Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bearded People: Dunkards in the New River Valley

One of the more interesting groups of 18th century settlers in back country South West Virginia were the Dunkards, a protestant non conformist religious sect with some peculiar traits as described in 1750 by Dr. Thomas Walker

"6th March. We kept up the Staunton (7) to William Englishes. (8) He lives on a small Branch, and was not much hurt by the Fresh. He has a mill, which is the furtherest back except one lately built by the Sect of People who call themselves of the Brotherhood of Euphrates, and are commonly called the Duncards, who are the upper Inhabitants of the New River, which is about 400 yards wide at this place. They live on the west side, and we were obliged to swim our horses over.(9)The Duncards are an odd set of people, who make it a matter of Religion not to Shave their Beards, ly on beds, or eat flesh, though at present,in the last, they transgress, being constrained to it, they say, by the want of a sufficiency of Grain and Roots, they have not long been seated here. I doubt the plenty and deliciousness of the Venison and Turkeys has contributed not a little to this. The unmarried have no Property but live on a common Stock. They don't baptize either Young or Old, they keep their Sabbath on Saturday, and hold that all men shall be happy hereafter, but first must pass through punishment according to their Sins. They are very hospitable. "

Portrait of the the eccentric Quaker Benjamin Lay of Pennsylvania

(Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery).  For further reading on him, the Fearless Benjamin Lay.

another primary account from a Moravian account read:

"Oct 31. ....Towards evening we met an old man whom Br. [Brother] Nathanael engaged in conversation, and as we passed near hes fence we asked him to sell us some turnips, but he was so good as to make us a present of a nice quantity, and gave an invitation that any of our people passing this way should visit him. He had heard perhaps a hundred lies about the Brethren, - that we were "bearded people," that we enjoined celibacy, etc. - and now learning the truth the old man rejoiced, and took a friendly leave of us. ..." (
Travels in the American Colonies, Diary of a Journey of Moravians from Bethlehem, Pennyslvania, to Bethabara in Wachovia, North Carolina, 1753)

A brief but interesting paper on them and their settlement at "Dunkard's Bottom" (portions of that land was eventually purchased by William Christian and is now under Claytor Lake ) that was commissioned by Appalachian Power titled Dunkards Bottom: Memories on the Virginia Landscape 1745 - 1940 can be found here.

  20th century image showing the ruins of the Dunkard cabin chimneys and foundations with the 19th century Cloyd house at far left and the 1770s home of William Christian at right. From Roger E.Sappington's  The Brethren in Virginia: The History of the Church of the Brethern in Virginia. (The Committee for Brethren History in Virginia, Harrisonburg, VA. 1973).

Monday, June 23, 2014

Blanket coat notes


A Canadian in a hooded "Capote" made from a point blanket (Von Germann ca. 1777)

Blanket coats are an interesting "make do" garment, (or perhaps better yet blankets were a make do source of coating) that were seen on both the frontier and in the more well established areas of 18th century America from Canada to Florida and west to New Orleans.

In a letter to John Forbes dated January 24, 1759 (Fauqier papers) Governor Fauquier writes:

"As Coll. Washington’s Regiment were so much exposed to the Hardships of the
Weather for want of Cloaths, I have ordered each of them a Blanket to be made up in to a
to guard them from the Inclemency of the Season, which is the utmost, if not more
than, I have a power to do till the Assembly meet in February…"

There is some evidence that members of the Virginia provincials had them a bit earlier and that their utilitarian nature favored them to some officers:

DESERTED from the Virginia Regiment, June 19, 1756, from the Mouth of Patterson's Creek, the following persons, viz.

William Pane, aged 30 years, 5 feet 6 inches high, has dark brown hair, sandy complexion, blind of the left eye, Virginia born, but off in his regimentals, late Captain John Mercer Company.

Francis Glascock, Capt. Harrison's company, aged about 21 years, 5 feet 10 inches high, fair hair, ruddy complexion, Virginia born: Had on when he went away, a blanket coat , a pair of buckskin breeches, and had with him two ozenbrigs shirts, and a fine one.

Adam Stephen to George Washington, September 13, 1758

Letters to Washington and Accompanying Papers. Published by the Society of the Colonial Dames of American. Edited by Stanislaus Murray Hamilton.

CAMP ON LOYAL HANNON Sepr. 13th 1758


We have fortifyd this place; & taken post ten miles to the westward on Kishiminatos,1 about forty miles from Fort du Quesne. In obedience to Col Bouquets Commands I wrote you by Sergt. Boynes to send up the mens Cloathing, but humbly Conceive, that Blanket Coats would suit Better than any that can be got for your Regiment. -- You will be so good as to excuse me for not being particular about our Situation & designs; as I cannot depend on your getting Letters that I write -- Some of great importance wrote by others; have fallen into the hands of the Enemy I offer my Compliments to the Gentlemen with you and am with respect,

... Sir, Your most Obt. hbe St

Christopher Hardwick to George Washington, December 12, 1758

Letters to Washington and Accompanying Papers. Published by the Society of the Colonial Dames of American. Edited by Stanislaus Murray Hamilton.

Decr. 12th. 1758

One Marke & Tent Table (Iron Screw to Do Missing) 4 Camp Stools Bedstead, 2 Mattrases, 4 Blankets, 6 Pack Saddles (one of Which Miles Carrys with him) 2 Oyl Cloths, 2 Candle Sticks 1 Pr. Snuffers, 1 Pr. Curtins, 1 Bottle Oyl 5 Cups & Six Saucers (some of which have peaces broke out of them) 2 Tumblers, 1 Do. Broke, 3 Table Cloths, 2 Pr. Sheets, 1 Box of Candles, 1 Curry Comb & Brush, 1 Pr. Saddle Bags, 3 horse Beels (one of Which is at Winchester) 1 Cag of Wine, 13 Plates 1 Bason, 1 Blanket Coat, 4 Wanteys, Hors Shoes & Nails, 2 Boxes, 2 Pr. Legings 1 Copper kettle (the Cover missing Miles says it is at Winchest. 1 Tin Quart Mug, 1 Tea Kettle, 1 Small Tent 1 Tomehock 2 Delph Bowls 7 Knives 9 Forks -- Part of a Bottle of Musterd -- some Spices, 2 Pewter much bent Dishes, 7 Table Spoons, 3 Tea Do. 2 Pieses of Supe [soap] 3 Neats Tongs --

... Decr. 12th. 1758 I have Recd. the before Mentiond things (except such as is excepted in the Memorandom) I say Recd. Pr. Me... CHRISTOPHE HARD WICK

Although useful, they may have been causing some issues with Identification of friends vs. foes on the Forbes expedition: 

Barton Forbes Exp diary

Wednesday Sept 20th 1758 P 203

"Orders are issued that no Officer for the future shall appear in a Blanket coat."

A ca. 1780 view of Canadians showing variations in blanket coat cut and trim.
 (Royal Ontario Museum © ROM. 969.37.2)

 In addition to soldiers and Canadians, references survive for blanket coats and jackets being worn by Indians, Slaves and Indentured Servants.

"To JOHN STEPHENSON, Pensacola "New Orleans, April 22, 1769
I hope are [ere] this comes to hand you have recivd. The things I sent you By Savon, and Should this not overtake you at pensacola hope it will find you safe arrivd in England, which Shall be always glad to hear; the Spanish Frigate Saild for the havana 3 days ago We are Still in Suspence About the Result of the Rupture between the French & Spaniards but is the General oppion of the people here that it will fall to the Spaniards if so Cash will Circulate in this place, and the Articels you was kind Enough to promise to send me will Answer extream Well, I omitted to Mention Blankets in the Memorandum, which if you think proper to send please to let them be good Blankets proper for making Blankett Coats with Either black or Blue Strips only [.] I am afraid Mr. Monsanto Will Shortly be pushed very hard for money he owes at Mobile to Messrs. McGillivray & Struthers for Negroes Bought of them a long time Ago[.] I have nothing more at present worth your notice but should this Reach you at pensacola refer you to Mr. McNamara who no[w] goes there[.] I am with due Esteem…P.S. Youl please to send me the Universal History will bound with proper Cutts and Maps tho they should Cost 6d or a Shilling More a Volume. …" (The Merchant of Manchac: The Letterbooks of John Fitzpatrick 1768-1790 ed. Margaret Fisher Dalrymple Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1978, 46.)

Virginia Gazette(Dixon & Hunter), Williamsburg ,November 25, 1775.

   WARWICK, November 15, 1775. RUN away from the Subscriber's Plantation in Prince Edward County, on Saturday the 11th Instant, four Negro Fellows, viz. PRINCE, CATO, CHARLES or TRASH,
and BILLY BURTON.----Prince is a very large Fellow, is an African, and speaks badly, and is very drunken and quarrelsome, he is notable for being an excellent Swimmer and Diver. ----
Cato, a thick well Made Fellow about 5 Feet 6 or 7 Inches high, is also an African, and speaks very broken English, and is a tolerably sober well behaved Fellow.
----Charles or Trash, for he will answer to either Name, is a Native of Jamaica, a small slim Made Fellow, about 5 Feet 4 or 5 Inches high, and about 25 Years of Age.----
Billy Burton, a Mulatto, a stout young Lad, about 19 or 20 Years of Age, was raised at this Place, and is a very well behaved Fellow.
All of them but Trash were clothed this Fall in Dutch Blanket Coats and Breeches, Trash had Clothes such as Water Negroes generally wear, though he and all the others had other Clothes with them,
so that it is probable they will change their Dress.


Virginia Gazette(Dixon & Hunter), Williamsburg ,April 4, 1777.

    FORTY SHILLINGS REWARD. RUN away from the Subscriber, the 29th of November, a likely young Negro Fellow named JOE,
about 5 Feet 10 Inches high, had on, when he went away, Jacket and Breeches made of dark coloured Kersey, with white Metal Buttons,
a short Coat made of a Dutch Blanket, with white Metal Buttons, Virginia knit Stockings, and plain Shoes. As he was brought up in Williamsburg,
I expect he is lurking about there. Whoever takes up the said Slave, and commits him to Gaol, or brings him to me in James City County,
shall receive the above Reward


sometimes blankets were used to fashion jackets as well:

- Maryland Gazette, 23 June 1757
 "Deserted from Francis Ware’s Company, the 14th of this instant June, on his march to Fort-Frederick, Patrick Grame, a Scotchman, aged 25 years,
 5 feet 4 ½ inches high, of a brown complexion, has dark eyes, and black hair, middling long, has a down look, and is mark’d with the small-pox; had on when he went away, a jacket made of a Dutch blanket, grey country-made stockings, and shoes about half worn.
Whoever takes up the said deserter, and delivers him to any of the Recruiting-Officers in this Province, or contrives him to Fort-Frederick, shall have two pistoles reward paid by Francis Ware "

 Virginia Gazette(Purdie & Dixon), Williamsburg ,December 10, 1767. 
  RUN away from the subscriber, about the 3d of last month, in Prince William county, near Dumfries, a Scotch servant man, named ROBERT CRAIG, about 5 feet 5 inches high, by trade a weaver, of a dark complexion, wears his own black short hair, and talks the Scotch dialect very broad; had on when he went away a drab coloured cloth great coat much patched, a jacket made out of an old Dutch blanket, an old felt hat welted round the brim with coloured thread, an old pair of osnabrug breeches, and a pair of ribbed yarn hose. Any person taking up the said servant, and conveying him to me, shall receive a reward of Three Pounds Virginia currency, besides what the law allows.
WILLIAM BRIGGS. N.B. The above servant, I am informed, has wrote himself a discharge.

Virginia Gazette(Purdie & Dixon), Williamsburg ,September 28, 1769.

    NORTH CAROLINA, Sept. 3, 1769. COMMITTED to the publick jail for the district of Halifax an outlandish Negro man who calls himself HARRY, about 25 years old, 5 feet 6 inches high, and his fore teeth very much decayed; has on an old jacket made of a Dutch blanket, Negro cotton breeches, and an old brown linen shirt. He says he belongs to William Hunter, but cannot tell in what province his master lives. The owner may have him on proving his property, and paying charges.

A conjectural reconstruction of a blanket coat I put together using a striped "duffel" blanket 
with stripes similar to the ones shown in the Von Reck images.

The parallel garment among French Canadians was called a Capote, and was sometimes made with cloth, but at others of blankets, and frequently featured a hood and tied closure (see the image at the top of this page).

A British soldier in a blanket coat/capote made from a Point blanket (Von Germann ca. 1777)

 A great discussion of Blanket coats/Capotes in service with the British Army during the revolution can be found here .  Nathan K has blogged on capotes/cappo coats here at the Buffalo trace blog

Various methods of fastening and finishing were used in the period:

"a striped Blanket Coat, with flat Pewter Buttons..." NY Gazette 2/2/1767

"a blanket coat with yellow binding..." NY Gazette 5/8/1769

"new blanket coat, tyed with brown yard strings" PA Gazette 8/10/1769

"a short Coat made of a Dutch Blanket, with white Metal Buttons" VA Gazette 4/1/1777

"a homespun blanket coat lappelled and bound with blue ferret..." PA Packet 3/21/1782

 All in all, a blanket coat, whether a hooded overcoat in the Canadian fashion or simply a coat or jacket using a blanket for cloth is another garment to consider when gearing up for winter.