Trousers, Overalls or Gaitered Trousers? A new Look at Michilimackinac

  In the 1770s, the common uniform of the British soldiers stationed at Michilimackinac and elsewhere around the world included a shirt, a waistcoat, a pair of breeches, a regimental coat, and a hat, along with accoutrements and accessories including stockings, shoes, and gaiters. The waistcoat, breeches, and regimental coat were all made of wool cloth, while shirts were linen. This uniform, broadly governed by regulations introduced in 1768, was comfortable and functional for the soldiers to wear while they performed guard duty, fatigue work, drill, and any other tasks that may have been assigned. In theory, it also served as the combat and campaign uniform.

  As the American Revolution intensified in the mid- to late 1770s, and increasing numbers of British soldiers deployed to North America to fight the rebels, soldiers began receiving a new type of uniform legwear. Alternately called trousers, gaitered trousers, or overalls, these garments were constructed like breeches at the top but extended all the way down the leg, ending in a fitted ankle that covered the top of a soldier’s shoes. Trousers were usually constructed of linen, but also occasionally of cloth- one 1779 letter to an artillery soldier based at Detroit noted that blue cloth was being used for trousers, while brown was issued in other theaters. Button on the lower seams allowed the trousers to be well-fitted, especially through the calves, creating a look not unlike a modern pair of skinny jeans. Trousers such as these were not unique to the military in the 1770s, but they were a newer type of garment in British fashion. As a single piece of clothing, they eliminated the need for separate breeches, gaiters and stockings to cover the leg and consolidated the soldier’s legwear into one garment.

  Due to the complexities of how the British army supplied and dressed soldiers in the 18th century, trousers were never truly uniform in the sense that they were issued to every soldier on a regular basis. However, records from individual regiments show that they were part of the uniform for most soldiers fighting in North America. Already a practical garment, in some instances trousers were an expedient when normal sources of uniform clothing became unavailable. In early 1777, for example, a Royal Artillery officer in Montreal ordered “all the old tents” to be “cut up into Trowsers for the Men.” The tents, made of sturdy linen, provided the raw materials for soldier-tailors to transform into trousers at a time when American naval activity had disrupted the normal flow of supplies to the British army in Canada.

  From about 1777 onward, trousers were an increasingly common part of the uniform worn by British soldiers in North America. Although breeches also remained in use (several regimental orderly books note tailors sewing both trousers and breeches for the men), trousers were regularly worn on campaign, in warm climates, or simply as part of the everyday uniform. This year at Colonial Michilimackinac, we continue our extended look at the Revolutionary era at Mackinac by focusing specifically on 1778. To help convey the passage of time, our military interpreters will be donning trousers this summer. We hope you can visit us at Michilimackinac this season to see these new uniform parts in action and learn more about 1778 at the Straits of Mackinac. Visit our website for tickets and more information.

Editors note: Thanks to Mark Canady for providing some of the historic resources used for this post.

 

 

 

 

 

Education Outreach Brings History to Life

Presenting a program at the Gros Cap School near St. Ignace.

Our historic sites may be closed for another two months, but right now small teams of interpreters are traveling around the state to bring Mackinac’s history to life in elementary school classrooms. Since its creation, the Historic Mackinac on Tour program has visited schools and presented to nearly 250,000 students. (more…)

Greatcoats: Another Cold Winter Garment

With winter descending on the Straits of Mackinac, it can be difficult to image what life was like here in centuries past. When guests visit Colonial Michilimackinac during the summer months, they see historical interpreters dressed for pleasant weather in the 1770s, but people often wonder: what did they do they when it got cold? (more…)

The Wharf at Michilimackinac

The Wharf at Michilimackinac

The fort’s water gate, as seen from the lake. Although not yet reconstructed, the wharf would have occupied this space in the 1770s.

Situated on the Straits of Mackinac, Michilimackinac was ideally located to serve as a major transshipment point and resupply hub for the Great Lakes fur trade. Every summer, dozens of canoes and a few small sailing vessels filled with tons of fur, trade goods, food, and other supplies called at the shoreline community. To facilitate movement between water and land, by at least the mid-1760s Michilimackinac’s residents relied upon a wooden wharf. (more…)

Preparing for the Season

Preparing for the Season

The site (between the barrels) buried under several feet of snow.

After the spring melt.

Ready to excavate.

Spring has sprung in the Straits of Mackinac region, and with spring comes the preparation for another archaeological field season. Regular blog readers will remember that at the end of last season we lined the site with heavy plastic sheeting and bales of straw. The long snowy winter was very good for preventing the wall from slumping too much. When we removed the straw and plastic last week, the site was in fairly good condition. (more…)

Forts Mackinac and Holmes in 1815

Forts Mackinac and Holmes in 1815

Captain Charles Gratiot, an American engineer officer, sketched both forts on Mackinac Island during the summer of 1814. Fort Holmes, here named Fort George by the British, was nearing completion when Gratiot made this sketch. National Archives

At Mackinac State Historic Parks, we are fortunate to have a huge variety of historic information available to help us protect, preserve, and present the resources under our care. Our archives and artifact collections contain numerous descriptions and depictions of the historic sites we manage, providing unique snapshots in time. A great example of these descriptive works is a report written by Lt. Col. Talbot Chambers in September 1815, soon after American troops returned to Mackinac Island following the War of 1812. (more…)

Historic Food Tasting

Historic Food Tasting

If you have ever visited Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City or possibly the Biddle House on Mackinac Island, you know that cooking historic recipes is a major part of what we do. We thought it would be fun to make one of these historic recipes and have our coworkers sample it. Enjoy!

 

The King’s Birthday

The King’s Birthday

A 1794 illustration of King George, complete with lyrics to “God Save the King.” The song was first published in 1744 and is today the national anthem of the United Kingdom. Courtesy Anne S.K. Brown Military Collections, Brown University Library

An annual highlight during the late 18th century, King George III’s birthday on June 4 provided British residents of Michilimackinac, as well as the rest of the British empire, an opportunity to celebrate in style. Every year, troops around the world fired special salutes to mark the King’s birth, and civilians and soldiers held parties to toast His Majesty’s health. (more…)

A New Season

A New Season

Site almost ready to begin excavation for the season

The end of May brings rain, flowers, insects, and archaeology. While next year will be the 60th anniversary of archaeology at Michilimackinac, this year is the 60th season. We will be back for our eleventh season of excavation at House E of the Southeast Rowhouse. Over the past eleven summers we have excavated the south wall, a root cellar, and chimney collapse, and found thousands of artifacts used by the fur traders who lived here. Highlights can be seen in previous blog posts, and include many types of ceramics, personal adornment items such as cufflinks, buttons and rings, an intact rosary, an intact pocket knife, and two shutter hinges. This summer we plan to excavate deeper in the cellar and expose more of the interior wall exposed last summer.

Nail, straight pin, and window glass recovered from slump

Over the past week, we have removed the straw and plastic that protected the site over the winter, re-established the grid strings we use to map the site, and cleaned up dirt that slumped from the wall of the excavation pit during the winter. Excavation will be taking place seven days a week, weather permitting, from June 5 through August 25. Admission to Colonial Michilimackinac includes the opportunity to watch history being discovered.