Blowing Hot Air about 18th Century Fifes

When I joined the hobby about 10 years ago, I took on the same position in the recreated 2d Virginia Regiment that my ancestor William Dillon did as a fifer. As a new member of the hobby, I noticed a lack of knowledge regarding the type of fife used during the period, thus I started on a journey to correct this problem.

Over the past decade I have collected fifes from all time periods, amassing a collection of over 400 historic instruments dating to the mid 1700’s including a fife on loan displayed at the Museum of the Revolution in Philadelphia. I have also spent countless hours researching not only the fifes, but the fife makers. All of this has made one thing painfully clear: The fifes used by most of the hobby are not period correct.


FifeFurrelHow do I know? Because I own 10-12 period correct instruments and have examined as many held in museums and found that reproduction fifes used in the hobby share few characteristics with extant fifes from the period. Most period fifes are in the pitch of C or D, whereas most reproduction fifes are made in B flat because it sounds better, and construction details such as the fingerholes and ferrules are much different.

Based on my research, I’ve tried to do my best to dispel the misinformation and myths pervasive in the fife and drum world and accepted as “facts”. I created The Fife Museum as an online resource with photographs, background and detailed specifications of the fifes in my and other collections and short essays based on documented evidence about fifes and their makers.

Several years ago, I started to produce copies of period fifes in my collection in which I sold to Brigade members at a very reasonable price. Unfortunately, since then demands on my time forced me to stop making the instruments myself, but worked with another fife maker so they will stay in production.

These period correct instruments are now available from Musique Morneaux in both a British and American style, though of course the British fife can be used by both sides if desired. They are made of period correct wood with period correct fingerholes and period correct seamed ferrules. All are perfect examples of what a fifer from the Revolution would use.

As a “progressive” I’ve done all I can do researching, sharing my findings and creating resources for others. Does it take a little time to learn a few period correct fingerings? Yes! Does it cost a little money to purchase a period correct instrument? Yes! In the end, it is worth it? Yes, because now you are period correct.

Would one of you show up at an event with a modern M-16 and show it to the public as an example of a weapon from the period? Of course not, so why do we let it slide with the fife?

Again, the research is done, the manufacturing is done, now the rest is up to you.

P.S. We also should be using the music as it should have been used and not as an excuse for a bunch of musicians to get together and jam. But that’s a story for another day…


Steve Dillon is a fifer in the recreated 2d Virginia Regiment like his ancestor William Dillon was during the American Revolution, and owner of Dillon Music.

June 28, 1778: Battle of Monmouth

“This battle was fought on the 28th June 1778, and my Regiment was in the latter part of the action.”

– John Hereford

Recreated 2d Virginia Regiment at Monmouth Battlefield State Park, 2008

Recreated 2d Virginia Regiment at Monmouth Battlefield State Park, 2008

In the summer of 1777, I enlisted under Lieutenant Erasmus Gill, a recruiting officer belonging to the Second Virginia Regiment, of Infantry of the line, on the Continental establishment, for the term of three years. I marched with the said officer, and under the command of Captain Marcus Calimar [Marquis Calmes], another recruiting officer of the same Regiment, with about one hundred recruits from Leesburg, and joined the American Army near Philadelphia.

I was annexed to Capt. Peyton Harrison’s Company in said Regiment, as Sergeant, and continued as such, during my service in the Regiment. In the winter of 1777-1778, the army took up their winter quarters at the Valley Forge. When the Spring Campaign opened we left our huts and lay in the plains below, on the Schuylkill, until the enemy left Philadelphia.

As soon as the news of their movement arrived in our Camp the whole American Army was put in motion and crossed the Delaware at [?] ferry, as well as my memory serves.

Orders were given to the troops to divest themselves of knap-sacks and blankets in order to go with as much expedition as possible on a fast march to [overtake] the enemy.

Monmouth-mapThe day was [exceptionally] hot and as our march was through a dry, barren sandy coun-try destitute of water, many of our soldiers became exhausted, and fell by the way. Our Army passed through Mount Holley, an English town in the State of New Jersey. The principal action took place between the church and Monmouth Court House, where we [?] the retreating troops under Gen.l Charles Lee.

This battle was fought on the 28th June 1778, and my Regiment was in the latter part of the action. The division to which I belonged, formed near the church. The Re-giment in which I served, was then commanded by Col. Christian Febiger, an old swede, who told me he had been in thirty six actions in Europe and America.

The English having gained the heights of Monmouth, commenced a heavy fire from their artillery, which was returned by Col. Harrison of Virginia, commanding our artillery — We lay on the field of battle that night, and on the next day, buried the dead of both armies. The British having made their escape during the night, our army took up the line of March, for the heights of Brunswick, and lay their some time.

Pension application of John Hereford

December 9, 1775: The Battle of Great Bridge

“This was a second Bunker’s Hill affair, in miniature; with this difference, that we kept our post, and had only one man wounded in the hand.”

– Colonel William Woodford
Virginia Gazette, 15 December 1775

Prelude to Great Bridge

Part of the Province of Virginia. Library of Congress

While Colonel Patrick Henry of the 1st Virginia Regiment was technically the commander-in-chief of Virginia’s forces, correspondence between the President of Virginia’s Committee of Safety Edmund Pendleton and Colonel William Woodford of the 2d Virginia Regiment indicates that this was a political decision in recognition of Henry’s efforts prior to the outbreak of hostilities.  Woodford on the other hand had served in the French and Indian War and had real military experience. For this reason, the Pendleton decided to keep Henry in Williamsburg, Virginia while dispatching the 2d Virginia Regiment to meet Governor Dunmore’s small “army” comprised of detachments of the 14th Regiment of Foot, Marines, runaway slaves who had been formed into the Ethiopian Regiment that had taken up post near Great Bridge, near of Norfolk in modern day Chesapeake VA.

Edmund Pendleton to William Woodford, 24 December 1775

The Field Officers to each Regiment will be named here and recommended to Congress in case our Army is taken into Continental pay, they will send Commissions — a General Officer will be chosen there I doubt not and sent Us; with that matter I hope we shall not intermeddle, lest it should be thought propriety requires our calling or rather recommending our present First Officer [Colonel Henry] to that station. Believe me Sir The unlucky step of calling that Gentleman from our Councils where he was useful, into the Field in an Important Station, the duties of which he must in the nature of things, be an entire stranger to, has give me many anxious and uneasy moment. In consequence of this mistaken step which can’t not be retracted or remedied, For he has done nothing worthy of degradation and must keep his Rank, we must be deprived of the Service of some able officers, whose Honor and former Ranks will not suffer them to Act under him, in this juncture when we so much need their Services, however I am told that [Hugh] Mercer, [William] Buckner, [William] Dangerfield and [George] Weedon will serve and are well thought of. I am also that Mr. [Charles Mynn] Thruston and Mr. Millikin ar Candidates for Regiments. The latter I believe will raise and have a German one. In the course of these reflections my greatest concern is on your Account, The pleasure I have enjoyed in Finding your Army conducted with wisdom and success, and your Conduct meet the General Approbation of the Convention and Countrey, make me more uneasy at a thought that the Countrey should be deprived of your Services or you made uneasy in it, by any untoward circumstances. I had seen your Letter to our friend Mr. [Joseph] Jones (now a member of the Committee of Safety) and besides that Colonel Henry had laid before the Committee your Letter to him and desired Our Opinion whether he was to command you or not. We never determined this ‘til Fryday evening, a Copy of the Resolution I inclose you. If this will not be agreable and prevent future disputes, I hope some happy medium will be suggested to effect the purpose and make you easy, for the Colony cannot part with you, while Troops are necessary to be continued.

The Committee of Safety was hard put to it to work our a formula that would give Henry the face-saving semblance of over-all command while leaving Woodford the actual commander.  In the end the following resolution was adopted, a copy of which accompanied Pendleton’s letter to Woodford:  “Resolved unanimously, that Colonel Woodford, although acting under a separate and detached command, ought to correspond with Colonel Henry, and make returns to him at proper times, of the state and conditions of the forces under his command; and also that he is subject to his orders, when the convention, or the committee of safety, is not sitting, but that while either of these bodies are sitting, he is to receive his orders from one of them.”

Because either the Convention or the Committee of Safety would always be sitting, Henry was effectively shelved.

"A view of the Great Bridge near Norfolk in Virginia where the action happened between a detachment of the 14th Regt: & a body of the rebels." by Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings

When Woodford arrived at the Great Bridge on December 4, 1775, he “found the area for a considerable distance from each end of the bridge a swamp, except for two bits of land that might not improperly be called islands, being surrounded entirely by water and marsh, and joined to the mainland by causeways”. On the northern “island” stood the stockaded wooden fort (prejoratively called “the Hog Pen”) that Dunmore had caused to be erected, with two four-pound cannon so placed as to command the bridge and both causeways. The southern causeway, that nearer Woodford’s position, ran the 150 yard length of the second “island” and contained seven houses; and from that point the road extended 400 yards past a dozen houses to where it forked in front of a church, where the 2d Virginia Regiment pitched its camp and began entrenchments consisting of a breastwork in the form of a “sagging M” seven feet high, with mounting platforms and loopholes, and in length 150 feet. And on a firm, penninsula-like projection of land west of the town, they erected two earthworks for batteries when cannon should be made available. (Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence, Volume 5)

Captain Matthew Squire, HM Sloop Otter to Vice Admiral Samuel Graves, 2 December, 1775

We have now a small fort at the great Bridge, which the Rebels must pass to come to Norfolk, we have destroyed the Bridge, and for these ten days past, have kept a body of near nine hundred Rebels from passing. We have likewise entrenched the town of Norfolk, and I have great reason to suppose, & hope from their being such Cowards, and Cold weather coming on, that they will return to their respective homes, & we shall be quiet the remainder of the Winter.

Colonel William Woodford to the Virginia Convention, 4 December 1775

I arrived at this place the Day before Yesterday, & found the Enemy Posted on the Opposite side of the Bridge in a Stockade Fort, with two four pounders, some swivells & Wall Pieces, with which they keep up a constant Fire, have done no other damage than Kill’d Corporal Davis with a cannon Ball, the Man that was Killed on Lt. Colo. Scotts first arrival here, & Yesterday Wounded one of the Minute Men in the Wrist, from all Accts from the other side we have killed many of them…their Numbers in the Fort are said to be 250, Chiefly Blacks; commanded by Serjts. of the Regulars, that act as Officers, & the Scotch Tories of Norfolk.

We keep a Capt. and 42 Men as a Guard upon some Boats we have secured down the River about 6 Miles, the Enemy keep a Guard of about the same Number on the Opposite side to secure three other Boats they have. Between these parties there is a constant Fire, we have been lucky enough to recieve no damage, our Officers & Men say they can discover Many fall from the Fire of our Riffles, who I have directed only to Fire when they have a good chance.

My Intelligence inform’d me this Boat Guard of the Enemy might be Attacked to advantage by a Party crossing A Mile below (where a sufficient Boat lay concealed in a cove). I Yesterday detach’d Capt Taliaferro with 60 Men to lay concealed in that Neighbourhood, & cross in the Night with proper guides to conduct him to the back of the Enemy Post, if they find a ready passage, & are well conducted, I have the greatest expectations that they will cutt them off between two Fires. The Officers have discretionary Orders, as to returning, or maintaining this post on the other side. If they find the situation & other circumstances favourable, I shall immediately reinforce them.

We have raised a strong Breast work upon the lower part of the Streat joining the Causway, from which Centrys are Posted at some Old Rubbish not far from the Bridge (which is mostly destoy’d) some blacks got over last Night & set fire to the House nighest the Bridge, five Houses (some of them Valuable) were consumed, one of the Centinals Shott one of them down. The great light this Occasion’d would have exposed our Men too much, to attempt saving any of the Houses, they have likewise destroy’d all the Buildings on the other side, & I am inform’d have done the same to many of our Friends in the Country.

The last Accts from Norfolk say their Fortifications were not then Finished. They were busily Imploy’d & preparing a Number of Cannon, which it’s supposed are Mounted by this time. I am happy to find that steps I have ventured to take are agreeable to the Wishes of your Honorable Body. The Enemy’s Fort, I think, might have been taken, but not without the loss of many of our Men, their Situation is very advantageous, & no way to Attack them, but by exposing most of the Troops to their Fire upon a large open Marsh….

Colo. Robert Howe [of North Carolina]…informs me [by express] that I might expect 400 to 500 Men with some Cannon & Ammunition at this place tonight, & that they had 900 men at different places in Motion to Join us…. We are now making the Necessary preparations to raise Batterys for these Cannon upon the most Advantageous ground to play upon their Fort, & sent a large detachment at the same time to intercept their Retreat….

Our small Stock of Ammunition will be soon expended, & I must request another Supply, an Additional Blanket to each Soldier would be very Necessary, if to be had. The Men are tolerably well at present, but the dampness of the Ground, without straw (which is not to be had) must soon lay many of them up, & Houses that are tolerable safe from the Enemy Cannon, can only be procurred for a few.

Colonel William Woodford to Edmund Pendleton, 5 December 1775

Soldier of the 2d Virginia Regiment, 1775

After my letter of Yesterday, I received an Acct. from Capt. Taliaferro that the Boat intended for him to cross in could not be got off ’till day light, & he desired my further Instructions. I had sent Capt. Nicholas with 42 Men to reinforce Taliaferro & on Receipt of his letter, order’d Lt. Colo. Stevens to take the Command of the Whole. They crossed about Midd Night, & got to the Enemys Centinals without being discover’d. One of them Challenged & not being Answer’d, Fired at our party, the fire was returned by our Men, & an over Eagerness at first, & rather a backwardness afterwards, occation’d some confusion, & prevented the Colonel’s. plan from being so well executed as he intended, however, he Fired their Fortification & House, in which one Negro perished, Killed one dead upon the Spott, & took two others Prisoners. This party (consisting of 26 Blacks & 9 Whites) escaped under cover of the Night.

This Country between this & Suffolk is so exposed to several Water Courses, that there will be an Absolute Necessity to Establish two or three posts upon the Road, as the Inhabitants are all Tories & when the Fort over the Bridge is reduced, a strong party must guard this Important pass. All these reasons induce me to advice what I recommended Yesterday, some 4 lb Shott with 3 or 4 of the best Mounted Cannon of that size.

The want of…Shoes begins to be severly felt by some, & will shortly be so by the Whole, unless a Speedy supply arrives…. The bearer brings you one of the Balls taken out of the Cartridges found upon the Negro Prisoners. As they are extreemly well made & no doubt by some of the Non comd. Officers of the Regulars…. This Horrid preparation was made for the Flesh of our Countrymen, the others are prepared in the same Manner…. I have never suff’d a Soldier of mine to do a thing of this kind.

Colonel William Woodford to the Virginia Convention, 6 December 1775

The Fort over the Bridge was reinforced last Night with about 90 Men, & they seem very Busy at Work. No news of the Carolina Cannon yet. By the Firing at our Boat guard I expect the Enemy have taken post there again, when well inform’d of their Situation & Numbers, I shall endeavour to surprise them again.

Colonel William Woodford to Colonel Patrick Henry, 7 December 1775

The enemy are strongly fortified on the other side of the bridge, and a great number of negroes and tories with them; my prisoners disagree as to the numbers. We are situated here in mud and mire, exposed to every hardship that can be conceived, but the want of provisions, of which our stock is but small, the men suffering for shoes, and if ever soldiers deserved a second blanket in any service, they do in this; our stock of ammunition much reduced, no bullet moulds that were good for any thing sent to run up our lead, till those sent the other day by Mr. Page. If these necessaries and better arms had been furnished in time for this detachment, they might have prevented much trouble and great expense to this colony. Most of those arms I received the other day from Williamsburg, are rather to be considered as lumber, than fit to be put in men’s hands, in the face of any enemy. With much repair, some of them will do; with those, and what I have taken from the enemy, I hope to be better armed in a few days.

Colonel Woodford to the Virginia Convention, 7 December 1775

I have the pleasure to inform you that my detachment last Night under the Command of Lieut. Colo. Scott beat up the Quarters of the Enemys other party, who I inform’d you had again taken post opposite our Boat Guard. They Killed one White Man & three Negros, took three of the Latter Prisoners, two of Which are Wounded (one Mortally) with six muskets & 3 Bayonetts. The Colo. unluckily fell in with a Cart coming from Norfolk, guarded by four Men, some distance from the Enemy’s post, who Fired upon our party & Alarm’d them, otherways there is no doubt most of their Men would have fallen into our Hands. Their Number 70. Col. Scott’s party 150, who all escaped unhurt, one Man only was grazed by a Ball in the Thumb.

The Battle of Great Bridge

Colonel William Woodford to the Virginia Convention Great Bridge, 9 December 1775

The Enemy were reinforced about three Oclock this Morning with (as they tell me) every Soldier of the 14th Regt. at Norfolk, amounting to 200 Commanded by Capt. Leslie, & this Morning after Revelle Beating crossed the Bridge by laying down some plank, & made an Attempt to Force our breast Work, the prisoners say the Whole Numbers amounted to 500 with Volunteers & Blacks, with two pieces of Cannon but none Marched up but his Majestys Soldiers, who behaved like English Men. We have found their Dead, Capt. Fordice & 12 privates, and have Lieut. Batut Wounded in the Leg & 17 privates prisoners all Wounded. They carried their Cannon back under Cover of the Guns of the Fort, & a Number of their Dead. I should Suppose…their Loss must be upwards of 50. Some powder & Catridges were taken…. There has been no Firing since [a flag of truce allowed the British to collect their dead and wounded]. We are now under Arms expecting another Attack.

Letter from a Midshipman on Board HM Sloop Otter, 9 December, 1775

Our troops, with about sixty Townsmen from Norfolk, and a detachment of Sailors from the ships, among whom I had the honour to march, set out from Norfolk to attack once more the Rebels at the great bridge, who had been lodged there some time, and had erected a breast-work opposite to our fort on their side of the river. We arrived at the Fort half an hour after three in the morning, and, after refreshing ourselves, prepared to attack the Rebels in their entrenchment.

We marched up to their works with the intrepidity of lions. But, alas! We retreated with much fewer brave fellows than we took out. Their fire was so heavy, that, had we not retreated as we did, we should every one have been cut off. Figure to yourself a strong breast-work built across a causeway, on which six men only could advance a-breast; a large swamp almost surrounding them, at the back of which were two small breast-works to flank us in our attack on their intrenchments. Under these disadvantages it was impossible to succeed; yet our men were so enraged, that all the intreaties, and…threats of their Officers could [not convince] them to retreat; which at last they did…We had sixty killed, wounded, and taken prisoner.

Major Alexander Spotswood, Purdie’s Virginia Gazette, 15 December 1775

We were alarmed this morning by the firing of some guns just after reveille beating, which as the enemy had paid us this compliment several times before, we at first concluded to be nothing but a morning salute; but, in a short time after, I heard adjutant Blackburn call out, “Boys, stand to your arms.” Col. Woodford and myself immediately got equipped, and ran out. The colonel pressed down to the breastwork, in our front; and my alarm post being 250 yards in another quarter, I ran to it as fast as I could, and by the time I had made all ready for engaging, a very heavy fire ensued at the breastwork, in which were not more than 60 men. It continued for about half an hour, when the king’s troops gave way, after sustaining considerable loss, and behaving like true-born Englishmen. They marched up to our intrenchments with fixed bayonets; our young troops received them with firmness, and behaved as well as it was possible for soldiers to do. Capt. Fordyce, of the grenadiers, led the van with his company, and lieutenant Batut commanded the advance party. The former got killed within a few yards of the breastwork, with 12 privates. The lieutenant, with 16 soldiers, were taken prisoner, all wounded. Several others were carried into the fort, under cover of their cannon; and from the blood on the bridge, they must have lost one half of their detachment. It would appear that providence was on our side, for, during the whole engagement, we lost not a man, and only one was slightly wounded, in the hand….

Colonel William Woodford to the Virginia Convention, 10 December 1775

John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore

John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore

I must apologize for the hurry in which I wrote you Yesterday; since which nothing of moment has happened, but the abandoning of the Fort by the Enemy; We have taken Possession of it this morning.

From the vast effusion of blood on the bridge & in the Fort, from the Accounts of the Centries who saw many bodies carried out of the Fort to be interd, & other circumstances I conceive their loss to be much greater than I thought it yesterday, & the victory to be complete…. I have dispatched scouting Parties, & from their intelligence I shall regulate my future operations.

I am just informed by Lieut Batut that a Servant of Majr. Marshall who was in the party with Colo. Scott & deserted informed Lord Dunmore that not more than 300 Shirtmen were here; that imprudent Man caught at the bait & dispatched Capt. Leslie with all the Regulars who arrived at the Fort about 4 in the morng.

Colonel William Woodford to Edmund Pendleton, 10 December 1775

A servant belonging to major [Thomas] Marshal, who deserted the other night from col. Charles Scott’s party, has completely taken his lordship in. Lieutenant Batut, [of Britain’s 14th Regiment], who is wounded, and at present my prisoner, informs, that this fellow told them not more than 300 shirtmen were here; and that [Dunmore took] the bait, dispatching capt. Leslie with all the regulars (about 200) who arrived at the bridge about 3 o’clock in the morning, joined [by] about 300 black and white slaves, laid planks upon the bridge, and crossed just after our reveille had beat…capt. Fordyce of the grenadiers led the [attack] with his company, who, for coolness and bravery, deserved a better fate, as well as the brave fellows who fell with him, who behaved like heroes. They marched up to our breastwork with fixed bayonets, and perhaps a hotter fire never happened, or a greater carnage, for the number of troops. None of the blacks etc. in the rear, with capt. Leslie, advanced farther than the bridge. This was a second Bunker’s Hill affair, in miniature; with this difference, that we kept our post, and had only one man wounded in the hand.


Following the Battle of Great Bridge, Woodford’s letters were reprinted in Purdie’s Virginia Gazette on 15 December 1775 stating that they had captured: “35 stands of arms and accoutrements, 3 officers [fusils], powder, ball and cartridges, with sundry other things, have likewise fallen into our hands.”, as well as Dixon and Hunter’s Virginia Gazette on 16 December 1775:  “I must apologize for the hurry in which I wrote you yesterday, since which nothing of a moment has happened but the abandoning of the fort by the enemy. We have taken possession of it this morning, and found therein the stores mentioned in the enclosed list, to wit, 7 guns 4 of them sorry, 1 bayonet…Enclosed is an inventory of the arms, &c. taken yesterday, to wit, 2 silver mounted [fusils] with bayonets, 1 steel do. without bayonet, 24 well fixed muskets with bayonets, 6 muskets without bayonets, 28 cartridge boxes with pouches; 3 silver mounted cartridge boxes…26 bayonet belts…The arms I shall retain for the use of the army.”

To Shelter the Enlisted Man: A Study of Other Ranks Tents During the American War for Independence – Part I

"A Perspective View of an Encampment" by Bowles & Carver, 1780. (A.S.K. Brown Military Collection Brown University)

by James Mullins, Todd Post, Steven Rayner, and Gregory Theberge

A Tent for Every Mess

During the American War for Independence, each company within a Continental or British Regiment was broken down into individual groups of 5 to 6 soldiers.  These groups were collectively known as “messes”.  In order to simplify the everyday routines of army life, military  regulations of the day required that the men of these messes would prepare and eat their meals together as well as sleep as a common group. In order to do this during a campaign season, each mess was issued a tin kettle from their regimental stores. In many cases, a bag to transport these kettles was also issued. Each mess was also assigned a common tent if, and when, tents were available in the field.  With this in mind, it was the mess, the most basic unit of an 18th century army, which greatly influenced the size, shape, and construction of the tents which saw service during the American War for Independence.

In order to cover a 5 man mess, as well as their accoutrements (less their firearms which were often stored in Bell Tents), the average size of an enlisted man’s (a.k.a. “Other Ranks’) tent in the British army was 7 feet long by 6 feet tall.

Lewis Lochee: British Other Ranks’ Tent Revealing 3 Side Panel Construction, with 2 Panel Flaps, and a Bell Back


Lewis Lochee, “Essay on Castremetation”

“The Tents which are of various sorts and forms, serve to lodge and protect the troops against the inclemency of the weather; those of the private men are made of strong cloth, and are large enough to lodge 5 men.”

Lewis Lochee: British Other Rank’s Tent Poles


“These tents are fixed by means of three poles and thirteen pegs: The poles A are called Standard Poles, and are about 6 feet high; the pole B is called Ridge Pole, and is about 7 feet long: The ridge and standard poles are held together by two iron pins, fixed in the top of the standard poles.”

What is interesting is that these dimensions of British Army tents were the same as they were when the New Model Army was operating in the mid 17th Century:

3 Aprilis 1645

“Tents for the Trayne  200 of John Snow Tentmaker the Tents viien foote long viien foote broad and six foote high of good Lockeram according to the pattern & wth firre staves lynes & pinns & other appurtenances according to ye best Trench Tents at xxs p Tent”


Unlike their British counterparts, the size of a Continental Army tent often varied throughout the course of the war.  These tents were ideally built to accomodate a mess of six men. Later in the war, they were to shelter up to 7 or 8 men.

June 1776

Returns for Captain Joseph Bloomfields Company

3rd New Jersey Regiment, Continental Line

“Tents to be Drawn for … 72 Soldiers, which is 12 Tents allowing Six men to a tent.”

Orderly Book of the Pennsylvania State Regiment.

“Head Quarters Fort Mercer May 24th 1777…

Regular Division of Tents to be made according to ye number of men in each Company – one tent for six men or 5 men and one woman…” (need bibliography, p. 58.)

At times, Continental Army tents were too small to accomodate a full mess of men. This could have been due to a variety of reasons. First, there were the contractors.  Quite frequently, these men were sailmakers who did not necessarily have any set standards to go by.  Secondly, in certain cases, it may have been due to the tent manufacturing process itself. To be discussed later, there is evidence that some tents were sewn utilizing a selvedge edge seam technique.  Depending on the width of the canvas used, tents could have varied if the selvedge edge of the cloth dictated the location of the seams.

Quartermaster General Timothy Pickering

‘Since the army took the field I have heard great complaints of the smallness of the tents. The new common tents are not too big for four Men: upwards of 400 were made before my Appointment… The same sail maker I suppose have made those sent only you, which tho of very good stuff yet are ruined by the smallness of their size… Some old common tents were from 7 to 7 1/2 feet square on the ground. The ends of the new tents Complained of are little more than five feet broad. It seems that the various descriptions of tents have been misunderstood.” (need bibliography – national archives?)

On October 10, 1776 the Connecticut Assembly resolved:

“That each Tent ordered to be made by this Assembly… shall contain the quantity of twenty-seven yards of cloth, one yard wide, or equal thereto in cloth of different width, well manufactured of yarn not coarser than thirty knots to the pound;” (H-2)

In 1781, however,  Quartermaster General Timothy Pickering attempted to “standardize” the minimum dimensions of the tents used by the Continental Army.  He recommended that:

“A common, or soldier’s tent should be at least 7 feet square, larger a little if it happens to suit the breath of the cloath.” and should be “7 feet square and 7 Feet Height.” (W-2)

Once again, this implies that the length of these tents could vary depending on the width of the canvas available for their fabrication.

Tent and Sail Cloth

A detail of Charles Wilson Peale’s portrait of Colonel Walter Stewart of The Pennsylvania Line revealing a typical Regimental Camp layout of the Continental Line. Note the musket rack, sparseness of the camp, as well as the individual kitchen and possible Quarter Guard with sentry at the tree line.

According to current research, the fabric and techniques utilized to produce other ranks’ tents during the American War for Independence was frequently similar to that used in the production of sails during the 18th century. In fact, sailmakers were often contracted to produce military tents.

Nathanael Greene to Captain Maberly:

December 4, 1780 (Year Uncertain)

“All the sail and tent makers will be sent to you tomorrow. You will make up the sail and raven’s duck into common tents.” (G-1,  p.79)

Likewise, the tools that were required to sew sails were also utilized in the fabrication of tents.  Although he is referencing Officer’s Marquis, Timothy Pickering, Quarter Master General of the American Army, confirms this:

Timothy Pickering, General Quartermaster’s Return, April 1, 1782

“Return of all Public Property belonging to the Quarter Master General

Department from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania & with the Main Army

Species of Property….

[p. 16.]

Materials & Spare Furniture…

Marquee {Hooks


Tent Buttons

Marquee Balls

Tent Pole Rings

Horsemans do.

Tent Sliders

Hanks Tent Cord…

Palm Irons

Sail Needles

Sailmakers Hooks…” (W-2)

Fabric utilized in the production of enlisted men’s tents was traditionally 12 to 16 ounces per square yard (on average) with a thread count roughly of 29 x 25-30 x 32 ends per inch. For an other ranks’ tent, the cloth had a Plain Weave. As an aside, there are some period examples of an Officer’s Marquee (or portions thereof) being made out of a Herringbone Patterned cloth.

While no resource specifically mentions the color of the  cloth used for tents, one period source states that it was Bleached. It is also quite possible that tent cloth was simply left in its natural (light brown) state which, over time, would bleach with exposure to the sun.

Depending on the reference, 18th Century Military Tent cloth was made of any of the following materials.  Some differed by name alone:

“Duck,” “Russia Duck,”  and “Raven Duck”

“Duck”, or “Dutch Duck”, was defined by Richard Rolt in 1761 as “a kind of Dutch sail cloth….sail cloth…is a particular sort of cloth, or canvas, made of hemp.”  Rolt also refers to a statute of George II stipulating that both hemp and flax was used for sail cloth (Duck), but the yarn used “should be well cleansed, even spun, and well twisted”.  More contemporary source refers to it as “strong, thick linen cloth, finer and lighter than canvas” (M-3)

To General Nathanael Greene.

“Newport, Nov. 6th, 1779…

Sir, your favour of the 30th ult. I received, and have, as you wished, laid hold of every

piece of duck in the town, which is only eleven of Russia and five of Raven’s, which

are now making into tents…

E. Bowen, D. Q. M. G.” (S-3,  p. 248)

An Example of Extant Unbleached 18th Century Dutch Duck Tent Cloth from the Anders Berch Papers, labeled “Taft Duuk”

An order of Congress to P. Curtenius to purchase and fill a requisition for supplying the Continental Army:

‘Amount of sundries, as per the order of Congress, of the 26th of February, 1776, and sundry other orders, viz.:…

£    s    d

12 field officer’s tents, at about £25,                                   300   0    0…

32 captain’s tents,

32 lieutenant’s tents,

16 ensign’s tents,

4 adjutant’s tents.  96, at about £8 each,                            768   0    0

4 quartermaster’s tents,

4 chaplain’s tents,

4 surgeon’s tents,

108 valises at about 40s.                                                    216   0   0

108 tent bags at 5s.                                                              27   0   0

450 soldier’s tents at about 80s,                                       1832  0   0

(The price depends on the price of duck. If I must give £5 10s for ravens duck they will cost full what I have estimated. A square tent takes a piece of duck, and making 32s.  A soldier’s, 21 yards at 3s per yard, and making 10s. P. T. C.)’” (H-3, p. 487)

Here, we can see that an individual soldier’s tent took 21 yards of “duck.”

We can also get an idea on the quantity of tent cloth required to furnish a company with tents:

Captain John Floyd to Col. William Preston

Sept. 18th 1774…

I am in hopes we shall make out pretty well about kettles we are also allowed 60 yards of tent cloth for a company…” (K-1)

On the Manufacture of Sail Cloth in Scotland:

Thomas Pennant, Montrose, Scotland, 1772:

A Detail Taken From David Morier’s Painting of the British Grenadiers of the 19th and 20th Regiments of Foot and 21st Royal North British Fusiliers Showing A Tent Possibly Made of Brown, Unbleached, Linen, c. 1751-1760 (The Royal Collection)


“The town has increased one-third since the year 1745; at that time there was not a single manufacture: the inhabitants either lived by one another, or by the hiring out of ships, or by the salmon trade. At present the manufactures have risen to a great pitch: for example, that of sailcloth, or ‘sailduck,’ as it is here called, is very considerable; in one house, eighty-two thousand five hundred and sixty-six pieces have been made since 1755. Each piece is thirty-eight yards long, and numbered from eight to one. No. eight weighs twenty-four pounds, and every piece, down to no. one, gains three pounds in the piece. The thread for this cloth is spun here, not by common wheel, but by the hands. Women are employed, who have the flax placed round their wastes, twist a thread with each hand as they recede from a wheel, turned by a boy at the end of a great room.”

Extrapolating from Pennant’s description:

No. 1 – 45 lbs.

No. 2 – 42

No. 3 – 39

No. 4 – 36

No. 5 – 33

No. 6 – 30

No. 7 – 27

No. 8 – 24, per Pennant.

Width unknown.

(P-2, p. 499)

Although the following account by Isaac Titford is dated 7 years after the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, it nonetheless sheds some light on the manufacturing process of sail-cloth in Boston in 1790. While it may not exactly pertain to the fabrication of sail-cloth during the American Revolution, it does reveal that English sail-cloth was STARCHED during this period.

Isaac Titford, in a letter of December 26, 1790:

“I am lately returned from the continent of North America, and beg leave to mention the two following remarks I made at Boston, although I must conceive them known to the Society; yet their importance will, I am sure, excuse the mentioning them to you.

In their sail-cloth or Duck manufactory, which they carry on with great spirit, they publicly allege that theirs is superior to the British sailcloth, from its never being subject to mildew, which I understand is very pernicious to its wear. I observed that their weavers wet or moisten their warp in the loom, with a decoction or jelly-like substance, made of the remains of Neat-feet, after the oil is expressed from them, and which then is of no farther use: this residuum is boiled to a jelly, or kind of glue, and used by them instead of starch made with flour and water, commonly used, if I am rightly informed, by sail-cloth manufacturers in England.” (need bibliography p. 184-85. (transactions of the society)

Arthur Young also elaborated on both BLEACHING and STARCHING sail-cloth during the manufacturing process in his 1771 “A Six Months Tour through the North of England” :

Manufactures at Warrington, Cheshire.

“At -Warrington,- the manufactures of sail-cloth and sacking are very considerable. The first is spun by women and girls, who earn about 2 d. a day. It is then bleached, which is done by men, who earn 10 s. a week; after bleaching it is wound by women, whose earnings are 2 s. 6 d. a week; next it is warped by men, who earn 7 s. a week; and then starched, the earnings, 10 s. 6 d. a week. The last operation is the weaving, in which the men earn 9 s. the women 5 s. and boys 3 s. 6 d. a week.” III, (Y-1, p. 164)

“The spinners in the sacking branch earn 6 s. a week, women; then it is wound on bobbins by women and children, whose earnings are 4 d. a day’ then the starchers take it, they earn  6 s. a week; after which it is wove by men, at 9 s. a week. The sail-cloth about three hundred weavers, and the sacking an hundred and fifty; and they reckon twenty spinners and two or three other hands to a weaver.

During the war (the Seven Years War, author’s addition) the sail-cloth branch was very brisk, grew a little faint upon the peace, but is now, and has been for some time, pretty well recovered, though not to be so good as in the war. The sacking manufacture was also better in the war; but is always brisk.

The spinners never stand still for want of work; they always have it if they please; but weavers sometimes are idle for want of yarn, which, considering the number of poor within reach, (the spinners of the sacking live chiefly in /Cheshire/,) is melancholy to think of.” III (Y-1, p. 164)

In Lord John Sheffield’s  1784 “Observations on the Commerce of the American States,” we gain some further insights on Russian and Raven Duck sail-cloth:

“Sail-Cloth of every kind is imported by the American States. Russia had the advantage in Russia-duck and Raven-duck, but, when charged with the duty on importation here, they were as dear as the British sail-cloth. lately, the exportation from hence of of Russia sail-cloth for America has almost ceased. Russia-duck in England is about 6s. per piece (of 36 yards) dearer than in Holland, arising from duties and other expenses, which, as far as it will not interfere with our own linen manufactures, should be lowered.

In the Spring of the present year, 1783, Russia-duck was so scarce in England, that near 3l. was given for a piece that formerly sold from 35s. to 40s. This occasioned a great demand for British sail-cloth, which has a bounty of 2d. per ell on exportation. A duty of 2l. 1s. 8 1/2d. is payable on importation of 120 ells, or 150 yards of Russia-duck or sail-cloth, no part of which is drawn back upon exportation, either to any British colony, or to any other parts whatever. It it considerably wider than English.

The number of pieces of sail-cloth exported from Petersburg for five years, was as follows:

1774        1775      1776      1777      1778

Pieces in Eng. ships         11580       6757      2659      1505        401

Do. in foreign ships         25187      28397    38660    44156     37663

________________         ——        ——      ——      ——      ——-

Tot. numb. of pieces        36767      35154    41319    45661     38054

The law that obliged all British-built ships to have the first set of sails of British canvas under the penalty of 50l. being now at an end, with regard to the ships of the American States, there will be competition for this article. Of late years considerable improvements have been made in the various species of sail-cloth in Scotland, and the price is considerably reduced, in consequence of the facility with which hemp can be brought from the Baltic, and the low price of labour in the north of Scotland. It will be in the interest of the Americans to take British sail-cloth while the present bounty is continued.

It is said,  British sail-cloth is more apt to mildew; but that may be prevented, in a great measure, by pickling when new; it is also said, that the Russia sail-cloth is more pliable. France makes sail-cloth, but is much dearer and inferior. Some has been made at Philadelphia, but the quantity must be trifling.” (S-2)


Col. William Christian to Col. William Preston

“Camp Union Septr. 12, 1774…

The kettles and Tents were chiefly distributed before I came  I could get but 16 or 17 battered tin kettles for all Fincastle & but few Tents  But I am told oxen brigs [unknown doodle] enough for Tents will be brought with the Pack horses to morrow  If the major is not marched when you get this Intelligence I really think we ough[t] to send over the whole Country and try to beg or borrow kettles for to do withougt is very hard almost [im]possible  It will presently make men sick to live on Roasted meat without broath.” (T-1, p. 198)

Col. Richard Henderson

“Fort Boone, on the mouth of Otter Creek, Cantuckey River…” (H-4, p. 221)

“Friday, 5th. [May, 1775.]… Let Mr. Wm. Cocke have five yards and a half oznaburgs off      my old tent, for which I charge him 5s. 6d. V. money.” (H-4, p. 225)

From various accounts, we can determine that osnaburg tents had their limitations when retarding the elements:

1760 (Pre-war):

Captain Samuel Jenks of Chelsea, Massachusetts:

“Thirsday, 4th Sept. [1760. Six miles from Chamblee, Canada.] Last night I had my tent pitcht & fixed so that I lay quite well… we shall soon I hope, be mouing homeward, for it begins to be cold nights, & our oznabrig tabernacles is but poor shelter for this cold climate.” (M-3, p. 375)


Henry Hudson, in a letter from Rhode Island, October 14, 1778.

“It would be pretty tolerable, if it was fair weather all the time, but these oznabrig houses are not so clever in rainy weather.” (C-4, p. 409)

1791 (Post-war):

Captain Samuel Newman, 2nd United States Regiment. St. Clair’s Campaign:

Saturday Septr. 24th [1791].

Rainy, stormy morning. rain’d all Day, but absolutely pour’d in sheets & torrents all night! Tent, bed & Clothes Wet, d–d the Economy of the Contractor who for thinness of our Tents, particularly the backs & doors which are made of very coarse Oznabrigs! & thro! which the rain beat, as if thro! a Sieve! this is the Country cheated, and the Soldier imposed on…”  (Q-1, p. 64)


“Williamsburg May 17, 1777
Commonwealth … D
To 20 Ps Ticklenburg 2681 1/4 Yds.
deliv’d W. Davenport for makg
Tents for the soldiery belonging
to this State: also 12 ll brown
Thr.d @ 8/6 for making up the said linen
Rec’d by [signed] Amb— Davenport”

“List of Camp Equipage Military Stores, Baggage &c. taken in the Brigt. Symetry Capt.

[Blank.] at Wilmington Jan: 1778.-…

Sent to Faggs

Manor Meeting house

230 New Ticklenburg Tents…

117 worn do. fit for use

38 old ditto…

Moor Hall Jan. 10 1778” (W-2)

“Tuesday, June 13, 1780…

That the board of admiralty take order for supplying the quartermaster general with   such quantity of the duck and ticklenberg belonging to the United States, in possession  of the navy board at Boston, as he may have occasion for, to compleat the number of tents wanting for the army, and which can be spared from the immediate use of the navy.” (C-2, p.175)

According to this account, it is apparent that the cloth to be used for the construction of tents was originally intended to be used for the fabrication of sails for the navy.

“Tow Cloth”

“At a Meeting &c. adjourned from Yesterday. 16 July [1776.]

The Hono. Congress having requested this Colony to furnish our troops with tents, Cloathing &c.:  On consideration voted a committee be appointed to purchase and procure all the tow cloth and other suitable cloth or materials for making tents that can be had in the Colony.” (H-2, p. 482)

“This Board do appoint Messrs. Andre Huntington, Joshua Elderkin, Cauncey Whittelsey of Middletown, Jona. Fitch, Saml Squire, and Lynde Lord, a committee to purchase all the suitable tow cloth and other suitable cloths for tents, to be obtained in their respective counties, and cause the same to be made up into proper tents for the use of the troops of this Colony, in the most expeditious manner they can, and report to his honor of what they shall respectively do in the premises.” (H-2, p. 483)

Again taking into consideration the relationship of sail and tent cloth, we can gain further insight on tent material by referencing Nautical manuscripts.  In David Steel’s, “The Elements and Practice of Rigging And Seamanship” (1794) , we see that sail cloth came in a variety of different weights based on a 38 yard long “Bolt” of 24” wide material:

CANVAS. For the royal navy, canvas or sail-cloth is 24 inches wide; and 38 Yards are called a bolt. To distinguish the different qualities, each bolt is numbered, and should weigh as follows; No. 1, 44 lb. No. 2, 41; No. 3, 38; No. 4, 35; No. 5, 32; No. 6, 29; No. 7, 24; and, No. 8, 21 pounds: from No. 1 to 6 is termed double, and above No. 6 single, canvas.” (S-4, p.86)

The Marquee of General George Washington - The American Revolution Center

The Marquee of General George Washington (The American Revolution Center)

Detail of General George Washington’s Marquee showing the utilization of unbleached linen cloth for the sod flap.  Examination of the canopy and walls of this tent reveals that it was originally made from a white and blue striped linen which has faded over time.

2d Virginia Regiment Light Company, July 1779

2d Virginia Regiment's Light Company, Stony Point, 1779 Artwork by Don Troiani,

Research shows that most of the troops involved at Stony Point would have been in French-made “contract coats” (aka “Lottery Coats”), supplemented by linen hunting shirts. Wayne comments to Washington in September 1779 that the clothing of the Light Infantry was “very Ragged–especially the Virginia Line whose coats are so worn out that they are Obliged to Substitute Linen hunting Shirts”. These hunting shirts were probably natural or off-white.

The Corps of Light Infantry had a difficult time becoming uniform, as Washington was not willing to apply too many resources to a temporary Corps. For that reason, some of the Corps had caps (either leather or felt “cap-hats”) and some had simple cocked hats. Wayne’s orders the day before state: “Every Officer & Soldier is then to fix a peice [sic] of white paper in the most Conspi[c]ous part of his Hat or Cap to Distinguish him from the Enemy”. Based on this information, either caps or hats are appropriate, with slips of white paper added to them.

Just after Stony Point, it can be documented that the battalion companies of the Virginia Line bought Nivernois style hats (4″ in the front, 3″ on the side, 5″ in the rear). The first mention specific mention of caps for the Virginian light companies comes in October 1779, “Gen’l Wayne has observed with Great Concern That the Virginians are the only troops in the Light Infantry that has not procured Hair for their Caps.”

Recommended Reading: Battle History of the 2d Virginia Regiment

Battle of Great Bridge

Philadelphia Campaign

Paulus Hook


Guilford Courthouse (Hawes’ 2d Virginia Regiment of 1781)


Leggings: The 2d Virginia Regiment made up leggings of blue duffle with horn buttons, as entries in the Virginia Public Store Day Book indicate:

Capt William taliaferro Dr To Sundries to fill up his necessary Roll 3 yds blue duffil @ 6/8…17 doz horn buttons for leggings…4d
Virginia Public Store Daybook, October 31, 1775

Capt. Meade P Self Dr…10 yards Duffle @ 7/…11 doz small butts. @ 6d
Virginia Public Store Daybook, November 13, 1775

In the colonies “country boots” were often popular with civilians, especially the backcountry:

On their legs they have Indian boots, or leggins, made of course woolen cloth, that are either wrapped round loosely and tied with garters, or are laced upon the outside, and always come better than half way up the thigh; these are a great defence and preservative, not only against the bite of serpents and poisonous insects, but likewise against the scratches of thorns, briars, scrubby bushes, and under wood, with which this whole country is infested and overspread.

J.F.D. Smyth, A Tour in the United States of America…Sometime in 1773 or 1774, 2 volumes (London 1784), 2: 178-81.

This style of legging was also adopted by men of the Fairfax Independent Company, who resolved to “…distinguishing our Dress, when we are upon Duty, by painted Hunting-Shirts and Indian Boots…” (Fairfax County Militia Association; Independent Company of Fairfax, The Papers of George Mason, 1725-1792, edited by Robert A. Rutland (Chapel Hill), I, 210-211).  Given the quantity of buttons to fabric, it appears that the early Virginian leggings were made of blue duffle like “Indian boots” with approximately five horn buttons at the ankle.  Entries in the daybook of the Virginia Public Store indicate that the 1st Virginia Regiment also drew garters, but there are no such entries for the 2d Virginia Regiment.

Hunting Shirts

1775-1776: The hunting shirts of used by the Virginia regiments of 1775 were made of osnaburg and had differing finishing details to designate rank and regiment. Research seems to indicate that during the Revolutionary War, “hunting shirt” indicated an open front garment. They would become a defining feature of the early regimental clothing, as Colonel Woodford and others would refer to the soldiers as “shirtmen”.

Most of the exact finishing details come not from the 2d Virginia Regiment’s orderly book, or the orderly book for the regiments encamped at College Camp, but from another Virginia regiment that was serving in the same place during this time, the 6th Virginia Regiment. As there were several general orders being made in regards to all of the regiments at College Camp, the use of short round hats with black binding for instance, it stands to reason that the general construction techniques were the same and that they differed only in regimental distinctions.

The 2d Virginia Regiment’s hunting shirts were most definitely purple and made from osnaburg, however that is all that is known of their appearance from their own orderly book: “It is Expected that each Capt. will with all Expedition Provide Legins for his men & hunting shirts Dy’d of a purple Coulour…” (Orderly Book of the 2d Virginia Regiment, October 27, 1775)   The fabric used and the fact that the men made these shirts themselves is clearly established by several orders and draws of cloth:

Thread Sufficient for the purpose must be Drawn, at the same Time as much as will make each Soldier a Hunting Shirt
Orderly Book of the 2d Virginia Regiment, October 11, 1775

Capt George Johnston Dr P order Colo. Woodford…To 4 yards oznabr. For H. shirts @ 1/6
Captn William Taliaferro Dr P order Colo Woodford…137 yards Oznabr. Hunting Shts @ 1/6

Virginia Public Store Day Book, November 6, 1775

The orderly book of the 6th Virginia Regiment provides more detail: “…a hunting shirt well made and short just to come below the waistband of the breeches…” (Orderly Book of the 6th Virginia Regiment, 26 March 1776 to 26 January 1778, American Collection, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. September 11, 1776)  Rank apparently also was denoted by finishing details, for this entry goes on to say that the shirts (for the 6th Virginia Regiment) were to be: “Cuffed and Caped with red. The Serjts to be only cuffed with red. the Drummers and fifers to be white & cuffed with brown the Corporals shirts to be the same as the mens but they are to get some red twist & I will put then in the way of making a knot…” Unfortunately, the same extrapolation cannot be made to the what the 2d Virginia Regiment may have done for rank designations as their shirts were entirely one color, therefore there is no contrasting color to use to designate who the sergeants were.

The only additional piece of information is that in March 1776 that money would be provided for their addition: “The Committee allow Cuffs and Capes to be added to the Hunting Shirts of the regular’s at the expense of the Country.” which could be interpreted to mean that contrasting cuffs and capes were to be added (a common detail of Virginia Continental hunting shirts in 1776).

1777-1778: The 2d Virginia Regiment was completely suppled with new regimental coats at the expense of Colonel William Spotswood when they joined the Main Army in 1777 and no mention of hunting shirts are made in the clothing returns of late 1777 or early 1778.  There are only two apparent references during this period:

Deserted from capt. John Willis’s company, on their march to the Northward, a soldier by the name of Jos: Bryant, who lives in the upper end of Westmoreland, and frequently to be seen at mr. Benjamin Johnston’s ordinary, where he was enlisted. He is a well made man, with a dark skin, and black hair, about 5 feet 9 or 10 inches high ; had on when he deserted a dark hunting shirt.
Alexander Purdie, Virginia Gazette, April 11, 1777

Henry Mace, a Private, 5 feet 8 inches high, well set, fair faced, hand a blue hunting Shirt when he went off…
Dixon and Hunter, Virginia Gazette, September 5, 1777

It should be noted that of the thirteen men mentioned in the September 1777 deserter advertisement, Mace is the only one mentioned wearing a hunting shirt and five others are described as wearing regimental coats.  It is quite possible that these hunting shirts were leftovers from 1775-1776 as “dark” could describe purple and “blue” could be a faded purple shirt.  For these reasons, we do not currently use hunting shirts in our 1777-1778 impression other than as something to be loaned to a new recruit for their first few events.

Watercolor by Jean-Baptiste Antoine de Verger

1778-1780: In October 1778, a large quantity of French-made regimental coats were delivered and issued to the Continental Army with enough of a surplus that a second issue was made again in November 1779, “I must first request of you not to permit one of the men to wear their new clothes until the huts are done…” (Febiger Letter Book, 1778-1780, November 30, 1779, Historical Society of Pennsylvania).

The French and state issued bounty clothing issued in 1778 must not have been durable, as in the period between its issue and late 1779, the Virginians were frequently described as being in poor clothing, which was supplemented with hunting shirts:

General Anthony Wayne comments to Washington in September 1779 that the clothing of the Light Infantry was “very ragged — especially the Virginia Line whose coats are so worn out that they are Obliged to Substitute Linen hunting Shirts”

Head Quarters, West Point, September 28, 1779.

My Lord: I have your favr. of the 27th. Supposing the Continental Cloathing delivered to the Virginia line last Fall to be of equal quality with that delivered to the other part of the Army, they ought now to be in better condition than any other troops, as they had [at the same time contrary to my judgment and express desire] a very considerable quantity of state Cloathing in addition to the Continental [which I was sure coming altogether would be misapplied and avail them little].

I have directed Mr. Wilkinson the new Cloathier General who is gone to the Eastward to send immediately forward all the woolen Cloathing of every kind. The moment it arrives it shall be delivered to those most in want. I hope we shall have a sufficiency of Body Cloathing, but in Blankets [and Hats], notwithstanding my repeated remonstrances, I fear we shall fall short. I do not know what stock of shoes are on hand, but I imagine not great. I will write to the Cloathier and know, and will order a due proportion to your division. I hope the new arrangement of the Cloathing department will put it upon a better footing than it has heretofore been. It has occasioned more trouble to me, and has given more disgust to the Officers than any one thing besides in the service.

George Washington to William Alexander, Lord Stirling, September 28, 1779. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor

The common hunting shirt later in the war was open in the front, had a single cape, a simple cuff and light fringe as illustrated in the watercolor by Jean-Baptiste Antoine de Verger, a sublieutenant in the Royal Deux-Ponts Regiment that took part in the siege of Yorktown and painted several American soldiers.