dark olive trowsers, black and white striped cotton trowsers, blue jacket, black home-made linsey under jacket, red waistcoat, olive colored trowsers, striped homespun trowsers, “mixed-cloth coat”, a clouded-green coat, striped cotton jacket, checked woolen shirt, “mixt cloth coatee”, an excellent dark brown mixed superfine cloth coat, blue superfine cloth coat with yellow buttons, green twilled old silk waistcoat, lead coloured corduroy breeches, fancy striped cotton stockings, shoes tied with ribbons, old light brown sailor’s jacket, his outside garment a blue coatee the body a deep blue and the sleaves a pale blue twilled cloth, green linsey coat, yellow and white striped linen trowsers, coat of bottle-green, yellow stript nankeen coattee, brown homespun shirt, striped muslin jacket, striped cotton jacket, a red home made coating jacket, bottle-green corduroy trowsers, coats lined with blue and brown linsey, striped purple and yellow trowsers, mixed red and blue broad-cloth jacket,
ODD YEARS: Blue knit breeches / two striped and one white shirt, Virginia 1769.
1756: Red petticoat, striped jacket and gown.
“an Irish servant lad named Patrick Flanley about 19 years old…by trade a Leather Breeches Maker and Skinner; Had on when he went away a grey homespun cloth coat, almost new, lin’d with blue shalloon in the forepart and with brown cloth in the back, Mohair Buttons, a Leather Fawn skin vest…lined with scarlet shalloon, a worn oxenbrig [sic] shirt, a pair of purple sheepskin Breeches, and a pair of old round toe’d Pumps”. – New-York Mercury. 1754.
“…a brown stable Frock, a yellow livery Waistcoat, old leather Breeches, boots, and black velvet cap with a silver tassel…livery coat blue faced with yellow”. Covent Garden Journal (London), 25 Jan, 1752.
1773: Wilmington, VA. Green petticoat, took some striped blue and white cotton, calico with red flowers, dark colored calico.
1756: An orange-coloured linsey bedgown, striped red and brown linsey petticoat, petticoat of brown cloth bound about the tail with black, and the third of black linen.
Mid-18th century: A green velvet waistcoat with silver buttons, a red gown and petticoat.