Matthew P. Brenckle
BLUE JACKETS AND WHITE TROUSERS: BRITISH AND AMERICAN SAILOR CLOTHING, 1750-1815.
(Under the direction of Dr. Lawrence E. Babits) Department of History, Program in Maritime Studies, East Carolina University, May 2004.
Despite the continuing interest in naval history of the American Revolution and Napoleonic Wars in the United States and Europe, most scholars have confined their studies to politics, tactics, and naval architecture. Recently, numerous studies that examine the everyday life of the common sailor of the period have been published. This thesis examines one facet of the sailor's existence frequently overlooked by mainstream historians - clothing. Seamen's distinctive garments, it is argued, served as a marker of group identity and cohesion. Thus, short jackets and tar-stained trousers let both other sailors and landsmen know that men wearing such raiment followed a certain lifestyle and possessed a special set of sklls.
In chapter two, this clothing is examined in detail, but is approached from an art historical and literary perspective. Thus, eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century prints, paintings, books, journals, and newspapers are consulted for what they can reveal about each clothing item.
Chapter three tests the findings presented in chapter two. Here, clothing excavated from the 1785 wreck of the General Carleton of Whitby, a British collier under contract to the Navy Board, is catalogued and interpreted. Surprisingly, there was little difference between these original garments and those depicted in period artistic works. Taking all these sources together provides a complete and more accurate portrait of the trans-Atlantic seafarer during the heyday of the age of sail.