Joseph B. (Joseph Barlow) Felt.

The customs of New England online

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Though umbrellas had formerly to combat with the preju-
dice, that they were too effeminate for men, who would then
rather have a wet or overheated head than be seen with
them, yet they have mostly outlived such an impression, and
are readily carried by both sexes, as a shelter from rain
and snow, and, to a limited extent, from the rays of a sum-
mer's sun.

Canes, or Sticks, or Staves. — An apology, like that for the
umbrella, may seem requisite for associating these articles
with the appurt(;nances of dress. Walking canes, sticks, or
staves for the support and defence of the body, and also for
compliance with common inclination, when referring to nei-
ther of these two causes, have very probably been used from
the earliest ages of human society. They have been made of
various materials, but chiefly from different sorts of wood in
the several parts of the world. The term cane appears to
have been derived from the species of canna called Indica —
a strong, jointed reed, which was commonly used as a walk-
ing stick in our seaports, after they opened a trade with the
countries of India, though probably used some before. This
article was accompanied with the ratan, a smaller species
of the reed kind. The latter has been called rotang by the
Malays, and received its name from this word, which signi-
fies a walking stick or staff.

When Daniel Gookin, in 1676, was near drowning in
Boston harbor, with John Eliot and others, on an errand
of mercy for the afflicted Christian Indians, he lost a ratan
having an ivory head. In 1755, the Boston paper adver-
tises crab stick, hazel, spring head canes, and ivory head
ratans. The staff is often mentioned in the Scriptures.'
The pathetic appeal of Jacob to the Lord contains the pas-
sage, " I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and
of all the truth, which thou hast shown unto thy servant ; for
J * 15


with my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now I am be-
come two bands."

As worn by Grecian and Roman philosophers, the cane or
staff was considered an indication of dignity. So it has
been ever since, in all civilized communities. Many a pro-
fessional man has been thought the more of for his richly
mounted cane, by a large portion of those who passed him,
especially of the younger class, j Though this may arise, in
some degree, from too great an estimate of external show,
still it probably has its origin from the conclusion, at first
sight, that comely apparel is generally connected with respec-
table standing in society, which is the offspring of intellect-
ual culture and moral worth.

^ The custom of having canes fitted with deadly weapons
prevailed among the Anglo-Saxons. When the warlike Lace-
demonians were at peace, they laid aside their military im-
plements, and carried staves either for support or defence.

French and English ladies wore canes several centuries
since. Some of these hand companions had golden heads,
and were as tall as their owners. It was so in the land of
their ancestors, for a long period. One of them, which be-
longed to the poet Chaucer, is still preserved as a precious
relic of a by-gone age. Wicklifi'e, the reformer, is painted
with one, as his attendant and helper, in his walks of deep
cogitations for the welfare of Zion. Cardinal Bona informs
us, that anciently the persons who had staves with them in
places of worship were required to lay them by when the
gospel was read, and to stand erect and firmly, as a sign of
their willingness to lay aside all earthly dependence, trust in
Christ, and go wherever Providence should guide them.
Though we may have no usage like this, still it is always
well for us to act in accordance with the emblematical appli-
cation with which it was associated.

Referring to the subject before us, the bard of Avon ob-
served, —

" It would mucli please Mm,
That of his fortune you woiild make a staff
To lean upon."


Hats. — The author of Domestic Life in England states
that from the ninth century to the landing of the Normans
in that kingdom, in 1066, men wore " felt, woolen, and skin
hats." These had been preceded by and were accompani(;(l
with caps, hoods, or chaperons for both sexes, which in the
reign of Henry VIL were prevalently of a square form.
They were not allowed by act of Elizabeth, in 1571, to be
worn by any of her subjects, except the nobility and some
others, on Sabbaths and holidays. At such times, all her
people above six years old, aside from the privileged few,
were ordered to appear with wool knit caps, on penalty of
ten groats for each disobedience.

Stubbs, in his description of hats at his period, informs us
that some of them had crowns a quarter of a yard above the
top of the head ; and others had flat, broad, and round
crowns. He represents the materials of them to be silk, vel-
vet, taffety, sarsenet, wool, and fine hair. The last article
composed the beavers, valued at twenty, thirty, or forty shil-
lings apiece, the wearers of which, in part, had them set off
with " a great branch of feathers of divers colors, peaking
on the top of their heads," He relates that the bands on
the different kinds of hats were black, white, green, red, rus-
set, and yellow. Men of this century ornamented the front
of their hats with a single jewel. Hence Ben Jonson re-
marked, " Honor is a good brooch to wear in a man's hat at
all times,"

In Loseley's Manuscripts, Sir George Chaworth, appointed
on an embassy to the Archduchess of Austria, in 1621, men-
tioned the following among his outfits : " For a beaver hat
and black bands, fifty-three shillings. For a felt hat for my-
self and another for my son, and black bands, twenty-eight
shillings ; a hat-case with a lock, four shillings,"

John Fox, the martyrologist, who died in 1587, is the first
known whose portrait is drawn with a hat. Perhaps we
need not remark, that it is used among the Roman Catholics
as a sign of promotion. Pope Innocent IV, appointed this
custom. Hence the remark relative to bishops, they expect
or have claim to a hat, or it is conferred upon them, as ele-

116 ILVrS — BANDS.

vation to the rank of cardinals. Such a symbol is required
to be red, as a sign that its possessor is ready to spill his
blood for the cause of Christ.

Having slowly ingi-atiated itself with the public, the hat
was unanimously worn by our first settlers. The Massachu-
setts Company, in 1629, bought one hundred black ones, lined
in the brims with leather, for men coming to this country.
They were, for the most part, made of wool. As such, it was
deemed good enough, by civil aathorities, for every class in
community. Still their opinion was not absolute in its in-
fluence. By an order of the legislature in Boston, in 1634,
they forbade the wearing of beaver hats. But the passion
for what was censured as extravagant, in this respect, was
stronger than the fear of penalties, and soon caused the enact-
ment to become a dead letter. An account of Robert Tur-
ner's property, presented, in 1651, at the probate office in
Boston, gives the succeeding items : 11 black hats at 14s.
each ; others of the same hue at 5s. and 6s. ; 22 colored at
10s. apiece, and others at 8s. ; and 26 children's at 3s. 6d. ;
12 black " casters " at 14s. each, and one for a child with a
band. Is. 6d. ; 9 black coarse felt hats at 3s. apiece.

The bands spoken of have always been used in our coun-
try, though they were, at times, much more costly before our
revolution of independence than since. For the last period,
they have been generally narrow pieces of ribbon, black, and
occasionally white, as the hats have been, and, to a limited
extent, of velvet, fastened with buckles of iron or steel, pre-
pared so as to look well. A gold hat band, in 1691, was
charged seven shillings.

Mr. Mayhew's bill of sale for Nantucket, in 1659, shows
that he received for it thirty pounds, and, as he states, " two
beaver hats, one for myself and one for my wife." The Gen-
eral Court of Massachusetts, in 1672, reply to several hatters
that, when they shall make as good hats, and sell them as
cheap, as those imported, their petition for certain privileges
shall be granted. As raccoon skins were found to make good
hats, the same authority, in 1675, forbade them to be export-
ed. In 1694, a castor hat is valued at thirty-one shillings,


and a band for it, six shillings fourpence. A black beaveret
is charged two pounds. Three years after, seven fine hats
are priced at twenty-two shillings each, and six black felt
ones, for women, at four shillings sixpence. Such coverings,
for men and boys, plain, and also with lace of silver and
gold, are published, in 1711, for sale. The last kind of costly
lace is advertised in 1741, and Samuel Barnard lost, in a fire
at Harvard College, in 1764, a hat bound with such an

With regard to some varieties of women's hats, not prcvi-
pusly mentioned, we have met with the following : In 1727,
"fine Bermuda platt;" in 1765, "crimson satin;" and in
1786, parachute, Emily, and Marlborough, with "laurel trim-

Fine as well as coarse hats have gone through various al-
terations, but have never mostly given place to other cover-
ings of the head among males. From the beginning of our
country to 1700, the brimxS of them were generally extended,
and for a portion of this period, the crowns of some inclined
to a cone so high, as to require one hand, in a fresh breeze, to
keep them from being blown away. In an English print of
1670, two men of eminence appear with hats of different
forms. One of them has a low crown, square off at its top,
with a very large bow knot behind, and a wide brim. Anoth-
er has a crown of like height, rounded at its top, with a large
rosette on its side, towards the back of the head, and the
brim bent up, touching the crown as far as it could.

Respecting sugar-loaf or high-crowned ones, a correspond-
ent, of Boston, writes to his friend in London, in 1675, that
the market here was dull for them. Subsequently to the
year before the two last named, hats were generally reduced
in their dimensions. The subsequent extract shows that they
pushed out from their circumscribed limits, and assumed an
elevated position. The Boston Rehearsal, of 1732, observes,
" The high-crowned hat, after having been confined to cots
and villages, is become the mode of quality, and is the po-
litest distinction of a fashionable undress. I quarrel with it
only because it seems to be a kind of masquerade. Some


lady, intimate with romances, was certainly the reviver of
this custom."

The hat was worn by Charles I. and iiis principal subjects
set off with a feather. There was, ])robably, at that period,
a specimen of this custom to be witnessed, now and then,
among men of New England, besides those of the military,
who have never entirely laid it aside. After the late arrival
of Kossuth in our country, a small black ostrich feather, or
an imitation of it, according to his example, was worn by a
considerable number of young men, mostly on the left side
of the hat. This custom has subsided.

It was customary for females of our primitive colonists to
wear beaver and other hats with a feather, and their example
was long imitated by their daughters. Before and after 1753,
women were attired also with white and black horsehair and
chip hats, similarly ornamented; Indeed, they have at no
period altogether disjiensed with the feathered hat, of one
texture or another, though, at times, it has almost disappeared,
and as often rallied and regained its popularity. For twenty-
five years prior to 1S41, they were kept in the background ;
but since that time they have increasingly appeared. The
principal occasions on which any have worn them have been
those of riding on horseback.

The Monmouth or military cocked hat, for men, began to
show itself about 1670. They are referred to in the latter
clause of the subsequent extract, which applies to this period :
" Some wore their hats open before, like a church spout, or a
tin flour scale ; some wore them sharper, like the nose of a
greyhound." At this date, the average width of the brims
was six inches. Their inconvenient width led to the practice
of having one flap of it fastened to the side of the crown,
either before or behind, and then to having tVk^o flaps alike
secured. In the reign of Anne, three flaps of the brim were
so put up; and thus the triangularly cocked hat was intro-
duced. While this was worn by those in the higher walks
of life, the round ones were used by others. From 1732 to
1779, some boys of fourteen, as well as their seniors, ap-
peared with their cornered hats. In the former year, Dr. Hoi-


yoke of Salem remarked, " Very broad-brimmed hats were
worn. My father had a beaver, whose brims were at least
seven inches. They were all cocked triangularly." Among
the more wealthy, such coverings for the head were edged
with gold or silver lace, as they appear in Hogarth's prints,
and were set off with a black cockade. From 1779, they
went down by degrees, so that, fifty-seven years ago, they
were seen but rarely, except on aged gentlemen. Their latest
hold was upon clergymen as a class. The writer knew one
of this profession, who was ordained fifty-one years ago. He
thought that, on this solemn occasion, a triangular brim beaver
was so requisite for his proper appearance, as to justify him
in borrowing money to purchase one, which he actually did.
As a reminiscence of the world in years gone by, we occa-
sionally meet a venerable person with a hat of this kind,
being the relic of a fashion to which much importance was
long and extensively attached.

The hat which has come into notice within two years, and
has been worn chiefly by wayfarers, is fast pushing itself into
favor of both boys and men. It is of the felt description,
varying in quality from coarse to fine, in price from one dol-
lar and a half to five dollars. It appears generally with a
low crown, square off or oval at the top, and a broad brim.
They were at first called sombreros, the Spanish for hats,
slouches, and California hats, because fashionable in the mod-
ern Ophir, but latterly, by some, the Paris felts. Yielding
to any pressure without essential injury, they seem to say,
" We heed nothing, rain or shine, care or neglect." On this
account, travelers begin to give them preference over the
beaver, which looks, " Touch me not, lest my coat be dis-
turbed, my form distorted, and my beauty defaced."

The mode of salutation among gentlemen sixty years
since, and previously, was by taking off the hat, instead of
touching it, as practiced for the most part at present. The
former custom was called " vailing the hat." We have a
case in point : John Clarke, who came with Obadiah Holmes
to Lynn, in 1651, and was there apprehended for preaching
to his Baptist friends, and carried by an officer to the meeting


house, observed, " When first stepping over the threshold, I
un vailed myself, civilly saluted them, turned into the seat I
was appointed to, and put on my hat again. Bridges com-
manded the constable to pluck off our hats." One of the
charges against Holmes was, " You would not give reverence
in vailing your hat, till it was forced off your head." As
having a partial bearing on this topic, Edward Randolph's
interview with the governor and council of Massachusetts,
in 1676, may be adduced: "At the beginning of the reading
of your majesty's letter, the whole council being covered, I
put off my hat ; whereupon three of the magistrates took off
their hats, and sat uncovered ; but the governor, with the
rest, continued to keep their hats on." Neither the narrator
nor the subject of the royal communication was suited to
produce any remarkable signs of civility. When Lafayette,
after assisting in our revolutionary struggle, passed through
New England, in 1784, he visited Ipswich. There General
Farley, deputed to perform the honors of the occasion, in
saluting the noble guest, not only took off his hat, but also
his wig. When writing home as to the manners of the peo-
ple, Lafayette humorously remarked, in view of the gene-
ral's civility, that they bowed with their wigs oft" as well as
their hats.

Some occasions, like the following, may have led to the
adoption of three-cornered hats. A veteran, aged ninety-
three, when alive nineteen years ago, informed the writer of
the subsequent fact. A friend of his was under General
Wolfe at the capture of Quebec, and this distinguished
ofhcer commanded all his soldiers wearing round hats, before
the battle, to have their brims fastened up over their eyes, so
that they might see the enemy more quickly and distinctly.

Swords. — Before our fathers came hither, these weapons
had been long worn in Europe. Queen Elizabeth ordered
that all of them over three feet in length should be broken
off, by officers appointed for the service. Speaking of rapiers,
swords, and daggers, as in general use, Stubbs informs us
that they were " gilt twice or thrice over the hilts with good
angel gold ; others are damasked, varnished, and engraven


marvelous s^oodly; and, lest any thing should be wanting to
set forth their pride, the scabbards and sheaths are of velvet
or the like; for leather, though it be more profitable, and
as seemly, yet will not carry such a majesty or glorious show
as the other." Swords were carried by principal men in civil
as well as in military life, from the original occupation of
New England till about 1750. Since, few, except sheriffs
and persons in naval and military service, when on duty,
have worn them.

Continually apprehensive of attacks from Indians, our
primitive settlers were prepared with implements of defence.
Among the items of property left by many of these worthies
were sw^ords. The sturdy blade of John Carver, whose ad-
ministration of affairs in Plymouth colony was judicious,
but short, the less formidable one of Elder Brewster, and the
iron-like one of Benjamin Church, which beheaded the hero
of Mount Hope, in 1676, are still preserved, as signs of an-
cient belief in the duty of self-defence. Benlowes, in his
Theophalia of 1652, described a man of the mode as wear-
ing a large sword, suspended by a belt over his shoulder.
A similar practice continued in 1670, as the print of several
persons who attended the funeral of General Monk plainly
shows. In 1679, a physician of Massachusetts, who used
his sword under the inliuence of suddenly-provoked temper,
was sentenced to forbear wearing it, as one unfit to be trusted
with such a weapon. During his presidency of our republic,
a part of Washington's levee dress was a long sword, with a
finely wrought and polished steel hilt, and in a scabbard of
white polished leather. This weapon the worthy hero wore
under his coat.

Though its place, of late years, has been fearfully and not
seldom destructively supplied, in some of the South and
Western States, by the bowie knife, yet our section of the
Union has been spared, for the most part, from so pernicious
a substitute. As the wearing of arms amid the walks of so-
ciety often leads to sudden and murderous indulgence of
passion, and thus fosters a spirit of revenge and cruelty, we
are glad that, for so long a period, fashion, nurtured by ne-
K 16


cessity, has not summoned private citizens to gird on the
sword, and appear with it in the discharge of their daily

Watches. — We are informed, that these were invented at
Nuremberg, in 1477, though it is said that Robert, King of
Scotland, had one, in 1310. At that period, they were awk-
wardly made of an oval shape. In the reign of the English
Charles I. they were some improved in mechanism. But,
even then, instead of the present neat chain by which they
were wound up, they had nothing better than catgut, like
that which is seen on large eight-day clocks, though not of
so great a size. It was necessary to wind them up every
twelve hours. Of workmanship so far behind that of our
day, watches were rarely owned in this country, though in-
creased as estates and population enlarged. Among the
property left by the Rev. Nathaniel Rogers, of Ipswich, in
1655, there was a watch as well as clock.

Prior to 1658, watches were very imperfect in their horo-
logical performances, designating neither minutes nor seconds,
and having no spring, which is to the balance what gravity
is to the pendulum. The question as to the invention of
spring or pocket watches is said, by Gregory, to lie between
Hooke and Huggens. The latter of these two was born in
1629, and the former in 1635. The same author remarks,
in this connection, that Charles V. was presented with a
watch, but that it was probably " no more than a kind of
clock, to be set on the table, some resemblance whereof we
have still remaining in the ancient pieces made before 1670."
Dryden observed, " Though we talk not by the hourglass, yet
the watch, often drawn out of the pocket, warns the actors
that their audience is weary."

The various inventions of repeating and warning watches
have been, of course, subsequent to that of the pocket watch.
Horology can number among its curious achievements even
musical timepieces.

Formerly watches had, for the most part, turtle shell and
pinchbeck cases. They were much thicker than the modern
ones, and less in circumference than the generality of the


latter. One of this sort, apparently with a silver case, is
represented on a table before the portrait of Increase Mather,
which was drawn about 1690. The inventory of an estate
in Suftblk, in 1693, specifies one of silver and two of gold.
Isaac Webb gives notice, in 1708, that he has moved from
near the east end of tlie Boston town house to over against
its west end, where he will mend watches and turn " old clocks
into pendulums." The last clause shows, that, though the
pendulum had been invented about a half century, as a great
improvement in timekeepers, still it had not been universally
adopted in New England. A small watch, in 1719, was
charged at ten pounds. In 1765, a young lady of Boston
lost a gold one, with a seal, the whole valued at twenty-eight

As well known, watches have not been common for all
classes till within forty-seven years. Some boys, scarcely
entered their teens, have, for over twelve years, appeared with
them in public. Sixty years since, it was rare to see a lady
with such an article. Thirty-seven years ago, a sight of this
sort began to lose its novelty. For the greater part of the
period since, as there is no need to state, except for future
information, watches have been worn by many females.
These measurers of time, for a quarter of a century, have,
in a considerable degree, laid aside their silver cases for gold
ones, which used to be very uncommon. So gi-eat has been
the passion for them among both sexes, that some, rather
than be thought destitute of them, have carried imitation
ones, which neither go nor point the hour.

Ring's. — These, as ornaments for the hand, have long
been worn by both sexes in many nations. We bring to
mind the impressive interview between Pharaoh and Joseph,
when that monarch took off a ring from his own hand, and
put it on the finger of this injured youth. The Scriptures also
teach us, that in the revolting conspiracy against the life of
Naboth, Jezebel sealed his death warrant with the king's
ring. From the passage in Jeremiah, " Though Coniah were
the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck thee
thence," it has been inferred that the Hebrews wore rings on

124 RINGS.

their right-hand fingers. The Chaldeans, Babylonians, and
Persians, as well as Egyptians, appeared with such ornaments.
The Greeks, too, were no strangers to this fashion. Alexan-
der, while in India on his enterprise of conquest, sealed his
letters for Europe with his own signet. His countrymen
wore the ring on the little finger. As a reason for this, Au-
lus Gellius tells us that they had discovered a small nerve,
which led from such a member directly to the heart, and
thus the sign of affection was more properly put on the small-
est than the other three fingers.

As the Sabines, in the time of Romulus, had rings, it is
conjectured that they derived the custom of wearing them
from the Greeks, and that it passed from the people of the
latter nation to the Romans, among whom it made slow
progress. We are told that this people remained a long time
contented with iron rings. Pliny relates, that Marius, who

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Online LibraryJoseph B. (Joseph Barlow) FeltThe customs of New England → online text (page 10 of 18)