Letter From A German Officer

Submitted by David Schmid

December 18, 1777: "The ladies in this vicinity, and as far as Boston and New York, are slender, of erect carriage, and without being strong, are plump. They have small and pretty feet, good hands and arms, a very white skin, and a healthy color in the face which requires no further embellishment. I have seen few disfigured by pock-marks, for inoculation against smallpox has been in vogue here for many years. They have, also, exceedingly white teeth, pretty lips, and sparkling, laughing eyes. In connection with these charms they have a natural bearing, essentially unrestrained, with open, frank countenances, and much native assurance. They are great admirers of cleanliness, and keep themselves well shod. They frizz their hair everyday, and gather it up on the back of the head into a chignon, at the same time puffing it up in front. They generally walk about with their heads uncovered; and sometimes, but not often, wear some light fabric on their hair. Now and then some country nymph has her hair flowing down behind her, braiding it with a piece of ribbon."

Detail from "Women at the Quern and the Laughan with a view of Talyskir", an engraving by Grignon after M. Griffith. Though the engraving was made in Scotland, note the young girl in the left foreground wearing her hair tied behind as described in the letter above. Other girls in this engraving have their hair braided or tied back.


Letters of Brunswick and Hessian Officers during the American Revolution, Translated by William L. Stone, 1891 pages 138 & 139

Clothing (& Accessories) Forum

by Ralph & Mary Briggs

News Flash: The Vermont legislature is considering legalizing the growing of hemp as a cash crop! No, not for that, for it's fiber content. They are looking to get a Vermont university involved to ensure that by-products socially less desirable than the fiber are minimized.

So what does this mean to us? Occasionally we find references to "Russia linen" or "Russia cloth". This is fabric made not of flax, but of hemp (Linton, 557). That which I have seen is more like tow than linen, that is, coarser in weave, having a lower thread count per inch. Hemp cloth is a wonderful material, sharing many characteristics with flax, but is not readily available, and when it can be found is usually as expensive as flax linen. Perhaps if production is resumed in the US, the price might go down.

One source for hemp cloth in the US is The Ohio Hempery, 14 N. Court Street #300, Athens, Ohio, 45701. Phone 614-593-5826.

TOOTHBRUSH: Just in case you doubted it (I did), the bone toothbrush sold by some of our sutlers is a documentable article! In the museum at the Saratoga Battlefield in New York state is a display which includes personal articles that would have been carried by persons of the time, and it includes not one but three toothbrushes and a woman's hairbrush made of bone (left).

Your entry on line S, "Other," of your IIF could read: "S. Toothbrush, bone- from the collection of the National Park Service, ASA (as seen at) Saratoga Battlefield Museum, Stillwater, NY."

BONING: Whalebone is no longer a viable option for boning in stays. Metal boning is readily available in precut, finished pieces, and cloth covered plastic boning can be had in long, uncut lengths, but metal is hot in the summertime, cold in the winter and neither breathe. Basket reed, half-round, 1/4 inch is comfortable and flexible, but it breaks over a few weekends and needs to be replaced. Does anyone have an suggestions for a different material and a source?

COLORED SHIRTS: Most illustrations of men's (under) shirts show white or natural colored material, though we know other materials were used. Katcher in Uniforms quotes Samuel Otis, a clothier to the Continental Army advertising for "shirts, of (wool) flannel, striped or plain, or if cheap, of cotton and linen" (qtd. on p. 17). Peterson refers to shirts of and checked shirts (p.232). Note: "Checked" in the 18th century means checks, perpendicular lines of equal width, or plaids, also perpendicular lines, but of differing widths (Montgomery, p. 197).

What do we know about this material? Just what width "checks" were being used for shirt material at the time? What colors? How common were they, particularly with civilians of English descent and in the various armies?

COLORED STOCKINGS: On the same note, just how common were colored stockings, particularly on men?

GOURDS. Mary and I also enjoy "trekking", so we found ourselves looking for cheap, lightweight containers in which to carry extra water. "Birdhouse" gourds lend themselves well to containers and are, in fact, used by the NWTA's Lauzun's Legion as a canteen. When we started asking around last fall as to the best way of drying them and preparing them for use, we spoke with three different people and got three totally different answers. We tried some this fall, with mixed results. Does anyone have a sure-fire way of drying and preparing gourds for use as containers? Is there such a thing as sure-fire?

A REVIEW of outstanding questions:

SHIRT CUFF WIDTH on men's shirts (March).

A SOURCE for lightweight, madder red wool (Jan-Feb issue).

WATCHCOAT COLORS for Howe's army (Jan-Feb). Cuthbertson recommended blue watch cloaks as it was "the most lasting color" (Cuthbertson, p. 86). In a letter to Basil Fielding dated October 8, 1775, Lt. William Fielding of the Royal Marines states: "the cloathing of the 22nd. and 40th. Regts with the Cloaks of the latter which unfortunately fell into their [the Rebels] hands at Philadelphia, they have died brown, as they do not chuse to appear like the Parliament's Army. (Balderston, p. 46)."

Any other references to watchcloak or watchcoat colors?

WOMAN'S UNDERSHIRT id. (Jan-Feb in Comments and Queries column).

MILITARY SMOCKS. Anything, for either side.

IF YOU have any information on any of the questions posed here, have some tidbit to contribute, or are looking for help yourself, please contact us by e-mail at rbriggs@nwta.com or adeline@netins.net or write us at 1537 31st, Des Moines, IA, 50311. You don't have to offer the definitive answer to any particular question, but if you can contribute even just a small piece, it will help. We can use your name or not, your choice.


Katcher, Philip, Uniforms of the Continental Army, George Shumway, Publ., York, PA, 1981 quoting from Historical Magazine, Nov. 1860, pp. 344-5.

Linton, George E., The Modern Textile Dictionary, Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1954

Montgomery, Florence,Textiles in America 1650-1870, W.W. Norton & Co, NY, 1984

Peterson, Harold L., The Book of the Continental Soldier, Promontory Press, Stackpole Company, Harrisburg, PA, 1968

Balderston, Marion, and Syrett, David, ed. The Lost War: Letters from British Officers during the American Revolution, New York, Horizon Press, 1975.

Cuthbertson, Bennett, A System for the Complete Interior Management and Oeconomy of a Battalion of Infantry, Dublin, 1775.


Submitted by Marilyn Hess

Over the years concern has repeatedly been expressed regarding authentic children's footwear. To address this concern, a committee was set-up to develope a set guidelines for children's shoes. This committee consisted of three members; Marilyn Hess, Bill Burke, and Judy Wicker. The committee never had a formal meeting, but we met informally at various get-togethers and by phone and mail. We decided that we would divide our recommendation into different age groups as follows.

Infants up to two or three years of age could wear moccasins of center seam design or what is made by Holappa (see Klinger, Sketchbook '76, p. 26; Hanson, The Longhunter Sketchbook, pp. 10-11). Girls and boys beyond three years old could wear a simple leather shoe made for boys with a small heel. Judy suggested shoes with straps for girls but we can't document that style at present. Boys dress shoes that are plain and simple are the best looking for authentic appeal. At Easter time there should be lots of advertised sales for this type of shoe. Young girls in the 10 to 18 age range could get by with a shoe like that shown here. These have been available at Target, Venture, etc., stores in the range of $9.00 - $18.00 and should not be a hardship for anyone to purchase. I bought a pair to show the other committee members and everyone felt these were a good period-looking shoe.

After college age we would expect everyone to have some type of proper, authentic shoes.

The biggest no-nos are athletic shoes or shoes that have lug soles. If a particular unit can document it, moccasins would be acceptable to all ages. We sincerely feel these guidelines will be of some help to both the NWTA Inspector General and the membership.*

* The NWTA IG department has approved the above guidelines.