Thursday, September 23, 2010

Forest Cloth and Forgiveness (Pennsylvania Gazette, 6-10-1795)

William Atlee's 1795 description ends on a cajoling note uncommon in runaway advertisements. Perhaps he had scolded the young Irishman John Boyle too harshly, or he regretted an argument that had preceded the abscondment. Perhaps he hoped a voluntary return would save him the ten dollar reward he had posted, or perhaps the offer was a ploy to trick a valuable servant into coming back. It is also possible that William Atlee genuinely cared for John Boyle, and wanted him to return to the relative safety of Chester, Pennsylvania. In any case, it was uncommon for a master to offer to welcome a runaway back "as kindly as ever" with "all former faults forgiven."

John Boyle's wardrobe was diverse and indicative of both the variety of clothes worn by working men and the ability of newspaper readers to identify materials. He had three shirts, one of a checked material, and "a pretty good hat lined with white linen." Another interesting garment was his "forest cloth coat turned, of a brown and yellow mixed color, lapelled." Forest cloth was a cheap and coarse wool, and in this case was woven of two colors. Boyle's coat had been "turned," a common practice which increased the lifespan of a garment. Turning involved picking apart an existing garment and reassembling it with each piece reversed, so that what had been on the inside was "turned" to the outside. This exposed a less worn and faded surface but, as suggested by this advertisement, left scars which indicated the process. A "lapelled" coat was likely one on which the top front edges folded down (think of a modern sportscoat but with much shorter lapels with no slash). Boyle also had a "brown sailor jacket" (used most often to refer to double-breasted short jackets) with matching trousers. The jacket and trousers may have been made expressly for John from yardage acquired by himself or his master, as he also carried away "a piece of coarse napped cloth, the same as his jacket." Boyle also had a pair of old jean trousers (a coarser twill-woven linen/cotton), another pair of cheap striped ticking (twill linen), a white waistcoat, and a blue surtout coat (a heavier garment).

Clearly Boyle was equipped with a diverse wardrobe. Moreover, William Atlee, like most other runaway advertisers, knew his readers were discerning enough to identify both the materials and the styles of the Boyle's clothing. The subscribers of the Pennsylvania Gazette could, it was presumed, differentiate between jean, forest cloth, and ticking. Among the many lessons we can learn from advertisements like this is the striking visual literacy of people in this period. Clothing was conspicuous, and its consumers were as comfortable identifying material types as many people are today in identifying branded clothing. If modern consumers cannot tell ticking from ticklingburg or shagreen from shaloon, our world of material culture - and our ability to recognize and categorize it at a glance - is no less fascinating or complex.

As always, I have relied on Florence Montgomery's encyclopedic Textiles in America as a reference for period terminology and definitions.

1 comment:

  1. Young lad to be rocking and stooping "in his walk." I wonder what was wrong.