Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Servant's Uniform (Pennsylvania Gazette, 4-4-1754)

Henry Cole and John Lewis were typical English indentured servants. Both were in their early twenties and well fed. Cole was knock-kneed and Lewis had pockmarks and red spots on his face. But by far the most unique thing about the runaway advertisement with which John Wright sought to recapture them in 1754 was the clothing described. These two men were dressed in precisely the same way; Wright had apparently issued each of them with a sort of uniform. Cole and Lewis both had an old hat, a new wool cap, two homespun shirts, two pairs of breeches (one fustian, a linen-cotton blend, and one leather), wool stockings, and good shoes. Each had a "striped flannel jacket, without sleeves," a sort of straight-bottomed waistcoat. They each had a blue "halfthick" waistcoat, made from coarse wool. These waistcoats had leather buttons, a common feature on indentured servant clothing and probably similar to those recovered from the 1760 wreck of the Machault (page 79):

And each had a "reddish brown bearskin coat, with flat metal buttons." Bearskin was not actually hide, but rather a shaggy, coarse wool comparable to fearnaught and dreadnaught cloths. Like these materials, it was favored by servants and sailors as a cheap and warm outer garment textile. John Lewis also had a "flowered damask jacket," almost certainly of worsted wool rather than silk. While "flowered" sometime connotes a small printed design, in this case it more likely refers to the woven pattern of the damask.

It might have been particularly hard for Cole and Lewis to avoid notice dressed in this fashion. Even if Wright was simply using the same material and tailor for his servants' clothes, the result was to produce two identical and unmistakable wardrobes. Cole and Lewis were not dressed in livery, but they would have been recognizable as bound men nonetheless.


  1. Excellent post, I prefere the earlier periods. Thank you.

  2. "No, we totally went shopping and bought this stuff together...seriously."

  3. "bow-legg'd! a "change in the body"!