1775 British Garrison Living History

Soldier's Wive of the 26th Regiment of Foot

In the early spring of 1775, British soldiers posted to Fort Ticonderoga were still on peacetime garrison duty. They were only casually aware of fomenting rebellion in New England, unable to imagine the attack and capture of the fort which would occur on the 10th of May. This event intends to portray the lives of the members of the 26th Foot and their families who occupied Fort Ticonderoga in March, 1775, on the eve of the Revolutionary War.

By May, the soldiers stationed at Ticonderoga numbered forty-two with twenty-four women and children. Twenty of the soldiers arrived within the last few weeks with an unknown, but likely small number of camp followers. These reinforcements were from the younger, fitter men of the regiment. In March, the garrison likely contained two dozen women and children, the families of a similar number of soldiers. This high proportion of soldiers’ families reflected a regiment well into its rotation of peacetime colonial service, with many soldiers near or at the end of their careers

A wonderful window into British garrison life at Ticonderoga comes from a 1773 inquiry after a disastrous fire at Fort Crown Point, fifteen mines north of Ticonderoga. The fire started in the chimney of a room occupied by Jane Ross, a soldier’s wife. At the time of the fire, she was cooking dinner for the mess of which she was a member, which consisted of nine individuals. This room, as well as rooms inside Fort Ticonderoga, was described as a “mess room”, suggesting that the soldiers, or their wives, were cooking in designated areas. Ross was one of the two women accused of starting the fire at Crown Point by making soap the day before the blaze began in a fireplace with a foul chimney. These soldiers’ wives “made a little [soap] to wash the Men’s Linnen”.

 

The incident at Crown Point illustrates another job often taken by soldier’s wives. Sometime after the fire, Private Fellows described being made prisoner for drunkenness “in the Kitchen [of one of the officer’s houses] where my wife and I lived and lay” working as Lieutenant Feltham’s servants. Private and Mrs. Fellows duties presumably included cleaning, cooking, and laundering the Lieutenant’s clothes.  A similar reference mentions women working at Ticonderoga in 1764, where a soldier’s wife by the name of Mrs. Cahoon tended cows and laundered for two of the garrison’s officers.

After the 1773 fire at Crown Point, all but a small guard was removed from this post. Instead, Forts Chambly, Saint Johns, and Ticonderoga housed the British garrison in the Champlain Valley. In 1774, British Engineer Captain John Montressor described Fort Ticonderoga as “composed of decayed Wood and Earth,” suggesting the “ruinous situation” of the fort was beyond repair.  He goes on to detail, “the unhealthiness of the place, the Garrison being then ill with Fevers and Agues, [and] the badness of the Water.” The only serviceable part of the fort at Ticonderoga was the barracks since they were “repairable, being made of Stone.” The barracks had been designed to house 400 people; with a mere forty to sixty inhabitants, the soldiers and their families likely spread out, turning the barracks into more comfortable billets. A 1761 British army regulation stipulated that women were not to be allowed to sleep in barracks, suggesting instead that men with hard-working spouses might have separate quarters. Here soldiers seem to have taken barracks rooms to live apartment-style, as they did at Crown Point.

While no descriptions of clothing of women or children of 26th Foot in Canada have been found, Ann Miller, a women from the 7th Foot or Royal fusiliers, did leave pen an inventory of her clothing. The 7th Foot garrisoned the Champlain and Saint Lawrence valleys along with the 26th, with its soldiers and their families similarly captured in 1775.

 "List of Cloaths taken from Ann Miller of the Roy. Fuzileers at La Parara in Canada," in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on the 13th of February, 1776”:

 

2 Gounds Value

1 Black Cloke

1 Silk Hatt

1 Peticote

4 Aprons

1 Pair of Stays

3 Shifts

Childrens Cloaths

1 Bead Tick & 2 Pillows

 

Mrs. Miller’s clothing appears to be extremely typical for a woman of a middling class in either England or America at this time. While dressed as any other British regiment, the 26th or Cameronians was a Scottish regiment. Mrs. McQueen, a soldier’s wife of the 84th, Royal Highland Emigrants, which was raised in Canada among Scots, also described her clothing. Her 1780 inventory included: 2 blankets, 4 paticoats, 4 shifts, 3 short gown, 1 pair stockings, 1 pair shoes, 1 apron, 1 coat, 1 waistcoat, 2 shirts. This suggests both that she owned some amount of Men’s clothing – probably her husband’s – and also that her wardrobe was somewhat more typical of the scots population, including shorts gowns, in places of full-length gowns. (Thanks to John U. Reese’s article "'Some in rags and some in jags,' but none 'in velvet gowns'" for both of these references.)

Shift

Best: hand-stitched in white linen or white wool flannel with sleeves gathered into narrow cuffs at the elbows. Cuffs should close with sleeve buttons, or ties threaded through buttonholes. Neckline should be large enough that the shift barely shows when worn with a gown or jacket.

Acceptable: Machine-stitched (ideally hand-finished) in white linen, flannel, or cotton with elbow length sleeves.

Unacceptable: Long sleeves, obvious machine sewing, gathered neckline, neck or sleeve ruffles longer than 1.25 inches.

Stays

Best: Hand-sewn, fully boned stays with worsted or linen exterior fabric, the most common colors being dark green, blue or white. Stays should create a proper 1770’s silhouette, which is to say a smooth conical torso. Most stays in this period are back lacing.

Acceptable: Machine-sewn stays which produce the correct silhouette. Partially boned stays, leather stays. No stays, if worn with a bedgown, or other loose-fitting garment. This is acceptable only for women doing serious manual labor, those portraying the ill, or those in a state of undress early in the morning, or after retiring for the evening.

Unacceptable: Unboned bodices.

Pockets

Worn underneath the petticoats and accessible through the pocket slits, most period pockets are quite large, and are used to store all sorts of women’s personal items. Some pockets were beautifully embroidered, but most of the time pockets will not show. Pockets should absolutely be worn beneath another layer of clothing.

Upper body garment

Best: Hand-sewn, stomacher-fronted English style gown in worsted, stuff, linen, or printed cotton. Printed cotton textiles must be well-documented to the period. Short-gown or bed gown in solid or striped worsted, stuff, linen, or small-motif printed cotton. Hand-sewn Bed gowns or jackets are also appropriate.

Acceptable: Hand-finished stomacher or center-front closing gown, short gown, fitted jacket, or bed gown.

Unacceptable: Sleeveless bodices. Fitted garments such as gowns or jackets worn without stays. Garments made of printed cottons with designs not documented to the period, such as modern calicos, and cabbage roses.

Neck Handkerchief

Best: Most depictions from the era show white linen or cotton cut in a triangle, or a square folded into a triangle, large enough to be draped around the shoulders and cover the bosom. Examples of “flag” silk handkerchiefs, and checked wool handkerchiefs also exist. Colored and printed cotton handkerchiefs are likewise documentable. Neck handkerchiefs can be worn under the neckline of the gown or pinned to the front of the gown.

Acceptable: Any sort of neck handkerchief properly worn. The vast majority of images show everyday women wearing some sort of handkerchief covering.

Unacceptable: Handkerchief tucked into the sides of the gown neckline, exposing the bosom.

Petticoats

Best: 2-4 hand-sewn petticoats; striped, or matching a gown or jacket. Petticoats can be made of worsted, flannel, lindsey-woolsey, serge, or linen. Quilted petticoats are also extremely common. Length should be between low-calf and ankle. Circumference should be 2.5 to 3 yards. Petticoats should be pleated to waistbands and have pocket slits at the sides. Under petticoats can be shorter, or less decorative, as their function is to provide warmth and fill out the silhouette.

Acceptable: Two or more hand-finished petticoats of the proper length.

Unacceptable: Modern skirts, petticoats without sufficient fullness, or shorted than mid-calf.

Apron

Best: Hand-sewn, white or checked. Most aprons are linen, or wool for work. Aprons should be long enough to cover a majority of the petticoat, and at least a yard in width.

Unacceptable: Very short or very narrow aprons. Wildly colored aprons. Aprons longer than the petticoats they are worn with. Decorative aprons with ruffles or lace (unless portraying an officer’s wife). Bibbed “pinner” aprons on adult women.

Cap

Best: There are a wide variety of cap styles in use in the 1770’s. In general, cap and hair styles have some height and volume in this period. Caps should be hand-sewn out of fine white linen or cotton organdy. Most cap styles have a gathered or pleated ruffle around the face. Caps which tie under the chin may prove more practical than other styles in December. Caps may be trimmed with silk ribbon. Caps should be starched if possible.

Unacceptable: Mob caps (circular caps consisting of one piece of material gathered to create both caul and ruffle). Caps worn down over the forehead. No cap.

Hair

Best: This will depend on social class. That said, hair styles in the 1770’s are fairly large. Even women camp followers are probably attempting to follow fashions. Hair should be put up under a cap, with most of the volume on top (not at the back) of the head. Some hair should show above the forehead, and this hair may have some volume to it. Dressing hair with pomade and minimal powder is encouraged.

Acceptable: Hair pulled back or pinned up on top of the head and covered with a cap.

Unacceptable: Hair worn in a bun at the back of the head. Hair down, or left completely undressed. Large, elaborate high fashion styles.

Hat/head covering

Best: Flat, shallow-crowned straw, felt, or fabric covered hat with a diameter no more than 18”. Black silk bonnet with flat brim and gathered crown. Winter images of this period also often show women in hoods, either attaches to cloaks, or separate. At times, poor women, and soldier’s wives following the army can be seen wearing men’s felt hats.

Unacceptable: Hats folded down over the ears. Straw hats with rounded modern crowns. 

Stockings

Best: White, blue, or natural wool yarn or worsted stockings with back seams, ending above the knee. Stockings should be held up with leather or cloth tape garters tied above or below the knee.

Acceptable: White, natural, or colored stockings of wool yarn, worsted, linen or cotton.

Unacceptable: Striped stockings, polyester stockings, athletic socks, modern tights. Though stockings with decorative “clocks” were occasionally worn in the period, few modern reproductions are accurate.

Shoes

Best: Reproduction high-heeled shoes with buckles, with fabric exterior, especially hardwearing worsteds.

Acceptable: Reproduction black, brown or red leather heeled shoes with buckles or low-heeled shoes with buckles, mules.

Unacceptable: Modern shoes.

Outerwear

Best: Wool cloak, most commonly red, closed with ties. Most images of cloaks show them being mid-calf- to waist-length. Black silk cloak or hood. Wool, silk, linen, or leather mitts for forearms. Leather gloves and fur or fabric muffs for the upper-middle class.

Unacceptable: Celtic-style or fantasy cloaks. Cloaks closing with decorative metal clasps.

Jewelry

Best: No jewelry, outside of officer’s wives impressions.

Acceptable: Small period earrings, non-obtrusive studs in non-earlobe piercings.

Unacceptable: Obvious modern jewelry, especially in any non-earlobe piercings

Transporting Goods and Personal Items:

Best:  Pockets (hidden), nothing.

Unacceptable: Haversacks, modern baskets.

Blankets

Best: Hand woven British blankets.

Acceptable: 2-3 point, Dutch, rose, plain white blankets.

Unacceptable: Civil War grey blankets.