Wednesday, November 22, 2023

A Revolutionary War Textile Fragment from Fort Montgomery

Thanks to my colleague historian Matthew C. White and Grant Miller, the Historic Site Manager at Fort Montgomery State Historic Site, I'm happy to share a bit of information about one of my favorite things: archaeological textiles. Most such artifacts that we have from the 18th century survive as the result of specific formation processes, most often either because they landed in anaerobic (usually waterlogged) environments like shipwrecks and dense mud, or because they were in close contact with metal objects which helped preserve them. Once in a blue moon, fragments show up on regular old terrestrial digs for site-specific reasons that are hard (for me, at least) to explain. 

Continental soldiers constructed Fort Montgomery as a defensive post on the Hudson in 1776. British, Loyalist, and Hessian forces captured it on October 6, 1777, and destroyed it a few days later. Beginning in 1916, sporadic archaeological projects investigated the fort. The most intensive excavations were done between 1967 and 1971 under a scholar named Jack Mead. You can read more about what these studies produced in "The Most Advantageous Situation in the Highlands": An Archaeological Study of Fort Montgomery State Historic Site, Charles Fisher, ed. (Albany, NY: The Cultural Resources Survey Program, New York State Museum, 2004).

In the summer of 1971, Mead's team was working in the North Redoubt of the fort (specifically in the five-foot square known as Section 50, Box L, Square 18B) when they uncovered a relatively large textile fragment alongside a few scattered pieces (now catalogued as A.FM.1971.346). At the time and occasionally since, various people have wondered whether the fragment was a coat or jacket sleeve, given its distinctive shape. The wool textile has at least two layers of a relativley coarse, plain weave of about 28 yarns to the inch. More recent examination by professional conservator Sarah Stevens did not detect any evidence of seams, stitching, or thread. The fragments were found in close proximinity with ten musket balls and a British uniform button. Some 262 musket balls and all sorts of other interesting objects were found in the Redoubt overall. 

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation was kind enough to share a variety of research material and the original excavation slides with me and grant permission for them to be published here. Here's the fragment in 1971 and in its current state and more recently. If you're sharp-eyed enough to notice that the extant fragment seems to be a mirror image of the original in situ, that's because it was apparently flipped over at some point into its current state in storage.

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Indeed, it's pretty easy to see a sleeve-like shape here. Below, I've highlighted that shape and rotated the view of the fragment before it was lifted. If you aren't as used to seeing parts of clothing in flat pieces of fabric, this is approximately the shape of an "upper sleeve" with the "sleeve cap" at top and the cuff edge at bottom, and I've inserted an image of a modern upper sleeve pattern to help (note that period men's upper sleeves were close to but not quite this shape).

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

From here

But, like most other folks that have puzzled over this object, I don't think it's a sleeve. It's hard to make any firm conclusions without seeing it in person, but there really doesn't seem to be any evidence for seams, hems, lining, or anything else besides its shape to suggest this identification. And the more I puzzle over the original excavation slide images, the more I think that you can see related fragments that originally extended past the misleading outline of a sleeve shape. 

See what you think. Here's our pal again:

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Now below, here's a great, in-focus closeup of the center of the fragment (key in on the large white object, apparently a cut root or sapling according to folks in the know, at the upper left corner here, which is in the upper center of the above image). I've crudely highlighted the weave directions of the upper layer (red) and the lower layer (blue) and also tried to emphasize how much the weave direction is wiggling a bit with the clearly not-parallel green lines that are nonetheless definitely in the same piece of fabric. This sort of movement happens readily in fabrics that are relatively loose or thin.

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Below, then, I think you can see how closely the top layer weave alignment matches a smaller fragment that is closer to the large white stump. I've highlighted that alignment in the red, below. When you relocate this fragment in the overall view, you can see that if it was originally part of that top layer, it extends well beyond the outline of the sleeve. 

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Of course, saying it's probably not a sleeve (which isn't a new conclusion, I'd emphasize) doesn't get us much closer to saying what it is. It's certainly a relatively thin, loosely-woven wool. There's about one bazillion possible explanations that we probably can't discount: raw fabric for garment construction? bunting for a flag? flannel for some sort of medical use? 

If my back was to the wall, my best guess (echoing some older speculation by New York State staff and because of its context in the redoubt) would be that it's the sort of flannel that was sometimes used for artillery cartridges (bags to hold gunpowder). But this isn't a silver bullet: why would unsewn cartridge cloth be in the redoubt and not stored elsewhere? On the other hand, all sorts of non-military detritus was found in the redoubt, including enough building materials and ceramics to lead archaeologists to speculate that there may originally have been a structure within the redoubt.   

What's your guess?

Below are the other images of the fragment in situ and in storage, in case they're more useful to you!

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Thursday, November 16, 2023

A Brief Update in Civil War Interiors

Back in 2020, I wrote a post about the interiors of the log huts that soldiers used in winter encampments during the Civil War. While I haven't turned up many further references in that regard, I did run across an illustration recently in Military Images magazine that might be of interest. It's a depiction of the quarters of Surgeon Benjamin Walter Carpenter of the 9th Vermont Infantry as they appeared in Newport, NC, on May 30, 1864, depicted by the regiment's then-colonel, Edward Hastings Ripley. Sharp eyes will be able to make out plank chairs, various objects on shelves and hanging on the wall, and a sleeping cat under the desk.

You can view this illustration and learn more about Carpenter and Ripley via the Bennington Museum.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

The Uniforms of Flower's Regiment of Artillery Artificers, 1777-1780

In conjunction with my work at the Museum of the American Revolution, where we periodically conducy living history events, I've sporadically conducted research into a group of soldiers and contractors operating in Philadelphia and Carlisle during the Revolutionary War known as the Regiment of Artillery Artificers. 

The regiment was led by Colonel Benjamin Flower (1748-1781) and included dozens of craftspeople. Primarily dedicated to the production and maitenance of armaments and ammunition, the Regiment also included carpenters, blacksmiths, nailers, stonecutters, brass founders, shoemakers, armorers, wheelwrights, tailors, file-cutters, harness makers, sawyers, tin men, accoutrement makers, drum makers, painters, saddlers, coopers, coopers, clerks, curriers, turners, buckle filers and finishers, boat men, millwrights, wheelwrights, and laborers. 

But what did they wear? Did their uniforms (if they had them) match what we know about Continental Artillery uniforms, or did they vary?

Here are all of the sources I've gathered about the appearance of Artificers in the Regiment.

Charles and James Peale's portrait of Benjamin Flower, with a detail of the view of the enlisted soldier in the background, which now belongs to the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House and Museum.

A miniature portrait of Benjamin Flower which sold at auction at Freeman's (Philadelphia) in 2014).

The Pennsylvania Packet, November 14, 1778.

The Pennsylvania Packet, January 26, 1779.

The Pennsylvania Packet, February 16, 1779.

The Pennsylvania Packet, July 20, 1779.

The Pennsylvania Packet, July 27, 1779.

The Pennsylvania Packet, October 12, 1779.

The Pennsylvania Packet, November 27, 1779.

The Pennsylvania Packet, January 29, 1780.

The Pennsylvania Packet, March 28, 1780.

The Pennsylvania Packet, June 13, 1780.

A receipt for hats for the Artificers, June 29, 1780.

The Pennsylvania Packet, September 30, 1780.

The Pennsylvania Packet, December 9, 1780.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

A Twenty-Year Anniversary

Time is a curious thing, especially when you spend part of your life dressing like people from the past. It’s been over twenty years since I started reenacting, but the most peculiar part about that is that I can so clearly remember excitedly waiting for the summer of 2012 to write my ten-year anniversary post. And it’s been eleven years since then??

As I wrote in 2012, reenacting has influenced my life in profound ways. My closest friends are reenactors (or at the very least they wear costumes at work). I can directly trace the path I took to graduate school and my current job at the Museum of the American Revolution back through a chain of mentors and museum professionals that I met through reenacting. That path goes all the way back to a newspaper article that appeared in my hometown paper in 2002 about a Civil War reenacting unit that was forming in town. I called a phone number, starting going to meetings, and in June of that year my parents let me go off with a bunch of people who spend weekends dressing like Civil War soldiers. It all worked out ok.

Here's is just a sample of where reenacting has taken me since my last recap in 2012:

Second Lieutenant, Union Army, July 1863
Here I am standing at the High Water Mark at Gettysburg on July 3, 2013, holding a federal officer's sword carried there on July 3, 1863.

Royal Navy Marine, 1812-1815
A film shoot for Maryland Public Television, 2013.

4th Connecticut Private Soldier, Spring 1778, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
A National Park Service living history event in 2014.

Royal Navy Able Seaman, Caulk's Field, Maryland, 1814
A blurry photo taken in the evening as we stood with our boarding pikes, but a crystal-clear memory from 2014.

Second Lieutenant, Union Army, April 1865
The 150th anniversary living history event commemorating the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House.

Second Lieutenant, Union Army, Gettysburg, 1863
A tintype photograph.

Philadelphia Associator, January 1777
A January 2017 event that I wrote about here.

Alexander Hamilton, December 1778
From a film shoot for Hamilton Was Here: Rising Up in Revolutionary Philadelphia, a special exhibition at the Museum of the American Revolution.

Second Lieutenant, Union Army, Crampton's Gap, Maryland, 1862
From an event in 2018.

Tyler, New York City, Summer 2019
2019 was a busy year at the Museum, and it included both a summer-long collaboration with the New-York Historical Society that I regularly commuted up for AND me getting hit in the face by a door at the Museum, as you can see here.

Tyler, Riverton, New Jersey, Summer 2020
Like most people, I spent a good chunk of 2020 online. I still got to dress up occasionally.

British-American Sailor, Chesapeake Bay, 1776
Part of a film shoot aboard the Schooner Sultana for our True Colours Flag Project.

Second Lieutenant, Union Army, Circa 1863
A lower-res image of as long as my hair ever got, in 2021.

Commander-in-Chief's Guardsman, Philadelphia, 1778
Part of our 2021 photoshoot for the Virtual Tour of Washington's War Tent.

Grenadier, 5th Regiment of Foot, British Army, Philadelphia, 1777-1778
My best impression of an 18th-century satire, 2022.

Philadelphia Scotsman, circa 1778
A made a lot of kilts (though not quite all the ones you see here) in 2022!

Second Lieutenant, Union Army, Gettsyburg, 1863
With some old friends at Remembrance Day in 2022.

South Jersey Citizen, 1778
Just last weekend at the Hancock House!