Portraying a Citizen Army: Clothing Rabble in Arms

 

The mix of civilian clothing, that was the ‘uniform’ for many soldiers in 1775.

The April 26, 1775 Connecticut Assembly Resolves that raised an army for war required that every man bring their own clothing and equipment from home stating:

And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That a premium of Fifty-Two Shillings per man shall be advanced and paid to each non-commissioned Officer and inhabitant upon their enlistment, they supplying themselves with a blanket, knapsack, clothing, &c., to the acceptance of their respective Captains, and that one month’s pay shall be advanced and paid to each of said Officers and enlisted inhabitants. And it is further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that the establishment of pay and wages shall be as follows, viz: the pay for their whole services:

Thus the Connecticut soldiers of Colonel Hinman’s and other regiments that garrisoned Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 were not in any kind of military uniform, but their own civilian dress impressed for war. The idea of 18th century civilian clothing can conjure up a variety of images as diverse as macaronis in silk stockings and powdered wigs, to impoverished rabble in tattered rags, and even mountain men, steeped in frontier lore. However, that picture of farmers, mechanics, and shop-keepers taking up arms is perhaps the closest to the truth, but we can delve deeper. There were a variety of clothing options available in 1775 just like today. Tailors and merchants offered winter and summer weight clothing; dress clothing and work clothing; sleep wear and outerwear. Luckily newspapers from the period give us an excellent tool to navigate this world of civilian clothing. If a soldier deserted from a company, his commanding officer would generally put an advertisement in a local newspaper describing this soldier in both his physical appearance and his dress. A typical deserter advertisement from Connecticut in 1775 reads:

Deserted from Ensign John Sumner, of Ashford, belonging to Capt. Daniel Lyon’s Company, of Woodstock, in Colonel Huntington’s Regiment, in Norwich, in Connecticut, one who calls himself by the Name of William Daby, a transient Person, about 5 Feet 10 Inches high, 27 Years of Age, a slim Fellow, with brown Hair, and dark Eyes – Had on when he went away a blue Coat, Leather Breeches something old, a Pair coarse white Tow Stockings, or a Pair of mix’d coloured Worsted ditto which he stole, is a Fiddler by Trade, and looks something wild with his Eyes. Whoever shall apprehend said Deserter, and return him to me the Subscriber, shall have Three Dollars Reward paid by John Sumner, Ensign.
Norwich Packet, 28 August 1775

 

3 Complete Suits, Coat, Waistcoat, & Breeches: Typical of New England Clothing in 1775.

Beyond valuable information about the appearance and character of these deserted soldiers, we get invaluable information about the clothing actually brought from home by these Connecticut soldiers. In this case the soldier wore what was probably a full length coat, ending by his knee. He wore leather breeches which were a heavy duty work and outdoor garment. Based on the weight of his breeches his coat may well have been stout durable woolen broadcloth. His thin white tow stockings were coarse and unrefined, but light-weight for the hot, dry summer of 1775. It looks like he wanted another pair of stockings too before he left the company. In another deserter description from Colonel Hinman’s regiment at Ticonderoga we find:

Deserted from the 4th Regiment of Foot, raised for the defence of the colony of Connecticut, commanded by Col. Benjamin Hinman, and of my company, on the 24th of May, one Benjamin Buffington, about 5 feet 5 inches high, light complection, high forehead, thin foretop, brown hair, black eyes, a handsome sett of teeth, tall shoulders, and tolerably well proportioned; when he talks, stands stooping, and tells much of his honesty. Had on when he went away, a grey outside jacket, lappelled, green plush breeches and streaked trowsers, two hats, a new beaver or castor, and an old beaver, two or three pair of stockings, and two pair shoes. Whoever will take and secure said fellow, and return him to my company, or in any of the prisons in this colony, so as he may be in the service again, shall have five dollars reward, and all reasonable charges paid by Samuel Elmer, Major of the 4th Regiment.
Connecticut Courant, 19 June 1775

 

“a dark brown Coat, with black Cuffs and Cape, Deerskin breeches with a white Linnen Shirt and seemed Worsted Stockings”

Thanks to this slouching liar leaving the regiment, we know that he brought with him to service several changes of clothes in terms of both shoes and stockings. He had a heavy-duty pair of breeches, made of plush, a very thick woolen velvet, and a pair of durable striped canvas trousers for a cooler summer wear or to keep his breeches clean on a cool day of work. His grey outside jacket would have been a short wool jacket with lapels that could button over in cool weather or be buttoned back on a hot day. It also appears that this man liked hats; carrying two expensive beaver felt hats with him. All in all he mustered ready to serve, even if he didn’t stick around long enough to defend Ticonderoga.

 

A mariner’s cuff on a short coat or sailor’s jacket of drab or light colored broadcloth.

Deserter advertisements like these, plus many more, serve both as valuable evidence in understanding the civilian clothing that soldiers wore in 1775, but they also give us complete suits to copy. With a little interpretation of the types of clothing described in these advertisements, the Interpretation Department is building complete suits of clothing for those staff members who will be portraying these citizen soldiers of 1775. This season as you walk the hallowed grounds of Ticonderoga, you’ll be able to see soldiers that walked right out of the newspaper in 1775.

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