Friday, June 21, 2013

Constant Belcher: Father of the Tie-Died (Hunting) Shirt

The adoption of the hunting shirt was one of the first efforts to achieve a level of uniformity in the Continental Army.  Caped hunting frocks and shirts made of fringed linen were worn by the frontier rifle companies that marched from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia to the siege of Boston in the summer of 1775.  Congress soon determined to furnish each soldier in New Jersey's two battalions with a hunting shirt, and surviving records from this period indicate that patterns for these garments were actively sought by officers in both regiments to clothe their men.  Hunting shirts were probably the most common garment worn by long service members of the New Jersey Line during the Monmouth Campaign in 1778 and were frequently issued to other regiments.

   Although most commonly made from natural or white colored Onsaberg linen, there were hunting shirts in other shades during the Revolution, ranging from purple (issued early in the war to the 2nd Virginia regiment) to green for the 1st Continental regiment after their wool regimentals were lost among the supplies captured when Fort Lee was taken in November of 1776. 

   Nowhere else however, do we find evidence that Continental soldiers wore more flamboyantly patterned hunting shirts than those described in the following entry in the Belcher Journal: the earliest known examples of a fashion trend that would not become popular again in America until the 1960s.

"[Febr. 1st 1781] – This Day Colo. Barber did list ye Jersey detachments for to go
with him on Command to Virginna with Marquee Fayette / Capt. Ogden to be Senior Captain of the Jersey troops & wair he does go so also I must fallow / Ye men take it hard to be at such remove from our Support but have not ye stomach for hangingsThose most warm for Soljers Rights are to remain behind with ye Army in Jersey [a reference to the late January mutiny of the Jersey Line: Ed].

We are to be Lights oncet, but have not our old Finery save ye red & black Plumes brot over from Frogland & divers tails of Hors for our Capps /  Capt. Ogden's Coy. did draw hunting shirts of indifferent quality & so made shift to dye them uniform / Thair not being walnut husks nor larkspur nor yet the urine of cows to make enuf dye for ye Full detachment, each Mess did add one colour to its camp kettle & dye
d them all in turn /  Did find that knottin' ye shirts helped fill ye pots & sett ye Dye most curiously in rain-bow patterns / Ye men all good humourd in our coats of many cholers, tho' Colo. Barber lookd madder red to see 'em on parade.

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