Stitching for the King:
the Regimental Tailor.

By Steve Baule

One of the duties the 18th Century soldier could be tasked with was that of company tailor. When a British regiment was preparing its annual clothing issue, the tailors were an essential element. Simes states that a soldier's clothing should be marked with both his name and the name of the tailor who altered the item. When necessary, it was even advisable, according to Simes, to put a guard over the tailors to ensure they would continue until the annual issue of clothing was completed to the satisfaction of the officers.

tailor woodcutTo help us understand the soldier-tailor, the events of a Saturday in March 1774, within the "Taylors Room" in the Philadelphia Barracks of the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot have been preserved for our viewing pleasure. The room was next to the main gallery of the barracks and approximately five yards square. The room had at least one window. On that morning, ten privates of the 18th were working on the soon-to-be-issued annual clothing. They were working under the supervision of Samuel Lee, the master tailor and a private of the grenadier company. Lee was deaf, or at least hard of hearing, but that did not apparently affect his ability to sew. Additional supervision was provided by Sergeant Harbison who was present in the room for at least part of the time that morning. Captain Benjamin Charnock Payne and Ensign Edmund Prideaux stopped in that morning to check on the condition of the clothing as well.

Major Hamilton, commanding the regiment, had ordered that no additional work was to be done by the tailors until the annual issue was complete, but on that day a green coat was being worked on for the chaplain, Rev. Robert Newburgh. The adjutant's son also came into the room to try on a pair of breeches and a waistcoat being made for him by one of the tailors, so this order was not being well enforced. This may have been part of the frustration of Capt. Payne who called the tailors a generally drunken and lazy bunch and had to motivate them to work with his rattan. Private Robert Jeff appears to have been temporarily lamed by the beating Payne gave him for being idle and a "little given to drunkeness." At least two the tailors present that day, Thomas Beversly and John Conway, had deserted in the past. Beversly was also confined for drunkeness, though drink was not the only vice to be found among the tailors -- John Laverty was so severely poxed that the surgeon would not let him travel to testify at a court martial as the trip to New York might have killed him. Brandt Dabbidie, another tailor, was not able to testify at a court martial due to being laid up from 400 lashes received as punishment for appearing dirty at church parade.

The tailors of the 18th did appear to need a fair amount of pressure to complete the clothing, and the officers of the 18th generally complained that they were idle and lazy fellows who needed to be beaten into working. Perhaps it was simply the huge amount of clothing that needed to be prepared for a regiment or possibly the fact that they were not to hire out to work on other clothing that made the annual issue such a problem. The tailors of the 18th turned out breeches, waistcoats, and regimentals in addition to cutting down hats and re-working belting.

This information survived because it was contained in the general court martial of John Green, a tailor of the 18th Foot, who was accused of bearing false witness against Capt. Payne. Green and two other tailors were found guilty by a regimental court martial of falsely stating that Capt. Payne had called the chaplain a "buggerer", but Green won his case on appeal and escaped a lashing at the head of the regiment. Cpt. Payne claimed he had only asked "Is the chaplain a buggerer?" Seven officers and eight soldiers of the 18th Regiment testified at the trial.