The Revolutionary Pantaloons: 1776

Spinning at the Colonial WIlliamsburg Weave Room.

Spinning at the Colonial WIlliamsburg Weave Room.


An old lady used to relate the following anecdote of her Revolutionary remembrance: The afternoon of one of the last days of 1776 when I was a few months short of 8 years old, notice came to Townsend, Massachusetts, where my father used to live, that fifteen soldiers were wanted.

The training band was instantly called out, and my brother that was the next older than I, was one that was selected. He did not return till late at night, when all were in bed. When I rose in the morning I found my mother in tears, who informed me that my brother John was to march next day after to-morrow morning at sunrise. My father was at Boston, in the Massachusetts Assembly. Mother said that though John was supplied with summer clothes, he must be absent seven or eight months, and would suffer from want of winter garments. There were at this time no stores, and no articles to be had except such as each family could make itself. The sight of my mother’s tears always brought all the hidden strength of the body and mind to action. I immediately asked what garments were needful. She replied “Pantaloons.”

“Oh, is that all?  We will spin and weave him a pair before he goes.”

“Tut,” said my mother, “the wool is on the sheep’s back, and the sheep are in pasture.”

I immediately turned to a younger brother and bade him take a salt-dish and call them to the yard.

Mother replied, “Poor child, there are no sheep-shears within three miles.”

“I have some small shears at the loom.”

“But we can’t spin and weave it in so short a time.”

“I am certain we can, mother.”

“How can you weave it? There is a long web of linen in the loom.”

“No matter, I can find an empty loom.”

By this time the sound of the sheep made me quicken my steps toward the yard. I requested my sister to bring me the wheel and cards while I went for the wool. I went into the yard with my brother and secured a white sheep, from which I sheared, enough for a web; we then let her go with the rest of her fleece. I went the wool in by my sister. Luther ran for a black sheep, and held her while I cut off wool for my filling and half the warp, and then we allowed her to go with the remaining part of her fleece.

The good old lady further observed that the wool thus obtained was duly carded and spun, washed, sized, and dried; a loom was found a few doors off, the web got in, wove and prepared, cut and made two or three hours before the brother’s departure—that is to say, in forty hours from the commencement, without help from any modern improvement.

The good old lady closed by saying, “I felt no weariness, I wept not, I was serving my country, I was relieving mother, I was preparing a garment for my darling brother. The garment being finished, I retired and wept till my overcharged and bursting heart was relieved.”

This brother was, perhaps, one of General Stark’s soldiers, and with such a spirit to cope with, need we wonder that Burgoyne did not execute his threat of marching into the heart of America?

The Bloomfield Times [New Bloomfield, PA] 23 August 1870: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Leaving aside the question of the Colonies’ treasonous and iniquitous rebellion against King and Country, this charming anecdote points out how quickly eighteenth-century clothing could be manufactured, when necessary. Mrs Daffodil has seen advertisements for modern “Sheep to Shawl” events where one starts with the raw wool and ends with a finished garment. In a similar vein, the Margaret Hunter Millinery Shop at Colonial Williamsburg, while not weaving the fabric, holds popular “Gown in a Day” events where a complete gown is draped and hand-sewn in a miraculously short time.  Janea Whitacre, Mistress of the Shop, says that if a lady ordered a gown for a ball that evening, it could be completed in time by laying on many extra hands to make the work light. A video of a lilac silk gown being made in a day may be seen here, as well as an article about Mistress Whitacre and eighteenth-century millinery work.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.



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