Monday, March 28, 2011

Linings and Patches (American Weekly Mercury, 7-17/24-1735)

In 1735, William Finn was a twenty-three-year-old servant to Philip Doyl of Gloucester County, south of Philadelphia across the Delaware in New Jersey. Finn was a flax-dresser and worked with the plants used to produce linen, a skill he probably learned in Ireland (a center of flax production) before emigrating. To cover his brown hair, Finn sometimes employed a "Piss-burnt" (brown-stained) wig and an old felt hat with a shortened brim. According to Doyl, when Finn ran away he took a number of garments other than his own. These included "a plain Drugget [thin wool] coat" that was an interesting mix of colors including green, brown, and blue, probably a result of a variety of warp yarns used in the cloth's production. The coat was lined with "brown Sarge"; serge referred to a coarse, twill-woven wool. The coat's mohair (fine goat hair or silk textile) buttons suggested it might be better than the usual coat of an indentured servant. Finn's other theft was an "Olive colour Jacket of fine Broad Cloth" with "Pieces under the Arms," possibly a reference to some sort of attached sleeve in a period when "jacket" was used interchangeably with "waistcoat." This jacket was lined with heavy wool cloths, "Olive colour Stuff" and "Ash colour Sarge."

The rest of Finn's wardrobe merited less description, probably because it was the sort of clothing more often associated with servants. He wore gray wool stockings, a pair of "coarse Shirts," shoes tied with strings, and patched breeches. Most extant garments exhibit no signs of patching because they were set aside before they wore out. But for many people, patching was a common solution to everday wear and tear. A woman's short jacket in the collection of the Chester County Historical Society, for instance, has almost as many patches as original material, and although the jacket and its patches are a cream color, the materials include many kinds of plain-, twill-, and diaper(diamond)-woven cloths.

By the time this advertisement appeared in Philadelphia's American Weekly Mercury, Finn had been gone from Philip Doyl's farm for three months. Perhaps Doyl heard a rumor that Finn was living in Philadelphia. In any case, he had some hope that his description might result in Finn's capture and return. A reader who was unsure of his identification, however, might simply wait until Finn fell asleep, for "he groans very much in his Sleep."


  1. Excellent, I love these early (pre 1760)reports.
    Thank you. I added this post link on my blog.

  2. Do you think "he goes crooked" means he didn't walk in a straight line?