The Knox Family Clothing


By Emily M. Scott

Montpelier, The General Henry Knox Museum

            When I first started my internship at The General Henry Knox Museum in Thomaston, Maine during the summer of 2007 I wasn’t quite sure what exactly I would be doing for a research project. I wanted my research to not only benefit my experience but also the collection at Montpelier. After giving tours of Montpelier and reading about Henry and Lucy Knox, I decided I wanted to research the Knox’s family clothing. I used this knowledge to come up with some questions that I wanted to answer in my research. These included:  

 

“What would their everyday clothing be?”

“What style would they follow?”

“What would their children wear?”

“What would Lucy or Henry have worn to their wedding?”

“What would they wear to entertain?”

“Did their purchases change once they moved to Montpelier?”

“What did their servants wear?”

“In what clothes were they buried?”

“Were their servants from around the area? Or from Boston?”

“Did Lucy make her own clothes? If not, who made their clothes in Maine?”

“Did Henry’s style copy Washington’s?”

“What did Lucy do for clothes after Henry’s death?”

From Cyrus Eaton’s book History of Thomaston, Rockland and South Thomaston, Maine,  I got a brief description, “The General usually dressed in black, carried a cane, and habitually concealed his mutilated hand by a handkerchief or otherwise”.[i] From these first questions and this brief description I had a good start for which direction I wanted to take my research.

               Because I am unfamiliar with eighteenth century clothing terms, I thought I would start with a picture book that explained what each piece of clothing was called and what it was used for. Whatever Shall I Wear? by Mara Riley came to my rescue. It’s a simple book, easy to read and follow, and explains what they would have worn from their undergarments to accessories and hairstyles. The sketches used for illustration in the book come from paintings from the time period. I took the names of the artist and painting and tried to find them online. I was able to find a few pictures that are the examples from the book on what is correct time period attire. From this I not only got a good idea of what types of different pieces they would have worn, but also a further reading section where I got ideas for other good sources.   

 

 

The Chocolate-Girl

The girl was most likely a servant or of the working class. This picture shows a good example of the type of jacket, handkerchief and cap a woman would have worn.

 

Plucking the Turkey 

 

This was clearly a working woman because she’s shown plucking a turkey. This picture shows a cap style from the 1770’s to 1790’s. The color and fabric used on her dress and apron, a blue-checkered (maybe flannel) pattern would have been common for that time.

 

 

A Girl Buying A Ballad

This girl is wearing not only a cap but also a hat. In addition she’s wearing a gown, apron and handkerchief. Which was all common style for 1778.

 

This book and these pictures were very useful for basic information, but the Knox’s were not everyday people.

Henry came from a poor family and didn’t have a great deal growing up. He married Lucy Flucker, whose family was in a higher class. Lucy loved Henry very much despite his status and lucky for her he was an ambitious man and worked his way to be a general, the first secretary of war and a wealthy man. Henry was able to give Lucy the upper class life she was so familiar with. Knowing this, these pictures of the simple dresses and fabrics would have been too simple for the Knox’s so I had to dig deeper and find what was the classy dress of the time. Both Lucy and Henry were born in the 1750’s. This would put Henry at 24 and Lucy at 17 when they were married, both very influential ages when it comes to fashion and at the start of the American Revolution. The Revolution made the Colonists break away from English influences. They then turned to France. “Commerce with England having been cut off during the war… America was now free to trade with the world unhampered by navigation acts or Board of Trade restrictions…France was the chosen country. She was popular because of her aid during the Revolution; large numbers of her émigrés had found homes in America, bringing with them French culture.”[ii] We know for certain that the French had a great influence on the Knox’s because Lucy named their house “Montpelier,” after a city in France.

Keeping the French and higher class influences in mind I went to books, What Clothes Reveal by Linda Baumgarten and The Art of Dress by Aileen Ribeiro. I also found a few websites that had collection of costumes and paintings of clothing that would be more the Knox’s style.

 

 

French Dress dating between 1785 and 1787

 

Ensemble from 1790

            What is most difficult about finding clothing from any period of time is that styles change so quickly. Take the 20th century for example; it wouldn’t be accurate to have pants from the 1960’s, a shirt from the 1980’s and a hat from the 1920’s all in one outfit. This is the same for the 18th century as well, because fabric was so hard to come by and styles changed so often, people often reused dresses by taking them apart and altering them to fit or to change the style.

            The dresses I found were gorgeous but would the Knox’s have had dresses and suites like these? George Washington was a close friend to the Knox’s so would Knox have followed in Washington’s clothing style? Washington was a gentleman farmer before the war; he would have dressed in neutral colors and simple styles. To answer this I read through their receipts on microfilm. I concentrated on dates from 1780’s to 1800’s, because as this is when Knox made his money and they would have started buying finer things. When I started I was not sure what to expect, and after collecting about 60 receipts that had to do with clothing I found a few surprises. Riley’s book had prepared me for expecting a lot of linen while Eaton had me expecting a lot of black. So when I found 40 different fabrics I was stunned. He did own black but also a variety of colors including; blue, green, red, scarlet, white, pink, yellow, brown.

 

 

Armozeen          Baize          Bayes          Beaver          Bombazine          Broadcloth          Buff Battinet

Buff Cloth          Buglepore   Callico        Cambrick      Camel                 Camelhair           Casimere

Corduroy           Cotton        Dimity         Dowlas          Duffle                 Durant                Elastic

Ferrett               Flannel        Florentine    Fur                Fustian                Holland              Indian Cloth

Lace                  Linen          Lustering     Mode            Moleskin            Muslin                Nankeen

Rattinet              Ribbon        Satin           Silk               Velvet

 

As I said before, being new with clothing terminology and wording I wasn’t sure what some of these fabrics were. For some I was able to plug them into a search engine and come out with a respectable answer. For other terms I couldn’t find online I used, What Did They Mean By That? A Dictionary of Historical & Genealogical Terms Old & New By Paul Drake, F.D. For example, “dimity: early, common, fine cotton cloth, e.g., ‘Laura carried handkerchiefs of beautiful laced dimity.’”[iii]

I found many of these fabrics being listed in many receipts. What I found most interesting was over the years the Knox’s purchased not only a beaver coat, but also, beaver gloves and hat.

[iv]

     I also noticed that he bought his clothing from a variety of sellers. A few of them were:

Otis & Andrews                Charles Banett                Thomas Brewer               Benjamin Callendar

Joseph & Allen Crocher     Brazer & Davis              William Henson                Sam Hodgdon

John Jackson                     Jacob Lane                     John Mand                      Thomas Roberts

Thomas Sendard               James Yaneesys              John A Wolfe

While looking through the microfilm I found printed receipts from some of these vendors.

[v]

I also put some of these into a search engine and found out exactly where their stores were located. When I put Otis & Andrews in I found an autobiography, The Life and Letters of Harrison Gray Otis, Federalist, 1765-1848.

       “In November, 1777, Messrs. Otis & Andrews received the appointment of Collectors of Clothing for the Continental Army. Although, as Mr. Otis acknowledged,6" the emoluments were considerable," it was an exacting and difficult position. The Continental army was in constant need of clothing. A sudden order would come for ten thousand uniforms to equip Pulaski's Legion, and Messrs. Otis & Andrews would first have to procure the materials as best they could, then see that the garments were made up, and finally forward them to the Clothier-General. They wrote Timothy Pickering, the Quartermaster-General, on July 2,1778: "We have sent on from the beginning of Dec. from 16 to 18000 suits of cloathes, besides shirts, shoes, Hatts, blankets, &c; ... for about six months we were near £200,000 Lmy in debt on account of the United States, during which time, we were perpetually embarassed by people calling for their money, & much of our time was taken up, in apologizing.”[vi]

Because Knox was a close companion of Washington’s through the war I may assume that he received his Revolutionary War Uniform from Otis & Andrews, and then proceeded to buy their goods throughout his life. This would be the uniform that he wears in every portrait painted of him.

Major General Henry Knox

 Major General Henry Knox

Major General Henry Knox

The last picture was probably painted the latest in his life and he is still wearing his uniform. From the microfilm I was able to find on January 28th 1784 “To altering Uniform Coat” This explains why he is still able to wear his coat through his life. When he died in 1806, according to Eaton, “His funeral was celebrated with military honors.”[vii]  He was probably buried in his uniform. 

            In the earlier receipts, 1779, I noticed he sent out his clothes for washing often, this stops only after a few years. During this same time he does a lot of repairs and altering on his clothing. He also had things made for his servants. I’m not sure if that was customary for that time, but I thought it was nice of him. This is also a good example of what kind of man he was, even to his servants.

            The Knox’s were very free with their money. While looking for receipts for their clothes I also found they bought everything from, monkeys and birds to beef and rum. I found one receipt where they didn’t hesitate to almost buy out the store. This receipt totaled $9035.45!

viii

            I was able to sit in on a lecture by Julie Stackpole[ix], a seamstress who concentration is in 18th century clothing. This was a time before zippers and Velcro and all they had were buttons. Because of the constant diaper changing they dressed all children including boys in a dress-like outfit called a frock. This is why in pictures of families it looks like they have all girls. When the boy reaches about age 7 he goes through a transition called breeching. This is when he starts wearing pants that resemble the ones his father wears. In the case of the Knox family they made their breeching sons’ clothes match their elder son’s clothes. One receipt shows matching superfine green cloth for making a coat and overalls for Master Harry Knox and Master Marcus Knox.

x

A receipt dating shortly after Henry’s death Lucy is ordering a collection of black clothing.

xi

By the end of my research I was pleased that I had answered many of my original questions. The others would have to be looked into further or may always be a mystery. I was very surprised at this vast amount of clothing, I then went back and read through an article written on Lucy Knox and I got a better understanding to who was really deciding the style for the Knox family. Lucy was, “an heiress of distinguished ancestry…[her father] lived in opulent style, his wife and daughters were ladies of fashion.”[xii] She is also referred to as “spoiled” and “violently emotional and inclined to hysterical scenes if crossed.”[xiii] Because Lucy grew up a high class she always felt she belonged there. She made her presence known in social groups, enjoyed hosting and attending extravagant parties and also enjoyed good meal. This shows in her size, only standing 5 foot she weighed 250 lbs. This would explain the large amounts of fabric needed for her dresses. She had to have the finest dresses and hairstyles, “Her clothes made her even more noticeable, flamboyant creations hung about with fichus, bows, cascades of lace, mantillas. She retained a French hairdresser…to create some startling edifices upon her head.”[xiv] To sum Lucy up in three words, she would have been prominent, large and stubborn. When it came to ordering the clothes Henry’s name may have been on the receipts, but Lucy would have been the one making sure her family was fashionable.

It’s now the end of the summer and my internship is coming to an end. I’ve had a great experience working at Montpelier; it’s been a summer I’ll never forget. Like all research projects there’s always more that could be studied, but because I had a deadline I wasn’t able to research as much I wanted. I was able to answer many of my first questions and was able to come up with others that could be researched in more depth. I feel that my research and conclusions are enough to establish a solid start on the Knox’s clothing collection that can be researched further at a later date.

 



[i]  Cyrus Eaton, History of Thomaston, Rockland, and South Thomaston, Maine. Vol. I. (Hallowell: Masters, Smith & Co., Printers, 1865), 214.

[ii] Edward Warwick and Henry C. Pitz, American Colonial Clothing, The Revolution and the New Republic, 1775-1800. (EnglishCountryDancing.org, http://englishcountrydancing.org/colonial7.html, August 14, 2007.)

[iii]  Paul Drake, What Did They Mean By That? A Dictionary of Historical & Genealogical Terms Old & New. (Heritage Books, Inc., 2000), 42.
[iv] Henry Knox Papers, 1715-1839. (Collection 166, Maine Historical Society.)

[v] Henry Knox Papers, 1715-1839. (Collection 166, Maine Historical Society.)

[vi]  Harrison Grey Otis, The Life and Letters of Harrison Gray Otis Federalist 1765-1848 Volume I, (Houghton Mifflin, 1913), 21.

[vii] Eaton, 267. 

[viii] Henry Knox Papers, 1715-1839. (Collection 166, Maine Historical Society.)

[ix] Julie Stackpole, Lecture on 18th Century Clothing, (Center for Early American Studies at Montpelier, July 24, 2007)

[x] Henry Knox Papers, 1715-1839. (Collection 166, Maine Historical Society.)

[xi] Henry Knox Papers, 1716-1841 (55 Rolls Of Microfilm) Originals held by Gilder Lehrman Institute.

[xii] Diana Forbes-Robertson, “Lady” Knox. (American Heritage Magazine, Vol. 17, Issue 3, April 1966) 46.

[xiii] Forbes-Robertson, 47.

[xiv] Forbes-Robertson, 76.