Sunday, November 23, 2014

Navy Grey and Red


A little more than a month ago I was in London, shuttling between the National Archives and the British Library, tracking down some of the original documents used by G.E. Manwaring for his article, “The Dress of the British Seaman from the Revolution to the Peace of 1748,” published in 1924.[1]  


I first encountered this article almost 20 years ago in connection with research I was doing then on how English and American pirates of the late-17th and early-18th centuries actually dressed – more about that in a later posting.  Manwaring’s article not only answered most of my questions, but also offered two surprising (to me at least), pieces of information about early British naval dress.


One was that before blue and white became the signature colors of the Royal Navy (and later, the American), for several decades its men generally dressed in red and grey.  Even the officers, who could and did wear whatever they liked (their first uniforms weren’t authorized until 1748), seemed to prefer grey or red coats.


The other thing I learned was that even though the Royal Navy did not adopt an official uniform for its sailors until after the middle of the 19th century, by 1706 and perhaps earlier the “slop clothing” which was sold by the Admiralty to navy seamen was so well regulated and available on such easy credit, that they amounted to a uniform for the men serving below officer rank.


In contrast to later official documents, the list of slop clothing found in the Admiralty’s General Printed Instructions of 1690 is rather simple:[2]

Broadcloth coats £1
Broadcloth breeches 12/-
Kersey gowns £1
Monmouth caps 2/6
Red caps 1/1
Yarn stockings 3/-
Irish stockings 1/2
Blue shirts 3/6
Kersey waistcoats 7/-
Kersey breeches 6/-
Neat’s leather shoes 2/6
Blue neckcloths -/5
Canvas suits 5/-
Blue suits 5/-


But in a relatively few years, the lists of slop clothing became quite detailed and specific, giving not only the color and fabric of each garment but the number and material of the buttons, color of the buttonhole stitching and details such as the number of leather pockets.  In the 1706 slop clothing contract, the red and grey color scheme was laid out for the first time:

His Roy: Highness Prince

Wheras I am informed by the Principall Officers and Commissrs. of her Maj.s Navy that they have made a contract with Mr. _ Richard Harnage of London, bearing date the 3d: of Aprill last for furnishing the Seamen serveing in His Majties. Fleet, for the time to come, with Slop-Cloathes at the Prices hereafter mentioned viz:
     Shrunck Grey Kersey Jackett, Lin’d with Red Cotton, with fifteen Brass Buttons, and two Pockets of Linnen, the Button holes stich’d with Gold Colour Thread, att Tenn Shillings and Sixpence each.
     Waist Coat of Welsh Red plain unlin’d, with Eighteen Brass Buttons, the holes Stich’d with Gold Coloured Thread at Five Shillings and Sixpence each.
     Red Kersey Breeches lin’d with Linnen, with three Leather Pocketts, and thirteen white Tinn Buttons, the Button Holes stitched with white Thread, at the Rate of Five Shillings and Six pence each.
     Strip’d Shagg Breeches lin’d with Linnen, with three Leather Pocketts, and Fourteen white Tinn Buttons, the Button Holes stich’d with white Thread, at the Rate of Tenn Shillings and Sixpence each.
     Shirts of blew and white  Chequer’d Linnen, at the Rate of three Shillings and three pence each.
     Drawers of Ditto, at the Rate of Two Shillings and Three pence each.
     Leather Capps faced with Red Cotten, and lined with Black Linnen, at the Rate of One Shilling and two pence each.
     Small Leather Capps stich’d with white Thread, at the Rate of Eight pence each.
     Grey Woollen Stockings at the Rate of One Shilling and Nine pence @ Pair.
Grey Woollen Gloves or Mittens at the Rate of Sixpence per pair.
Double Sold Shoes, round Toes, at the Rate of Four Shillings per pair  
Brass Buckles with Iron Tongues at the Rate of Three Pence per pair . . .  

And Whereas the said Commissioners of the Navy have likewise on the 16th instant made a Contract with Mr. William Franklin of Wappen Stepeny Salesman, to furnish the Seamen serveing in Her Majties Shipps with other Slop Cloathes at the Prices following viz:
Strip’d Ticken Wast Coats of proper lengthes, to be one Yard in length at least, with Eighteen Black Buttons, the Holes Stitched with Black Thread lined with White linen and two White Linnen Pockets, at the Rate of Seven Shillings each.
Strip’d Ticken Breeches of proper lengthes, lined with white linen, and two linen Pockets, with Sixteen Black Buttons, the Button Holes stich’d with Black Thread, at the rate of five Shillings each . . .[3]


Manwaring points out that, from these lists, “it is clear that this Grey and Red clothing became virtually established as a uniform from the year 1706 until nearly the middle of the eighteenth century,”  and was worn in all of the principal actions of the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean, the West Indies and Gibraltar. 


It’s still not easy for me to think of the Royal Navy dressed in anything but “navy blue and white,” especially when I look at the black and white prints showing officers and seamen from this era.  But having seen most of the original documents that Manwaring cites in his study for myself, I not only assured myself that he had done his research well, but enjoyed actually touching and studying the stuff of history.[4]


*I’d like to thank David Fictum and Ed Fox for their willingness to help me track down these sources while I was in England, away from my files.

A. Page 129 of Admiralty, Out Letters, the manuscript copy of the 1706 slop clothing contract, National Archives, Kew.

B. This Player’s Cigarette card from c. 1930 shows a Royal Navy sailor in the red and grey clothing laid down in the 1706 slop clothing contract.  This is one of a series showing Royal Navy clothing from earliest times to the 20th century, and I believe was based on the research of G.E. Manwaring.  My thanks to Terry Hooker and the Military Historians Archives Unit on Facebook:  

C. Portrait of the English naval officer, Charles Wager by Godfrey Kneller, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.  Painted in 1710, perhaps to commemorate Wager’s command of an expedition to Jamaica where he intercepted the Spanish treasure fleet.  Wager is shown wearing a grey velvet coat. 

D. The two Royal Navy seamen shown in the frontispiece to Captain George St. Lo’s England’s Safety: or, a Bridle to the French King, 1693, may or may not be wearing the broadcloth coats, Irish stockings and neat’s leather shoes specified in the British Admiralty’s General Printed Instructions of 1690.  Their fur caps and checkered petticoat breeches are not mentioned, but can be seen as the kinds of garments that seamen could acquire and wear in addition to whatever slop clothing they purchased. A facsimile copy of this publication is available from Internet Archive:

E. Like the sailors in the frontispiece to England’s Safety (fig. D), "The British Hercules," (1737) shows some clothing mentioned in the slop clothing lists, including “Strip’d Ticken Wast Coats.”  His coat, too, may be imagined to be of “Shrunck Grey Kersey,” but his trousers and tricorn hat (worn backwards and cocked to one side) are not listed in the slop clothing lists of the era.  From Charles Napier Robinson,  The British Tar in Fact and Fiction (London and New York. Harper and Brothers, 1909).

F. "The British Sailors' Loyal Toast," 1738. From Robinson, The British Tar.

G. "The Sailor’s Return," by C. Mosley, c. 1740. From Robinson, The British Tar.

H. “At the Sign of the Jolly Sailor,” the trade card of a London clothier, circa 1740, from, Ambrose Heal, London Tradesmen’s Cards of the XVIIIth Century (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925).

I. As William Hogarth’s 1745 painting, Captain Lord George Graham in his Cabin shows, grey clothing was used by officers until 1748, when the new blue and white uniform was authorized.  Though not shown here, Captain Graham’s men also owned grey as well as red slop clothing.  National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.


[1] G.E. Manwaring, “The Dress of the British Seaman from the Revolution to the Peace of 1748, "The Mariner’s Mirror, The Journal of the Society for Nautical Research, 10, 1924, 31-48; This article was later republished as part of collection of essays by this same author. See, G. E. Manwaring, The Flower of England's Garland (London: P. Allen and Co, 1936), 156-177.  It’s also currently available online at:
[2] General Printed Instructions, 1690, ratified and confirmed in Feb. 1694. British Library ms. Add. 0319, ff/ 32 sq.
[3]Admiralty, Out Letters – Orders and Instructions 6. July 1706 to 14 March 1707. ADM 2/35, 129 – 131, ms. National Archives, Kew.
[4] Though it was not part of my research, Manwaring also wrote, “The Dress of the British Seaman from the Earliest Times till 1600,” "The Mariner’s Mirror, The Journal of the Society for Nautical Research, 8, no. 7 (November 1922), 324-333;

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Royal Regulations of 1772, part 5 - Interpreting the Regulations

In my most recent post on this blog about the Royal Regulations of 1772, I wrote that when next I returned to this subject I would begin to look at how the soldado de cuera uniforms they describe were actually understood, implemented, modified, enforced and sometimes ignored in Spain’s frontier outposts of the American Southwest and California.  I’ll start today with the uniform coat, the chupa corta.[1]


In the 18th century, when new dress regulations were submitted for approval in Spain, they were often accompanied by illustrations to show just how the uniform was meant to look.  Many of these pictures survive and are priceless documents in our understanding of the uniforms, arms and equipment of Spain’s regular and colonial forces. 


Unfortunately, there is no evidence that such a picture was ever submitted for the new presidial uniforms of 1772.  At least, none has yet been found.  Perhaps it was a lack of such an illustration that explains in part why these regulations were interpreted differently at almost every presidio.  As I’ll try to show, other factors include the regulation’s rather vague wording and the ways in which presidios acquired their uniforms.[2] 

One example of vague wording is that the 1772 regulations allowed the chupa – their uniform coat – to be made of either wool velvet (tripe) or cloth (paño). It’s likely then that some presidios had cloth coats while others, even close neighbors, could have velvet. 


The 1772 regulations also state that the chupa should be made,“con una pequeña vuelta y collarin,” which I translate as “with a small cuff and collar.”  But it’s a bit more complicated than that. 

Today, one of meanings of the Spanish word vuelta is “facing,” which for uniforms means The cuffs, collar, and lapels of a military jacket, contrasting in color with the rest of the garment.”[3]  However, this probably wasn’t how the word vuelta was defined in the 18th century and not what the regulation’s authors meant.

The Spanish Royal Academy’s 1739 dictionary gives only two definitions of vuelta that have anything to do with clothing. The first is “the adornment that is placed over the cuff of the shirt, that is a wide, folded band of thin linen or lace.”  In English, this would be called a “ruffle.” The other definition has to do with embroidery at the tops of stockings.[4]


But dictionaries, however exhaustive, can never include all of the ways a word is understood by the society that speaks and writes it.  Since the word vuelta in the 1772 regulations clearly refers to a part of the chupa and not to a shirt, I believe the authors must have meant the cuff.  Both uses would have sleeves in common, at least.  It’s much harder to see how vuelta could be translated here as “facings” because the chupa’s collar (collarin) is mentioned in the same sentence and this isn't necessary if vuelta meant facings.  Collars are part of a uniform’s facings. 

Apparently, the authors of these regulations intended that the soldado de cueras’ new uniform coats would have small cuffs and a collar, both scarlet, but not lapels (solapas), another type of military facing that's not mentioned in the regulations at all.  However, that isn’t how they were interpreted on the frontier.


In August of 1775, Colonel Hugo Oconór, commandant inspector of presidios on New Spain’s northern frontier, examined the soldiers’ uniforms at Tubac Presidio, in what is now Arizona, and was not pleased.  In his report, Oconór writes that he ordered replacement clothing for the presidio in words that are almost identical to those of the 1772 regulations except for the addition of lapels.  The soldiers were to wear “una chupa corta de tripe ó paño azul con una pequeña vuelta, solapa y collarin encarnadoa short, sleeved waistcoat of blue wool velvet or wool cloth with a small scarlet cuff, lapel and collar.  Here, at least, vuelta clearly does not mean “facing.”[5]

But it gets more complicated still.  Two years later, in 1777, Colonel Oconór issued a report compiling the results of all his presidio inspections.  In it, he states proudly that, as a result of his efforts, “The clothing that is used by that troop [i.e., the presidial cavalry] is uniform in all the provinces, and consists of a short, sleeved waistcoat of blue wool velvet or wool cloth, with a small scarlet cuff and collar . . .”  Oconór omits any mention of lapels and repeats this description in two other places in his report.  Clearly, he’s just copying the official uniform description from the regulations and not giving us the details of how these soldiers actually dressed.[6]


With such inconsistent evidence, it’s probably safest to assume that some presidios used coats with lapels, some didn’t, and that the only times we can be certain are when the use or non-use of lapels is specified by an eyewitness account.  For example, a 1779 report for the Presidio of San Antonio de Bexar in Texas lists all of the materials needed, and their costs, to fully dress and equip a soldier of that unit.  From this we know that every chupa at that outpost was to have a collar, lapels and cuffs made of second-quality scarlet cloth.[7]  On the other hand, in 1794 an order by the military governor of California stated that it was his understanding of the royal regulations that all chupas for sergeants, corporals and soldiers should be issued “with scarlet cuffs and collars only . . . omit the lapels.”  We know that this order was obeyed because in March 1795 the Presidio of Santa Barbara ordered from Mexico, “60 regulation chupas, without lapels, made of blue wool cloth from Puruagua, with cuffs and collar of second-quality scarlet wool cloth . . .” [8]

The fact is, there could never have been at any time an identical pattern uniform issued to every presidio on the frontier.  This is because there just wasn’t a standardized or “sealed" pattern for these uniforms to follow and no central manufacturer or source of supply. 

After the issue of the 1772 regulations, the presidos experimented with different systems for acquiring their uniforms, equipment and other supplies. Mostly these varied between sending a purchasing officer, called a habiltado, to Mexico with what amounted to a shopping list or else contracting with Mexican merchants annually to acquire and ship to the presidios what was needed.  Also, we know that sometimes a presidio would order uniforms readymade from a contractor in Mexico, usually in a few standard sizes which were then tailored to individuals at the presidio.  At other times, the uniforms were made at or near the presidio from materials purchased in Mexico.[9] 


The result of all these variations is that while all of the soldiers’ uniforms at any given presidio would more or less match one another, they must have looked noticeably different from those at other presidios.  Though all of them would have blue chupas with scarlet collars and cuffs, at some presidios they would be made of wool velvet while at others they were of wool cloth.  The shade of blue would vary from site to site and so would the weave and quality of the cloth.  At different times and places, soldiers’ chupas had lapels or didn’t.  The shape of the collar, lapels and cuffs; how the chupa was lined and with what; the number, placement, shape, and type of buttons would all differ from one presidio to another and over time.  And, of course, these differences would also extend to other parts of the uniform and equipment, including the breeches, waistcoats, capes, hats, leggings, sword belts and cartridge carriers, not to mention horse gear.


This is why I believe it’s important for artists, writers, film makers and historical reenactors who portray these frontier soldiers not to assume that there was one “generic” type of soldado de cuera uniform that was the same everywhere on the frontier and over long periods of time.  Instead, I suggest that we all need to dig deeper into the visual, written and archaeological sources to discover and reproduce as much as possible what was actually worn at a particular site during a definite era.

A. “Uniforme del Regimiento de la Corona, Nueva España,” 1769.  Archivo General de las Indias, Madrid.  Copy in the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library, Providence, Rhode Island.

B. “Proposed uniform for a Havana infantry regiment to be raised by Don José Fleming, 1787.”  Archivo General de las Indias, Madrid.  Copy in the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library, Providence, Rhode Island.

C. Detail from, “Uniforme de Soldado de Lanceros de Veracruz,” 1769.  Archivo General de las Indias, Madrid.  Copy in the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library, Providence, Rhode Island.  Note that this is the longer chupa, not the shorter one prescribed by the 1772 regulations.  Because of the longer skirts, it even has small turnbacks at the tails.  This chupa also does not have lapels.

D. Detail of a uniform proposal for the Regimiento Provincial de Caballeria del Principe, c. 1771-1779. Real Academia de Historia, Madrid.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, the authors of the Royal Regulations of 1771 probably had something much like this uniform and equipment in mind for the soldados de cuera, though without the lapels.

E. 1767 Map of San Ignacio de Tubac by José de Urrutia, from the Tumacacori National Historical Park website:  Original in the British Library, London.

F. Since the sleeved waistcoat known as the chupa belonged to an international style of tailoring, it's possible to compare images of Spanish uniforms with reconstructions of similar garments from other countries.  I believe that the chupa may have been cut something like this 1775 Massachusetts bounty coat though, as I’ve tried to show, there would have been variations.  Notice the similarities between it and the chupas worn in fig. C by the Lancero de Veracruz and by the Provincial cavalryman in fig. D.  Illustration from, “The Massachussets Bounty Coat of 1775,” by Henry Cooke IV, republished on the Arnold Expedition Historical Society website:

G. Archaeolical finds at presidio sites can be used to help recreate the particular uniforms worn at that site.  Seen here, a brass button recovered during an archaeological dig at Santa Barbara Presidio, California. Courtesy of Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. See also some of the various shapes and sizes of Spanish military buttons available during this era at the website Military Artifacts from Spanish Colonial Florida and Louisiana, 1539-1821:

H. There was no “generic” soldado uniform.  Rather, each presidio’s interpretation of the 1772 regulations would have been somewhat different and also would have changed over time.  This is why, when portraying a soldado de cuera in art, words or as a reenactor, we must research the uniforms and equipment used at a particular site and during a specified era.  This is my interpretation of late-18th to early-19th century soldados de cuera from California and Texas based on eyewitness pictures, descriptions and archaeology.  From, René Chartrand and David Rickman, “Leather Jacket Soldiers: The Cuera Cavalry of the American South-West,” Military Illusrated, Past and Present, 54 (November 1992).   


[1] “The Royal Regulations of 1772, part 4 – Four More Words,” Sept. 13, 2014
[2] The original regulation reads:
“The clothing of the soldiers of the presidio will be the same for all, and consist of a
short, sleeved waiscoat of blue wool velvet or cloth, with a small scarlet cuff and collar. . .”
[El vestuario de los soldados de presidio ha de ser uniforme en todos, y constará de una chupa corta de tripe, ó paño azul, con una pequeña vuelta y collarin encarnado. . .].  Sidney Brinckerhoff and Odie B. Faulk, Lancers for the King; A Study of the Frontier Military System of Northern New Spain, with a Translation of the Royal Regulations of 1772 (Phoenix: Arizona Historical Society,1965), 18.
[4] [E]l adorno, que se sobrepone al puño de las camisas, que es una tira plegada, y ancha de lienzo delgado, ó encaxes ].  The Spanish Royal Academy dictionaries I cite may be found online at Nuevo Testoro Lexicográfico de la Lengua Española:
[5] Hugo Oconór, "Carta Expedida de resulta de la revista al S.or Comandante del Presidio de Tubac, No. 13. Presidio de Tubac. Aug. 16, 1775. Archivo General de las Inidas, Guadalajara, 515. Bancroft Library microfilm.  I am indebted to the late Don Garate, National Park Service, for sending me a copy of this document.
[6]El vestuario de que usa aquella Tropa es uniforme en todas las Provincias, y consista de una chupa corta de Tripe, ó Paño azul con una pequeña buelta, y collarin encarnado . . .” Hugo Oconór and Donald C. Cutter. The Defenses of Northern New Spain: Hugo O'Conor's Report to Teodoro de Croix, July 22, 1777 (Dallas: DeGolyer Library, 1994), iii, v, 54
[7]Companía de Caballería del Real Presidio de San Antonio de Bexar. Numero 24. Papel de Puntos Deducidos de la Revista . . . 1779,” ms. Archivo General de las Indias, Guadalajara, 283. I am indebted to my friend, the noted military historian René Chartrand, for sending me a copy of this document.
[8] Letter from Arguello to Borica, “Concerning the uniforms of the troopers, 17 December 1794,” ms., Bancroft Library, California Archives 7, Tomo XII, 143; “Requisition: Santa Barbara, March 7, 1795,” in Giorgio Perissinotto, ed., et al, Documenting Everyday Life in Early Spanish California; The Santa Barbara Presidio Memorias y Facturas, 1779-1810, (Santa Barbara, California: Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, 1998), 244. Note, my translation differs slightly from the one given in this book.

[9] Moorhead, Max L. "The Private Contract System of Presidio Supply in Northern New Spain." The Hispanic American Historical Review 41, no. 1 (1961): 31-54.