The Malicious, Morose Malady and the Vindictive, Vagrant Vixen: A 17th Regiment Story, Part 1

This week we welcome British Army researcher extraordinaire Don Hagist to the blog. Don has spent many years researching the interior lives of the common British soldier, tracing his experiences, thoughts, and feelings throughout the conflict and beyond. In this installment, we receive a rare window into the post-war experiences of one man who chose to stay in America and made questionable relationship choices that places him in hot water. This is part 1 of the article, so be sure to tune in for part 2 next month.

– Will Tatum

On February 18, 1778, a wedding took place in Middletown, Connecticut. Thomas Mellalew married Hannah Andrews at an Anglican church in the little town on a big bend in the Connecticut River. We have no details on Hannah’s background, but we wonder if her choice of a husband caused a stir in her family or community, for he was a British soldier. Or, at least, he had been, until he deserted from the 17th Regiment of Foot.

The surname is rendered on the regiment’s muster rolls as “Melody,” but as will be seen below, other spellings include Mallady, Mallalue, and similar phonetic variants. Nothing that we know about Thomas Mellalew’s military career suggests that he was prone to abscond from the army, but we have little to go on besides the muster rolls, and his desertion was not an ordinary case. From England or Scotland (the muster rolls tell us that he was “British” as opposed to Irish or “Foreign”), he joined the army some time before 1772, the earliest date for which rolls exist. He had been a weaver before enlisting, the most common trade among British soldiers. No detailed records survive to tell us about his discipline or performance as a soldier, except that he was trusted enough to be granted a furlough during the regiment’s peacetime years in Great Britain.

Boston 1775 map
Boston, Massachusetts, in 1775, (Courtesy of the Museum of the American Revolution)

Mellalew came to America with the regiment in late 1775, and endured the difficult winter in Boston, the voyage to Halifax and then to Staten Island in the first half of 1776, and the fast-moving campaign through New York and New Jersey in the second half of that year. At the beginning of 1777 he had at least five years of experience as a soldier, including one major campaign.

The battle of Princeton on 3 January 1777 was perhaps the 17th Regiment’s greatest trial of the war. In the face of overwhelming odds, the seven companies of the regiment engaged (the flank companies were detached, and it appears that one battalion company was some distance away as a baggage guard) acquitted themselves well. They did suffer a significant number of killed, wounded and captured. Among the latter was Thomas Mellalew. The Princeton prisoners were sent to Connecticut, where they were dispersed among several towns. Mellalew was sent to a small town in the northwestern part of the state called New Hartford. He didn’t stay. He may have obtained permission to work locally, as many British prisoners did, or he may have simply had enough of soldiering. One way or another, he deserted from captivity, the next we know of him is his marriage in Middletown a year later and some 25 miles southeast of New Hartford.

The recreated 17th at Princeton Battlefield State Park, January 2017

Their specific activities over the next dozen years haven’t been determined. We know that he worked as a barber, a trade he may have learned in the army. In the 1780s they lived for time in Westfield, Massachusetts, just west of Springfield. He drank. He sought out other women. At some point he took an ad out in a Springfield newspaper. Soon after, he took out another ad rescinding the first one. We haven’t found the text of either ad, but the first one probably looked something like this one, that he placed in the autumn of 1791: “Whereas Hannah, my Wife, has forsaken my bed and board – this is therefore to forbid all persons trusting her on my account. Thomas Mallady. Richmond, October 14, 1791.”

BerkshireCo1844-wb markup
Map of Berkshire County, MA, 1844, Richmond is marked with a red dot

The ad, dated from the Massachusetts town of Richmond on the New York border, was placed in the 25 October edition of a newspaper called the Western Star that began publication in Stockbridge, Massachusetts in 1789. Ads like this were fairly common in period newspapers, and usually we can only wonder about the stories behind them. In this case, however, apparently after considerable fallout from ad and other events, Hannah Mellalew published a notice of her own in the 11 September 1792 edition of the same paper:

“Take Notice.
It is with reluctance that I am drove to the disagreeable necessity of publishing the subsequent lines for the consideration of the candid publick. I am sensible that publications of this kind often have a tendency to bring disgrace on the author; but all who have read the publication of Thomas Mellalew (or Mallady, as he calls himself) my Companion (who advertised me in the publick prints in the months of October last) will pardon me for being desirous that the publick should have a just statement of the facts. A statement of one half of the aggravated crimes that he was guilty of while we lived together would make a larger volume than I am able to get published, or any one have patience to read, and they would bring disgrace on me and all the human race; therefore, I shall only mention a few that are the least dishonourable. I can with prudence say, that they are such as these; taking property that was not his own; being with other women, of all characters but good, and all colours but white; he has once been detected in attempting to be with a Negroe’s wife in a barn: It will be needless to mention drunkenness, it being so trifling compared with his other failings. It is not my power to describe his malicious and morose temper, but it is such that I lived in great fear of being murdered by him. If any persons should dispute the truth of these facts, I shall be very happy if they would take the trouble to call on me, to convince them of the truth of these and many others, (if they will have patience to hear,) by the best authorities where he hath lived; and likewise that I have conducted with as much prudence as any person could under my circumstances. The said Mellalew (or Mallady) is a Weaver & Barber, about middling size, has a scar on his upper lip, which has the appearance of a hair lip, sewed up; has black curled hair, is a foreigner that deserted from the British army last war. Whoever will take up said Mellalew (or Mallady) and conceal him from the sight of man and beast, shall have my thanks, and will merit the applause of the publick. All persons are forbid harbouring or trusting him on my account. Hannah Mellalew. East Hampton, Sept. 1792.”

Modern Map Richmond East Hampton
A modern view of the distance between Richmond and East Hampton, courtesy Google Maps

Easthampton is a considerable distance from Richmond, so clearly the couple had separated by this point. But they were reading the same paper. In fact, they were supporting it with ad revenue from their competing notices. The next week’s issue, on 18 September, carried Thomas Mellalew’s response, this time datelined from Pittsfield:

“To the Publick.

Whenever the character of an individual is notoriously attacked, it is incumbent on him, if he has any regard for his reputation, or respect for the opinion of the world, to come forward in his own defence. The writer is sensible that a private controversy between a man and woman, is not a very pleasing subject for the attention of the community: His only excuse is, that he write in his own defence.

“In the Star of last week, was published a piece under the signature of Hannah Mellalew -a performance in which my character is represented as black as the pen wielded by the hand of falhood [sic] could possibly describe. A publication, signed by a woman, the blackness of whose character my modesty will not permit me to lay naked to the view of the world – a woman with whom had it have been possible for any man to have lived, would not have been under the necessity of strolling about after a second gulled companion, while the first was still living. Let any ingenuous mind read the performance to which I allude, and then say, if any but an abandoned prostitute could ever have come forward with such a publication in the face of the world. No, not a woman on earth, who is not totally devoid of every species of virtue, could have assumed the impudence to publish such brothel ideas of a man, whom she claims as her companion.

“The charges alledged against me in that piece, it is in my power, at any time to confute. But I do not conceive that a Newspaper is a proper place to produce affidavits to establish the character of any man.

“Neither do I believe that the publick are so strongly inclined to believe any man a villain, as, without proof, without witnesses, or even the appearance of truth, to give credit to the aspersions of a malicious, vindictive, vagrant vixen. Thomas Mallady.
“Pittsfield, Sept. 1792.”

It didn’t end there. The next week’s issue of the Wester Star, dated 25 September, contained Hannah’s next volley…[tune in for part 2 in a future installment!]

biopic-donhDON HAGIST
is a life-long British Army researcher and founding member of the 22nd Regiment of Foot (recreated). His scholarly career includes preparing and publishing numerous editions of period primary sources and analytical articles for the living history community. Most recently, Hagist has written two major books.

The first, British Soldiers, American War examines the Revolutionary conflict through the eyes of British soldiers’ narratives. The second and more recent is The Revolution’s Last Men, an exploration of the last veterans of the War for Independence who were captured through early photography. Hagist runs his own blog and is a regular contributor at the Journal of the American Revolution

Captain William Brereton and the Grenadier Company: Officers of the 17th, Part 2

In this second installment of the series, Mark Odintz, Ph.D., returns with a look at the officers who served in the 17th’s Grenadier Company during the war. As always, we are grateful to Mark both for choosing the 17th Regiment for his studies and for sharing the fruits of his labor with our readers. If you enjoy these and Mark’s other entries, please post in the comments: we’re encouraging him to transform his dissertation into a book!

– Will Tatum

In this post I will provide sketches of the three officers who served in the grenadier company of the 17th during most of the American Revolution, with the addition of two others who joined it in 1781. For most of the period of the war the regiment contained twelve companies: eight companies of the line; two specialist companies, grenadiers and light infantry, known as the “flank” companies; and two “additional” companies that remained in the British Isles recruiting and forwarding men overseas to the regiment. Flank companies were usually detached from the regiment during the war and served in separate battalions of grenadiers and light infantry. Their officer compliment consisted of a captain and two lieutenants, in contrast to the average line company, which contained a captain (or field officer or captain lieutenant), a lieutenant and an ensign. Enlisted grenadiers were chosen in part for their height and physique, though this probably became less important on wartime service, when qualities of steadiness, toughness and endurance were paramount. For officers, service in the flank companies was prized as a vehicle for furthering one’s reputation, career and professional expertise. Eleven officers served in the light company of the 17th during the war, reflecting its almost constant active service and high level of casualties. The grenadier company, in contrast, though it saw hard service in the field, was officered almost entirely by three men, William Brereton, Gideon Shairp (or Sharp) and Lawford Miles, with two others, Alexander Saunderson and James Forrest, serving for the final two years of the war. Of the five three were Irish, one Scots, and one American, thus highlighting the national diversity of the officer corps during the American War.

17th Grenadier Lawson
Grenadier of the 17th Regiment by C.P. Lawson, copied from the Grenadier Book in the Prince Consort’s Library, Aldershot (Courtesy Anne S. K. Brown Collection, Providence, RI).

William Brereton, captain of the grenadier company of the 17th for much of the Revolution, is a classic example of the commitment of the Protestant Ascendancy of Ireland to military service. He came from a family of Anglo-Irish gentry that had come over to Ireland from Cheshire in the 16th century. His grandfather, William Brereton of Carrigslaney, County Carlow and Lohart Castle, county Cork, had served as High Sherriff of County Carlow in 1737. Our William’s father, Percival, was the third son, and died a captain in the 48th Foot with Braddock in 1755. Four of William’s uncles also served in the army, and his mother, Mary Lee, was the daughter of a general. A letter from William’s uncle Edward to Lord Amherst, soliciting a company for himself during the American Revolution, demonstrates the family ties to the military and how the connection had carried over into the next generation. He laid out his service and went on to state he “had 4 brothers officers, one of whom was killed with Braddock, and now 3 nephews in the Service.” (Burkes Family Records, Brereton Family; WO34:154, f. 147 Edward Brereton to Amherst).

Morier grenadiers 46 47 48
Grenadiers of the 46th, 47th, and 48th Regiments, circa 1751, by David Morier (Courtesy of the Royal Collection)

William was born in 1752 and purchased an ensigncy in the 17th on August 2, 1769. When Captain Edward Hope died in 1771, the succession went without purchase and Brereton became a lieutenant on Nov. 14, 1771. He became adjutant by purchase of the 17th in February, 1775 and continued to serve as adjutant until April of 1777. He purchased the captain lieutenantcy of the 17th on May 24, 1775 and purchased his captaincy later that year. He was commanding the grenadier company of the 17th by July of 1776 and, with the exception of a brief interval in July of 1780, continued to lead the grenadiers until he was promoted out of the regiment in April of 1781. (Record of service in WO25:751, f.217; dates of service in grenadier company from the rolls in WO12).

He was clearly an outstanding combat soldier, and distinguished himself during his six years as commander of the grenadier company. In 1779 his former commander, Earl Cornwallis, recommended him for promotion by summing up his service in the 17th– “He did his duty with the greatest spirit & zeal during the three campaigns in which I commanded the Grenadiers, but he more than once stepp’d forth when not particularly called upon, and without the too common apprehension of taking responsibility upon himself by his courage and good sense render’d essential service…” (WO1:1056, f. 317). One of his bolder exploits involved the capture of an American frigate, the Delaware, during the Philadelphia Campaign. On September 27, 1777, the thirty-four gun ship was attempting to deny the Delaware River to British shipping when it ran aground. A mixed force of British marines, sailors and Brereton’s grenadiers captured the ship, refloated it, and incorporated it into the Royal Navy. (Webb, Services of the 17th Regiment, pp. 73-73; Taafe, The Philadelphia Campaign, pp. 112-113).

Charles, Earl Cornwallis, as Colonel of the 33rd Regiment by H. D. Hamilton (Courtesy of Philip Mould Historical Portraits)

Perhaps the high point of his service as a grenadier came a few weeks later on the morning of October 11, 1777.  An outpost on an island near Philadelphia under the command of Major Vatass of the 10th was surprised by a rebel force.  Acting quickly and without orders, Brereton and Captain Wills, a grenadier officer of the 23d, put together a scratch force of grenadiers and Hessians, crossed over to the island, recaptured the post and rescued the garrison as it was being brought off by the rebels (WO71:84, Court-martial of John Vatass, 16 Oct 1777; and Court-martial of Richard Blackmore 21 October 1777). Continuing at the head of the grenadier company, Brereton was wounded at the battle of Monmouth in 1778.

After twelve years in the 17th Brereton purchased his majority in the 64th Foot in April of 1781. Late in the war Brereton commanded at one of the last successful British skirmishes of the war at the Battle of the Combahee River, outside Beaufort, South Carolina. On August 27, 1782, he was leading a foraging detachment (including a company from the 17th) from the garrison at Charleston when they were intercepted by an American force under Mordechai Gist and John Laurens (now of Hamilton the musical fame). Brereton ambushed the rebels, killing Laurens, capturing a howitzer and, after further skirmishes, returned to Charleston. He became a lieutenant colonel by purchase in the 58th Foot in 1789, and retired in 1792. Like many other retired officers he made himself useful during the lengthy crisis of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars by holding a number of other military appointments; serving as paymaster for a recruiting district, as an officer in the Wiltshire Militia, and as inspecting field officer of yeomanry for the Western District.

64th Foot Button recovered SC
64th Regiment of Foot button recovered in South Carolina (Pinterest)

In 1784 William Brereton married Mary Lill, daughter of Godfrey Lill, Judge of Common Pleas for Ireland. Of his three sons who survived into adulthood, one entered the army and two served in the Royal Navy, continuing the tradition of military service. He lived at Chichester in England during his final years and died in November of 1830.

Gideon Shairp served as lieutenant of the company for the entire war. He came from a family of lowland Scottish landed gentry, the Shairps of Houston, co. Linlithgow (modern West Lothian). Born in 1756, he was the second son of Thomas Shairp, of Houston, whose children followed the classic pattern of gentry with strong ties to the services. Thomas, the eldest, inherited the estate, married and produced heirs; our Gideon entered the army, the third son went into the Royal Navy and the two youngest went into the army as well (family info from Burkes Landed Gentry, 1853, p. 1222 Shairp of Houston).  Gideon purchased an ensigncy in the 17th on August 31, 1774, and was assigned to the grenadier company in August or September of 1775. As part of the augmentation of the army he was promoted to lieutenant without purchase on August 23, 1775 and served as the senior lieutenant of the grenadier company from 1775 through 1783. He purchased his captain lieutenantcy on Sept 14, 1787, became captain a month later and after twenty-one years in the 17th was promoted out as major to a new corps in May of 1795. He shifted to a more stable berth as major to the 22nd Foot in September of the same year and became lieutenant colonel to the 9th Foot in August of 1799. Gideon was serving as quartermaster general of Ireland at the time of his death in 1806. As far as I can tell, he never married. In his will he leaves his estate to his brother Walter, his baggage to his servant, and a ceremonial sword presented to him by the officers of the 9th to his friend, Major General Browning. (PCC Will proved 1806).

9th regiment beltplate
Beltplate of the 9th Regiment, circa 1800 (Pinterest)

The third grenadier officer is another Irishman, Lawford Miles. His family was minor gentry in County Tipperary. His father, Edward Miles, gent, of Ballyloughan, died in 1778, leaving six daughters and five sons. At some point our Lawford inherited the estate of his uncle in Rochestown, and the family also owned land at Clonmel and Clogheen, all in Tipperary (Irish Wills, p.349; online list of Tipperary freeholders 1775-6) He entered the 17th as an ensign without purchase on May 1, 1775, and became a lieutenant, also without purchase, on September 8, 1775. He was serving as the junior lieutenant of the grenadier company by July of 1776 and served in the company at least until February of 1781. Miles purchased his company in the 17th on April 29, 1781 and was serving with the main body of the regiment at the surrender of Yorktown. He was the only captain chosen to accompany the regiment into captivity, and found his time as a prisoner had its dangers as well.  He “was also one of the capts for whom the Americans drew lotts when Capt Asgill of the Guards was the unfortunate person” (WO1:1024 f. 775, Lawford Miles to Young, 7 Aug. 1784). This refers to the Asgill affair of 1782. In retaliation for the hanging of a rebel captain by American loyalists, George Washington responded by having British POWs of the same rank draw lots for hanging. Charles Asgill was chosen, but in the end the American Congress set him free. (see Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington, Asgill Affair). Miles retired from the 17th and the army in November of 1789. He died without heirs in 1809. Family sources style him as Colonel Miles at the time of his death, but I have found no evidence of further service in the regular forces. (BLG 1862, Barton of Rochestown).

Charles Asgill

Two other officers, Alexander Saunderson and James Forrest, joined Gideon Shairp in 1781 and served until the end in 1783. Saunderson was yet another member of the Irish gentry. The Saundersons of Castle Saunderson, County Cavan, came over from Scotland in the early 17th century. Alexander’s father, Alexander senior, was head of the estate and served as High Sherriff of  Cavan in 1758. Our Alexander was the second son (see BLG of Ireland 1904, Saunderson of Castle Saunderson). Unfortunately for him, his father, at least according to family lore, fit the stereotype of the wastrel Irish gentleman. He was a spendthrift and a gambler and spent much of his time racing horses at Curragh and elsewhere. Rumored to have been a member of the Hell Fire Club in the Wicklow Hills, he became a wanderer after Castle Saunderson was damaged by fire. (Henry Saunderson, “Saundersons of Castle Saunderson”, 1936). Our Alexander was born circa 1756. He entered the army as an ensign in the 37th Foot on September 30, 1775 and became a lieutenant in the same regiment on May 20, 1778. He came to the 17th as a captain on April 29, 1781, and was Captain of the grenadier company by July of 1781. In 1783 the regiment was reduced from twelve companies to ten as the British army returned to the peacetime establishment, and Saunderson, as one of the two junior captains, was put onto the half pay. With the coming of a new crisis in 1792 he found his way onto active service by trading his half pay for a captaincy in the 69th Foot on June 30th. Saunderson remained in the 69th for the remainder of his career, becoming a brevet major on March 1, 1794, a major on July 1, 1796, and a lieutenant colonel on March 30, 1797. He left the service in 1800, and died childless in 1803, leaving his estate to his wife Aurelia. (PCC Will proved 1803)

Finally, we have an American, James Forrest, one of possibly eight or more in the 17th during the period of the revolution. He was born in 1761, the year that James senior, his father, moved the family from Ireland to Boston, so our James may have been born in Ireland. His father was a prosperous merchant before the war and lost his fortune as a result of his loyalist support of the British cause (E. Alfred Jones, “The Loyalists of Massachusetts”, 1930). James senior raised the Loyal Irish Volunteers in Boston in 1775, and contributed two sons to the British forces. Our James joined the 38th Foot as a volunteer in 1777. Gentlemen without the money to purchase or the influence to find their way into the service often joined serving regiments as “volunteers”, hoping to be appointed to vacant commissions after proving themselves in the field. James was wounded while serving with the 38th at the battle of Germantown and was appointed ensign in the regiment in October of 1777. A letter James wrote in March of 1780 seeking a company in a loyalist corps expresses the frustration of those trying to get ahead without financial means: “I have not the most distant prospect of promotion in the 38th, the repeated misfortunes my Father has met with since the commencement of the Rebellion put it out of his power to purchase for me.” (Clinton Papers, Forrest to William Crosbie, March 3, 1780). Instead of transferring to the loyalist units he was appointed lieutenant without purchase to the 17th Foot on February 19, 1781 and seems to have joined the grenadier company about the same time as Saunderson. James Forrest retired as a lieutenant in September of 1788.


   Dr. Mark Odintz

conducted his graduate work in history at the University of Michigan back in the 1980s and wrote his dissertation on “The British Officer Corps 1754-1783”. He became a public historian with the Texas State Historical Association in 1988, spending over twenty years as a writer, editor and finally managing editor of the New Handbook of Texas, an online encyclopedia of Texas history. Since retiring from the association he has been working on turning his dissertation into a book. He lives in Austin.

Music Made Easy: A Guide to Period Playing

As a folk music lover myself, I grew up around listening to jigs and contra style songs as my parents met and continued to go clogging when I was a kid. I’m very excited to introduce Tim MacDonald a professional performer and researcher of 18th-century Scottish fiddle music and a good friend of mine. This post is filled with fun facts, images and tunes. Enjoy!

Mary – An attached follower of the 17th Regiment of Infantry

And for this reason, in every age, the musick of that time seems best, and they say, Are wee not wonderfully improved? And so comparing what they doe know, with what they doe not know, they are as clear of opinion, as they that doubdt nothing.

~Roger North, ca. 1726

Much of the look of a recreated 1770s camp can be recreated faithfully with relatively obvious documentation. The tin kettle hanging over the fire was copied from an original excavated at a military site. The crossbar that it hangs on was chosen after reading a paper that analyzed dozens of images and other accounts of period military cooking. The stew boiling in it was based off of a documented ration issue and a description in a soldier’s journal. And so on and so forth. Gathering, evaluating, and applying all of these sources requires a tremendous amount of insight and plain old hard work. But there’s usually a sense of how your interpretation measures up. Does your coat match an original? Well done!

Mount Vernon, Virginia 2016 — Wilson Freeman Drifting Focus

The sounds of that same camp, though, are much less concrete. In the 18th century as now, music was commonly-heard and well-loved. And in the pre-recording era, an even higher percentage of the population played an instrument, and musicians could be found everywhere from the drawing rooms of the upper class to the earth-floored houses of the lower class, from the taverns (many of which had loaner instruments available) to the tbmedrill of a North Carolina militia unit, which in July of 1775 featured “a very ill-beat drum and a fiddler, who was also in his shirt with a long sword and a cue in his hair, who played with all his might”. But what did it sound like? Nobody will ever know for sure— there are (obviously) no surviving musicians and no recordings, and thus no guarantee that the modern performer will get it exactly right. But all is not lost. There’s still a wealth of tremendously helpful documentation, and there’s a lot of value in trying to get as close to a period sound as possible. Here are some considerations:

  1. Get the equipment right. Many common instruments of today didn’t exist in their current form in the 18th century. Much as an M-16 rifle is no substitute for a Brown Bess, a modern
     Col. Maxwell (1785) John Smart (c. 1740-1811)

    violin, guitar, tin whistle, or similar is no substitute for a Baroque violin, cittern, or flageolet. Cataloguing period-correct instruments and describing their properties would fill up this entire blog post, but the information is easy to find (usually by Googling “baroque [name of instrument you play here]”, then confirming with period accounts and artwork. Material culture still matters, and all your material culture research skills still apply. It’s not just a simple matter of appearance or even acoustics: playing a period instrument instead of its modern counterpart dramatically changes how you go about making music on it. Returning to the firearm analogy, think of how using an M-16 instead of a Bess changes everything from the manual of arms to the tactics involved in fighting with it…that same level of difference exists between playing a tune on a modern, metal-strung violin with a concave hatchethead bow and a gut-strung violin with a convex pikehead bow. It’s hard to progress unless you’re using the right equipment.

  2. Forget about folk music. It’s very tempting to learn folk tunes, reflect on how there’s an unbroken tradition of playing them that stretches back to the 18th century, and then play them unaltered at events. Resist this temptation. First of all, tradition slowly mutates things over time, and 240 years of mutation adds up to a lot. Second of all, the term “folk music” is fairly problematic in an 18th-century context: there was no distinction between “folk” and “classical” players, everyone played everything (limited solely by their skill level and the functions they were playing for).
  3. Play the right tunes. Many pieces we consider “old” today actually originated in
    the 19th century, and many period-correct tunes have been forgotten about. Fortunately, there’s a wealth of surviving tune collections in both published and manuscript form. They can be found online at IMSLP,, the websites of good libraries (such as the National Library of Scotland), and elsewhere, or in person at major libraries (research-oriented libraries are usually better than lending libraries) or the office of a friend already involved in early music. What collections to look for first? Try searching newspaper archives for publication announcements, period accounts for tunes mentioned by name or catalogues of music collections of notable people (such as Thomas Jefferson) or sites (such as Williamsburg).
  4. Play them the “right” way. The catch-all term for playing historic music is HIP: Historically-Informed Performance. As alluded to above, it’d be unfair to call it HRP (Historically-Replicating Performance) or similar because that’s impossible. But there’s a big difference between letting the I stand for “Informed” and letting it stand for “Ignorant”. What to do? Read period treatises on music-making (I’ve listed a few popular ones here). Read modern commentary on the philosophy of 18th-century musicmaking (The End of Early Music and The Weapons of Rhetoric) are good places to start. Read about how the tunes were used. If they were played for dancing, try to recreate the dances. Play a lot, experimenting with different interpretations (and everything that entails: different affects, different tempi, different ornamentation…). Recreate period-correct ensembles (violin + cello and one-keyed flute + harpsichord are two easy and popular options). I’ve been amazed at how I used to dislike certain popular tunes but eventually found an interpretation that made it all make sense and led to really compelling music. It’s hard, but it’s well worth it.
  5. Display 18th century musical values. This is linked with #4. Throughout the 18th century (and before)—and much less so today—the following was prized in music: a) Composing one’s own music. b) Personal interpretations of the music, fuelled by a heavy dose of improvisation (quoth Mozart in a 1778 letter: “[The performer should play] so that one believes that the music was composed by the person who is playing it.”) c) So-called “rhetorical” playing: performing as if the music was a speech being presented in public, not just a string of notes. What does this mean? Phrasing appropriately (adding “punctuation” between the notes), changing dynamics (nobody speaks in a monotone), and cycling through various affects (even a eulogy isn’t sad for its entire duration—it’ll have sad parts and angry parts and even funny parts and happy parts and so much more).
High Life Below Stairs (1763) John Collett (1725-1780) Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

This is a very brief introduction to a very complex topic, but I hope it points you in the right direction! Happy musicking!!

timbioTim Macdonald
is a professional performer and researcher of 18th-century Scottish fiddle music. He’s recently returned from the Musica Scotica conference in Scotland, where he presented a paper on the life and work of composer Robert Mackintosh (1740? – 1807, and frequently performs with ‘cellist Jeremy Ward as the creatively-named fiddle duo Tim Macdonald & Jeremy Ward. When not involved with some aspect of music, he can be found running silly distances, studying silly languages (currently Braid Scots), helping out at church, or mucking about at an AWI reenactment.

Listen to Tim Macdonald recreate the sounds of the 18th Century 

Tim & Jeremy Live at the Midwest Sing & Stomp VIEW
Tim & Jeremy Live Wife Jigs VIEW

How Much Does it Cost?

Last year around this time, one of our good friends, Kirsten over at KittyCalash, wrote a short article about how much it may cost to make a whole suit for a gentleman of 16 to join in a battle. One of the most popular questions for gents joining the 17th is how much does it cost to make an entire uniform? I was curious to know how much it would cost if one were to make an entire women’s wardrobe from scratch using the materials and resources that we can find online and at sutler fairs. If one follower / civilian were to purchase everything from the patterns to the fabric and notions from our sutler friends that we frequently recommend purchasing from… how much would everything cost in total? Clayton of the modernreenactor blog noted on May 1, 2017;

…you can’t just show up with $5 and a “winning attitude.”

Reenacting is a volunteer based hobby, and we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t want to be here and we weren’t having much fun. But we do love what we do and we love the people we do it with. Clayton made an important point when he noted that you must spend money to be apart of this hobby. It does cost money and time if you want to do it right.

Endview Plantation, Yorktown, Virginia 2016

This information as it turns out seems to be somewhat of a hot topic for new comers who are actually starting out from scratch. After having several conversations with the 17th central command, and new followers who are cost conscious, something like this might be useful information. I wanted to note that my estimated budget is based on how much I’ve spent over the course of my seven years reenacting (not including off-the-rack purchases from CW when I first started), and even now, as a particularly slow hand sewer, my wardrobe is not yet complete… It is exciting to think about the pretty outfit we could have for the next event, if we had our way. I’m sure we would all want to build a complete wardrobe from shift to cloak, but there just isn’t enough time in the day. Like Kirsten, I tend to hand sew everything, mostly because I’m not comfortable using a sewing machine. This means my stitching is painstakingly slow. Granted when I wasn’t the best at sewing, I had a lot of help from my boyfriend who spent hours sewing my gown that feels too nice to wear to get dirty… I haven’t really spent the time to add in a labor wage to my budget yet, as it wouldn’t be a fair judge of cost since I haven’t had the experience of making a clothing item for someone else on the clock yet.

I started to break my wardrobe down by clothing item, and then broke it down even more by pattern, material type, the yards, and the vendor where the materials came from. I wanted a wide range of options, but I wasn’t necessarily looking for the cheapest option… However, since I am only about five feet tall my material cost will vary from someone who is of average height. I calculated how much it would cost with and with out the pattern provided we, being “veterans”, were sharing our resources with new followers. We can break down my wardrobe here.. The first part of the spreadsheet is the wardrobe. If you reenact all year round your wardrobe might look something like this…

As a disclaimer: I wanted to note that my math may not be right as I get easily confused by numbers, so forgive any mistakes that you may find. 


Of course you don’t have to go to the sutler stores, to buy your material. We just know that its going to be of good quality and in our best interest to purchase from friends and support small business owners. There are hundreds of other fabric stores and locations where you could come by 100% natural material and it might make the final price cheaper. But as I explained this is as if someone were to buy from the sutlers as many of us do. As you can see it gets to be quite expensive even if its an impression built over time.

Welbourne, Virginia 2016

Next, I calculated the accessories it would take to make a followers impression stand out, which included anything from a market wallet to a pincushion which can be produced from your broadcloath scraps. Here its the blanket that you purchase I found to be the most expensive part of your accessories. Luckily, I’ve come to borrow a blanket from friends or one from David. It’s been a goal of mine to throw down $300 for a really nice blanket to call my own, and not have to worry about misplacing it. There are many ways to carry in and out your equipment to the campsite. Obviously the most useful thing here would be your market wallet, but in the picture; I didn’t have one yet. I used a blanket roll to carry an extra blanket and maybe a spare petticoat. I used a handkerchief to carry left over food that I had not eaten over the weekend.  Anything else, if needed a space to be carried would have gone in my apron, tied around my waist.

Here is how much I would need to spend on some accessories, some of which you cannot depend on yourself to produce or you don’t have the skill to make correctly.


I can understand the idea that not everyone might have the funds to throw down cash right away so this blog is not about all the money you must spend to attend your first event. Most of us should be willing to lend other clothing items just for that weekend. It wouldn’t be fair to deprive someone of a hobby if you had extra clothes to lend, just because you were afraid it might get destroyed, lost or stolen. All valid reasons, you’ve put in a lot of hours to make that garment, it should be treated well, and sometimes you just cannot trust people.

This is the importance of making loaner clothes which are meant to be loaned out and a separate from your personal wardrobe, at the ready in case someone wants to try out reenacting for an event. There eventually will be someone you know who sees what you do, may it be a relative or a non reenacting friend, who becomes interested in the comradery that comes along with historical teamwork and camping, and will want to try it out for a weekend or a day.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Virginia 2016 feat. borrowed stomacher.

I suppose by now you’re wondering what it would cost in total… One of my fears would be for someone to get scared away from joining the hobby because of how expensive it is. But there are folks who are willing to support you, if in return you’re willing to participate in the care of the wardrobe. These are clothes not costumes and they’re not cheap either. But note that if you were to buy the pattern only once, and use that multiple times to make new clothing the only cost would be the material and your time. But like I’ve said. One should not shy away from something that your heart desires you to do. Plus you might really enjoy it.  I want to note that this fictional kit was produced in such a way that it reflects someone of my size just shy of 5’1” and what I’ve purchased in the past. The results will vary based on height and weight of the general follower and their personal preferences for material… I’ve calculated that in the full spreadsheet. Now with a grand total of $564.70 with out the patterns, and $663.30 you to could have a rockn’ kit all to yourself. If you would like to view the full spreadsheet which includes the stores to buy from click the link here to view it on google docs.

Happy Reenacting…!

mybiopicMary Sherlock
is a full time Film and Media Arts Student at Temple University, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the ‘head follower’ for the 17th Regiment of Infantry. She has been reenacting the Revolutionary War for seven years and is continuing to do so. Mary has been the moderator of the 17th website since 2015 and has been teaching herself html code and css since 2009.

“Sprang interlinked:” The Construction of Eighteenth-Century British Army Sashes

This week we are thrilled to welcome Suzannah Emerson from Old Fort Niagara, who kicks off a new element in our continuing blog adventure: interviews. From time to time, we’ll be posting the results of questions asked remotely via email or in person to shed light on interesting things happening in the larger living history community. In today’s installment, Suzannah explains her recent research and experiments into spranging, opening a window into eighteenth-century fibre arts.

Will Tatum


Thanks for taking on this interview request, Suzannah. For starters, we hear people saying that sprang is the proper method for constructing officers and sergeants sashes during the eighteenth century, at least for the British Army. So what is sprang anyway?

Sprang has a fascinating history! Peter Collingwood’s The Techniques of Sprang (the bible on sprang construction) states it can be dated back as far as the early Danish Bronze age (1700-500BC). Several sprang clothing items were found on the numerous “bog people” who pop up in Northern European countries.

Okay, now mentally prepare yourself for some jargon! Let’s start simply, think of a 3- strand braid; there are only 3 pieces of yarn/hair/whatever (a warp), and there are no new perpendicular pieces (a weft) added to the warp like you see in a weave. Now think of sprang as a very fancy braiding process, one uses his or her fingers to manipulate a series of strands in a particular pattern to form a piece of cloth. Like the braid, there is no weft, only a warp. If you are familiar with some of the wonderful oblique finger-woven products used by Native American reenactors, these are made by a process closely related to sprang.



From The Techniques of Sprang, pg. 31 the structure of sprang (a) and oblique
finger-weaving (b)


Many people seem to confuse sprang with crocheting. Let’s get this straight right now people; Crochet was not around in the 18th century! The structure of sprang produces a very stretchy fabric. Ye olde spandex anyone? The technically correct term is not “sprang woven” but “sprang interlinked.” The structure of a chain linked fence looks very similar to sprang! It is this interlinking, that makes the stretch possible.


This royal blue striped sergeant sash shows off the stretch and structure of the


Up until the early 21st century, I had never seen a sprang sash for sale. Now we have a lady in Canada making them, and they seem to cost an arm and a leg. Does that have something to do with the difficulty of “spranging,” if that is the proper term? What kind of set-up is required to making sprang items?

Like many hand-made and finger-woven items, the cost is probably 95% labor. Manipulating over 150 strands to make 8-10ft. of sash takes a good deal of time, and one’s fingers can only move so quickly. There is one beauty to sprang that other  fingerweaving processes are not capable of implementing. With the correct setup, with one row of strand manipulation one can achieve two rows of textile. Yes folks, that is sprang one get one free.

Let’s go back to the braid example, if you have ever braided before, you might have noticed that the free ends of the braid can get tangled at the bottom. This tangle is actually the mirror image of the braid you are trying to produce. If your braid were secured at both ends while you were working it, you would find that the work meets in the middle. Sprang production often takes advantage of this two for one deal. If this were not the case, I don’t know if I would have the patience to complete an entire sash. There is one problem with this deal, one side of a sprang project is the mirror image of the other. Therefore, if a mistake is made it shows up twice on the sash. If there is a mirror image structure in a “finger-woven” type item, this is one way to identify sprang. There are three options when setting up (i.e warping) a sprang project, two of which allow for one row manipulation for two construction. The braiding example from earlier is using a “figure-8 warp.” The setup I use for sashes is called a “circular warp,” the advantage here is that I only need a “loom” a little over half the height of my desired project length. This comes in handy when my formidable 5’1” self is trying to make a 10 foot sash.


Please excuse my poor drawing skills, this image shows two warps used to
make sprang.

The image below shows the heavy duty frame I use. It’s made from two 7-foot tall 2x4s, various dowels, pipes and rods. The top PVC pipe can be moved depending on the desired length of the project, and the bottom pipe can be adjusted for project tension. I could easily make a 12 foot sash using this frame. The vast quantity of yarn necessary for a sash is wound around the two PVC pipes, creating one large yarn circle. After the warp is secured, it’s time to start making sprang!


Sprang “loom” set up for a shorter project, sprang is a very versatile textile.


Recall that one manipulation of the warp produces two rows of sprang. The first row created by a manipulation is pushed up and over the top PVC pipe, and then the second row is pushed down under the bottom. These rows meet in the middle back of the circular warp. The sash itself is actually made from the middle outward! On many original sashes you will see a line across the weave in about the middle of the sash.This is where the first two rows were pushed, and the body of the sash began to form. This is one sign that a textile could have been made using sprang.


The work begins from the middle and works out, the white strings are a safety
measure in case I mess up, I can take the work out to that point and try again. After I am
finished with the sash the strings are easily removed.


Here I am pointing to the center meeting line of the completed sergeant sash.



I understand you are combining your adventures in making sprang items with examining existing originals. Would you tell us a bit about your research to date: how does one study an original sash? Have you found any interesting insights in your research?

I had looked at one original sash before I began my sprang adventures. I noticed that there were some oddities in the products I made, and I had a very difficult time eradicating these issues from my work. Then, I began to have more opportunities to study originals. This is when I discovered that those “oddities” were perfectly normal in original sashes! Through these studies I have answered a great many questions which had come up during my sprang sash productions. Many of them are trivial in the grand scheme of things, but they have made the process more efficient.

One thing which seems to be repeated throughout the study of extant clothing items and accoutrements, and is the same for sprang: many things were not made perfectly. I find a great deal of charm in finding little hiccups in these items.

One of the first photos we saw of your sash work was a cat wearing a sash. Can you explain how cat help features in the your process?

If you have ever lived with a cat, you will quickly come to realize that they believe you should never be without supervision. My cats certainly follow through on this belief, not only supervising the process, but also checking for quality.


Waldo checking for yarn strength during the warping process.


Waldo continuing his work by making sure the first few rows are properly carried out. This also shows the circular warp right at the start of production.


Madam doing the final check while the sash is blocked. I no longer use this process to “set” the sprang, but it was an interesting experiment.



What are some of the greatest hurtles you’ve encountered so far in the research and replication processes?

There are two:

My first challenge was finding the materials of the appropriate color, weight, and fiber. I had a hard time finding a “crimson” wool yarn that wouldn’t pill and get fuzzy. Thanks to the weavers at Colonial Williamsburg, I was able to find the Jagger Spun line from Halcyon Yarn. The line is a long staple wool, that pills relatively little. As for silk, this was easier to find. I use the hand-dyed silk yarns from Treenway silks. I have compared the silk yarns from Treenway to several originals, and I believe I have found a near perfect match!

My second, and ever-ongoing challenge, is dating the sprang sashes I study, unless we are talking about the Braddock sash, which has “1709” emblazoned on it for all of time. This is unusual, and many sashes have little to no designs that might suggest from when they date. Sure, the curator/collections manager usually has some note on the provenance. Unfortunately, this is usually a statement from someone’s great-great-great Aunt Susie-May who claimed that her great-great Uncle’s 3rd cousin twice removed wore it at Yorktown. Who knows, Aunt Susie-May could be correct, but I have found sashes in collections that could not possibly date to the purported time period.

Therefore, I am cautious but, I believe it is safe to assume that a “crimson” silk plain sprang sash, with no designs is probably appropriate for most 18th British military officer interpretations. This claim also holds for British 1812 impressions.

Do you have any particularly exciting sprang projects on the drawing board?

At the moment, I am focusing on research and the 21st century job market. One question I would like to dive into is what 18th century sprang frames looked like. I have a descent hypothesis, but I would like some more evidence to support my ideas. Also, I hope that in the next few months I’ll be able to exactly reproduce some intricate details I have found throughout my sprang sash studies. Who knows, maybe I’ll make a cat equivalent of the Braddock sash.


Resident cat, Leopold, at Old Fort Niagara wearing my first sprang sash, and a
cocked hat found at Walmart.


currently serves as the Special Projects Coordinator and Field Music Supervisor at Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown, NY. She holds a BA in Mathematics from Gettysburg College. When not delving into the secrets and mysteries of numbers, she enjoys fibre arts and exploring eighteenth-century German culture.

A Layman’s Guide to Historic Research

This week after a few weeks of rather heavy research and unit development blogs, writer Kyle Timmons joins us again to welcome back the website with a light hearted research blog. If you’ve missed the blog, it is back! Thanks for standing by us.

Mary Sherlock – An attached follower of the 17th Regiment of Infantry.

Just a disclaimer to start off with: I AM NOT A HISTORIAN, HISTORY TEACHER, RESEARCHER, ARCHAEOLOGIST, OR ANYTHING LIKE IT. I am a simple person who enjoys history immensely and I’ve read and studied history much of my life. HOWEVER, I have the honor and privilege of being friend and acquaintance to many truly gifted and highly regarded Professional Historians. They’ve taught me so much about the 18th Century, the Revolution, and the British Army. But most importantly, they’ve given me the tools research on my own and to hunt down information that is of interest to me, and hopefully I can turn that information around and further benefit the hobby, the community, and our understanding of the 18th century. I’m going to take some time and share some of those tools with you.

  1. BE SUSPICIOUS. The moment that you read that previous statement is gone, and is never coming back. You can’t change it. But in an hour when you’re eating delicious food and playing on your phone you’ll likely forget about it. Maybe tomorrow you’ll share your memory of this blog with a friend, but you’ll share the points in your own words. You might get things wrong. 60 years from now when you’re telling your grandchildren how you first got into reenacting you’re memory of the antiquated computer or smart phone you used back then will be colored by nostalgia of the past.

girlinbonnetThat’s how history is written. It’s mis-remembered, its colored by the writer’s opinion, maybe inflated by his need to tell a good story, or he’s recording it through hazy lens of old age. Whenever you read a historic source, always keep in mind who is writing it, his goal when writing, and his frame of mind, and when he’s writing. A journal entry or letter written the same day is a great source but even then things can get jumbled, misrepresented, summarized, etc. Your solution to this problem? Find more sources. 1 guy saying the British marched at the open order in battle in 1777 is an anomaly. 2 sources is a little better. 3 is better. Finding details that agree from opposing sides is even better. General Orders recorded in an orderly book detailing how the army is to be deployed just adds more ammunition to your theory.

  1. YOU MAY BE WRONG BUT YOU MAY BE RIGHT. The modern age we live in is actually an exciting time for someone with a history interest. That’s because high definition imagery and the internet are making it easy for someone in the United States to view an artifact or painting housed in England, or Germany, or anywhere else in the world in detail from the comfort of their home. Books, journals, etc. that are no longer in print or are one of a kind have likewise been digitized and can be accessed around the world either as open domain files or through special archives. This means information that has either laid unseen in a private collector’s library, or has only been accessible to a select few can now be accessed by the entire world. This tidal wave of new information is changing how we see the 18th century in numerous ways. A good example of this is the silk bonnet. Earlier it was commonly believed by reenactors that a silk bonnet was something that would have been out of reach to the “lower sort” of women in the 18th Now however, after searching through runaway ads here in America, looking at artwork from England, it’s clear that these beautiful articles of clothing were available to a much wider range of women than was originally supposed. Our knowledge of the 18th century is largely a collection of theories; strong theories mind you, and ones back up with multiple bits of data to support them. But as the data changes, our conclusions must change as well.
  2. IMAGINATION IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR KNOWLEDGE. Even without photographs, film, or with the amount of material culture items industrial-age historians are accustomed to there is a very large amount of source material and artifacts from the 18th There is no excuse for not making use of this material. When you choose an impression, be specific about what it is you’re trying to do. Are you doing a civilian or military? What nationality? What year and where are they? What is their social class? All of this is important. Military clothing, though it follows the fashions of the time, is distinct in many ways from its civilian counterparts. You won’t find examples of civilians in 1777 Philadelphia wearing gaitered trousers. The nation is important because every nation has their own idiosyncrasies. Time and place also play a factor. Fashions, like today, change with time.

Death_of_Major_Peirson_Jersey_Museum_2012_22Most military units have to get new clothing from year to year because their clothing wears out, just like yours does (though I doubt you’re marching for miles every day or sleeping outside in the rain!). That means they’re style of clothing is likely to change, either from fashion or from lessons learned on the battlefield. If the unit you’re recreating DIDN’T get their clothing issue than that in itself will change how you represent that unit.

Social class is also of major importance. Some clothing item are compatible to some extent across the classes. For instance, men’s shirts of the day are universally of a good quality in terms of stitch work (though they are often made of different grades of material). In other ways they’re very different. A laborer isn’t likely to be wearing a silk coat and breeches. Likewise, a gentleman isn’t likely to have an osnabrig (a kind of course natural linen) shirt and the same clothing items as a private soldier in the army (any army). Doing any impression costs money. To do a higher class impression well costs more money, just like how it’s easier to get a suit from Boscov’s (like me!) than to have one tailored to your desires in London or L.A.

  1. QUALITY IS A QUANTITY ALL ITS OWN. This is the last point I want to make. I’m immensely proud of my impressions, of which I have two…and a half. I have a 17th Regiment soldier’s kit, a kit for the Philadelphia Associators, and a mostly finished civilian impression. I say “mostly finished” because my coat is sitting sleeveless and partially un-lined on a chair. The reason I’m immensely proud of my kit is that I’ve made much of the clothing items I possess. My 17th Regimental and its waistcoat were the first 2 sewing projects I’d ever done. The things that I didn’t make were made by friends of mine who are very skilled at their trades. That’s what makes a good 18th century impression. Clothing of the time was done by hand, not machine, and most men’s clothing is fitted. You can see this in the paintings and sketches of the time. Clothing was expensive for these people, and they took care of what they had. They also dressed as well as they could. You should, too. If you’re new to this period, or reenacting in general, my advice for you is this. If you’re thinking of buy “off the rack” clothing, don’t. Save your money. Reenacting isn’t going anywhere. There are people out there who will take your measurements and whip you up a set of period clothing. Many of them are really good, and naturally they charge for that service. It might take you time to get that money together but the quality will be worth it and you won’t have to go and buy a better piece of clothing down the road.

men at work

If you have an aptitude for sewing however, or you can get with a group of people who know how to sew and can teach you, then you’re life probably just got a lot easier. With the right patterns for your clothing, patience, and help, you can make your own clothing for a much more agreeable sum of money. On top of that, you learn a valuable skill. And once you can sew, you can make yourself into anyone!

The study of history and the recreation of it is a noble hobby. But to do it right takes work, research, money and commitment. But most importantly, it takes networking with good people. That’s how I have learned so much, and really it’s the people we hang out and work with that make this hobby so great.

is a long time reenactor, a Combat Medic in the PA National Guard, and currently an employee of the National Park Service. His wife and cat think he’s pretty alright.