Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Some brief notes on Ethnic Dress in Colonial America


1 a :of or relating to large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background

b :being a member of a specified ethnic group
One of the challenges in living history/reenacting is presenting a nuanced, well thought out portrayal of any of the many diverse ethnic groups that were coming to America in the 18th century. How would one pull off a believable portrayal of a Scottish Loyalist at say, Moore's Creek Bridge or a German immigrant in the Shenandoah Valley?

I am reminded of a friend who is originally from Scotland being repeatedly congratulated on his (presumed faux) accent when portraying John Murray, Lord Dunmore; but cunning linguist, piper down, and SNL jokes aside, I will focus on clothing for this post, which is certainly not a complete compilation, as much as a place for me to share notes, images and ideas as I come across them, hopefully updated as new information and sources come to light.


NB: For now I am lumping "German" and "Dutch" together, as they are at times blurred in Anglo correspondence. Trends that initially stick out are conservative dress, "long sleeves open below," "Bavarian" or "Dutch" flap leather breeches, old outdated fashion square toed shoes, black stocks.  The subtle differences may have been hard to discern, as Swede Peter Kalm described the Dutch in Albany as dressing "however like that of the English"

De misleyden by Cornelis Troost (c.1720-1750), Rijksmuseum

The Pennsylvania Gazette
 February 2, 1744
 RUN away, on the 8th Instant, from William Baker, in Chesnut Street Philadelphia, a Dutch Servant Woman, named Catherine Vernon, lusty and well set. fair Complexion, drest after the Dutch Fashion , dark Petticoat, short calico Jacket, dutch Cap, white Apron and Handkerchief, dutch Shoes with Nails in them; the said Servant can talk pretty good English, and has been in this Country about three Years. Whoever takes up the said Servant,and secures her so that her Master may have her again, shall have Forty Shillings Reward, and reasonable Charges paid by William Baker.

"Bavarian" style leather fall front breeches from Diderot

The Pennsylvania Gazette, Philadelphia, November 24. 1749.
Run away, last night, from William Williams, in Bucks county, New Britain township, a servant man, named James Hayes, about twenty years of age, of middle stature, sandy complexion: Had on a new cotton cap, large felt hat, commonly cock'd up, a tammy coat, full trimm'd before, with some of the buttons off above and below, with a brown camblet lining, a pale tammy jacket, lined with Bristol stuff, old leather breeches, with a flap before, or Dutch fashion , oznabrigs shirt, blue stockings, calfskin pumps, with block tin buckles; he has also with him, a cloth, serge, and flannel jacket, without sleeves; he stole from his master twenty dollars in silver, and a considerable quantity of paper money, the value not known. Whoever takes up said servant, and brings him to his master, or secures him in any goal, so that he may be had again, shall have Three Pounds current money of Pennsylvania, and reasonable charges,paid by WILLIAM WILLIAMS. N.B. He is an Irishman, but speaks pretty good English.

1756 dated military issued infantry shoes, Swedish Army Museum

Pennsylvania Gazette, Aug. 29, 1754
August 29, 1754
RUN away on the third of May last, from Capt. Robert Harris, of Rocky river, in Anson
county, North Carolina, two Dutch servants, viz. a man and his wife; the man named Hermanus Haggen, about 30 years of age, of a low stature, with black hair: Had on, an old hat, blue coat, brown jacket, with brass buttons, and square toed shoes; and had a bag on his back, of a large bulk. The woman named Catherina, in a Dutch dress, with a damask petticoat, and a brown one, can speak some English, and have a little white dog with them.

Pefroen and the Sheep's Head by Cornelis Troost Mauritshuis, dated 1739

 The Pennsylvania Gazette,February 7, 1776
 RAN away from the subscriber, living in Worcester township, Philadelphia county, a German man servant named PHILIP PETER MILLER, he has a scar on the left side of his mouth, a fresh coloured visage, and dark brown bushy hair; had on when he went away, a light blue coat, after the German fashion , with long sleeves open below, a short blue jacket,white short woollen breeches, with a large patch between the legs, blue stockings, new shoes with odd buckles, a large German hat much worn, a black German stock made of horse hair, with a yellow stock buckle; he is about 5 feet 5 inches high, and cannot speak any English. Whoever takes up said servant, and secures him, so that his master may have him again, shall receive the above reward, paid by me.


At this point I have not come across much in the way of distinctively Irish 18th century clothing, but I would refer anyone contemplating such an impression to view The Cries of Dublin & C: Drawn from the Life by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, 1760 for contemporary images. Mara Riley notes that "...around the late 1500s to early 1600s, Scottish Highland clothing became more distinct from Irish clothing of the same period.  Whereas the Irish began to wear clothing that more closely resembles that of the common English peasantry..."

I highly recommend Mara Riley's page for a great rundown of Scottish costume. If one is portraying a Scotsman after 1746, the Dress Act has to be considered:

Abolition and Proscription of the Highland Dress 19 George II, Chap. 39, Sec. 17, 1746:
That from and after the first day of August, One thousand, seven hundred and forty-six, no man or boy within that part of Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as Officers and Soldiers in His Majesty's Forces, shall, on any pretext whatever, wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland clothes (that is to say) the Plaid, Philabeg, or little Kilt, Trowse, Shoulder-belts, or any part whatever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and that no tartan or party-coloured plaid of stuff shall be used for Great Coats or upper coats, and if any such person shall presume after the said first day of August, to wear or put on the aforesaid garment or any part of them, every such person so offending ... For the first offence,shall be liable to be imprisoned for 6 months, and on the second offence, to be transported to any of His Majesty's plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the space of seven years.

Kilts seem to have been rarities here in North America, and the only instance I have found in runaway or deserter ads is an Irishman!

 The Pennsylvania Gazette, July 16, 1761
Fort Pitt, June 24, 1760.
 DESERTED from this Garrison, SAMUEL PELLTON, Serjeant of Captain Paul Dehaus Company of the Pennsylvania Forces, about five Feet seven Inches high, a round Face, disfigured about his Nose and Mouth with the Small Pox, curled brown Hair, between 25 and 28 Years of Age: Had on and took with him his Regimental Clothes, red Calimancoe Breeches, and a Pair of Leather Breeches, and some other Clothes not remembered; he was born in the Jerseys, and had a Silver Watch, with a single Steel Chain. Also RICHARD WORREN, Corporal of Capt. Samuel
 Neilson Company of said Troops, about five Feet three or four Inches high, about 22 or 23 Years of Age, born in the North of Ireland, speaks good English, has a smooth Face, and is a great Gamester at Cards: Had on blue Regimental Clothes, and had a Highland Plad Kealt , which makes him remarkable when he wears it, he also had blue Cloth Breeches. They both have the [?] locks with them. Worren was in the Jersey Service last Campaign, and as they are both acquainted with that Part of the Country, and are sly smart Fellows, tis thought they are gone that Way, or to New York. As it is supposed they broke open and plundered a Store the Night they went away, whoever takes up said Deserters, and brings them to this Garrison, or secures them in any Goal in this Province, so as they may be brought to Justice, shall have Eight Pounds Reward for both, or Four Pounds for each, paid by the Officers to whom they belong.

That being said, "Tartan plaid" does show up in some post 1746 references- both in newspapers and store inventories (Montgomery's Textiles in America has a bright swatch illustrated from ca. 1750).

The Pennsylvania Gazette, September 27, 1759

Just imported in the last vessels from London, Bristol and

 Glasgow, and to be sold at the lowest rates, by SPEIR and

 STUART, In Water street, near the Corner of Walnut street,

opposite Mr. Abraham UsherStore,

Three qr. and 7 8ths check linen, check and striped hollands,

 Irish linens, chiefly low price, Scotch check handkerchiefs,

 bed ticken, yarn and worsted stockings, green and white thread

 ditto, shaloons, calimancoes, thicksets, Scotch plad, or

Tartan , blue bonnets, kilmarnock caps, figured and Highland

 garters, plain kenting handkerchiefs, net and spot figured and

 flowered bordered gauze and lawn do. plain lawn and gauze,

 flowered, striped, sprigged, netted, spotted and parisnet do.

 men and womens ruffles, cambricks and clear lawns, Scotch

 numbered thread, coloured and stitching do. Scotch snuff in

 bottles, calicoes, everlastings, mohair and metal buttons,

 horn do. mohair, men and womens gloves, beugles, ivory and

 horn combs, plain and silvered stay hooks, knee and shoe

 buckles, glass, brass and stone sleeve buttons, men and womens

 thimbles, table knives and forks, razors, taylors shears,
 Barlow, buffaloe and common penknives, cuttoes, butchers
 knives with sheaths, desert ditto, horse scissars, common and
 razor metal do. shoemakers knives, awls and tacks, gimblets,
 needles, pins, thread and quality binding, and sundry other
 articles, too tedious to mention.

Fort Lewis Boyd's store inventory of the plantation and  the store in Southwest Virginia dated September 25, 1766 contains "50 Yds. Tarten Plaid .......... 7/16/ 3" 

 For further info on plaids, I recommend http://www.scottishtartans.co.uk/

Scottish Footman in a plaid waistcoat, breeches and bonnet
"GILLEE Wet Feit"  Attributed to Paul Sandby, 1749 

An exception or omission in the Dress Act's plaid kilt and upper garment prohibition seems to have been used to wear plaid waistcoats both in Scotland:

"The Apology...A tour in Scotland 1769 by Thomas Pennant
But when crossing and jostling come queer men of G*d,
In rusty brown coats and waistcoats of plaid ;
With greasy cropt hair, and hats cut to the quick.
Tight white leathern breeches, and smart little stick ..."

and in America (although the date of the ad vs. the Dress act should be noted):

RAN away from the Subscribers on the 31st of July  last Three Servants , viz . Daniel M' Craw , a Scots -Highlander , of a short Stature, speak broken English , about 5 Feet 2 Inches high,
of a ruddy Complexion, with short curl'd Hair: Had on when he went away, a coarse Bear-skin Coat, with Brass Buttons,a Pair of brown Linen Trowsers and Shirt. He belonged in Mr. C Dick , in Fredericksburg .
John Ross , a Scots -Highland  Boy, about 16 Years of age, of a ruddy complexion, full-fac'd, speaks broken English , and has his Hair cut: he carried with him an Oznabrig Shirt, a Pair of Oznabrig Trowsers and Breeches, a Tartan waistcoat without Sleeves, lin'd with green Shalloon, a brown Holland and a white Linen ditto, a Silk Handkerchief, a Felt Hat, and a Leather hunting Cap. he belonged to Mr. John Mitchell , in Fredericksburg ...Whoever apprehends the said Servants  and brings them to their Masters aforesaid, shall receive a Pistole Reward for each, besides what the Law allows. Witness our Hands this 21st Day of July , 1746

In addition to plaid waistcoats, (with ever present brown or blue coats or jackets), a bonnet might be worth considering for this impression. Some traditional Scottish weapons such as highland pistols and swords were imported here but seem to have been somewhat rare compared to English goods.

Weighing the Lead Bars, Lead Processing at Leadhills, Scotland by David Allan, ca. 1789.
The man at far right appears to be wearing a "Maude"

Another Scottish affectation worth looking into is the checked mantle known as a "Maude", discussed here.