The Highland Woman on Campaign.

A Look at Women's Dress in the 84th Regiment (Royal Highland Emigrants).

By Kim Stacy

There is very little information available about the families of the 84th. In relation to the Regiment, they were simply not important so there was no reason to record their names. In shipping and or land grant orders (after disbanding) one finds the numbers of children but rarely any mention of the names of the women or kids. This is not to imply neglect, just omission by the fact that they were not part of the "official" establishment.

One of the few references that list a name not in conjunction with a venereal warning is the case of one Mrs. McQueen -- possibly the wife of private Peter McQueen who served in the 1st company as returned in 1778. Mrs. McQueen is reported deceased and in "an account of all things belonging to Mrs. McQueen (GD 174/585/1 Scottish Records Office)" a list is given of her belongings: 2 blankets, 4 paticoats, 4 shifts, 3 short gown(s), 1 pair stockings, 1 pair shoes, 1 apron, 1 coat, 1 waistcoat, 2 shirts." This death inventory was taken sometime circa 1780 -- possibly in the south but may have been in Halifax.

The two blankets would most likely be military issue given to the family or old cast-off blankets that were thread-worn. The "paticoats" (petticoats) and "shifts" are indescribable at this point. The "short gown" would have probably been of a typical women's pattern with sleeves. It is interesting to note that only one pair of stockings is listed. The stockings were woven and most likely wool but possibly cotton. Considering her station, her one pair of shoes must have been men's shoes (this is seen in much of the artwork for the period). The apron was probably the universal white. The "coat and waistcoat" listed was probably cast-off regimentals with the regimental buttons removed. Since shifts (or chemises) were listed separately, shirts imply cast off white mens' shirts. The layers of petticoat, gowns, waistcoat and coat would have been effective layering for the winter months.

The listing also implies worth, and would further imply that the clothes were in good serviceable condition. It was common to auction off the possessions of the deceased and then to send the cash to the beneficiaries, in this case, Peter who was still in the regiment at disbanding.

IF we add the known additional items supplied by the regiment to the families in Quebec in 1777: "suits of clothing complete, hatts, mocasins, legging cloth, linen yards, Canadian shoes, stockings (MG 23, National Archives of Canada)", we can get a relatively accurate portrait of their dress.

The "suits of clothing complete" most likely were the old worn out uniforms that always were collected for the express purpose of family charity. This must include old coats and waistcoats. Possibly old ragged-out tartan, shirts, and trousers. The return lists "hatts" which are felt and at this point, the Provincial tri-cornered felt hats turned in when the regiment were issued the highland uniforms. The "suits" quite possibly were the old Provincial green uniforms!

For the winter season, legging cloth and Canadian shoes were issued. The Canadian shoes are thick leather overshoes. The Stockings probably were the coarse wool stockings issued to the men. Shoes were often in short supply and thus the issue of mocasins to the families. The reference for "linen yards" was intended for to make shifts and other forms of small cloths.

The only other known relevant information comes from the artist Peachy who drew the Yorker encampment in Ontario right after this regiment was disbanded in 1784. This is relevant to the 84th in that the men and families of the Yorkers were from the same areas and economic background as the men of the 84th. The image shows the women in layered (fashionable) petticoats, gowns (jackets) and large decorated hats. None of them appear in cast-off men's clothing.

This can be explained by the fact that the regiment looked after their women, that they adapted well to their situation, that there was somewhat of an economic prosperity, and/or that these were their best sets of clothing saved for special occasions -- like Sunday service (or the occasion of the sketch of the encampment)!

How does this effect the women of our companies? It has long been the feeling that most women were portraying "towns people" and not camp followers. This mode is expressed in the common clothing of the middle class. In the past, there has been little opportunity to find or purchase old cast-offs. Recently, Dolly Dorris fabricated a jacket out of old worn-out and moth-holed blue velvet. The effect was outstanding! A new coat which looked old! The only hard recommendation is that you document and be consistent in your impression.

Remember... never buy or make anything on anyone's advice and never trust an unknown merchant!