Among the treasures of our textile collection is the scarlet uniform coat of Lieutenant Jacob Schieffelin. Jacob’s life encapsulates the possibilities in late Colonial America. His parents emigrated to Philadelphia from Germany, where he was born in 1757. Following the fall of New France, the family moved to the new British Province of Québec. In his late teens, Jacob moved west to Detroit. As the American Revolution unfolded, he became an officer of a loyalist militia known as the Detroit Volunteers. In 1778, he was deployed even further west to Fort Sackville in Vincennes, Indiana.
The following year, Jacob was captured by Virginia forces. Now a prisoner, he was forced on an epic march from Vincennes to modern Louisville, Kentucky, then up the Ohio River, and across Virginia to the capital of Williamsburg where he was thrown in the common jail. Schieffelin endured seven months of confinement before he finally escaped. He crossed the Chesapeake Bay and went into hiding for over two more months until he could find a ship to take him to British-held New York.
Following another colonial experience, Hannah Lawrence was born to a Quaker family in New York, which boasted a diverse population even in the 18th century. She wrote rich poetry extolling the virtues of the Revolutionary cause as the war unfolded. Using her clever wit, she responded to the British occupation of her hometown by mocking the pretensions and foibles of the British officers in verse. She went so far as to secretly disseminate her poems in front of Trinity Church, causing a scene when they were discovered.
In late August of 1780, Hannah, the pacifist, Quaker, and poet met the recently escaped, German-American Loyalist officer who was billeted in her parent’s home. Her feelings about the war aside, and against the wishes of Hannah’s church and family she married Jacob that August. Within a month, this unlikely pair departed New York for Canada. A voyage of seven months took them around the Atlantic coast, down the St. Lawrence River, and eventually back to Detroit. Along the way, they met and mingled with the whole cast of the Revolutionary period in Canada and the Great Lakes. It was probably towards the end of the war that Jacob had this scarlet Lieutenant’s uniform made (pictured), serving as an officer of the British Indian Department.
The end of the war in 1783 brought great change. Jacob maintained connections with Hannah’s family and after years in Montréal and London, Jacob and Hannah returned to New York, where Jacob ran his in-law’s apothecary business. Now a citizen of the nation that he had fought against, Jacob and Hannah lived in New York well into the 1830s.
As part of our major new acquisition of the Robert Nittolo Collection, Hannah Lawrence Scheiffelin’s wedding jewelry (pictured above) is rejoining her husband’s uniform. The set of objects from both halves of this remarkable couple helps us to connect the world of the past through the power of emotions that still, and always, will define what it means to be human.
Interested to learn how you can support the Robert Nittolo Collection acquisition? Please contact Beth Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org.