J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Making Clothing for the Army

Another of Alex Burns’s recent postings on eighteenth-century soldiers at Kabinettskriege was on the impracticality of soldiers’ uniforms.

To fill out that topic, I can also point to John U. Rees’s article "’The taylors of the regiment’: Insights on Soldiers Making and Mending Clothing, and Continental Army Clothing Supply, 1776 to 1783,” published in Military Collector & Historian in 2011 and now available through Scribd.

Armies relied on tailors in their own ranks to alter garments received in bulk from suppliers, and in some cases to make that clothing from cloth.

Rees quotes a 25 Jan 1780 letter from Lt. Erkuries Beatty of the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment to one of his brothers about the clothing workshop near Morristown:
…when we join’d the [main] Army I found I had to do the Duty of Regiment[al] Clothier to[o], which is the Cause of all my trouble, for I have lately drew Cloathing for the Regt. & it is almost all to make up from the Cloth all which I must oversee, which keeps me very Close confined–

If you was just now to step into my Hutt (which is only a very small Room if it ever got finished) I will tell you just how you would find me. . . . You’ll find me sitting on a Chest, in the Center of Six or Eight Taylors, with my Book Pen & Ink on one side and the Buttons and thread on the other–the Taylors yo’ll find some A Cutting out, others sewing, outside of the taylors you will see maybe half Dozen Men naked as Lazarus, begging for Cloathing, and about the Room you will see nothing but Cloth & Cloathing, on the floor you’ll find it about knee deep with Snips of Cloth & Dirt–

If you stay any time you’ll hear every Minute knock–knock at the door & I calling walk in, others going out, which makes a Continual Bussle–presently I begin to swear, sometimes have to jump up blundering over two or three taylors to whip somebody out of the house–othertimes [Capt. George] Tudor and my Mess Mates they begin to swear, & with our Swearing, and the taylors singing (as you know they must), and the Men a grumbling…makes pretty Music for your Ear, and thats the way from morning to night, & from Weeks End to weeks end, & I am sure I need not complain for want of Company…
Lt. Beatty (1759-1823, shown above) was only twenty years old at the time, but he had years of military experience. He had enlisted in 1775 as a sixteen-year-old private nicknamed “Arky.” A minister’s son, he was promoted into the officer‘s ranks at the start of 1777. By the winter of 1780 Beatty was serving as his regiment’s paymaster, which was no doubt why he got to oversee the uniform shop as well.

2 comments:

Bill Harshaw said...

I wonder why tailors sang, as indeed they must? Maybe whenever enough workers are together for long enough, they develop work songs?

J. L. Bell said...

Evidently it was a stereotype of the time. In Henry IV, Part I, Lady Percy says, “I will not sing,” and Hotspur replies, “’Tis the next way to turn tailor…”

A 1793 edition annotates that line like this: “Tailors seem to have been as remarkable for singing, as weavers, of whose musical turn Shakspeare has more than once made mention. Beaumont and Fletcher, in The Knight of the Burning Pestle, speak of this quality in the former: ‘Never trust a tailor that does not sing at his work; his mind is on nothing but filching.’ . . . That tailors were remarkable for singing in our author’s time, he has himself informed us elsewhere. ‘Do you make an alehouse of my lady’s house, (says Malvolio in Twelfth Night,) that ye squeak out your coziers’ catches, without any mitigation or remorse of voice?’”

It looks like weavers and tailors sang in that period, particularly when in groups, because their work consisted of lots of repetitive motions, not requiring complete mental concentration.