Saturday, February 26, 2011

Knit Breeches (The Maryland Gazette, 8-4-1754)

As war with France loomed in 1754, England mustered its forces in the American colonies. The provincial authorities struggled to recruit and maintain militia, and desertion was endemic. In August of that year, the Maryland commanders advertised for six deserters. Their descriptions include physical details, birthplaces or residences, and clothing. John Brightwell wore "a blue Coat with Metal buttons, a white Shirt, and Osnabrig [unbleached linen] Trowsers." The amusingly-named Rezin Rickets was notable only for his linen breeches and "a Linen jacket without Sleeves." This second garment was probably akin to a waistcoat but may have been tighter-fitting and had shorter tails. William Jones, a carpenter from Prince William County, Virginia, was dressed rather smartly in a white wool coat with a contrasting velvet collar, a blue vest, and "Scarlet knit Breeches." Englishman William Lee invented a frame to knit stockings just after 1600, and eventually this same technology was applied to other legwear (for a later, elaborately-decorated pair, see:

In early America, knit breeches appeared in a variety of colors, including black, blue, and red. In 1749, Philadelphia merchant James Burd advertised the arrival of his cargo aboard the snow Friendship, which included "mens scarlet knit breeches" (The Pennsylvania Gazette, 11-16-1749). Like buckskin, knit breeches were flexible and tight-fitting. Whether this particular pair was William Jones's downfall, we'll never know.

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