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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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Seven on One Side, and Six on the Other

Last month Boston 1775 reader Leslie Hauschildt contacted me with a question about fashionable women’s hair during the Revolution, and specifically if there was a style called “à l’indépendence,” with thirteen curls to represent the thirteen states.

I found several references to that hairstyle, but they all seem to go back to one item that appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet on 1 Sept 1778. It was actually a translation of a story from the 11 June Martinico Gazette, the newspaper of the French island of Martinique, with some additional commentary:

Mr. [William] Bingham, Agent of the Congress, yesterday gave a concert, supper and ball to celebrate the conclusion of the treaty of friendship between France and the United States of America. The General and his lady honored the Assembly with their presence. The entertainment was at once splendid and well conducted. More than two hundred, of all ranks, were present.

What particularly attracted the attention of the company, was upwards of forty ladies, dressed with the utmost magnificence, and a part of whose dress corresponded with the occasion. Their head dress a la independance, was composed of thirteen curls, seven on one side, and six on the other.

The Americans are indebted to them, in the meantime, for the small sacrifice they have made in departing from perfect order and proportion; but it is expected that next year, by the revolt in Canada, the States, and consequently the curls, will be brought to an even number.

The varied pleasures of the dance made time slip away insensibly, so that when Aurora, with her rosy fingers, looked in upon them, she found the ball going on with as much spirit and animation as at first. Americans and French seem to be but one people, and to have but one heart.
I suspect that Americans and French might not have fully seen eye to eye about Canada. While this newspaper dispatch indicates that the U.S. of A. still hoped to bring Britain’s northern colonies into the Confederation, France might have still hoped to regain its former territories. Of course, those areas remained British for many decades.

Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy, then published out of Worcester, picked up the Pennsylvania dispatch, and other newspapers may have as well. But did those reports start a new hairdressing fashion in America? I’ll keep my eyes open for other references to this style, but I suspect it was too fancy for the wartime republic, despite the popularity of the number thirteen.

The image above shows the Battle of Martinique, between British and French warships, in 1779, painted by Auguste-Louis de Rossel de Cercy and made available through Wikipedia and a Creative Commons license.

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