Provincial Navy Seamen, 1781
British Naval power on Lake Champlain expanded rapidly after they recaptured the port of St. Johns in 1776. This enlarged fleet was maintained through the rest of the war and beyond, long after the famous campaigns of 1776 and 1777. From 1775 through 1778 all naval operations in the Province of Quebec were administrated by the Royal Navy from the Admiralty itself at the Navy Office back in England. This meant that even the highest-ranking commander in the Province of Quebec, Governor-General Frederick Haldimand, had no jurisdiction over Naval forces within his colony. Coordinating with the Admiralty in England left significant lag time, causing problems in 1777, notably during John Brown’s Raid on Ticonderoga in September. Recognition of this lag time and the paramount importance of waterways like Lake Champlain to the defense of the Province of Quebec caused the creation of the Provincial Navy in 1778. The Provincial Navy was designed as an administrative division to put jurisdiction of naval operations in the Province of Quebec under Governor-General Haldimand. The exact definition or jurisdiction of this division has not yet been discovered. All the naval officers on Lake Champlain retained their Royal Navy commissions, even as they answered to the Governor-General for operational command.. Likewise, the 154 seamen on Lake Champlain in 1781 were from the Royal Navy Brig Canceaux and volunteers from other vessels at sea. All these Royal Navy vessels were at sea, thus still reported to the Admiralty. The Admiralty supplied all the manpower for naval operations in the Province of Quebec, as Governor-General Haldimand commanded the Lake Champlain as part of his defense of the colony.
Seamen serving with the Provincial Navy in 1781 were clothed and equipped as any seaman of the Royal Navy. The Slop Office of the Navy Board created patterns, purchased textiles, and contracted firms for making clothing for Royal Navy Seamen. While the Slop Office did not regulate a uniform for seamen, in practice the standardization of clothing production created general uniformity in clothing. The February 9, 1771 issue of the London Gazette from February explained the oversite of the Slop Office over firms making sailors clothing:
The Principal Officers and Commissioners of His Majesty’s Navy give Notice, that on Tuesday the 26th Instant, at Noon, they will be ready to treat with such Persons as are willing to supply His Majesty’s Navy with Seamen’s Jackets, Waistcoats and Breeches, on a standing Contract; to be delivered into the Slop Office at this Office, where Patterns may be seen’ Also for Kersey, to be delivered into His Majesty’s several-Yards, that they may attend with their Proposals at that Time
When the Slop Office contracted for jackets, waistcoats, and breeches they supplied patterns and kersey woolen cloth. The Marine Society Office in England itemized a detailed list of clothing for sailors of the Royal Navy. While the Marine Society was a benevolent group, their list of necessaries for sailors noted normal garments and their quantities within Royal Navy. The “General Advertiser” included an ad from the Marine Society on April 8, 1778.
This Society having resolved, as far as it shall be enabled, to give a bounty of Sea-Clothing as Seamen in the Royal Navy, as a further encouragement, over and above the other bounties given, all such men as are accepted by the Regulating Captains, at their Office, at the King’s Head on Tower-hill, will be supplied by this Society with the following clothing:
One Best Kersey jacket.
One half-thick Waistcoat.
One pair of half-thick breeches.
One pair of Ravensduck trowsers.
Two check shirts.
One felt hat.
One worsted cap.
Two pair of stockings.
One pair of shoes and buckles.
One black neckcloth.One canvas bag.
A 1774-1775 series of watercolors aboard the HMS Pallas by Royal Navy Lieutenant Gabriel Bray depicted sailors in exactly like the description above. James Hunter’s 1777 print, A View of Ticonderoga from a Point on the North Shore of Lake Champlain, depicted three sailors in the foreground. Hunter depicted all three wearing round hats, blue jackets, slop trousers and a mix of red and white waistcoats.
Royal Navy sailors’ clothing mimicked broader sailor fashion while maintaining a uniform appearance with standard colors and designs. Commodore on Lake Champlain, William Chambers, wrote to General Frederick Haldimand on January 10, 1781 requesting more cloth for new sailor’s clothes:
Since I have commanded the Naval Armament at St. Johns the Seamen have cut a great quantity of Ship Timber and lately they have cut a great quantity of Batteau-Knees for the Quarter Master Generals Department they have never had any Firewood but what they cut and brought down themselves. I have in the Garrison a sufficient quantity of wood to last ‘till the Lake breaks up. The performing of the above mentioned Services greatly wears out their Cloathing and as they have not received any Extra Pay for it, I hope your Excellency will not think me unreasonable in requesting for them the same Donations as have been given to the Army by your Excellency.”
An Account of Naval Stores with His Majesty’s Province Naval Store. From on Board the Swann. Thomas Potts Master. Quebec 21st September 1781
One Bale Fearnaught said to Contain 4917 yards
One do Kersey 30 pieces 33 yard each
At least by the end of the year, arrivals of cloth supplemented the Provincial Navy for use and repair of clothing.
Just as for seamen of the Royal Navy, seamen of the Provincial Navy did not receive personal arms. However, returns of storehouses at St. Johns listed a full complement of ships’ weapons to arm the entire Provincial Navy squadron on Lake Champlain. A Return of Ordnance & Small Arms in the Service of His Majestys Naval Depart in this Province, Febry 1782 included the following:
220 Black Musquets
51 Bright Musquets
300 Bayonets for do.
300 scabbards for do
260 Cartouch Boxes
254 Belts for do
98 Broad Swords
98 Scabbards do
11 Pole Axes
The large proportion of “black musquets” indicates the 1756 pattern Sea Service muskets with blackened barrels. Likewise, stores included enough sets of Gov’t Sets from the Board of Ordinance to fully outfit the fleet. Smaller numbers of cutlasses indicate their use was less prevalent.
The Provincial Navy in 1781 was different from the Royal Navy only by name. The officer corps, the men, their arms and accoutrements, and clothing was all the same as that of the Royal Navy. Though Provincial Navy seamen on Lake Champlain in 1781 were administered by the Province of Quebec, they appeared no different from any British sailors serving around the world.
For more information about the clothing and contracts of the Slop Office of the Navy Board, read Matthew Brenckle’s Article, Clothing the Royal Navy Sailor, 1765-1775.
Best: Hand-stitched check linen shirt with narrow band cuffs made for sleeve buttons (cuff links).
Acceptable: Machine stitched checked or white linen shirts.
Unacceptable: Cotton calico or plaid shirts.
Best: Black silk handkerchief.
Acceptable: Cotton printed handkerchiefs.
Unacceptable: Leather or linen neckstocks, or linen rollers.
Best: Hand-finished, round blocked, black wool cocked hat.
Acceptable: Worsted cap worn in lieu of round hat.
Unacceptable: Slouch hats, grey or brown wool felt hats, cut down felt caps, straw hats.
Best: Hand knit Monmouth cap with a button at the top of the crown and a loop on the brim.
Acceptable: Dutch caps or round hat worn in lieu of a worsted cap.
Unacceptable: Anything else.
The jacket from the General Carleton of Whitby wreck shows specific details to the jacket design. The slashed cuffs are attached with a separate placket. The bottom two buttons and buttonholes closest to the wrist are functional, yet the top most is not. The jacket is unlined, and all the seams inside are felled down. The back is made up of one single piece instead of two ajoining pieces.
Acceptable: Hand-finished, lined or unlined, blue kersey short double-breasted jacket with mariners cuff plackets, welted pockets, horn buttons.
Unacceptable: Anything else.
Best: Hand-finished, well-fit, white or red kersey or half-thick square cut, double breasted waistcoat, with welted pockets and small leather buttons. Striped linsey woolsey square cut, double breasted waistcoat, with welted pockets and small leather buttons.
Acceptable: None at all.
Unacceptable: Anything else.
Best: Hand-finished, well-fit, natural Russia sheeting or oznaburg trousers with side seam pockets, made full enough to cover the breeches
Acceptable: Breeches worn in lieu of trousers.
Unacceptable: Tight trousers.
Best: Hand-finished, well-fit, blue kersey or half thick breeches with buckled knee bands.
Acceptable: Trousers worn in lieu of breeches.
Unacceptable: Baggy breeches or overalls.
Best: White or grey wool yarn or worsted stockings constructed with back seams.
Acceptable: White stockings or socks of wool yarn, worsted, linen or cotton.
Unacceptable: Colored, or polyester stockings.
Best: Hand-finished long quartered, pointed toe, shoes with black waxed calf uppers, fitted for buckles.
Acceptable: Machine made, black leather, shoes with buckles or ties.
Unacceptable:Mocassins, boots, or clogs.
Best: Hand-made 9, 12, or 18-hole belly box on a narrow belt with Royal Cypher stamp.
Acceptable: 9, 12, or 18-hole belly box on a narrow belt without or none at all.
Unacceptable: Hunting pouches, soft cartridge pouches, new model American pouches.
Best: British Sea Service muskets, blackened barrels, land service locks with a well fit bayonet and a black leather sling.
Acceptable: Short land pattern British muskets, with a well fit bayonet or none at all.
Unacceptable: All others.
Best: Bayonet and scabbard in a frog on the cartridge box. 1750 pattern Royal Navy cutlass on a separate leather waist belt.
Acceptable: Bayonet and scabbard in a frog on the cartridge box only. Nothing at all.
Unacceptable: anything else.