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Friday, January 31, 2014

Statuette, 1770-1780


Statuette, Ralph Wood the Younger, 1770-1780, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It has been some time since we used a visual source other than a print, so let's change our tack a bit and look at this piece!

His is a round hat with a short brim, and short hair beneath that doesn't reach his shoulders. The neckcloth is narrow and black, tied neatly in the front. He wears a single breasted white waistcoat beneath a very odd jacket. That jacket is double breasted with lapels to only half way down his torso, where it then switches to single breasted. The sailor rests one hand in the lapel, and another on his hip. His white trousers are long and loose, ending above the ankle. With white stockings and black shoes, the sailor is rather handsomely attired!

Music Break - William Taylor

Here's a fun street ballad variously attributed to the first or second half of the eighteenth century. In it, the title character and sailor William Taylor is pressed into service by a bunch of lobsterbacks as he went to marry his love. In other versions William is pressed by a press gang.

Determined not to be left, his love dresses in slop clothes and signs aboard a ship to follow him. In the version linked to below, she fights in a battle and in the course her breasts are bared, revealing her sex. Other versions have her found out early on by the captain.

Most versions go from her discovery to the captain questioning why she tried to pass herself as a sailor. Informing him of her mission to find her stolen lover, the captain then reveals that William Taylor has already taken another woman!

His love does what you'd expect of a character in an eighteenth century street ballad: she murders him. In some versions she also murders the woman he's with. In some versions the song ends with a warning about virtuous behavior. In at least one version, she's rewarded with being made a commander by the captain!

The Invasion, 1757


The Invasion, part of the "England" series by William Hogarth, 1757, Wikimedia Commons.

I don't usually use images from Wikimedia Commons. It's a great source for period images, but reproduction rights are sometimes unclear. Hogarth's images are widely reproduced, and examples of this particular print can be found in many major institutions, including the British Museum. In this case, the Wikimedia Commons version was the highest quality reproduction I could find online.

Out front of the Duke of Edinburgh tavern, a jovial party of soldiers graffiti the wall with a caricature of the French king to the cheer of a tar. To the far right a recruiting party measures up a potential recruit, who stands on his toes to increase his chances of acceptance. Typical of Hogarth prints, it's a fun print with something new to find every time you examine it!


Sitting on the surface of the table with a lass in his lap (who points suggestively to a fork), the sailor raises his cocked hat in praise of the propagandist vandalism. Another soldier slings his arm about the sailor, pointing to the work of the grenadier with his sword.

Our sailor's hat has a cockade on the left side. His hair is curled on the sides, and appears to taper off behind the arm of the soldier, suggesting a queue. The neckcloth is very light, perhaps white. His jacket is single breasted and ends about the top of the thigh. As to his trousers, they are white or off white, and loose above the ankle. Beneath, his stockings are white, and he wears rounded toe shoes.

Hogarth's works are always fun to examine. If you look around a bit, you'll find a copy of the song "Rule, Britannia," a tavern sign of a wine glass and onion bottle, and some sort of plant hanging from the far end of the Duke of Cumberland's trade sign.

The British Flag Insulted, a Satyrical Song, 1757


The British Flag Insulted, a Satyrical Song by a Fore-mast-man, on Board the ANTIGALLICAN Private Ship of War, T. Ewart, 1757, British Museum.

Many images of sailors aren't explicit is precisely what kind of sailors they are. This is either because the context makes it clear (if a sailor is thrashing a caricature of France, we can safely assume he's naval) or because they were fairly interchangeable in appearance.

Although there were many degrees of sailors, for our purposes we can put them into three broad categories: merchant sailors (working aboard import/export vessels, whalers, slave ships, etc.), naval sailors, and privateers. Privateers were distinguished from naval sailors in that they worked aboard private vessels licensed to attack enemy vessels by a Letter of Marque.

It is worth noting that sailors moved freely between these roles. Merchantmen could join a privateer vessel in search of money, or join the navy in search of a bounty, or be kidnapped by press gangs to join naval vessels short on men. Similarly, naval sailors could desert for merchant vessels to avoid the strictures of naval life, or for a higher profit if their cruise was proving unprofitable.

With such fluidity, there was a common maritime culture among sailors of all types, and rarely did they remain fixed in a single role for their entire career. Dress was (largely) a commonality in this culture.


The character here is a privateer. He stuffs a paper into his waistcoat (possibly a Letter of Marque) and stands over a broken anchor while two ships trade broadsides in the background, under the guns of a fort.

His cocked hat is fairly wide, but short. It is difficult to tell if it is cocked over the left eye or turned about backward. Notably, his hair is short, but turned into side curls. The short jacket ends just at the top of his thigh, but is too small to determine the arrangement or type of buttons. We can say that it is with slash cuffs, left open. His neckcloth is tucked into the single breasted waistcoat, which ends below the waist, and is with waist pockets and pocket flaps. Unlike many other sailors, this privateer is wearing a waistcoat that was fairly typical in its cut, and only somewhat shorter than those worn in other professions. The slops end below the knee, and he wears stockings and round toed shoes.

John Bull's House Sett in Flames, 1762


John Bull's House Sett in Flames, artist unknown, 1762, Yale University Lewis Walpole Library.

This cartoon is...colorful.

England's metaphorical house is burning, with the flames rushing from the door in a fierce blaze. Holding a bellows bearing the Woad, a Scotsman's kilt flies up as he attempts to douse the flames with his fart. There's a lot more going on in this image (the rat-man thing in the center, William Pitt directing the flow of water, the sign of the globe globe catching fire), but since we're focusing on the sailors beside the fire engine, let's see what they have to say about this:

"A fresh wind blow from aloft Jack," declares the one. "Fresh - I think it comes from a very foul quarter," quips the other.


Behind the engine and working the pumps are three sailors. One wears a reversed cocked hat, but there it too little detail on all but one of them to say anything more about their clothes.

The tar in the foreground wears a tall cap. Our seaman's jacket has a single vent at the back, and extends to the top of his thigh. We get no view of his neckcloth, shirt, or waistcoat. At his waist is a pair of petticoat trousers, ending about mid-way down the calf.

A Dance by the Virtue of British Oak, 1779


A Dance by the Virtue of British Oak, artist unknown, 1779, British Museum.

As we have seen (and will continue to see), throughout the 1770's and 1780's British sailors often acted as the embodiment of Britain itself in political cartoons. This was particularly true following any significant naval engagement. Here we see that theme again: Britain thrashing France and Spain, this time with a cudgel.


The Briton wears a cocked hat with a large and fanciful cockade. His hair is short and curled a bit. Hanging open, his jacket is double breasted with large lapels not unlike a military uniform coat. His neckcloth is the same color as his shirt, making them nearly indistinguishable, so we could conclude that the neckcloth is white or a similar hue. Jack Tar wears no waistcoat, and carries his oddly shaped sword on his belt. The trousers are decorated with narrow vertical stripes, and his shoes are rounded in the toe.

One of my favorite details is the discarded umbrella behind the Frenchman. English caricatures of the French often emphasized a stereotype of the French as delicate or feminine. The umbrella is a symbol of that.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Sailor's Return to Portsmouth from London, 1772


The Sailor's Return to Portsmouth from London, 1772, collection unknown. There are similar copies in both the British Museum and the Library of Congress.

This painted print is another of sailors struggling with horses. The sailor rides his horse like a ship, with an ensign on the head, and anchor on its neck, and a ladder to help the sailor climb on and off again.


Our tar's cap is a sort of jockey cap, as we've seen before. His hair is short, and his neckcloth is a very light red, bordering on pink. The jacket is single breasted with cloth covered buttons and slash pockets. Beneath is a brown waistcoat that is cut off at the waist. His white trousers end above the ankle, showing off his white stockings, and black shoes.

The Sailor's Return, 1786


The Sailor's Return, Francis Wheatley, 1786, National Maritime Museum.

As I've posted before, the sailor returning to loved ones is a well established trope in the eighteenth century. In this image, the sailor carries his gold in his round hat, much to the delighted astonishment of the young lady who comforts a sick man. This is a popular image for slop clothes, as it is detailed and typical of other depictions of sailors' attire.


The sailor's neckcloth is the familiar orange/red, but spotted with white. His white shirt is so thin that you can see a bit of his skin beneath! Translucence in eighteenth century art is a topic entirely of its own, and this may not be intended as a true representation of the material in sailor's shirts.

Once more, we have a sailor who has neglected a waistcoat. The lack of a waistcoat on sailors is far more common than I would have guessed going in to this project.

Though the National Maritime Museum states that his jacket buttons are brass, I'm not so sure. They appear to be the same color as the blue jacket, but they also appear to be reflecting light. Perhaps they buttons are of a death's head style, and woven with a more expensive thread. It's a tough call, and I'm not sure I'd put a solid conclusion to it. What we can say about the jacket is that it is double breasted with slash cuffs and unlined. His trousers are of a broad fall style, and a beige color. The trouser buttons here are undeniably metal, though whether it is a white or yellow metal isn't obvious. The trousers are very short and end right at the bottom of the calf. His stockings are white, his shoes with a very slight point at the toe, and preposterously large white metal oval shaped buckles.

In his left hand, our jack holds his black round hat, with its brim bound in black tape. Because he holds it out for us to see the gold coins, we can also see the white lining of the hat, a detail usually invisible in contemporary images. In the same hand, he holds his stick.

There's a lot more in this image beside our sailor: the odd pattern of the blanket, the nail on which the basket hangs above, and the visible stays on the woman are all wonderful little tidbits of daily life that are often under represented in extant eighteenth century art.

The Sailor Riding to Portsmouth, 1782


The Sailor Riding to Portsmouth, Carington Bowles, 1782, British Museum.

In yet another print echoing the stereotype of sailors being awful equestrians, a frustrated (or terrified) jack sits astride a bucking steed, spilling his bowl of punch. Surrounding him are laughing men, including a red coated soldier.


The sailor wears a black round hat and a short brim with a large blue bow. Bowles was terribly fond of putting blue bows in his sailors' hats, but he was not the only one. The tar's white lined jacket ends at about the top of the thigh and is fitted with white buttons on both the front and the open mariners cuffs. The neckcloth that sways with the bucking horse is a very light red or violet and spotted, contrasting with the bright red double breasted waistcoat. Jack's trousers are narrowly striped in a pale red. Having lost the stirrup, the seaman's feet are kicked back, but he's managed to keep his black shoes with rectangular buckles on.

The Dutchman in the Dumps, 1781



The Dutchman in the Dumps, William Humphrey, 1781, John Carter Brown Library.

Once again, a British sailor becomes the embodiment of England. He tightens the belt of Holland and gives him a whiff of gin while Spain, France, and America all bemoan the state. The American even goes so far as to declare "America now, to old England must bow!"


The tar wears a cocked hat, tossed back until its point is quite high, and vaguely cocked to the left. It appears that his hair is somewhat longer, perhaps even in a queue. A collar peeks from beneath his neckcloth, but the neckcloth itself is largely hidden behind the high lapel of his jacket.


The jacket is double breasted with slash cuffs and slash pockets, though we only see a few small buttons at his cuff. Notably, the jacket is very short, cutting off very quickly at the waist. The seaman wears no waistcoat, but only a shirt. His slops end just below the knee, showing off his white stockings, pointed toe shoes, and rectangular buckles.

What sets this image apart from the others is that it is one of the latest images to show a sailor with a cocked hat. A vast majority of 1780's prints show sailors in round hats, and sometimes in knit caps, but this is an exception.

The Idle Prentice Turn'd Away and Sent to Sea, 1747


The Idle Prentice Turn'd Away and Sent to Sea, William Hogarth, 1747, Yale University Lewis Walpole Library.

Today's print is part of the "Idle Prentice" series by William Hogarth. This print shows our title character beside a sea chest (marked "The Idle/His Chest"). He argues with a pair of sailors while his mother weeps for him. At the bow of the boat rows the only man doing any work: a disgruntled looking mariner with a short clay pipe between his teeth.

The Prentice wears a cocked hat, neckcloth, and jacket without cuffs, pockets, or collar. Behind him, dangling what appears to be a cat o' nine is a rather vile looking seaman. The villain wears a neckcloth and some sort of short cap. Perhaps it is a Dutch or Monmouth cap. This jack wears a smock as well.
To the right of the Prentice, and pointing away to the ship (or perhaps to the fellow being hanged on the waterfront), a tar wears a hat that frankly confounds me. At first glance, it definitely appears to be a cocked hat. On closer inspection, it looks parted at the peak, or perhaps that's a very long and oddly straight turn in his hair? I can't make heads or tails of it. He too wears a smock.


At the bow, and looking sick of the argument at the stern, the sailor wears what is very clearly a backward cocked hat. There is a simple and small cloth covered button and short loop at the front, likely designed to be let out in inclement weather or hot sun to give him some cover. His neckcloth is black, and he wears a shirt without waistcoat or jacket.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Rich Privateer Brought Safe into Port by Two First Rates, 1782


A Rich Privateer Brought Safe into Port by Two First Rates, Carington Bowles, 1782, British Museum.

This is another in Bowles' series of prints using nautical language as a double meaning for scenes between sailors and women. In this one, a happy tar pours gold coins into his hat with a woman on each arm (the "First Rates"). Behind him is yet another "first rate" and in the doorway to the left is a mighty big dreadnaught with punch bowl.


Jack's flowing hair that extends past his shoulders. Beneath his white collar is a black neckcloth, tied in a fancy manner. The red waistcoat is double breasted with white metal buttons. His jacket is longer, ending about halfway down the thigh. It is single breasted with white metal buttons on both the lapel and the slash cuffs. We get an unusually good view of the lining, even including the inner stitching by the buttonholes! The seaman's trousers are striped in red, ending well above the ankles to show off the white stockings, pointed toe shoes, and oval buckles. His is a round hat, weighed down by the gold of his successful cruise.

Though not directly related to our examination, the misses pointed out the wonderfully colorful shoes on the First Rates!

An English Jack Tar Giving Monsieur a Drubbing, 1779


An English Jack Tar Giving Monsieur a Drubbing, by Robert Sayer, 1779, Library of Congress.

As with many political cartoons of the period, this one is very busy. It is a metaphor for the First Battle of Ushant in 1778, in which the British Admiral Keppel (for whom the tavern in the background is named) engaged a French fleet. The conclusion was indecisive, and when one of Keppel's officers refused an order it led to courts martial and political mud slinging. You would never have guessed it from the message in this piece. The pompous and frightened Frenchman struggles helplessly against the hulking Jack Tar, while an English dog attacks a French poodle, all under the happy gaze of a child and a man drinking in the tavern window. Standing in the doorway is another mariner with his arm around a lass, pointing out the ship HMS Victory that rides at anchor. This is one of the earliest images of the Victory, which had participated in the First Battle of Ushant.


At the center stands Jack Tar. His is a cocked hat, clearly turned backward. It is without tape, button, or loop. His hair has side curls, but appears to be short. The neckcloth is a light color with polka dots. Jack Tar's jacket is single breasted with narrowly spaced cloth covered buttons, and slash cuffs without buttons. It has waist pockets and a narrow cutaway, ending right at the waist. Because of Jack Tar's posture, we get a good view of the fly front of his striped trousers: three buttons, two moderately sized and the top very large, all look to be cloth covered. Otherwise, he wears white stockings, pointed toe shoes, and oval buckles.


In the doorway behind Jack, courting the lovely young lady, another tar wears a jacket, slops with breeches peeking beneath, white stockings, pointed toe shoes, and oval buckles.


The creepy looking child to the right wears much the same as Jack Tar, though his hat has a large bow, and his trousers are white. Given the distinctive sailor's slop clothes the child wears, I would venture that he's a powder monkey or ship's boy.

What other sources can we use?

The focus of this blog is contemporary images. Paintings, engravings, sketches and the like provide the material that I've chosen to examine.

Though I've said it in previous posts, it bears repeating that this alone cannot be the only way to explore sailor's clothing.

One of the best sources for eighteenth century sailors' slop clothes comes from the wreck of the General Carlton of Whitby, which sank in 1785 off the European coast while carrying a load of pine tar. The casks of tar burst when she hit the bottom, and coated much of the ship. When she was discovered in the 1980s, a wealth of original artifacts was recovered.


You can read more about the wreck here.

Another excellent source is written documents. For this example, I point to the blog With Messrs. Wallace, Davidson and Johnson. The blog follows primary source documents from a merchant firm in colonial Baltimore. Of particular interest in the long list of goods sold as "slops" to crews in Baltimore!

When we combine material, textual, and visual primary sources, it is much easier to round out our image of common clothing in the eighteenth century.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Jovial Crew, 1786


The Jovial Crew, Thomas Rowlandson, 1786, Royal Collection Trust.

Rowlandson sketched and painted a good number of sailors in the late eighteenth century, though I believe this is the first example I've examined. In this piece, three sailors relax dangerously close to a boom. A large tankard lays beside one, while another cradles his bowl. With such comforts, it's easy to see why these salty chaps make up the Jovial Crew!


The sailor on the left (the one with the long pipe between his lips) wears a black round hat turned up on both sides, a solid yellow neckcloth, and a single breasted white waistcoat. His blue jacket has mariner's cuffs, and all buttons are cloth covered. The slops about his legs are an off-white, probably canvas.


In the middle stands a proud tar with a red jacket. Though blue is by far the most common in primary source images, red is the easy second. Like his shipmate, this tarpawlin's jacket is single breasted, ending at the waist, with cloth covered buttons and mariner's cuffs, one of which is open. His hat is also a round hat, though not curved up quite so dramatically. The neckcloth is a bit of a mystery to me. At first glance it appears to be striped, but half of it appears black. Is this a pair of neckcloths wound together? Is it striped on one side and black on the other? Was this merely a poor attempt at shading? Regardless, he also wears a single breasted waistcoat of white, with a slight cutaway at the waist. A stick is tucked up under his arm in handsome fashion.

This is the first time I've ever seen slops in a patterned fabric! Thin blue stripes run at a slight angle along the length of his slops. Slops were more like glorified aprons than proper breeches, and were meant to protect the more breeches garments beneath. Because they were meant to get dirty, it made little sense to use decorative fabric on them, so this is certainly unusual.


At the far right is a sailor of African descent, the first to be featured in this blog. Though doubtless they were present and made up a measurable portion of eighteenth century sailors, a vast majority of primary source images focus on Anglo tars. Our seamen here wears a pink or very light red neckcloth, a brown short jacket with cloth covered buttons on his mariner's cuffs, and a pair of trousers.

The entire Jovial Crew wear their unkempt hair short, pointed toe shoes, and rectangular buckles.

Count De Grasse in the Sugar Trap, 1782


Count De Grasse in the Sugar Trap, by J. Barrow, 1782, Lewis Walpole Library.

In this political cartoon, the French admiral Count de Grasse is trapped in a sugar cask and verbally skewered by a British officer and sailor. Each of them is armed with a cutlass and a smile.

On the right stands a sailor with the cutlass slung over his shoulder. His hat is either a knit cap or a round hat, though it is difficult to be certain. The sailor's hair is just past shoulder length and fairly unkempt. His jacket ends at the top of the thigh, a bit longer than most other sailor's coats. It is single breasted with slash cuffs and waist pockets. The mariner wears no waistcoat, but the black neckcloth covers the part from his collar.

Unlike many other slops, this one is fitted with two buttons at the waist, but it's the average length: ending right below the knees. His stockings are white and his shoes are rounded toe. The buckles are rectangular.

It's a bit odd the way he rests in his hand, with a few fingers just inside the waistline. This fits with later images of sailors and other laborers of the nineteenth century in a similar posture.

St. James Park and the Mall, c.1745


St. James Park and the Mall, artist unknown, c.1745, from the Royal Collection Trust.

There's a lot going on in this beautiful and busy painting. Soldiers, citizens, men, women, dogs and cows all gather in St. James Park. Among the throng is a sailor! Can you find him?

For those not looking to play "Where's Bosun's Mate Waldo?" here's a detail from the painting:


The sailor holds an orange/red neckcloth in one hand. His keeps his free hand in his trouser pocket. Many images do not show whether slops or trousers have pockets. This omission is likely because these articles were of a loose fit. Pockets aren't often illustrated. We can see that the pocket goes rather deep. Our sailor can rest his hand in the pocket by leaving his arm almost at its natural length. Unlike modern jean pockets, he does not need to bend his arm at the elbow.

He has buttoned his single breasted waistcoat up with brass buttons. The cuffs have brass buttons matching those on his front. This painting shows a cocked hat pointed forward, or cocked over the right eye.

This painting is a wealth of representations, of which the sailor is only a small part. Be sure to search out some other nuggets!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Rich'd Kilby, Taylor and Salesman, 1757


Rich'd Kilby, Taylor and Salesman advertisement, 1757, Yale University Lewis Walpole Library.

Encased in a fanciful border, this advertisement announces the services and wares of the tailor Richard Kilby "at the Jolly Sailor." When an eighteenth century advertisement announced that a merchant, artisan, or other professional could be found "at the," it meant a sign. Sometimes they would even say "at the sign of." In this case, I'm inclined to speculate that we are seeing his very sign at the top of this ad.


The "Jolly Sailor" wears what appears to be a type of jockey cap. Now that it is shown so clearly here, I'm reconsidering many of my previous posts in which I thought I had spotted Dutch or Monmouth caps. A solid example of this would be the 1750 version of "Sailor's Return."

His hair is very short and curly. The neckcloth is a solid color, but the exact color can't be guessed, as all garments are given the same hue, save the hat. We could conclude that the hat is black and everything else some lighter color, but considering his shoes are also without any color, it is very unlikely that this is the case. I have never seen an eighteenth century image of a sailor wearing anything but black shoes.

His single breasted waistcoat is open at the top, with narrowly spaced buttons. It is without buttons, and ends with a cutaway at the waist. The tar's jacket is also without pockets, and has no collar. The cuffs are slash cuffs without buttons. Our mariner's slops end about the top of the calf. He wears stockings and pointed toe shoes with rectangular buckles.

Of course, like any good tar, he carries his stick in a handsome fashion!

A British Sailor Offering a Sword to an Unarmed Spanish Officer, 1783


A British Sailor offering a Sword to an Unarmed Spanish Officer, engraved by Thronton, 1783, Library of Congress.

This event, from the storming of the fortifications of San Fernando de Omoa in Honduras on October 20, 1779, was widely represented in English prints as a demonstration of the chivalry of British sailors. A Spanish officer, caught unprepared when a small force of British tars opened the gates of his fort, was offered a sword to defend himself by one of his opponents. A similar print on Wikipedia is misidentified as a Spanish officer handing his sword to a British sailor in surrender.


In the upper left, sailors bearing cutlasses mount the parapets. All of them wear short caps, probably Dutch/Monmouth knit caps, though it's difficult to be sure. Rushing up the ladder is a jack in a jacket that ends beneath the waist, it appears to have two vents and is lined in white. His trousers end above the ankle.

Standing atop a Spanish gun and proudly waving a British flag, a sailor wears a patterned bandanna around his head, a black neckcloth at his collar, a single breasted waistcoat with cloth buttons ending at the waist, and an unlined jacket. His trousers are vertically striped. 

The gallant sailor at the front, offering a sword to his enemy, wears a round hat with a very short brim. His neckcloth is striped. Our hero wears a double breasted, lined jacket with slash cuffs. The waistcoat is double breasted, ending at his white slops with their broad fall fly. We get a peek at his breeches beneath, and see that they are fastened with laces! It's not often we see sailor's breeches, much less a good view of how they are closed. White stockings lead down to the pointed toe shoes with oval buckles.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Press Gang, 1770


The Press Gang, artist unknown, 1770, Walpole Library.

Political cartoons depicting press gangs often include women interjecting. Unlike one of the previous posts here, this one is an appeal to emotion. Crying women throw themselves at the foot of the officer, while children cling to their mother. Their father, an artisan in his apron, is being shuffled away by the sailors to their left.


All of the sailors wear cocked hats, with two of them wearing them backward, and the rest wearing them cocked forward or over the right eye. All of them have short hair, with one of them (the one immediately to the left of the officer) wearing side curls. The sailors all wear single breasted jackets without collars or waist pockets ending at the waist. Their neckcloths are solid colors. The trousers end above the ankle, and it appears that they are wearing white stockings. The shoes are pointed toe, but there is no detail on the buckles.

A Landstorm, or Jack Tars out of their Element, 1785


A Landstorm, or Jack Tars out of their Element, 1785, Royal Collection Trust.

There are a good number of satirical prints involving sailors trying to ride horses. Part of the stereotypes of sailors is that they were entirely inept at anything even remotely equestrian. This stereotype has resonated through the years, even appearing in popular fiction of the age of sail, like the Horatio Hornblower and Aubrey-Maturin series. We'll see more of these images in future posts!

The sailor in the center is being bucked off off his white horse. Flying away from him is his black round hat with a moderately sized brim. His blue short coat has slash cuffs and cloth covered buttons. His neckcloth is a light red solid color. The trousers are brown, and end above the ankle, revealing white stockings and pointed toe shoes.

Behind him on a brown horse is his shipmate dressed in precisely the same slop clothes. Ahead of them on a carriage flying off the road is another tar with his lady, both of whom are about to be thrown. His jacket is also blue, and his trousers are white. Two out of the three jacks carry cudgels.

Poor Jack, 1790-91


Poor Jack, Charles Dibdin, 1790-1791, British Museum.

Jack stands on a rocky shore, looking terribly dapper and gesturing toward a cherub in the heavens. Beyond the outcroppings lie a pair of ships with their yards askew (probably unintentional on the part of the artist).


As far as sailor's slop clothes go, Jack is really turned out! His hat is a tall round hat, almost the shape of a coachman's hat. Jack's untamed hair is long and flowing down past his shoulders. The white collar of his shirt is folded neatly over his purple-red neckcloth, which both rests on his shoulder and is tucked into his waistcoat. His waistcoat is double breasted with cloth covered buttons, yellow with narrow vertical red stripes. It may be noteworthy how many waistcoats in depictions of sailors are combinations of yellow and red stripes.

His jacket ends just below the waist and is a double breasted piece with white metal buttons. There are no pockets, it is unlined, and he wears the familiar slash cuffs.

His slops end just below the knee, and a powder blue bow and fob protrudes from beneath his waistcoat. Fobs, often indicating watches, are not common in depictions of sailors.

His stockings are a light blue with some white touches. Perhaps they are clocked? They lead into pointed toe shoes with oval paste buckles.

The title may declare Jack to be poor, but looking at his clothes I'd say he was doing rather well.

Paul Jones Shooting a Sailor who had Attempted to Strike his Colours in an Engagement, 1779


Paul Jones shooting a Sailor who had attempted to strike his Colours in an Engagement, Carington Bowles from John Collet, 1779, British Museum.

This is taken from an incident during the famous battle between the Bonhomme Richard and Serapis, in which John Paul Jones confronted two officers who believed that Jones had been killed and called for quarter from the Serapis. Jones shouted, "Who are those rascals? Shoot them! Kill them!" Jones drew a pistol on them, but it had already been emptied at the British sailors on the Serapis, and so he threw it at one of the officers, knocking the man out cold. The image of Jones (clad in Scottish regalia) shooting a sailor in the face for striking the colors is obviously exaggerated.[1]

Even so, we get a good number of sailors in this image, and plenty of sailor clothes to go around!


The sailor being murdered wears no hat at all, but short cut hair. His neckcloth is blue spotted with blue and yellow, a short jacket of brownish-yellow that ends at the waist with no vents, and brass buttons on his cuff. His trousers are stripped in red.

Beneath him (looking rather shocked at the crime), a tar wears a a bandanna of blue spotted with white and yellow. His neckcloth is a light reddish-orange, which helps to conceal some of the blood pouring profusely from his head. His blue short jacket is without a collar and single breasted with brass buttons on both his lapel and cuff. His slops are white, and he wears stripped stockings! It could be that this is more common than we think, though it doesn't show up very often in illustrations. His shoes are rounded toe with rectangular white metal buckles.

Behind Jones and to the left is a sailor praying for mercy with clasped hands. He wears a short cap, possibly a longer "voyageur" style cap, but more likely a Dutch/Monmouth knit cap. His jacket is a light green, with slash cuffs and cloth covered buttons. The neckcloth is yellow, and his trousers or slops (it's impossible to tell) are off-white.


Beneath Jones' foot is a dead sailor with somewhat longer hair, though little more than shoulder length. His shirt (or waistcoat, the details are sparse) is white, and his short jacket is brown with white metal buttons.

Behind Jones is a bald mariner, mopping up the blood from his head wound with his purple and spotted yellow neckcloth. His shirt is white and plaid in blue, and his trousers are striped with vertical red lines. his shoes are rounded toe with rectangular white metal buckles.


Behind him, looking saddened, is a sailor (possibly an officer) clasping a short cutlass or long dirk. His hat is a round hat with the brim turned up on each side, and a few horizontal lines that I can't quite place. The hair protruding beneath is fairly short, and blowing in the breeze. His jacket is a lighter blue, ending below the waist and lined in white. The jacket buttons are brass on both the lapel and the cuffs. His neckcloth is black and tucked into his waistcoat like a cravat. The waistcoat itself is yellow with red horizontal stripes and cloth covered buttons, ending at the waist. His trousers end well above the ankle, and the fly is broad fall with cloth covered buttons.

Behind him, and looking quite perturbed, is yet another Jack. This one wears a Dutch/Monmouth knit cap, green neckcloth, and a purple unlined jacket.

Between them is a final figure, but we only see his head and black or dark blue knit cap.

It's quite a chaotic piece of propaganda, and remarkably colorful.

I should note that I've been avoiding examining officers clothing, so I'm not spending much time on Jones' outfit. Evan Thomas states that Jones despised the Continental Navy uniform and usually wore something closer to the British naval uniform in battle: blue uniform boat, white breeches, and white waistcoat. Almost certainly he didn't wear anything like that shown in this print during the famous battle.

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[1] John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy, by Evan Thomas, Simon and Schuster: 2003, pg 191

National Discourse, 1780


"National Discourse," artist unknown but possibly James Gillray, 1780, National Portrait Gallery.

Beside the outwardly hostile expression, our Jack also wears a round hat with an upturned short brim, decorated with a blue bow on the left side. The bow, which has made appearances in other pieces (especially those by Carington Bowles) may have been a common feature on the shore going clothes of tars in the late 1770s and into the 1780s, but we'll have to examine some more illustrations before we say anything definitive about that.


His hair notably short, even more so than most portrayals of sailors. The neckcloth hides his collar, and is of a yellow and red plaid fabric.

His short jacket appears to be without a collar (though it's difficult to tell beneath his neckcloth). We can say for certain it has no waist pockets, ends at the waist, and has slash cuffs that are buttoned. Both the cuffs and his front, which is double breasted, are held by yellow metal buttons. Gillray seems to have changed his mind about what kind of cuffs the sailor would have, as one side is cut differently than the other.

His slops are an off-white with a broad fall, held by what appears to be cloth covered buttons. They are very wide, and end below the knee. His stockings are a white or very light blue, ending at pointed toed shoes with rectangular white metal buttons.