Saturday, February 28, 2015

An Adventure in Determining Dates

"A South-West View of the City of New York in North America," printed by Bowles and Carver, engraved by J. Carwithaim, date unknown, Yale Center for British Art.

Catalog entries should always be approached with caution. The Yale Center for British Art includes a perfeclty legitimate disclaimer with every one of their online entries:
This record was created from historic documentation and may not reflect the Center's complete or current knowledge about the object. The review and updating of historic records is ongoing.
This is entirely understandable. I shudder to think of my (as yet) unedited earlier entries in this blog that reflect my knowledge at the time!

Museums and galleries include disclaimers like this one for instances just like this. The piece is undated in the Yale catalog entry, but the engraver is said to be active between 1720-1740. The image of the ship and boats do not contradict this, but there is one major flaw with placing this engraving so early in the century.

While this clearly American flag works against the 1720-1740 date, it certainly cannot disprove it on its own. The American flag is hastily painted, and clearly added by a colorist, not by the engraver. The canton bears only eleven stars, and these are not carefully placed. The canton also overwhelms the space between the flag and the pole, coming off as haphazard at best. We could easily interpret this piece as one retouched later to reflect American independence.

Still, it is worth digging a bit deeper when you come across red flags (so to speak).

Over at the blog StevenWarRan Research, blogger Stephen Welch has gathered and chronologically organized a slew of prints and paintings of New York, as laid out in an 1897 work on just such a topic. As transcribed, this earlier work places the print around 1780:
This is the most picturesque of all the larger views of New York which still exhibit the fort. The print is to be found both plain and colored. A companion picture by the same engraver, and issued by the same publisher, is entitled: "A Southeast View of the City of Boston in North America."
Do we trust this source? A nineteenth century book transcribed on a blog that regularly posts about government mind control as laid out in Yahoo Groups and other kooky conspiracy theories? Crazy as this guy is, he does post a helpful direct link to the book on the much, much, much more reliable Internet Archive.

This proves his transcription is accurate, and the image is shown with a British flag over new York, not the American one added to the Yale British Art collection.

Following the hint in the above book about the accompanying print of Boston, we find it in the Yale Center for British Art (also undated) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met gives us our first definitive date: 1736. In the same collection we find another print of the South-East View of New York, dated to between 1725-1740.

Our journey doesn't end there! Bowles & Carver, as a business, is distinct from Carrington Bowles. The partnership of Bowles & Carver existed from 1793-1832

The conclusion is unsatisfying: the image itself was created too early for our study, and the specific print above was printed too late.

What it does tell us is that the perception of sailors clothing had changed relatively little over time. Oarsmen dressed in colorful jackets and jockey caps in the first half of the century were close enough to those of the end of the century to be stand-ins.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Robinson Crusoe and the Crew Escaping from the Wreck in the Long Boat, 1783

"Robinson Crusoe and the Crew escaping from the Wreck in the long Boat," printed by Carrington Bowles, 1783, Yale Center for British Art.

Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe is the fictional tale of a seaman marooned on a South American island, where he struggles to survive his isolation until an eventual rescue brings him back to civilization. It's a novel with incredible staying power, so much so that Hollywood occasionally feels the need to drag it from the shelf and give it a sound beating every few years.

Just as modern producers ride the coattails of Defoe's 1719 novel, so too did eighteenth century printers. In this case, Bowles gives us the moment when Crusoe is cast adrift on his first voyage. A storm has wrecked the vessel, and the crew have piled into the boat to make their escape. Not taking the hint from fate, Crusoe would later be enslaved by pirates, rescued, engages in a slaving voyage himself, and is finally marooned.

This image, from "Twelve Prints representing the Surprising Event in the Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe," depicts his first harrowing escape.

Clustered in the bow are the oarsmen. Three of them wear round hats with narrow brims and rounded crowns, while a third is hatless. All of them wear dark jackets, and at least two wear dark neckcloth. The hatless tar's neckcloth is draped over the back of his jacket, in a fashion we've seen before.

At the stern, the coxswain directs his sailors over the heads of distressed passengers.

The cox is hatless, and his short hair is being pushed back by the wind, as is his dark neckcloth. His jacket (or possibly coat) is buttoned across his chest. The cuffs of his jacket are folded back, but with a slit in them not unlike a mariners' cuff.

Defoe captures this entire scene in a few short paragraphs. This leaves a lot of speculation for the printers as to the arrangement of the boats and who would be where. For this reason, and given the way the coat is buttoned over, I think the cox is the ship's master.

Our only hint as to Crusoe's place on the boat comes from his remark, "the men yet labouring at the oar to bring the boat near the shore." Knowing his detachment from "the men," the distress of the situation ("my heart was, as it were, dead within me, partly with fright, partly with horror of mind, and the thoughts of what was yet before me"), and the central place of this figure in the composition, I think it more than likely that this is Crusoe:

Typical landsman! Turned back cuffs, what appears to be a long coat, and a white cravat. Not a hint of the sailor's slops on him!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ship on Fire at Night, c.1756

Ship on Fire at Night, Charles Brooking, 1756, Yale Center for British Art.

The eponymous ship on fire is a big one. She's lost her main and her mizzen top. Fire is already pouring out of her gunports. Given the fighting tops and the impressive rows of gunports, the vessel was probably built as a warship. There is no guarantee that she is a warship. Men of war were often sold and converted into merchantmen at the conclusion of a conflict, or if they were dimmed unfit for the naval service.

Whether she is a warship or a merchantman, she certainly won't be doing anybody any good from here on. The conflagration is consuming her quickly. Despite the danger, her crew are doing their best to unload the cargo. 

It could be that they are trying to avoid an explosion. Fires at sea could easily spread to a magazine and destroy the vessel, sparking more fires on neighboring craft. 

Or perhaps the crew are trying to ensure their livelihood. As Marcus Rediker writes in his excellent book Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea:
Sailors whose vessels sank or were severely damaged by the elements frequently claimed salvage rights as defined by vice-admiralty courts. Salvage law tried to mediate the interests of owner and seaman by requiring the sailor to save all possible cargo and equipment in order to be eligible for wages after the sale of such goods. Seafarers often "w[i]th Great diligence & pains saved all of the greatest part of the Cargo" of their damaged ship, and they always seemed to know when salvage was "much more than sufficient to pay all the Wages due to all the Mariners."
Whether these tars are motivated by fear of a greater catastrophe, or by a fear of going without pay, they are certainly working with "Great diligence."

Illuminated by the fire and its reflection off the rippling waters, these tapawlins unload a small boat and haul the goods up the beach. They all wear round hats with narrow, upturned brims; jackets that end about the waist in blue, red, and possibly brown; and breeches.

A couple of their mates shoulder their loads past a beached cutter, with astonished gentlemen looking beyond them to the blaze. At the far left of this detail, another returns to the boat after depositing his load.

The returning sailor might be wearing a smock, if not for the narrow cutaway at its center front hem. More likely, this is a sleeved waistcoat or single breasted jacket. He wears either a knit cap, beaver cap, or round hat, but the detail is too obscure to be sure. What we can say with more certainty is that he wears a pair of petticoat trousers that end just below the knee over black stockings.

His mates wear jackets and dark breeches, with grey or white stockings.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Battle of Ouessan, 1790

The Battle of Ouessan, James Gillray, 1790, Walpole Library.

1778 saw the first major engagement between the British and French fleets in the American Revolutionary War. The indecisive First Battle of Ushant was a disaster for both sides. In a previous entry I explored what that meant for the British, with the fallout between admirals Keppel and Palliser and their respective political parties. This piece by Gillray is from the French perspective...of sorts. The central figure is Louis-Philippe Joseph, the duc de Orleans. In the wake of a confused line of battle, Joseph sheered away from the fight. This was bad enough, but the duc got permission to carry news of the battle back to Paris, arbitrarily declaring it a victory and he himself the chief victor. After a brief time in the spotlight, Joseph was ridiculed throughout the nation. In Gillray's piece, a full twelve years later, the ridicule continues from across the Channel. In three more years, Joesph died in ignominy at the guillotine.

Being as the duc is fleeing "upon the beginning of the Engagement," none of the figures on deck represent British tars. We do, however, get one intrepid British sailor in the image. While Joseph's ship presents is stern to the broadside of a British man of war, we can see its glorious red ensign above the smoke, and her beautifully ornate stern. Here he is, climbing the mizzen shrouds:

The sailor wears a black round hat and sky blue jacket ending at the waist. His trousers are red and white striped, just like those of his French counterparts on the fleeing ship.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Continental Navy Week - Commodore John Paul Jones, c.1779

"John Paul Jones, commodore au service des Etats-Unis de l'Amérique," engraved by Carl Gutenberg from a drawing by C.J. Notté, c.1779, Wikimedia Commons retouched detail from Library of Congress original.

I started this week with Jones in a dashing (non-regulation) dress uniform following the Battle of Flamborough Head. Notté chose to show Jones in the thick of the fight. His face is cool and determined while he calmly reaches for a pistol, all while the Bonhomme Richard disintegrates around him. Not even the rattle of his marines' musketry a feet away startles Jones.

Jones hair is loose and short, hanging in curls that barely reach his neck. His hat is untrimmed and wide, worn in the French style. A large silk cockade is affixed to the left side, just as the point of his hat is over the left eye. A white cravat is carefully tied around his neck.

Jones' jacket is single breasted with lapel flaps open at the top. His jacket has simple mariners' cuffs, and lacks any of the trappings of Jones' fancier uniforms. At his waist is a row of pistols tucked into the waistband of his slops/petticoat trousers.

Without the epaulets or gold lace he was so fond of, Jones would be ready to rumble in a set of slop clothes like these!

Thank you for joining me in my journey through the uniforms of the Continental Navy. There are more images out there. Charles Willson Peale painted portraits of captains Nicholas Biddle and Joshua Barney in their Continental Navy uniforms, for example. I encourage you to make this a study yourself, and dig up what you can on this fascinating and short lived organization.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Continental Navy Week - Captain Gustavus Conyngham, date unknown

Captain Gustavus Conyngham miniature, artist unknown, date unknown, US Naval Historical Center.

The Dunkirk Pirate returns! Conyngham was featured on this blog some time ago. That French depiction of Conyngham may have been colored by his checkered resume. After a wildly successful cruise against the British merchant fleet (and a few neutral vessels), Conyngham was chastised by Congress for his flagrant disregard for orders forbidding taking neutral vessels carrying British cargoes.

This portrait, taken from a miniature of Conyngham, is scant in details. He wears no hat, and appears to sport a bob wig and queue. Conyngham's short white shirt collar is folded over his white cravat. His coat is without collar, and has a white lapel lined with gold lace. Dark metallic buttons are sewn in as well.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Continental Navy Week - Captain Matthew Parke, date unknown

Continental Marine Captain Matthew Parke, artist unknown, date unknown, FourScore.

Continental Navy portraits are difficult to come across. Continental Marine portraits are almost nonexistant. That is what makes this miniature so valuable. The miniature portrait above is part of a matched set depicting Captain Matthew Parke and his wife.

As one of the very first marine officers, Parke served alongside Jones aboard the ship Ranger during its highly successful cruise in British home waters, as well as witnessing the Battle of Flamborough Head from aboard the frigate Alliance. He was later rebuked for insubordination, but is still remembered today by Marines for his courage and place among the founders of the Corps.

 The same day that the Continental Navy's uniform was detailed by the Marine Committee, the Continental Marines received their uniforms. Green coats with white facings were accompanied by a set of white small clothes and tall leather collar to protect the neck from edged weapons.

Parke wears a uniform in line with those regulations. his white collar is buttoned town onto his lapels with large silver buttons, which are spaced evenly. He wears a tall white cravat that peeks out of his single breasted white waistcoat, with its smaller silver buttons. On his visible right shoulder is a silver epaulet.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Continental Navy Week - Commodore Abraham Whipple, date unknown

Commodore Abraham Whipple, Edward Savage, date unknown, US Naval Academy Museum.

Whipple led naval attacks on the British before there was ever an American navy, much less even a ware. It was he that led the attack on the Gaspee in 1772, in which a Royal Navy officer was shot and the Gaspee burned to the waterline. Whipple's dedication to fighting the British at sea lasted throughout the Revolutionary War. Among his exploits was the phenomenal capture of eleven ships of a British convoy, valued at over one million dollars.

Befitting his success and rank, Whipple wears an impressive uniform.

A large untrimmed cocked hat turned over his right eye is black and bears a large black cockade. His jacket has a short standing collar with a small square of red at the front, over which sits a medium sized brass button. Along his untrimmed red lapels are large brass buttons as well, though he is missing one on the lower left. Scalloped mariners' cuffs, as we've seen on numerous uniforms this week, rest over red cuffs. Unlike those worn by other Continental Navy officers, his mariners' cuffs have only two large buttons, with one offset on the red cuff.There are matching buttons at the pockets hanging low on his coat, which is lined in pink silk.

His waistcoat is something to behold. Bright red and single breasted, it is piped in a fine, wide gold trim, doubly so around the flap pockets at his waist. All along the waistcoat and pockets are small brass or gold buttons. His blue breeches match the color of his coat, and have a long line of gold or brass buttons running up from the gold lace beneath his knee. White stockings, giving the sheen of silk, run to black shoes with silver rectangular buckles. Peeking beneath the hem of his waistcoat is a watch fob, joined by a ceremonial sword on his left hip and a glass in his hand to accessorize the stunning uniform.

Of all the officers featured on Continental Navy Week, Hopkins may take the prize for best dressed!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Continental Navy Week - Captain James Josiah, 1787

Captain James Josiah, Charles Wilson Peale, 1787, Antiques and Fine Art Magazine.

The Continental Navy was quickly overshadowed by the resounding success of privateers during the American Revolutionary War. James Josiah partook in that success with his sloop Washington, after a time as a lieutenant and later captain in the Continental Navy. During his service, Josiah was captured by the British and horribly mistreated aboard the frigate Cerberus, giving him a thirst for revenge that motivated both his naval and privateering careers.

This painting was done well after Josiah's service in the war. He is bound away for China in 1787, and poses in the cabin of his merchant brig St. Croix Packet. Still, he chose to be portrayed in his Continental Navy uniform, a sign of his pride in the service.

Josiah's coat has a short standing collar lined with gold, and fitted with a small button on a red field. This matches the hue of his gold piped waistcoat, as well as the facings of his coat. The wide buttons on his plain lapels are evenly spaced and without lace. At his neck is a white cravat which appears to match the delicate material that makes up his frilled shirt cuffs. A final touch befitting any captain are the scalloped mariner's cuffs that reach over the red cuffs of his coat sleeves.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Continental Navy Week - Commodore Esek Hopkins, 1781, 1776

"Commodore Hopkins, Commandeur en Chef der Amri. Flotte.," Thomas Hart, 1781, Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection.

Esek Hopkins is an interesting figure. A successful merchant captain before the war, Hopkins was also an adept privateer during the French and Indian War. Given his past experience, it is not surprising that Congress granted him command of the first American naval squadron. He led the successful invasion of Nassau, but was humiliated when the 20 gun Glasgow outmaneuvered his seven warships, disabling two Continental Navy vessels. The fight was so disorganized that the Continentals hit each other in the fray.

Hopkins was later censured by Congress for his failure to follow orders, which may not have been all that realistic anyway. The rest of his naval career was spent blockaded by a British squadron, and he was removed from command in 1778.

Thomas Hart printed two renditions of Commodore Hopkins, one was a colorized bust in an oval frame, the other this piece. Both are based off of a portrait done by Wilkinson. The 1781 version has a less crowded background and is closer to a full body image. You can see the earlier colorized version (which incorrectly identifies its subject as "admiral") here.

Hopkins wears a cocked hat turned over his left eye, lined with silk tape and bearing a large cockade. His shirt collar is folded just above the black cravat at his neck, which peeks out of the plain single breasted waistcoat with its domed buttons. His coat is without collar and fitted with evenly spaced plain domed buttons down his lapels.

The lapel on his right side is buttoned to the coat, but his left is unbuttoned. His waistcoat has flap pockets at the waist. Plain dark breeches of the same hue as his jacket finish off his uniform, if it may be so called.

Hopkins' pose and uniform match that of the 1776 piece by Wilkinson.

We can probably apply the color of the uniform from this piece to the print: a dark blue jacket with light red lapels and brass buttons that match those on his pale red waistcoat. His hat is lined in gold tape, and the bow appears to be silk.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Continental Navy Week - Captain John Paul Jones, 1780

"Capt. John Paul Jones, Commander of a Squadron of Ships in the Service of France and America," printed by Sayer and Bennett, 1780, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Easily the most famous of all Continental Navy officers in the American Revolutionary War, John Paul Jones is the subject of many books (both fictional and true) and one surprisingly boring movie. His exploits are the stuff of legend, but the most famous of his victories is that of his Bonhomme Richard over the British 44 gun Serapis. With his ship almost literally sinking beneath him, Jones pounded the Serapis into submission. The famous Battle of Flamborough Head (along with the possibly mythical line "I have no yet begun to fight") have resounded through the centuries. It is presumably this battle that is depicted in the background of Jones' portrait.

Interestingly, this print was made during the war with America, and printed by Sayer and Bennett: two very successful printers in London. One has to wonder what their audience thought of the dashing figure that had confounded their Royal Navy in home waters.

Aside from Jones' skills as a mariner and courage as a fighter, it can be also said that he was a clothes horse. This uniform does not conform to Continental Navy regulations. On September 5, 1776, the Marine Committee declared that officers should wear blue breeches, a blue coat with red facings, with a red waistcoat.

In February of the following year, Jones and other captains offered an alternative uniform of white small clothes and a blue coat with white facings. This recommendation was adopted by committee, but not by Congress.

Jones went on wearing his own uniform anyway, among several other styles.

In this portrait (supposedly taken from an original painted in Amsterdam), Jones wears a black cocked hat with a large cockade bound in gold and held by a gold button. His large epaulets are also gold, matching the lace around doubled gold buttons that run down his white lapels. The buttons are each engraved with an anchor. A large white cravat peeks from between his lapels, contrasting the small black bow around his queue. 

Jones' short lapels end just above the natural waist, but the buttons and lace continue below there. A long, blue scalloped cuff runs from just below the elbow to the frilled cuffs of his shirtsleeves, running over the white cuffs of his coat. Along the scalloped cuff are four buttons with lace. His small clothes appear to be white silk (judging by the shading), and are fit with smaller gold buttons which appear to be plain domed.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Continental Navy Week!

Starting on Monday, I'm going to do something a bit different here.

"The Battle of Flamborough Head," Nicholas Pocock, 1779, National Museum of the Royal Navy.

The explicit focus of this blog is to explore the common sailors of the decades before the French Revolution. I tend to avoid officers and masters unless what they are wearing says something about the dress of common sailors.

While I'm searching for more images of common sailors in primary source images, I'm going to deviate for a bit and explore the officers of the Continental Navy. The short lived maritime force left a long legacy, even if the actual impact on the outcome of the American Revolutionary War was not a strong one. Perhaps later I'll do a week on the privateers of the period...

Come Monday, visit us each day for a different officer of the Continental Navy: John Paul Jones, Gustavus Conyngham, marine Matthew Parke, and others!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Firing a Salute, 1770

"Firing a Salute," Dominic Serres, 1770, Yale Center for British Art.

The focus of this piece is the lateen rigged warship in the left of the frame, which fires the titular salute. Our focus is on that of the men gathered around the sloops huddled to the right.

If I were to guess, I would wager that the men in the boats are fishermen. They all wear short brimmed round hats or caps, and most are in shirtsleeves. It appears that a few wear jackets or coats, but the only lower garment in view is that worn by the fellow wading in the shallow water.

Along with his short brimmed hat and plain shirt, it appears that he wears a waistcoat tucked into his breeches. Either that or Serres has exaggerated the lines of his shirt's armscye. The man does not wears slops nor trousers, but a pair of plain, dark breeches.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

An English Frigate and Other Shipping in the Solent off Calshot Castle, date unknown

An English Frigate and Other Shipping in the Solent off Calshot Castle, John Cleveley the younger, date unknown, Yale Center for British Art.

Built in the days of Henry VII, Calshot Castle has long been home to the armed forces of Britain. Aside from its obvious role in the defense of the waters leading to Southampton, Calshot Castle was manned as recently as the 20th century, during which time it was used as an RAF base. Even by the time this painting was done, Calshot Castle was about two centuries old, but was serviceable enough to remain garrisoned.

 Lying under the guns of Calshot Castle and the bow of a small frigate, this sloop's crew guide her under a stiff breeze. At the stern, a man in a cocked hat (who may be the master) leans against the rail in his blue coat. Beside him and apparently conversing with him is a tar in a blue jacket with a brown cap. The helmsman at the tiller wears a long brown jacket and a round hat with a wide brim and tall crown. Amidships are three sailors in brown and black caps with short jackets in brown, blue, and white. The tar at the bow appears to be wearing a pair of yellow slops, but the details are too scant to be certain.