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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Thursday, April 20, 2017

“Charles Willson Peale is literally wearing my pants”

There’s a lot of New England content in Philadelphia’s new Museum of the American Revolution, and a lot of New England talent behind it.

The Philadelphia newspapers explain:
Seventeen of the museum’s 32 human resin figures -- and two of its horses -- were dressed by the Randolph, Mass., historian, reenactor, and tailor Henry Cooke, who worked for more than a year with a dozen artisans to create the clothes. Two pairs of trousers in the exhibit are from Cooke’s reenactor wardrobe.

Charles Willson Peale is literally wearing my pants,” Cooke said, referring to a scene depicting James Peale seeing for the first time his brother Charles after the Battle of New York City.

The figures dressed in near-replicas are next to real items -- encased in protective glass -- from that era.

There’s a coat that once belonged to Lt. Col. Benjamin Holden of the Massachusetts militia, along with a New Hampshire soldier’s hunting shirt. (Washington eventually adopted the linen shirt as part of the Continental Army’s uniform because it was considered a sign of good marksmanship.)
In addition, the figures themselves are modeled after real people involved in Revolutionary reenacting, and others posed for photographs or films used in the exhibits and promotional material. Therefore, some of those faces might look strangely familiar.

Another item from New England is the blue riband that Gen. George Washington bought to distinguish himself from other officers toward the start of the siege of Boston. As I discussed back here, museum curator and historian Phil Mead spotted that in a Harvard museum, and it’s now on loan in Philadelphia.


Jan said...

"Washington eventually adopted the linen shirt as part of the Continental Army’s uniform because it was considered a sign of good marksmanship."

Bwuh? No.

Washington at one point remarked on the hunting shirt as an example of durable clothing that could stand up to the rigours of fatigue duty or active service, and several units wore them, but it was never adopted in practice, as a universal uniform, and Washington's fondness for it had nothign to do with marksmanship.

J. L. Bell said...

I think that line from the newspaper article was inspired by [I wouldn't say carefully based on] Washington's general orders for 24 July 1776:

“The General being sensible of the difficulty, and expence of providing Cloaths, of almost any kind, for the Troops, feels an unwillingness to recommend, much more to order, any kind of Uniform, but as it is absolutely necessary that men should have Cloaths and appear decent and tight, he earnestly encourages the use of Hunting Shirts, with long Breeches, made of the same Cloth, Gaiter fashion about the Legs, to all those yet unprovided. No Dress can be had cheaper, nor more convenient, as the Wearer may be cool in warm weather, and warm in cool weather by putting on under-Cloaths which will not change the outward dress, Winter or Summer—Besides which it is a dress justly supposed to carry no small terror to the enemy, who think every such person a complete marksman.”