Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Canvas Hats

Authors and historians have long assumed that eighteenth century sailors wore tarpaulin hats to protect themselves from inclement weather at sea. It has become a trope repeated in academic works and popular culture alike, but one little explored.

A sailor from HBO's miniseries
John Adams

The tarpaulin hats we tend to think of are made of straw and coated in a weather proof seal of black tar, pitch, or paint. Certainly these hats existed in the nineteenth century. I was lucky enough to hold Richard Henry Dana's straw tarpaulin hat that he wore during the events related in the 1830's memoir Two Years Before the Mast, now in the collection of Mystic Seaport.

Richard Henry Dana's straw tarpaulin hat, Mystic Seaport Collection

Straw hats like Dana's are uncommon in eighteenth century artistic depictions and not often mentioned in period sources. I only know of one visual representation, and that at the very tail end of my era of interest. Hats made entirely out of canvas, in both the eighteenth and nineteenth century, are unheard of.

The earliest reference I have yet found to canvas and tar in the construction of a hat is from The New York Mercury in 1753, where an English servant, wearing clothes that are at least reminiscent of slop clothes, ran away with 'an old felt hat, with the edge bound in tarr'd canvas.'

The New York Mercury, October 8, 1753, page 4
As mentioned by Lawrence Babits and Matthew Brenckle in the 'Sailor Clothing' chapter of The General Carleton Shipwreck, 1785, in 1779 a sailor named John Atwood deserted from the Continental Navy in France. Atwood was wearing 'a blue Jacket, a pair of trousers & a Hat Covered with Canvas.'[1]

The practice of sewing a cover onto a round hat was not strictly restricted to sailors. An Irish servant in London wore a 'round Hat covered in Oil-skin.'
The Public Advertiser, October 18, 1765, page 3.
The one surviving example of a canvas covered felt hat was recovered from the General Carleton shipwreck that went down in 1785. Notably, the hat is coated in tar.

Figure 4, photo by B. Galus in General Carleton Shipwreck 1785, page 178
Conservation on the hat was inelegant, and modern elements are visible in this photograph

A runaway advertisement placed in the Federal Gazette and Philadelphia Evening Post in 1789 for a 'sailor boy' mentioned that he was wearing 'a hat cover'd with canvass.'

Federal Gazette and Philadelphia Evening Post, June 24, 1789 page 3

Earlier that same year, an advertisement was placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette for a Spanish sailor who had escaped jail, and was said to be wearing 'a round sailor's hat, covered with black oil cloth.' The rest of his clothing is highly unusual, and so it may well be that this hat is because of his Spanish maritime tradition, not British.

The Pennsylvania Gazette, January 14, 1789, page 3

What was the purpose of the canvas hat? The obvious assumption is for weatherproofing. Canvas sewn onto felt could prevent the felt from absorbing moisture. This would be doubly true of a hat covered with oil cloth. It is often asserted that this is where the name Jack Tar springs from.

Tar is ubiquitous on sailing ships and undeniably sailors were referred to as tars. It even forms the name of this blog. But tar need not come from hats alone. There are numerous runaway advertisements that refer to sailors with clothing covered in tar. Was this intentionally applied for waterproofing, or was it just the result of working on a ship?

Adam Hodges-LeClaire's tar stained petticoat trousers
after L'Hermione's 2015 Atlantic voyage

Visual representations of sailor clothing (the focus of this blog) are too vague and indeterminate to draw any conclusions on the material of hats, but the documentary record for canvas hats is sparse, and silent on intentionally tarring hats.

Though the General Carleton hat was covered in tar, the ship's cargo included tar, which came apart after she sank and coated the artifacts that survive. Matthew Brenckle later told me "It is difficult to say if that was placed there before the wreck or not. I tend to think that that reason the runaway descriptions mentioned hats covered in canvas is that the canvas was left white, and was therefore distinctive." He also had this to say:
In reviewing my notes and looking at the photos I took in Poland, it is clear that the canvas was applied to the hat in an attempt to prolong the life of what was a really beat up piece of clothing.  The brim and crown had significant sections missing- the period repairs or attempts to stabilize it are clearly visible on the underside of the brim.
In short, tarpaulin hats, as such, have virtually no documentary evidence. Hats covered in canvas, likely to prolong the life of those hats, have some support, but are still rather rare. Felt hats and various kinds of caps are overwhelming supported by documentary evidence, and clearly formed the vast majority of sailors' head wear.

[1] The 1911 transcription of The Logs of the Serapis - Alliance - Ariel Under the Command of John Paul Jones, 1779-1780 states that John Atwood joined the crew of the Bon Homme Richard on April 6, 1779 at Paimbœuf in western France, and deserted on July 6 in L'Orient. His freedom wasn't long lived. A calendar of John Paul Jones manuscripts in the Library of Congress, published in 1903, states that he was court-martialed on July 29, 1779 and found guilty of desertion. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Dover, date unknown

Dover, Richard Houston, 1747-1775, British Museum.

Richard Hinton's professional career began around 1747, thus the narrowed date that I have ascribed to this piece. In this, he portrays a ship under sail by the white cliffs of Dover. Boats scurry to and fro all about the warship, and are populated by sailors and oarsmen.

These men are uniformly dressed in round hats and barge caps, along with their close fitting jackets.

While it is difficult to make out the figures on the ship of the line, I can make out a pair on the foc'slehead wearing trousers.

On this boat they wear barge caps of the jockey style, while the coxswain gestures with some sort of stick or short boathook.

Also dressed in trousers and jackets, the fellows manning this sloop appear to be wearing cocked hats.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Sailor's Life for Me - This Weekend!

Join me this weekend, along with dozens of other interpreters, to explore maritime history. The Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes, Delaware is hosting a unique event in which costumed volunteer demonstrate centuries of oceanic culture: A Sailor's Life for Me.

Volunteers will be on hand in the dress of sailors and marines throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. Whether it was the British Royal Navy in the Sudan, US Marines fighting Japan in the Pacific, or Napoleonic era tallship sailors, you'll find something to interest you.

I will turn out with a friend or two to demonstrate the history of latitudinal navigation through the invention of the sextant, and the practice of dead reckoning. Stop on by and say hello!

Monday, May 22, 2017

A View of Christmas Harbour, 1784

A View of Christmas Harbour in Kerguelen's Island, engraved by Newton after John Webber, 1784, Davidson Galleries.

Thanks once more to Adam Hodges-LeClaire for pointing this out to me!

The harbor seen here was originally drawn by John Webber over the week of Christmas in 1776. Webber was accompanying the famous explorer Captain James Cook on the Discovery and Resolution. Cook wrote in his journal on December 24:
I immidiately dispatched Mr [William] Bligh the Master in a boat to Sound the Harbour, who on his return reported it to be safe and commodious with good anchorage in every part, and great plenty of fresh water, Seals, Penguins and other birds on the shore but not a stick of Wood.
Webber's original drawing, in the collection of the British Library, shows a slightly different scene. The penguins are still milling about, but there is no club bearing sailor come to hunt them. Two are already dead by his feet. It is unclear why the sailor was later added, and who put him in there. Perhaps he was drawn to add some action to an otherwise rather static scene. There is another version, colorized, in the collection of the State Library of New South Wales, that includes the club carrying sailor.

Our tar wears a cap or round hat with very short brim. His jacket (blue in the State Library of NSW version) runs to the natural waist, and his plain white trousers with side seam pockets end at about the bottom of the calf, revealing his white stockings.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

English creamware jug transfer, c.1787

English creamware jug transfer 'Poor Jack,' artist unknown, c.1787, Online Galleries.

You can buy this one for yourself over at Online Galleries! It's an original double sided creamware jug with red transfer on both sides. The opposite side (not pictured here) is based on a Cleveley painting that made its appearance in 1787, thus the estimated date.

The artist of this piece uses the tried and true 'Sailor's Farewell' trope, depicting a well dressed mariner saying goodbye to his weeping love as a boat comes ashore to fetch him. The sailor at center points to an angel overhead in saying his goodbyes.

An oarsman in a dark jacket and plain waistcoat over trousers. Atop his head is a round hat with tall cylindrical crown and narrow brim.

Jack wears a similar round hat. At his neck is a narrow black neckcloth that hands over his single breasted waistcoat and a dark jacket with white lining. His trousers are plain white with a fall front.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Yarico, 1775 and 1780


Man sells a slave woman to another, Guillaume-Thomas-François Raynal, 1775, John Carter Brown Library Archive of Early American Images.

Un Anglais de la Barbade, vend sa Maitresse, Jean-Michel Moreau, 1780, John Carter Brown Library Archive of Early American Images.

These prints relate the story of Yarico.

First told in 1657 by Richard Ligon, the story is related on page 55 of his book A True & Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes. Yarico was an enslaved native woman who was held on the plantation where Ligon was staying, and gave him this story of her enslavement

This Indian dwelling near the Sea-coast, upon the Main, an English ship put in to a Bay, and sent some of her men a shoar, to try what victuals or water they could find, for in some distress they were: But the Indians perceiving them to go up so far into the Country, as they were sure they could not make a safe retreat, intercepted them in their return, and fell upon them, chasing them into a Wood, and being dispersed there, some were taken, and some kill'd: but a young man amongst them stragling from the rest, was met by this Indian Maid, who upon the first sight fell in love with him, and hid him close from her Countrymen (the Indians) in a Cave, and there fed him, till they could safely go down to the shoar, where the ship lay at anchor, expecting the return of their friends. But at last, seeing them upon the shoar, sent the long-Boat for them, took them aboard, and brougth them away. But the youth, when he came ashoar in the Barbadoes, forgot the kindness of the poor maid, that had ventured her life for his safety, and sold her for a slave, who was as free born as he: And so poor Yarico for her love, lost her liberty.
The story is a difficult one, and the kind that tugged on heartstrings in such a way that the image had some staying power. The March 13, 1711 edition of The Spectator included more details to this story, though these were probably fictional embellishments.

The Spectator, March 13, 1711, page 2
The unnamed young man is now an overly ambitious Thomas Inkle, whose love of money and advancement outpaced common human decency. Yarico tearfully begs not to be sold, especially as she is bearing his child. Instead of being moved, Inkle uses the pregnancy to demand a higher price from the purchaser.

Well more than a century after Ligon published Yarico's tale, it was still being told in Europe. The first two heart wrenching prints come from two different editions the same book, Histoire philosophique et politique des établissemens et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes, published in Geneva. In them, the artist relates the image of a sailor handing off a nearly naked woman, chained and collared, to a man with a bag of money. The image was so important to the publishers that both were the frontispiece for Volume 3.

In the first, the Inkle is only vaguely reminiscent of British sailors. He wears breeches, a frock coat, and waistcoat, with only the bob wig and neckcloth to give a hint of his occupation. The crowd of men in the background look horrified at the sight, and even the slaver buying Yarico looks a little disconcerted. The sailor lurches forward and clasps the merchant's purse, apparently the only person unmoved by the scene.

The second version is of a higher quality, and bears the title Un Anglais de la Barbade, vend sa Maitresse (An Englishman from Barbados, sells his Mistress). In this version, the crowd behind the merchant are still upset, and Yarico turns away from her former lover weeping. Unlike many historical prints of the time, this one shows the sailor in clothing reminiscent of a bygone era. The artist gives Inkle a round hat with short brim and conical crown as the only contemporary nod to his profession.

Importantly, this print shifts the narrative from Inkle being a heartless villain to a fool. He accepts the purse, but his eyes are fixed with apparent regret on Yarico. The merchant is the demanding one in this scene, pushing the purse into Inkle's chest with his mouth open around what can be interpreted as a demand.

This second version had a greater impact on the late eighteenth century mind. It was reproduced in lower quality, and blatantly copied (with an update to the figures' clothing) for years afterward. Perhaps this messier depiction of Inkle was what inspired the abolitionist opera Inkle and Yarico that premiered seven years later in London, and continued to be performed for decades. In this version, Inkle's regret plagues him, and he eventually recants his ways, sacrificing his life in an attempt to save Yarico after he has condemned her. Versions of it are still performed to this day.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Political Sparring, 1790

Political Sparring, Isaac Cruikshank, 1790, British Museum.

Cruikshank's political cartoon deals with a diplomatic spat in 1790 following the arrest of Captain Colnett by the Spanish. As described by the British Museum:
A satire on the affair of Nootka Sound...England had appealed to her ally the United Provinces, who (with Prussia) had admitted that Spain was the aggressor and had promised support. Spain had retaliated with an appeal to France under the Family Compact.
Cruikshank continues the political cartoon tradition of depicting Britain as a sailor: manful, strong, and violent. In this case, the sailor is referred to as "Mr. Bowling." After the success of Tobias Smollet's 1748 novel The Adventures of Roderick Random, the name Jack Tar was joined by Tom Bowling as a shorthand for British sailors.

Bowling clutches his forehead from where the Spaniard gave him a smack, but given the prostrate position of Spain, it looks as though Britain gave far more than he got.
D-n your paper Sconce who taught you to bow to a Gemmen you lubber you I'll tip you the Prince's bow at Elliots Ball
The curators at the British Museum state ''Elliot's Ball' is probably an allusion to the siege of Gibraltar,' from the American Revolutionary War, 'and possibly also to Hugh Elliot's mission to Paris to dissuade the French democrats from adhering to the Family Compact.'

Bowling wears a round hat with upturned narrow brim and tall cylindrical crown. Around his neck he wears a plain neckcloth, tucked into a single breasted waistcoat. His jacket ends just below the waist, with slit pockets. Bowling's mariners cuffs are buttoned closed and loose plain trousers run down to the ankle, where he wears pointed toe shoes with round buckles. In his left hand is a stick.

His shipmate looks on with approval, saying:
D-n my Eyes Jack, you've carried away his Top Gallant & made him mis stays & the Patter him for a Swab.
The sentence is a mishmash of nautical terms being used in a way that doesn't make a lot of sense, but is mean to mimic the common speech of sailors that, to the average Briton, was just as nonsensical as this.

Our sailors wears a round hat with a tall rounded crown and short upturned brim over what may be a bob wig. His plain neckcloth is wrapped around his neck like a scarf, draped over the collar of his single breasted jacket with its buttoned mariners cuffs. A single breasted waistcoat is short with a very narrow cutaway at the bottom, hanging over his petticoat trousers. As with Jack Bowling, this sailor carries a stick.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Robinson Crusoe, Plate III, 1781

Plate III to Robinson Crusoe, engraved by James Heath after Thomas Stothard for Novelists' Magazine, 1781, British Museum.

Early in Daniel Defoe's The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, the title character is captured in North Africa and held in bondage for two years. After gaining the trust of a young boy, Crusoe contrives an escape plan that involves tossing another over the side of their small fishing boat:
I stepped forward to where the Moor was, and making as if I stooped for something behind him, I took him by surprise with my arm under his waist, and tossed him clear overboard into the sea.  He rose immediately, for he swam like a cork, and called to me, begged to be taken in, told me he would go all over the world with me.  He swam so strong after the boat that he would have reached me very quickly, there being but little wind; upon which I stepped into the cabin, and fetching one of the fowling-pieces, I presented it at him, and told him I had done him no hurt, and if he would be quiet I would do him none. “But,” said I, “you swim well enough to reach to the shore, and the sea is calm; make the best of your way to shore, and I will do you no harm; but if you come near the boat I’ll shoot you through the head, for I am resolved to have my liberty;” so he turned himself about, and swam for the shore, and I make no doubt but he reached it with ease, for he was an excellent swimmer.

The catalog entry at the British Museum mistakenly attributes the figure in the water as Friday, the companion of Crusoe when he is later stranded on a desolate island. No such event as depicted here occurs with Friday.

Crusoe wears a Canadian cap (rather warm for the Mediterranean), a jacket with closed scalloped mariners cuffs and slit waist pockets. He also wears oddly striped trousers that gradually change from the cuffs to the waist horizontal to vertical. These trousers end about the middle of the calf.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A View of the Old England just arrived form a Cruise round the Globe, c.1762

A View of the Old England just arrived form a Cruise round the Globe, artist unknown, c.1762, British Museum.

The Seven Years War was a global conflict. Fought from the Philippines to Pennsylvania to India to Germany, it took Britain literally 'round the Globe.' In 1762, the war was drawing to a close with negotiations between Britain and France.

These negotiations, coming at a time when Britain was racking up profound and very public victories, drew a wave of criticism. The unknown artist of this cartoon portrays "the Old England" as a trim fighting ship, carrying duplicitous ministers who mislead their king. Most of the figures are gentlemen in suits and wigs, but a few are common tarpawlins.

At the bow, one sailor steps down the bowsprit over a figurehead of a lion with a crown. As a side note, this is the dominant figurehead style of the time for Royal Navy frigates. The sailor stepping down wears a jacket tucked into his breeches and a jockey style barge cap. His mate gestures towards him, who wears a smock or jacket with slit cuffs, a neckcloth, and cap.

Aloft in the tops on the mizzen is a third sailor. Bald headed and wearing a single breasted jacket tucked into his breeches, he holds a hat or cap in his left hand.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Fate of Palliser and Sandwich, 1779

The Fate of Palliser and Sandwich, artist unknown, 1779, British Museum.

Lord Sandwich (John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich) is a famously unpopular First Lord of the Admiralty. In fact, he was thrice First Lord, but his first two terms were undistinguished posts coming at the end of major conflicts, and he did nothing particularly noteworthy in either of those. Sandwich was more a statesman than a sailor, he allowed his policies to be influenced by domestic parliamentary concerns, rather than broad strategy.

Political infighting was also destined to mar the career of Hugh Palliser, who was accused for failing to engage the enemy at the Battle of Ushant because of his political disagreements with the popular Augustus Keppel.

The fallout from the Battle of Ushant drew political battlelines on the homefront of Britain in the American Revolutionary War, and the unknown artist of this piece has clearly taken Keppel's side. Palliser and Sandwich are hanging from a gallows, and Sandwich's bare breasted mistress sobs beneath his corpse.

Afloat, a group of sailors cheer and wave at the bodies, urged on by the horn of Neptune.

Around the banner flying at the stern is emblazzoned mergas profundo pulchrior evenit: "The world knows him, and knows nobody else in his place."

The oarsmen are all bareheaded, one of whom wears a bob wig. They all wear neckcloths and jackets that end about the top of the thigh. Those jackets that we can see are uniform in that they have scalloped mariners cuffs all of which are buttoned.

At the stern is a naval officer with a cocked hat, bob wig, and neckcloth that notably is draped over his back.

In the bow, a sailor waves his round hat, and we can clearly see the wide lapels of his double breasted jacket. He also wears no waistcoat, and we can see his shirt tucked into the band of his trousers or petticoat trousers.