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Historic Furnishing Study

As late as August 1776, while construction was underway, the garrison was experiencing a serious shortage of clothing. Col. Elias Dayton, then commanding the garrison, reported to General Schuyler that there were at least 250 men, more than half the garrison, without shoes, stockings, and shirts; facing the approaching winter without these basic items left him somewhat apprehensive. [1] A year later the situation had hardly ameliorated—many of the men were still in dire need of some of these items. To partially relieve this situation, an inventory was ordered of all hides at the post, presumably for the purpose of providing substitutes for shoes. [2]

Lack of adequate clothing continued to plague the garrison to the point of affecting morale. It seemed as if the problem would never improve, since the shortage was prevalent throughout the Northern Department. After a strong appeal for clothing in 1780, the commander at Fort Stanwix was told that there was not enough clothing in the public stores, and he was urged to use sparingly what he had. In order to magnify the seriousness of this shortage, soldiers were warned that any deliberate misconduct that led to the neglect of one's uniform would lead to severe punishment. [3]

From time to time clothing supplies arrived at Fort Stanwix, but frequently they were not in the quantities desired. In the spring of 1778 Willett wrote with some pleasure that:

This day we had the pleasing satisfaction of receiving a number of shirts shoes etc for our soldiers. The shirts however are not quite sufficient to enable every man to be supplied with two. [4]

By the end of 1780 a fair amount of clothing had arrived in Albany, some of which was scheduled for shipment to Fort Stanwix. Items to be shipped consisted of 205 coats, 205 jackets, 400 shirts, 410 pairs of shoes, 274 pairs of stockings, 283 pairs of mittens, 205 hats, and a quantity of breeches and blankets. [5]

It may be of value to review several documents, which, although not directly related to Fort Stanwix, may have some bearing on the understanding of clothing worn at that post. One of these documents is a letter to General Gates informing him that James Mease, Clothier General of the Continental Army, was shipping to the Northern Department, 1,000 coats and 380 shirts. This letter is important because it reveals the great variation in outer garments that existed in the Continental Army. The following types of coats are quoted verbatim:

300privates brown faced red
16sergeants brown faced red
24privates blue faced red
10sergeants blue faced red
100privates brown faced white
95brown turned green
19sergeants turned green
126privates blue faced red
10sergeants faced red
50privates drab faced red
10sergeants faced red
96privates faced green
20drummers & fifers green faced blue
18privates brown faced white
36brown faced white [6]

In all likelihood some of these coats eventually found their way to Fort Stanwix in time for the cold weather.

Another document not directly related to Fort Stanwix but that might shed light on the type of clothing worn contains a list of clothing allowed the Continental soldier by an Act of Congress. This list, dated September 6, 1777, included coats, vests, breeches, shirts, hose, shoes, blankets, linen overalls (for warm weather), woolen overalls (for cold weather), hats, and hunting shirts. [7]

It might be of interest to compare this document with one issued in 1781, a resolution passed by the Continental Congress directing that all non-commissioned officers and soldiers who are or may hereafter be enlisted during the war be annually furnished with:

One Regimental Coat full made
One Cloth Vest
One pair of Cloth Breeches
One pair of Woolen Overalls
Two pair[s] of Woolen Hose
Two pair[s] of Woolen Socks
One Tall Hat or Leathercap
Four Shirts
Two Pairs of Linen Overalls
Four pairs of Strong Shoes
One Blanket
One Rifle Shirt &
One pair of Woolen Gloves
Also one pair of Shoe Buckles and one Clasp every two years. [8]

At this point it might be well to inject several pieces of evidence which may provide us with clues concerning the regimental uniform of the 3 New York Regiment. Just prior to the siege, Colonel Gansevoort received one of his frequent letters from his brother reassuring him that the commissary clothier for the Northern Department was in the process of sending him "76 Coats blue with Red facings and white lining just your Uniform together with the like Number of Infantry Hats." [9] In 1778 an officer at Fort Stanwix wrote to Colonel Gansevoort, who happened to be temporarily in Albany, to order 8 yards of broadcloth, for him at the commissary for clothing because his "blue cloak" had been used for colors at Fort Stanwix. [10] This written evidence suggests that the uniform of the 3 New York Regiment was largely blue. The evidence produced by Mr. Frederick P. Todd, an authority on early American uniforms, appears to substantiate this conclusion, as does Colonel Gansevoort's uniform, presently in the Smithsonian Institution. Dated 1776 the uniform is blue with a red facing. On the other hand, a portrait of Marinus Willett painted by Ralph Earl sometime between 1784 and 1795 and owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art depicts the uniform as blue with a white facing. [11]

Another document sheds some light on the clothing worn by the militia in New York. The Provincial Congress of New York ordered the commissary to purchase coarse broadcloth for making 712 short coats, and crimson cloth for making cuffs and facing. In addition, the commissary was to purchase light brown coarse broadcloth to make 712 short coats, with blue cloth for cuffs and facings, and dark brown coarse broadcloth for making 712 short coats, with scarlet cloth for cuffs and facings. [12]

Watch coats were used at Fort Stanwix in 1781. These were heavy coats worn by the guard while on sentry duty. One watch coat, for which the corporal of the guard was accountable, was furnished each sentry box. [13] Each guard that came on duty would use the same coat.

Snowshoes were also important items employed at Fort Stanwix during the winter months. Snowshoes were made at Fort Stanwix in fairly large quantities. In early 1777, General Schuyler ordered Colonel Elmore to "please to cause fifty pairs of Snow Shoes to be made." [14] When the guardhouse was consumed by fire in 1783, all the snowshoes stored there were destroyed. [15]

There were several items of clothing worn by members of the garrison which were not issued by the commissary. These were personal items either acquired from families or purchased from sutlers. The officers were usually in a better position to acquire these items because they had the money to buy them and the room to store them. Because of this fact, officers' clothing was superior to that worn by the enlisted man. An excellent case in point was the clothing worn by the Army chaplain at Fort George. His inventory of clothing seemed endless, and it was apparent that much of it was not commissary issue. It consisted of:

jacket and breeches (thick cloth)
coat and jacket
knit breeches
striped jacket
blue waistcoat
2 pairs of black stockings
2 pairs of grey stockings
2 pairs of blue yarns
1 pair of Indian stockings
2 pairs of shoes
1 pair of boots
7 shirts
3 bands
3 long neck cloths
3 stocks
1 silk handkerchief
1 white handkerchief
1 check handkerchief
Gloves, mittens
buckles, etc.
1 bed of wool
1 Check woolen blanket
1 white woolen blanket
1 pair of linen sheets
1 woolen sheet
1 pillow
2 pillow coats
2 towels [16]

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Last Updated: 26-Dec-2008