Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tenting Tonight

One of the documented shelters folks traveling in the Va Backcountry used was the tent (improvised shelters will be covered in a later installment). Sadly, the majority of tents available on the commercial market are generally machine sewn and made of cotton canvas vs the linen fabrics of the 18th century (not to mention the fasteners and other details that are way off). But do not despair, this is certainly a DIY project if you have the time and materials!


A reproduction linen tent in the field.

Byrd's History of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina


While the surveyors were thus painfully employed, the commissioners discharged the long score they had with Mr. Wilson, for the men and horses which had been quartered upon him during our expedition to Coratuck. From thence we marched in good order along the east side of the Dismal, and passed the long bridge that lies over the south branch of Elizabeth river. At the end of 18 miles we reached Timothy Ivy's plantation, where we pitched our tent for the first time, and were furnished with every thing the place afforded.

Thomas Walker's Journal (1750)


4th. I blazed several trees four ways on the outside of the low Grounds by a Buffaloe Road, and marked my name on Several Beech Trees. Also I marked some by the River side just below a mossing place with an Island in it. We left the River about ten O'clock & got to Falling Creek, and went up it till 5 in the afternoon, when a very Black Cloud appearing we turn'd out our horses got tent Poles up and were just stretching a Tent, when it began to rain and hail and was succeeded by a violent Wind which blew down our Tent & a great many Trees about it, several large ones within 30 yds. of the Tent. we all left the place in confusion and ran different ways for shelter. After the Storm was over, we met at the Tent, and found that all was safe.

Dunmore's War Va militia tent use c1774:


Nourse KY ca 1775 (along with our buddy Creswell):


For a compilation of 18th century tent info check out this link (and let me say again, thanks to all who pitched in on this!):


Fabricating a reproduction common tent that is much better than the machine sewn cotton canvas jobs commonly sold is easy enough with this info and a bit of patience. Happy tent making!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gun Sacks and Gun Cases

An early 19th century image showing a cloth gun case from:


As we go down the list of items for our DIY Va backcountry kit build, we come to a fairly difficult to document item, the gun sack or gun case (perhaps a useful thing on horseback and foul weather?).

From the David Hastings' (Hastings) inventory:


"1 Gun Case"

from the Militia Roster of Capt. Shelby:


"1 gun sack"

and from The Papers of Archibald D. Murphey: we get to mounted use of a "boot" (thanks to Steve R for this quote and some of the image leads!)


As soon as Genl. Davidson was advised of the British army again advancing, he ordered out the next detachment which was detailed for duty from the counties1 under his command to rendezvous between Charlotte and the Catawba River. On the 19th, he received information of Tarlton's defeat at Cowpens. On the 21st a party of twenty Whigs who lived in the country South-East of the Cowpens (but had not been in the fight) brought into our camp twenty-eight prisoners, British stragglers, whom they had taken, most of whom were wounded—they were sent on eastwardly the same day. Genl. Davidson being advised of the rapid advance of the British army, and the Troops joining him, being all infantry, and Genl. Greene having appointed Col. Davie to superintend the commissariat department, directed Adjutant Graham, who had now recovered of his wounds received in advance of Charlotte on the 26th September to raise a company of Cavalry, promising that those who furnished their own horses and equipments and served six weeks, should be considered as having served a tour of three months, the term of duty, required by law. In a few days he succeeded in raising a company of fifty-six, mostly enterprising young men, who had seen service, but found it difficult to procure arms. Only fortyfive swords could be produced, and one half of them were made by the country Blacksmiths. Only fifteen had pistols, but they all had rifles. They carried the muzzle in a small boot, fastened beside the right stirrup leather, and the butt ran through the shot bag belt, so that the lock came directly under the right arm. Those who had a pistol, carried it, swung by a strap, about the size, of a bridle rein, on the left side, over the sword,

This boot likely looked something like the one from this image of the 10th Light Dragoons by Stubbs:


As for the conjectural repros- we have a few period images to review:

Diderot's Trunk maker (see top left, likely leather):


Zoffany provides us with another look (likely a textile) c1765:


From the Henry Laurens Papers: "a fowling piece under a Woolen cover"

(p584 Laurens to William Penn letter dated 2d June 1769).

Further info can be found in an article entitled PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENTATION FOR MUSKET AND RIFLE CASES Compiled by Joseph Ruckman that is in the files section of Rev List, which includes further citations on leather and woolen cases (includes French and English citations both before and after our target date of the third quarter of the 18th century).


For my conjectural reconstruction, I chose a case of wool sized for my gun (I'd suggest sticking with the very common white, blue or red wool barring documentation to the contrary)- basically a long rectangle with one end left open that could be tied shut with a bit of tape or string. I back stitched the cloth with linen thread, turned that inside out and then secured the openings for the string with a coarse button hole stitch.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Making a Shot Bag or Pouch part 2 of 2

The next step is to wet and turn the bag right side out:


after some drying time, a punch is used to create a slot for the buckle tongue on both straps:


A thin leather "keeper" is cut for the strap:


the keeper is basted together:


and the whole works are shoved into the strap:


A line of stitching is needed to hold this in place:


and two more will be run up to the edge of the buckle:


as seen on this original shot belt:


After that, the two straps can be joined:


and we are basically done:


For this pouch, I decided to simply oil the bag down a bit to achieve a tone similar to some 18thc sporting images- basically I rubbed a bit of neatfoot oil on with a rag and dried it in the sun:


Hopefully this makes sense. Happy shot pouch building!

Making a Shot Bag or Pouch Part 1 of 2

Next on our DIY Va backcountry kit list is a shot pouch (also sometimes called a shot bag).

These bags were used for carrying ammunition and a few necessaries like extra flints.

Some were imported ready made, others were made and then sold in America, Saddler Henry Fleming of Norfolk advertised that he made and sold "Shot Belts and Bags" (Va Gazette 12/10/1772):


Others were made at home, or in Army encampments. Most of these bags were made of leather, although some were made of cloth:

The 2d Virginia Regiment October 12, 1775:

“… Each Company is to draw a sufficient Quantity of Dutch or Russia Drilling to provide Each Soldier with a Shott Pouch with a partition in division in the middle to keep buckshot and bullets separate. Each Soldier to make his own sack and Shot Pouch as near one General Size Pattern as possible…”

Virginia Gazette
(Purdie), Williamsburg ,
August 16, 1776. Supplement.
RUN away from the subscriber living on the levels of Green brier, two convict servant men.
One named WILLIAM ROW, 18 or 19 years old, about 5 feet 8 inches high, of a fair complexion,has dark hair, is an artful fellow, and may forge a pass, as he writes a tolerable good hand; had on, when he went away, shirt, drawers, and leggins, of coarse country linen, and took with him a coat and waistcoat of cotton and linen almost white, also a smooth bore gun of the best sort, double breached, which had part of the stock broke off before, a shot bag and powder horn, very much carved, the strap of the powder horn made of striped girting, and the shot bag of blue plush. The other named ISAAC SINGER, 5 feet 4 or 5 inches high, about 25 years old, thin visaged, small made, of a dark complexion, and has very thin whitish hair; had on, when he went away, old leather breeches, a coarse shirt, brown leggins, and old shoes. They are both Englishmen, and took with them a fur hat, besides other things too tedious to mention. Whoever apprehends the said servants, and secures them so as they may be had again, shall have 40s. reward for each, if taken in the county; if out thereof 4 l. or each, paid by ARCHER MATTHEWS.

Some were worn on the belt vs. on a shoulder strap, although this seems to have been more prevalent in the first half of the 18th century. Capt. Knox's description of ranger worn bags on the belt:

"a bullock's horn full of powder hangs under their right arm, by a belt from the left shoulder; and a leathern, or seal's skin bag, buckled round their waist, which hangs down before, contains bullets, and a smaller shot, of the size of full-grown peas : six or seven of which, with a ball, they generally load; and their Officers usually carry a small compass fixed in the bottoms of their powder-horns, by which to direct them, when the happen to lose themselves in the woods. " p84 (1757)

This shot bag was likely on a shoulder strap:

"on Wed. Evening Nicolas Canute being out a hunting as he sat on a tree to Listen for his Dogs was Shot at by 5 dift: pieces on Starting up he saw an Indn: running up to him wt. a Tomhawk & another run a Cross to head him. he took to a tree & his pursuers soon Concealed themselves behind others he fired his Rifle at the head of one & going to Load he missed his Shot Bag which had been Carried away by one of the Shots another wounded his Side he then took to his heals & reaced Armstrongs in a Miles distance where I had a Corporal Command ever since the first Alarm..."

Peter Hog to George Washington, May 14, 1756 GW papers


Given the dearth of surviving bags,a lot of folks seem to base their repros on 19th century bags instead of period images and descriptions of these things, but we will tackle this from another angle. After squinting at a few period images and the Lyman bag (on view in Clash of Empires and pictured in the excellent exhibit catalog) a few trends seem to spring out. Most of these bags seem to be fairly small, around 7-8 inches or so, and generally are of shapes that can be easily drafted with a compass and straight edge. Straps are generally fairly narrow, and they are usually depicted being worn fairly high on the hip. Running with a shot pouch that features a LONG strap will demonstrate why shorter ones were favored by some. Our repro will be based on a pouch shown in the frontispiece to the 1767 edition of the sporting poem "Pteryplegia" (thanks to James R for pointing this one out- really cool image!):


Since we don't have the actual pouch, I am filling in the blanks with details from the Lyman bag pictured in this excellent exhibition catalog:


and similar pouches along with period descriptions. To start, find yourself a period image of a pouch that you like or is documented to the area you portray. For this exercise, I scaled up the linked image and made a paper pattern around 7 inches wide. I then gathered some 3/4 oz veg tan cowhide and a good iron repro buckle such as these (don't use a 20th century looking tandy buckle!!!):


That form is REALLY common at 18th century sites, and is a dead ringer for the buckle on an extant shot belt (c1770-1820) in a private collection. From period descriptions and images, some pouches featured buckles straps and others omitted this feature. For my personal shot pouches, I skip them, but included one here for maximum "bells and whistles".

The leather body is cut along the pattern (if you want to dye the leather vs the oiled finish shown here, do that prior to cutting!):


straps are cut (a little under 1"):


flap is wet and burnished down in place:


The assembled parts (this bag features an inner divider - something I prefer for these):


the straps are stitched down to the back panel (slightly canted out):


then all three panels are marked and the stitching holes are punched:


After that, the three panels are stitched together (outer edges face to face):


the assembled bag:


Wednesday, March 9, 2011


One of the easiest to make and well documented bits of gear for the DIY/Low budget Virginia back country kit is the wallet, sometimes called a "market wallet". Basically a rectangular linen bag with a slit in the middle, wallets were used for carrying a multitude of things in the period and were usually made of stout, coarse linen.

Quite a few references can be found in the Virginia Gazette:



William Byrd (1674-1744)
Containing the History of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina;
A Journey to the Land of Eden, A. D. 1733
; and A Progress to the Mines.
Written from 1728 to 1736, and Now First Published:


12th. Before we marched this morning, every man took care to pack up some buffalo steaks in his wallet, besides what he crammed into his belly.


Executive journals of the Council of colonial Virginia 1757

"...every man should have a wallet of Oznabrigs to carry his provisions in when the leave their horses at the passes of the mountains, and two pair of mockasheens, that blankets would be wanted and clasp knives, thread for the linen and woolen bags for transporting the powder when taken from the waggons..."

NC Gazette via Va Gazette Newburn, May 24, 1771

Carolina "Regulator" baggage: "consisting of hunting shirts, wallets of dumplings, jackets, breeches, powder-horns, shot-bags, & c. were taken with a number of horses..."

The Journal of William Calk, Kentucky Pioneer
Lewis H. Kilpatrick
The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 7, No. 4. (Mar., 1921), pp. 363-377.

thursd 30 we Set out again & went down to Elk gardin and there Suplid our Selves With Seed Corn & irish tators then we went on alittle way I turnd my hors to drive afore me & he got Scard Ran away threw Down the Saddel Bags & Broke three of our powder goards & ABrams flask Burst open a walet of corn...

A good intro and pattern info can be found here:


Another similar wallet in the Cumberland County (PA) Historical Society collection is described by Tandy & Charles Hersch in Cloth & Costume as of bleached linen, plain woven 34 warp 32 weft 15.5 x39 inches with a 16.5 inch opening and flat felled seams. From written descriptions it seems that sizes varied greatly in the period. For this repro, I picked up some off white plain woven stout linen from Burnley and Trowbridge a while back.


After washing, the linen was cut to size, and I pinned down the long seam (remember to leave the opening open!).


Sew that together with a running or back stitch, fold over the edges and flat fell. I suggest a rolling hem or flat felling the opening slit.


Then the ends are pinned together (remember the slit/seam goes in the middle of the rectangle, which for me was somewhat counter intuitive.


Sew them together, then fell the seam as before, repeat on the other end.


Once there, the wallet is finished!


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

An 18th century Knife Sheath

Now that we have our butcher or "scalping" knife sorted out, we ought to make a period correct scabbard for it. For the background on early European knife scabbard methods and materials, I really highly recommend reading this book:


From that survey, most of the knife scabbards were out of 5oz calfskin, sewn with linen thread. All well and good, but what does that have to do with 18th century scabbards? Quite a bit once we look at some of them from archaeological digs as they are almost always made in the same center seam fashion!

But don't take my word for it, check out the two Dutch scabbards from the Amsterdam (sunk 1748):


or the other examples from the Elizabeth and Mary (1690 The Siege of Qu├ębec... The Story of a Sunken Ship)


Others were found at Fort Ligonier (1750s-60s), or the Machault (1760). Originally knives of this type were sold both with and without scabbards. The Fort Ligonier example is described as crude, and considering many of these were shipped by the cask and sometimes by the hogshead without scabbards a somewhat "home made" look isn't necessarily a bad thing.

For our repro, the first step is to put aside some rusty nails into a jar of vinegar for a week or so (this will be our leather dye). Also gather some paper, linen thread, beeswax, scissors, two needles, an awl, a knife, a punch and some oil for the blade and leather.

Step two is to make the pattern. Trace the knife on scrap paper and then turn it over so that it is symmetrical. Add 1/4 inch or so to each side and taper to almost meet the actual tip of the blade (say 1/16 extra here).


Wipe down your veg tan leather with the vinegar and iron dye, and apply a couple of coats until it is properly black'd. Then throw a little oil on it and set by to dry.


At this point do any decorative work you want on the leather. In this case I scored some decorative lattice work designs to match the look of one of the scabbards from the Amsterdam.


Cut the leather out to the new paper pattern:


pre punch the holes for the stitching


Wet the leather so it is pliable (warm water from the kitchen sink was used here) and wrap around your knife (which you will want to slather in oil and or protect with tape as some folks do)


saddle stitch the seam with your waxed linen thread (I would also recommend running the thread through some black ball if using black dyed leather, I skipped that here so the stitching would be more visible).


continue down the side of the seam


work down to the tip, and close off at the end, hopefully yours will look a bit neater than this one- there is still some time to manipulate the leather while it is wet.


Trim the excess off and take a bit of bone, antler, hard wood or plastic and burnish down the seam ends- then apply a bit of your dye or black ball to the edge.


punch two or four holes for a thong-


lace in the thong and you are done!


I suggest hitting the sheath with some neat's foot oil and blackball once dried and formed to the blade.


The Butcher or Scalping Knife

Cunne Shote by Parsons ca.1762

Aside from the leggings covered earlier, another interesting culture crossing commodity that shows up with our 18th century back country kit is the butcher or scalping knife. Some of these men were carrying imported cheap fixed blade knifes that seem to have mirrored what was commonly sold for the Indian trade, sometimes referred to as"Scalping" knives or "Butcher" knives. The line between a domestic kitchen and trade items may have been very blurry in this instance.

A wide variety of handles can be found in period documents including wooden ( frequently oval or faceted and in 'yellow' woods like box, 'red' such as cam or barwood and etc.) and bone.  Prices ranged a bit depending on which material was used.

 Kent's Susquehanna's Indians has a nifty (early) PA estate inventory from Martin Chartier's (d 1718) store [p 63 of Kent and Logan Papers X: 110 Hist Soc of PA printed in Lancaster Co HS papers XXXIX (10) 130-33, 1925] that includes :

    ...To 10 Box handled knives at 6d...
    ...To 9 dutch Knives @ 5d...
    ...To 5 bone handd Knives @ 6d...

The Papers of Henry Laurens contain another box handled knife reference specific to Butcher knives:

"3 doz.  & 10 Clasp knives, 3 doz. box handles Butcher knives, 3 1/2 doz. Split bone handle do...6 doz Buck Spring Knives, 4 doz & a Small do. 2 doz. buck handle Knives, 2 Blades, 5 dozen Inlaid Small Knives, 2 Doz & 3 Black handle ditto, 13 Ivory Handle pen knives[p378] 1 doz. Large Buffler knives..."

(Sept 12, 1747- Sept. 11, 1746-Oct. 31, 1755  page 376 [Appendix] Inventory of John Lauren's Estate )

“Account of all the merchandize &c. Debits & other property belonging to the Co partnership of Taylor & Duffin. Niagara, 27th. May, 1779.”

[Page F.]
35 dozen + Eight Red Wood handled Scalping Knives_____3/-_____5 “ 7 -
7 dozen Camwood_____________________ditto_____________3/6_____1 “ 4 “ 6
4 1/2 dozen buck Handled____________ditto_____________3/9_____- “ 16 “ 10 1/2...”

Public Archives of Canada. MG 23 H I I 2.

This trend continued some time

"Memorandum of articles wanted to make up an assortment of presents to the Indians expected at the head of the river St. Mary's,' in Georgia, November, 1792...
'Fifty dozen knives, commonly called scalping knives: those made in the size and shape of carving knives are best, and if bone handles, more acceptable."

 [Citing "State Papers, Ind., I, 312." p. 37."Tennessee Historical Magazine" St. George L. Sioussat, editor. Volume I. Tennessee Historical Society. Nashville, 1915.Google Books.]

Most of the butcher and scalping knives seem to have had a 7 inch or so up-swept tip like the knife shown above.  A mixed bag of dug examples can be seen here at  Grand Portage National Monument.

 A similar blade shape can be seen in some English domestic scenes such as

A Fishmonger by Sandby (London ca 1759)

and this painting of John Slack, Park Keeper of Lyme (by Joseph Watson, Ca. 1750)

 For a few references:

An accurate and interesting account of the hardships and sufferings of that band of heroes : who traversed the wilderness in the campaign against Quebec in 1775
By John Joseph Henry


"The principal distinction between us, was in our dialects, our arms, and our dress. Each man of the three companies, bore a rifle-barreled gun, a tomehawk, or small axe, and a long knife, usually called a "scalping-knife," which served for all purposes, in the woods. His under-dress, by no means in a military style, was covered by a deep ash colored hunting-shirt, leggins and mockasins, if the latter could be procured. It was the silly fashion of those times, for riflemen to ape the manners of savages."

A tour in the United States of America
J.F.D. Smyth


“They wore fringed hunting shirts, dyed yellow, brown, white and even red; quaintly carved shot-bags and powder-horns hung from their broad ornamented belts; they had fur caps or soft hats, moccasins, and coarse woolen leggings reaching half-way up to the thigh. Each carried his flintlock, his tomahawk, and scalping knife.” 

A typical example excavated near Fort Haldimand, N.Y.from Historical Image bank 

On the extremely cheapo end of the scale, some folks have been reworking older butcher knifes to fit this profile, others have turned to reworking the "kitchen knives" sold by Avalon Forge (I suggest sanding the red paint off and making sure the blade isn't stainless steel as these vary quite a bit!):


Another option is to commission a reproduction to spec, and I have gone that route with Ken Hamilton (shown in the picture below). Several others are also offering these, but I haven't tried them out yet.

I am once again indebted to fellow obsessive researcher Steve Rayner who generously provided a good portion of the leads and citations in this and many other posts!


Making a Powderhorn

I finally got around to making a powder horn, something I had wanted to try after picking up this book a while back:


Overall it covered the process very well, and I recommend checking it out- even if you have done this before, it had some great hints and templates worth exploring.

I had previously purchased a very simple, plain horn (similar to the McAfee horn below but with a flat base plug) from horner Jim Leach, I highly recommend starting with something on the plain side. J.D.F. Smyth and at least one Va Gazette runaway ad mention carved horns but surviving examples are few and far between. Unlike some other regions (ie F&I era Lake George, 1740s or 1770s New England schools), there aren't a ton of published horns with an 18th century Virginia provenance (carved or plain) that I have been able to find (exclusive of the Fort Pitt/Forbes road horns).

As an aside, a nifty base plug from a horn was excavated from Fort Ligonier in PA and is shown in ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATION OF FORT LIGONIER 1960-1965 by Grimm. It was 2.6 inches in diameter, about 1/2 inch thick at the thickest (flat interior surface, convex top) and had originally been fastened with pegs that were replaced with nails during it's working life. Two nails secured the now missing strap to the plug.

For online images of horns with a Virginia provenance, American Revolution Center has images of the Waller horn in their time line (click on Explore the Collection):


and on the plainer side, the "McAfee" horn is online here at Cowan auctions (far left, large domed plug):


Guilford Court House has another example:

Powder horn
Used by a Virginia militiaman in the battle of Guilford Courthouse.
Horn, metal. D 7.8, L 36 cm (roughly 14 inches long x 3 inches in diameter)
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, GUCO 1999


Since I had the plain end of things well covered, I elected to try a large lobed horn with a horn I picked up from Track of the Wolf.

First, the interior hollow was measured and the tip was cut off, then the horn was scraped and filed overall a bit.


Then the opposite end was cut off, and I drew in the lines for my "lobes".


Then using a saw and file shaped them


until I got the basic design I wanted and drilled the strap holes into the lobes.


I began forming the base or butt plug out of some pine.


I worked at this until I got a pretty good friction fit-this image shows that portion of work in process.


Once the pine plug was snug, I drilled six holes and attached the plug with wooden pegs.


The pegs were then cut flush and I applied a bit of linseed oil to the exterior of the plug to help seal it from moisture. I then turned my attention to shaping the other end of the horn with a file and knife. I started by marking flats and lines and worked them down with a file.


Polished that up a bit (more filing) and carved a soft wood plug.


The horn is now ready for dying, engraving or adding a strap if that isn't desired (a thin leather strap, hemp webbing or a cord works for many applications). I elected to keep this horn looking fairly "new" I don't personally understand why folks want to carry horns that look 250 years old to reenactments, but hey suit yourself! Overall, my horn is a bit on the clunky and crude (home made looking) side, but is functional and came together for under $20 in materials.


After a bit more tinkering:


some nifty 18th century info on dying horn can be found here: