(Originally published in The Brigade Dispatch, vol. 30, no. 2 (Summer 2000), 11-14)
When portraying a Revolutionary period soldier or civilian, special care should be taken when choosing a blanket. Whether displayed in a home or camp, carried in a knapsack or used for a blanket roll or sling (tumpline), the blanket is quite prominently seen so the proper color and/or pattern is important. This article will give an overview of blanket terminology and styles, with documented examples to show the variety that existed in the Continental Army.Unlike the European armies involved in the war, there is no "typical" style of blanket for American soldiers.Those wishing to achieve an accurate portrayal should make a considered decision based on available information.
Materials, Styles, and Terminology
Blankets were made of wool, linen, or the mixed cloth linsey-woolsey, and came in a variety of colors and patterns. Most were white or off-white; other colors were black, yellow, blue, red, brown, orange and green. Striped and checked blankets were also common. Locally manufactured blankets were issued to the troops at various times during the war, usually as a result of the donation by, or confiscation from, local civilians. For those who really wish to adhere to authenticity, all American-made blankets of the period had a center seam, this being the point at which the two pieces of woven wool or linen were sewn together to make a full-sized blanket. There was no large-scale American wool manufactory, and domestic looms produced only narrow cloth, though due to the lack of standardization the parameters vary. According to Lynne Z. Bassett, former Curator of Textiles and Fine Arts at Old Sturbridge Village, in her "research on 18th- and early 19th-century wool quilts, it is common to find old blankets or wool sheets - probably nearly all domestically woven - used as the backing material. The wool backing fabrics range from 20 to 35 inches [one exception, circa 1800, was 64 ½ inches wide] ... Most commonly, the fabrics are 30 to 32 inches, it seems." Robert G. Stone, weaver and researcher, notes that "American looms would have been producing blanketing ... roughly 30-42 inches wide." On the other hand, imported blankets could be made unseamed; British army barracks blankets were up to 74 inches in width and some English Rose blankets were as much as 117 inches wide.1
Before proceeding to army blanket descriptions several clarifications are in order. Rugs and coverlids (or coverlets) were also woven bed coverings. Robert Stone relates, "Despite recording over 8000 probated bed coverings, I still can't tell you the difference between a 'blanket' and a 'coverlid' in the 1700's ...There was probably not as much difference as we would like there to have been." While 18th century coverlets were likely more decorative than blankets, Dorothy K. Barnham writes, "The key difference seems to be that a blanket is simply a covering for warmth, while a coverlet is a top covering and hence more likely to be for show. In the past many a blanket was used as a top covering and many a patterned coverlet was valued for its warmth. It is difficult to draw even a hazy line between the two terms ..."2 (Pictures of several coverlets may be seen in Rita J. Adrosko’s "18th-Century American Weavers, Their Looms and Their Products," Imported and Domestic Textiles in 18th-Century America, Patricia L. Fiske, ed. (Irene Emery Roundtable on Museum Textiles 1975 Proceedings, The Textile Museum, Washington, D.C.); for a good discussion of rugs, with some descriptions, see, Suellen Tatrai, "Bed Rugs," The Express (Publication of the Brigade of the American Revolution), Summer 1995, 9.)
As for blankets, some English examples were described as follows: "In order to adorn them, they work stripes of blue or red wool at each end, and a crown at each corner; with this difference, however, that the stripes are worked in the loom; and the crowns are worked with the needle, after the blankets are finished, and before they are sent to the fuller." In the 18th and 19th centuries "stitched stars or wheels were worked at the corners. Known as 'rose blankets,' they were commonly imported..." A number of descriptions of Indian trade blankets survive, and several are of interest. A letter dated 1714 made note of "Striped Blankets that are white like other Blankets only towards the ends they have generally four broad Stripes as each 2 red and 2 blue or black..." In the 1730s "5 pr. Indian Blanketts, Black stripe" were purchased in New York. Point blankets were very common, and get their name from stripe marks woven into the blanket near one corner. The number of points is an indication of the size and weight of the blanket. Apparently, the number of points originally equated to the number of beaver pelts required in trade for the blanket; since there was no way to fix pricing based on such a system, the points quickly became an indication of size, rather than of cost. It is not known when points originated, but they were in use at the beginning of the 18th Century. A surviving example known to have been carried by an American private soldier in the war is a white 3-point blanket, 53 inches by 72 inches, with two 2 ¾ inch stripes of indigo blue (one at either end) and points of the same color.3 (Note 3 contains a discussion of point blankets.)
A 3-point blanket carried by Private Henry Marble of Massachusetts in the Revolutionary War. White wool, with 2 3/4 inch indigo blue stripes and points. Marble's blanket is in the foreground. Behind it is a 19th century 3-point Hudson's Bay blanket. Museum of the Fur Trade Collections, Chadron, Nebraska. Frederick C. Gaede and E. Bryce Workman, "Notes on Point Blankets in the Military Service," The Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly, vol. 15, 2, (Summer 1979), 1-2.
Below are examples of blankets used by Revolutionary armies, from a variety of sources.
American and British Rose Blankets
Peter T. Curtenius, the local Commissary through whom the Province of New York made all military purchases, wrote to the Provincial Congress in summer 1775 that suitable blankets were getting difficult to find. He was reduced to purchasing one point blankets, which had to be sewn together to provide proper soldiers' blankets, so he informed the congress that he had bought double the usual amount, wanting to avoid squabbles over the bill he was soon to submit. Curtenius also had available to him oversized rose blankets, of 9 and 10 quarters size (that is, 81 inches, and 90 inches), too large for convenient soldier use. It is not clear if he actually purchased them. Captain Henry Beekman Livingston's 1st Company of the 4th New York Regiment did receive 27 Indian blankets and 45 rose blankets in August 1775. We can infer that this was typical for the 1775 establishment. Two years later, "Colo: Lamb's Regimt: Artillery to the Public Store of Cloathing at Albany," delivered to Captain Mott, 3 April 1777, "4 Rose Blankets... [and] 2 Blue D[itt]o:"4
On 3 October 1777 General George Washington's troops "began their march for Germantown ...” Captain James Morris, 5th Connecticut Regiment, recalled in his 19th century pension deposition,
“I marched with only my military suit, and my implements of war, without any change of dress or even a blanket ..."During the post-battle American retreat from Germantown Morris was captured by British soldiers, "and marched back to Germantown under a guard." His waiter made his escape, taking with him Captain Morris’s "blanket and provisions with a canteen of whiskey ..."That night having had no refreshment and "no blanket or any covering to shield me from the cold," he asked a sympathetic British officer for assistance. After being given some food he was brought "a large and clean Rose blanket ... for my use that night, I accordingly went out into the field, and lay down among the soldiers who were prisoners, wrapped myself in the blanket, kept my hat on my head, and slept soundly through the night..."5
1777 "Rugs and Coverlids"
General Washington wrote to Massachusetts congressman Elbridge Gerry, 27 September 1777, "I am glad you have begun the collection of Blankets and Shoes; this business cannot be carried to too great an extent, and I think, if the Measure is properly pursued, great Quantities of Blankets, Rugs and Coverlids, may be collected in the back Counties."6
On 19 November 1777, payment was made by "The Continent To" Elias Dayton; 75 dollars for "18 Blankets" for Maxwell's Brigade. Also listed are "Blankets purchased by Lt. Day", including 40 dollars for "5 Blankets of the Miss Van dikes," and 160 dollars for "10 Green Rugs."7 A document headed "Receipts for delivery of Sundry Cloathing for the Use of the Troops belong ing to the State of New Jersey" lists many interesting items including several forms of blankets:8
To whom Delivered
General Maxwell, 26th November 1777: 91 Blankets; 33 Coverlids; 94 pairs of Stockings; 7 Yards of Lincey; 2 pairs of Breeches; 1 pair of Shoes; 10 Coats; 12 Jacketts; 1 piece of Blanketting; 1 piece of Cloth; 4 woolen Shirts; 1 ps. of Blue Cloth
Enos Kelsey, December 1st 1777: 4 pairs of Stockings; 1 Coat; 6 Shirts;
Jacob West, December 1 1777: 4 Blankets; 3 Ruggs; 1 pair of Stockings;
Genl. Maxwell, April 12th. 1778: 5 Blankets; 26 pairs of Stockings; 1 Coat; 1 [pair of] Mittens;
Jacob West, June 22d. 1778: 7 Blankets; 3 Coverlids; 5 pairs of Stockings;
Delivered to Soldiers in the 9 Months Service: 6 Blan kets; 3 Ruggs; 5 pairs of Stockings; 13 Hatts pr Bill 1 June 1778
The papers of the Continental Congress include two records from 1778 referring to imported blankets, presumably for army use:9
Invoice of Sixty Bales of Merchandise... for Boston... on Acct. of Arthur Lee Esqr.", Bilboa, Portugal, 11 February 1778. Included on this invoice are 1,695 "fine large Palencia [Valencia?] Blankets at 26 Riales each.
Invoice of 75 Bales Merchandise... consigned to the Honble. Elbridge Gerry... on account of the Honble. Arthur Lee Esqr.", Bilboa, Portugal, 1 April 1778: "75 Bales containing 1926 large Palencia Blankets at 27 Riales.[Apended to this invoice was the note "Number of Blankets sent from Bilboa for Congress since January 1778 ... 8668.”]
Near the end of the year (18 December), Deputy Quarter Master General Jacob Weiss wrote to DQMG Udny Hay, "The Cloathing for the Artificers &c. of your Department were put up and sent off yesterday all in good order - with a Return enclosed." The return listed, among other items, "Brown Cloth Coats lined throughout," leather breeches, and "Striped Indian Blankets." An undated "Invoice of Sundry articles of Cloathing &ca. d[e]l[ivere]d. to Colo. Hughes D.Q.M.," included two green and twenty-eight "Striped" blankets.10
Major General Nathanael Greene dealt with many blanket shortages throughout his Continental Army career, but especially when serving as quartermaster general.In January 1779 Deputy Quartermaster General Udny Hay wrote him, ”The Blanketts we had are extremely small and the sheets (or rather a part of them) very bad. Respecting the Former, Colo Weiss has informd that you allow two for one, which we have communicated to the Artificers and I dare say they are contented on that Score.”11
The following month Hay confirmed that the blankets formerly received were "so bad that they have been estimated at two for one."12Hay may have been referring to the "Striped Indian Blankets" mentioned above, or to another parcel of blankets. The situation had not improved by the autumn of that year. In October 1779 the Boston contractors Otis & Henley informed Greene they would attempt to get blankets, but they "will be of an indifferent Quality and an exorbitant price."13 Greene's subordinates were, however, creative in their efforts to mitigate the shortages. Colonel James Thompson, Wagon Master General, told General Greene that lack of blankets among teamsters was likely to cause sickness and desertion. Thompson suggested substituting watch coats and "pieces of coarse Duffle" which were available at Newburgh; a few days later, Jacob Weiss relayed Thompson's suggestion of using some "coarse Blue Woollens" available at the clothier's store in case blankets could not be procured for the teamsters.14 (Duffle is discussed in note 15.)
In November 1779, Colonel John Mitchell wrote Greene from Philadelphia, ”As to Blankets none can be purchased or procured, but I have got a Quantity of 3/4 Wd [wide] Baize which I got milled and believe they will do very well. I have sent some to Mr Weiss on tryal. The Board of War can not even return the Blankets we lent them.”16
By 1781 blankets were among war materials shipped from French military stores for Continental Army use. An "Invoice of Goods Drawn from the Kings Magazines at Brest... Shipped this 27th May 1781... for the Service of the United States of America" included cloth, gray and white "Milled Hose", and 1,896 "White Wollen Blankets."17
Denouement. The information above gives us a glimpse at the wide variety of coverings used by Continental troops.Connecticut soldier Joseph Plumb Martin suggests that even when blankets sufficient in quantity, their quality often left much to be desired:
… what did we ever realize from this ample store [of clothing] - why, perhaps a coat (we generally did get that) and one or two shirts, the same of shoes and stockings, and, indeed, the same may be said of every other article of clothing - a few dribbled out in a regiment, two or three times a year, never getting a whole suit at a time … all of the poorest quality, and blankets of thin baize, thin enough to have straws shot through without discommoding the threads ...18
(For an overview of blanket supply and quality see, John U. Rees, "'The great distress of the Army for want of Blankets ...': Supply Shortages, Suffering Soldiers, and a Secret Mission During the Hard Winter of 1780," Military Collector & Historian, vol. 52, no. 3 (Fall 2000), 98-110. On Line.)
Thanks to Lynne Z. Bassett, Roger Fuller, Stephen Gilbert, Charles and Sarah LeCount, Robert G. Stone for contributing to this article.
1. Lynne Z. Bassett to John Rees, 22 July 1998, 24 August 1998, correspondence concerning American loom sizes. Robert G. Stone to John Rees, 24 July 1998, correspondence concerning late 18th century blankets. Robert G. Stone, "British Military Blankets, 1776-1813," Military Collector & Historian, vol. 49, no. 1 (Spring 1997), 37-39. Rita J. Adrosko, "18th-Century American Weavers, Their Looms and Their Products," in Imported and Domestic Textiles in 18th-Century America, Patricia L. Fiske, ed. (Irene Emery Roundtable on Museum Textiles 1975 Proceedings, The Textile Museum, Washington, D.C.)
2. Dorothy K. Barnham, "Winter's Rest: Warm Bedding in the Northeastern American Tradition," in The Blanket: Past and Present (exhibit booklet, Roberta Houllahan and Alice Marcoux, co-curators, 1984).
3. Florence M. Montgomery, Textiles in America 1650-1870 (New York, N.Y., 1984), p. 169-171. Frederick C. Gaede and E. Bryce Workman, "Notes on Point Blankets in the Military Service," The Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly, vol. 15, 2, (Summer 1979), 1-5. A number of other blankets are pictured in George C. Neumann and Frank J. Kravic, Collector's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, (Harrisburg, Pa., 1975), 42. "Blankets - In the fur trade, blankets served as both garment and bed covering, but were viewed primarily as apparel. They were introduced to the Native North American market at least as early as 1678 and were traded in large quantities by 1730 (Smith 1991:12). Blankets were usually white with two or three red or blue stripes bordering either end. In 1779, the HBC introduced the point system in which the size of the blankets was designated by a number of points ranging from 4 1/2 as the largest to 1 as the smallest (Wheeler 1985:62). These points were woven into the blankets at one edge just above the rows of stripes. Two-and-a-half point blankets were by far the most numerous size sold. This was probably because that was the most common size for women and Native women wore only blankets as outwear whereas Native men wore either blankets or capotes (White 1985:173). On fur trade inventories, pointed blankets conventionally headed up the list, or were found immediately after the woollen textiles, and were enumerated in pairs. Blankets sold in the Great Lakes fur trade were manufactured in Whitney, Oxfordshire (Anon 1811:14, NBL). An average sized blanket sold from between 2 and 7 beavers, depending on fluctuations in the European market for furs. (Silverstien)" Online Source
4. Commissary Peter T. Curtenius to the New-York Provincial Congress, 28 June 1775. Journals of the Provincial Congress of New-York, vol. II (Albany: Thurlow Weed, 1842), 39-40. Captain Henry Beekman Livingston's Ledger of Accounts (1775 and part 1777), Mss, National Archives Records Group 93, Entry 40, BW 1 112/D in oversize Box, p. 24. "Colo: Lamb's Regimt: Artillery to the Public Store of Cloathing at Albany," 27 March 1777 to 31 December 1777, Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783, National Archives Microfilm Publication M246, Record Group 93, reel 117, section 37-4.
5. Memoirs of James Morris of Litchfield, Conn., Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty - Land - Warrant Application Files, National Archives Microfilm Publication M804, S16204.
6. George Washington to Elbridge Gerry, 27 September 1777, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799, vol. 9 (Washington, DC, 1933), 275.
7. Anderson House, Society of Cincinnati Library (Washington, D.C.); Acc. 85.19.3. Courtesy of James Kochan.
8. New Jersey State Archives, Revolutionary War Manuscripts (Numbered),