Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Swanskin Clothing (Pennsylvania Gazette, 5-15-1776)

It is unclear what James Braddock of Talbot County, Maryland, was doing with two convict workers in the spring of 1776. The two men, William Manly and Thomas Pearson, had run away, and Braddock speculated that they would "lurk in the woods in the day time, and travel in the night." They had probably recently arrived in America, and still spoke "the North of England dialect."
Interestingly, Manly and Pearson's garments suggest that they may have been clothed in a local gaol before being (literally) farmed out to Braddock. Manly, a laborer and sawyer who also knew horses, had short black hair and a "surly bad countenance." He was also, Braddock explained, "a most impudent infamous villain," and had probably persuaded Pearson, a blond-haired "slender young simple fellow" to join him in a dash for freedom. Manly wore a tattered "short blue coat," hobnailed shoes, and a unique blue-painted leather cap. Most interesting are his "spotted swanskin jacket and trousers." Swanskin referred to a type of plain-woven woolen cloth, which was produced in plain, striped, and spotted varieties. Interestingly, Pearson (notable for his "large eyes and very small fingers") also wore spotted swanskin trousers, as well as a leather cap and pair of shoes "the same as Manly's" in addition to his own rough "drab coloured coat and jacket." However they came to Braddock's household, it appears that these two men were issued at least part of their clothing from a municipal source. The spotted swanskin and blue caps would have made them instantly recognizable as convicts.

But Manly was smart. He would not have used his real name once they abandoned Braddock's estate. Pearson would have dutifully followed, and the two men probably had a decent chance at eluding capture. There was just one problem.

That was what to do about the iron collar William Manly "had about his neck."

1 comment:

  1. I had not heard of the woolen term before, thanks.