Friday, October 15, 2010

A Russet Waistcoat (Pennsylvania Gazette)

Today, East and West Goshen are small townships outside West Chester, Pennsylvania. In the first part of the eighteenth century, however, before West Chester became the county seat, most residents probably knew the area as Goshen. David Davies lived there when he advertised for his runaway Irish servant George Curren in 1729.* Curren was 21, "of a middle stature," and like many other runaways was marked by scars from the pox. He usually covered his short black hair with a blond wig, a knit cap, or a "good Felt Hat." His "Sheep-russet Wastcoat" was made from a particularly coarse woolen cloth which had been used by poor people and monastics for nearly a millennium. According to Montgomery, Yorkshire was the center of russet production in the eighteenth century, although Davies may have only subjectively referred to the quality of the fabric, versus its point of origin. Curren also wore two pair of breeches. His outer pair was dark and spattered with pitch, a cause for speculation that he may have worked in a maritime trade. Sailors favored protective outer breeches and their clothing was often covered with tar intentionally (for waterproofing) or accidentally (from tarred lines). Under his outer pair Curren sported striped breeches and his shirt was similarly striped. He also wore a pair of brown stockings and two old shoes.

Combining coarse woolen garments with striped (probably linen) clothing was common in the eighteenth century. Russet was among the cheapest of wools and stripes were easy enough to create and added little expense to woven cloths. The material of Curren's wardrobe was probably quite similar to what European serfs had been wearing for centuries. David Davies wasted no extra money on his servant, but he did offer a substantial twenty-shilling reward for his recapture.

*Advertisement, The Pennsylvania Gazette, November 13, 1729.


  1. Good post, thank you. Good to see some earlier period information.

  2. Why/when would someone like this be wearing a wig?