The Short Jacket

Our new short jacket.

Much of the work that we do in the winter is to prepare for the upcoming summer season, when Mackinac State Historic Parks’ museums and historic sites are open to the public. This winter we have been busy building a number of new garments for our interpretive staff at Colonial Michilimackinac. This allows our interpreters to not only talk about the history of the Great Lakes, but also to demonstrate what it looked like and how people worked within it. The newest addition (completed just last week!) to our interpretive clothing collection comes to us from the last quarter of the 18th century. It is double-breasted wool jacket, with a short body and narrow sleeves. Genre paintings from the later 18th century show people wearing jackets of this type while selling things on the street, working on a ship, farming, or toiling at any number of other trades. This style of practical, yet fashionable garment was common amongst all sorts of working people. Laborers, seamen and many others would have found a jacket to be infinitely more practical when there was work to be done, and long tails or large cuffs would have impeded movement or simply been in the way.

The Sailor’s Present; or, the Jealous Crown, 1778. Note the two men wearing jackets. The British Museum

Runaway ads give us clues about the color and sometimes the lining materials that were used in jackets such as this. These ads, published in newspapers about indentured or enslaved people who ran away from their masters, often included detailed clothing descriptions to help identify the runaways. For example, in Quebec in September 1779 an enslaved sailor named John Thompson ran away from his ship, the Susannah, wearing “a brown jacket with a flannel stocking cap and black knit breeches, without stockings.” In September 1787, an enslaved teenager named Abraham ran away from St. John’s, Newfoundland wearing “a short blue jacket, with sleeves lined with white swan skin; a scarlet waistcoat, two rows bright buttons, with a collar; nankeen breeches, thread stockings, new shoes, plated buckles, and a small round black hat.” In addition to written descriptions, some original 18th century jackets have survived to modern times. One of the most exciting and well-preserved of these jackets went down aboard the General Carleton, a British ship that sank in the Baltic Sea off the Polish coast in 1785. The wreck was discovered in 1995, and several well-preserved objects, including a sailor’s jacket, have been recovered and preserved. At Michilimackinac, this type of jacket would have been worn by servants and enslaved people, laborers such as blacksmiths and anyone else who needed something easy to move about in. Our newest short jacket will be worn by our blacksmith while he is working the forge, filing or doing any number of other tasks about the fort. Future short jackets may be used by staff members interpreting bateau that was acquired for Colonial Michilimackinac in 2019. We are looking forward to the 2020 season and hope you are, too. Our new jacket, as well as many other new garments, will be on daily display, worn by our interpreters as they go about their work. Visit our website for tickets and more information, and please consider joining Mackinac Associates, a friends group whose generosity makes many of our projects possible.

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