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Massachusetts Militia Coat

By:   •  August 4, 2019  •  Essay  •  854 Words (4 Pages)  •  729 Views

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Ethan Goodfellow

HIST 352

Dr. Aieta

Massachusetts Militia Coat

The Massachusetts militia coat that is on display at the Westfield Athenaeum has limited information that goes along with it, so there is a lot to speculate on. The coat itself is red on the outside and the upper part of the inside jacket. It has a black collar and cuffs, and there is a strip of black fabric going down both sides of the coat opening with multiple buttons running down the length of the coat. At the bottom of the jacket there is a white fabric on the inside with a red heart on the bottom corners of the coat. On the top of the coat there seem to be black shoulders pads with black fabric for shoulder loops. The top of the coat almost seems like a place that epaulettes would be secured on.

This coat seems to be light weight and to have purpose, so it is most likely not a ceremonial garment. The British uniform at the time were purely for ceremonial and not functional. The British would wear heavy woolen coats that were tight on the sleeves, the collars would be worn upright to keep the heads of soldiers upright. The collar of the coat in question seems not to have this purpose, thus ruling out the idea that it was a British coat.

The buttons on the uniform are plain and have no markings. If there were markings on the uniforms it would be easier to determine what unit this coat came from. The coat is from at earliest the 1790s, possibly in the time post Militia Act of 1792. The Militia Act of 1792 required able-bodied white men from 18 to 45 to serve in the militia, 10% of the nation’s population was required to be in the militia. Due to the increase of local militia size, it can not be out of the question that this coat was made in response of the Act.

The coat is in very condition which is surprising for a militia uniform dating back as far as the 1790s. Since there was no land combat at the time, that could explain the condition of the coat. The coat was most likely worn for drill only, and probably never wore for any other purpose besides service in the militia.

The style of coat is very similar in style to ones worn by the Massachusetts militia men during the American Revolution. There is an account from the Fort Ticonderoga records of a man deserting the Massachusetts 14th Regiment under Gamaliel Bradford. The man deserting was recorded wearing “…left in October wearing, “reddish coat, striped jacket, black breeches.”’ From this recording it can be assumed that militia men wore whatever was available to them, so it would not be out of the question to see a red coat wore in the post-revolution time period, especially since the United States was not at war with Great Britain and would not be again until 1812.

Another explanation for the red coloring of the coat was during the later part of the 1790s there was growing tensions with France. The XYZ affair took place in 1797 and led directly into the Quasi-War with France. President Adams had George Washington take command of the Army and prepare for an invasion, despite most of the combat being at sea. Since the Americans were preparing to fight the French Revolutionary Army, who had blue uniforms, that could explain the red coat seen at the Westfield Athenaeum.

There is no definitive answer on what colors were wore for

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