Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Castor Hat and a Changeable Silk Handkerchief (Pennsylvania Gazette, 8-27-1788)

Stephen Love, residing north of Philadelphia, advertised for his "servant lad" in August of 1788. When he ran away, Hugh Wilson was 19, and apparently took advantage of some lapse in supervision to abscond with a rather nice wardrobe (and purse). Besides a white-lined "deep blue coat faced with red," Hugh took, in all, four pairs of trousers - two pair of homespun (probably wool), one pair in jeancloth (a linen/cotton mix), and one striped pair. Wilson also carried away four shirts - two homespun and two of a finer grade, including "one ruffled and edged with lace." A new pair of shoes with "plated" buckles, a jeancloth jacket, and "ribbed gray yarn stockings" completed Wilson's diverse apparel. His "castor hat" is an example of a term which appears with some regularity in runaway ads of the period, and seems to refer to a low-quality fur felt type. Stephen Love seemed particularly offended that Wilson had taken two fine silk handkerchiefs, one a red and white check and the other of "changeable silk." Silks of this variety had warps and wefts of differing colors, resulting in a shimmering appearance.

Wilson also took four pounds, ten shillings in cash, which was quite a commodity in the rural areas of the new United States. Love's proposed reward of eight dollars might seem generous to the modern reader and may have also fooled period subscribers. But a closer study reveals that Wilson's thievery equated to approximately twenty-five dollars under period exchange rates!

And, of course, two of Stephen Love's favorite handkerchiefs...


  1. If Wilson got away with it he should have been able to set himself up nicely if he played his cards right. Not a huge amount of money but enough to purchase a second hand gun and some supplies.
    Good post.

  2. It's so hard to find good help these days...they just can't keep their hands off the hankies. Dagnabbit.