Camp Flag Revisited.

By Steve Gilbert

I read with interest your article on the blue woolen camp color of the Royal Highland Emigrants in the Spring 1998 issue of the SPY. Having myself twice viewed it in the Fort Ticonderoga Museum, I totally agree that it is a highly significant artifact of the period. However, there seems to be an editorial rush to judgement regarding some points of significance of said color. Some elaboration is in order. As it so often happens, there is more to this story than meets the eye -- and it begs investigation. A second example of a RHE camp color today exists, reposing in the Canadian War Museum, and is of dark blue wool, with a border of red worsted tape sewn around the perimeter. The center area has a red-painted King's Cipher with the abbreviation for the Royal Highland Emigrants. Perhaps someone travelling to the August event at Quebec could photograph and report on it?

The article expresses puzzlement that there is no numeral 84 marked on the color, in conformance with British regulations. As the Royal Highland Emigrants were first raised as a Provincial regiment of two battalions in late 1775, the Royal Warrant of December 1768 had no legal bearing over it. Once taken onto the establishment and numbered as the 84th Foot in January 1779, however, subsequent replacement camp colors then would have had to conform to the Royal Warrant. Many of the Royal Highland Emigrant's companies spent much time in barracks and garrison, however, not in a tent camp. Perhaps due to a lack of wear, some of the original camp colors were saved long past the time they ought to have been retired/destroyed. One might wonder if these two colors were unintentionally saved by their own obsolescence, after the new numbered replacement camp colors came into service. The heavier wool's lack of "flying" ability (compared to silk) may actually have prolonged the life of both these colors. Or they may also exist today simply due to the regimental commander's relative poverty. Allan Maclean, it is believed, never had sufficient funds to purchase more than the bare essentials for a fighting regiment. In support of this interpretation is the pair of ornate silk regimental colors (6 by 6 feet) of the RHE that were created during their Provincial designation. These colors are marked simply with the royal cipher; they were never replaced, even after the regiment was numbered in 1779. (Mary Beacock Fryer, Allan Maclean, Jacobite General: The Life of an Eighteenth Century Career Soldier. Toronto, ON: Dundurn Press, 1987: pp. 214, 217-219). These colors still exist as well, at Torloisk House in Scotland. Perhaps correspondence with the Fort Ticonderoga Museum could reveal how the Museum came onto possession of a camp color prior to 1928?

British shipping records after 1779 reveal that multiple sets of camp colors (sometimes colored red, and presumably ready-made and decorated; but maybe not), were often included among large shipments of generic camp equipage intended for the entire British forces in America. Were these also intended for additional Provincial regiments, to whom the Royal Warrant still did not apply? This would lend further support to the idea that the RHE colors date to their Provincial time period.

It is vital for us to learn about the weight and weave of that preserved blue wool fabric. Because three of its edges were originally hemmed, it must have been of a coarse weave--tightly woven, fulled wool has no such requirement. Blue wool was indeed used for legging material (coarse frieze of 27" width, duffils, stroud, and cloth are often specifically mentioned) by both British and Continental forces. Yet blue was such a common shade and so readily available in all the colonies, that it seems to me rather premature to suggest (in the absence of information about fabric weight) that this camp color represents an example of surviving legging or regimental coat wool. The evidence presented in THE SPY is intriguing but inconclusive. Perhaps the blue wool was merely bought from the local cloth merchant, or even leftover regimental facing wool? (That last one was a premature stretch of my own...)

Finally, from where did that surprising new term "camp corner" come? I've never seen this term used by any contemporary documents of the period. Is not "camp color" meant?


Editor's note: The origin of the blue wool was conjecture on my part as is the construction of the flags described in the article--Calver's text on this flag states that it was pieced together, but in the photo it appears to be one piece that is folded. Camp corner flags is indeed an anachronism--Camp color is the correct term.