Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Crocus, Duffel, and Virginia Cloth (Pennsylvania Gazette, 8-1-1771)

While writing my last paper of the semester today, I was searching around for a couple of representative examples of the variety of clothing worn by craft apprentices in early America. One of the best things about the digitization of period newspapers, besides the obviously wonderful search functions, is the ability to instantly recognize the amazing variety of period apparel - to see beyond simple illustrative examples. Take for instance, two advertisements from the Revolutionary era. This is the first.

William Row placed advertisements in all four August, 1771, editions of the Pennsylvania Gazette. His apprentice, James Curtis, had a "yellow complexion," a "sharp nose," and wore his blond hair cut short. Oddly, Row did not note either his trade or his address, and one wonders how a potential captor would have known where to take Curtis. One thing was clear, however, and that was the poor state of Curtis's wardrobe. He ran away with no shoes or stockings to cover his scarred legs. His clothing consisted of “a coarse felt hat, two brown linen shirts, both patched with cotton, a pair of crocus trowsers, one light colored duffil jacket, and a double breasted striped Virginia cloth waistcoat.” The poor quality of the textiles used in Curtis’s garments reflects their rough, cheap nature: “crocus” was a coarse linen sacking material akin to burlap; duffel was a cheap, shaggy, thick wool; and “Virginia cloth” was a linen-cotton homespun. Curtis would have looked surprisingly like the modern stereotype of a grubby, bedraggled apprentice. His description conjures up images of a scowling boy whose ill-fitting clothes rubbed harshly against his skin. If nothing else, we can hope that Curtis eventually found a position which offered him more comfortable apparel.

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