Friday, 13 July 2012

Research and Primary Documentation.

Research and Primary Documentation.
In our search for historical information, we must be careful not to become too narrow focused. Whilst it is true that we need to find out what a particular character used and wore, we must not discard the possibility that this character, this persona, could have used and wore other items that are not documented in the written word or in period paintings.
One of the least documented characters in the 18th century is the woodsman. A woodsman is a woodsrunner, a person who is knowledgeable in woods lore. A woodman on the other hand is a wood cutter, a totally different persona all together. I have not as yet come across a painting, sketch or etching of an English or colonial woodsman, so the best we can do is use common sense and combine that with written documentation.
People are continually getting confused between the difference in what was fashion and what was common dress. The city and town gentleman or lady may well have been concerned with fashion, but a woodsman or woods woman was not concerned with social graces and fashion, they were concerned with survival, comfort to a certain degree, and practicality.  They did not sit round the camp fire and judge others by their dress, though they may on occasion expressed an interest in certain articles of dress and equipment belonging to others, and in some circumstances given advice on the practicality of certain items.
What we need to do is establish what items of dress and equipment were available in our chosen time period. Then we need to establish the practicality, or the lack of practicality in using such an item. Just because we have not read that a certain item was used, or have not seen a period painting of a woodsman using a certain item, it does not mean that this particular item was not used. If an item was commonly available, then it could have been used by anyone who considered that item to have been of practical use to themselves.
Two examples of this way of thinking come immediately to mind, the use of an oilcloth for shelter, and the use of a belt pouch that in the 18th century was no longer considered a fashionable item. The use of the oilcloth by traders and military is well documented, yet some people still refuse to use it because they are neither trades people or military. The same applies with the use of the belt pouch. It too is well documented in paintings, sketches and etchings so we know the belt pouch was available and being used as a practical item of wear for carrying items that were not carried in pockets. 

“The town has increased one-third since the year 1745; at that time there was not a single manufacture: the inhabitants either lived by one another, or by the hiring out of ships, or by the salmon trade. At present the manufactures have risen to a great pitch: for example, that of sailcloth, or ‘sailduck,’ as it is here called, is very considerable; in one house, eighty-two thousand five hundred and sixty-six pieces have been made since 1755. Each piece is thirty-eight yards long, and numbered from eight to one. No. eight weighs twenty-four pounds, and every piece, down to no. one, gains three pounds in the piece. The thread for this cloth is spun here, not by common wheel, but by the hands. Women are employed, who have the flax placed round their wastes, twist a thread with each hand as they recede from a wheel, turned by a boy at the end of a great room.”

The men were so harassed and fatigued with continually sitting and
lying on the ground, all huddled in a small compass, that three days
before the convention took place, they complained to the Captain who
commanded, that they were not permitted to fire on the enemy, whereby
they could obtain more ease, and therefore ought to be relieved, and
they received for an answer, when night came on it should be mentioned
to the General. The Captain desired me to go to head-quarters, and
when I arrived there, I found they partook of the hardships in common,
for the three Generals had just laid down on their matrasses, having
only an oil-skin to cover them from the weather; the Aid-de Camps were
sitting round a fire. ..."
Anburey, 2, p. 8-9.
Anburey, Thomas; "Travels Through the Interior Parts of America in a
Series of Letters by an Officer." 2 Vols. London, 1789. Houghton
Mifflin, NY 1923, Reprint, New York Times and Arno Press, 1969.

, upon a baggage-cart, and nothing to
shelter her from the inclemency of the weather but a bit of an old
oil-cloth, a soldier's wife was delivered of child, she and the infant
are both well, and are now at this place.
The Calendar and Quartermaster Books of General George Rogers Clark's
Fort Jefferson, Kentucky, 1780

Stores issued by order of Captain Robert George: to Mr. Miles,
quartermaster Sergeant, one musket or smoothed gun; to Captain Rogers
going to the Falls of Ohio, two muskets or smoothed guns and five tents
or oil cloths (VSA-50: 39)

"This morning an account was bro't to town, that a large army of French
and Indians were seen at a small distance from the German flats, but few
here believe it. Sir William Johnson is still in readiness, with 1500 of
the militia. Every man in the French army that came against Fort William
Henry, was equipped in the following manner, viz. With two pair of
Indian shoes, 2 pair of stockings, 1 pair of spatterdashes, 1 pair of
breeches, 2 jackets, 1 large over-coat, 2 shirts, 2 caps, 1 hat, 1 pair
of mittens, 1 tomahawk, 2 pocket-knives, 1 scalping knife, 1 steel and
flint, every two men an ax, and every four a kettle and oilcloth for a
tent, with one blanket and a bearskin, and 12 days provision of pork and
bread; all which they drew on little hand-sleighs."
Extract of a letter from Albany, dated April 2, 1757 printed in the
Boston Gazette, April 18, 1757.}

"...tarpaulins for covering the provisions and oilcloths to cover the gunpowder."
~ Antoine Laumet de Lamothe Cadillac, Memorial to the Council, 1719 (Kent 2001, 71 ) 

"They name prelat a large and heavy cloth, oil-painted in red, to keep oneself  from the rain."  Louis Franquet, French Military Engineer, 1752 (Delisle, 17 ) 

"1 Oilcloth for every 4 men for tentage..."
~ Anonymous list of supplies for French Army in Canada, 1756 (Delisle, 42) 

“…I made a Lodge with an oilcloth near the small Lac de la puise on the portage.”
~ Jean Baptiste Perrault, Minnesota, 1784 (Perrault, 521 )

 There are many more quotes regarding oilcloth/tarpaulin/canvas.

 This street vendor is wearing two belt pouches.

All of these images date to the early to mid 18th century.


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