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The United Empire Loyalist Settlement at Long Point, Lake Erie
Chapter XXI. Clothing

The half-pay officers who settled in New Brunswick had frequently their uniforms and accoutrements which they had worn in their native States—tight knee-breeches of black or yellow or dark blue satin, white silk or satin waistcoats, and the gorgeous colored frock coats, often claret, royal purple, or pea, pearl or bottle green, with their wide collars. The coats were lined with plush or velvet of a different shade. Black silk stockings and morocco shoes, with immense silver buckles covering the whole instep, completed their attire.

However, these were not garments suitable to making their way through the tangled underbrush, fording creeks and marshes, and stumping and logging in the bush. Even if it were used at all, in a year or two this finery would disappear, and the colonists had to resort to the produce of their fields or that which the new land provided.

It may be thought that the wool from the sheep would be the most natural material to weave into coarse garments. This would have been the case if the early settler could have depended on his sheep from one day to another, but the fondness of Canadian wolves for lamb and mutton seriously interfered with his calculations in this regard, and supremely fortunate was he, if by any chance a sheep could be preserved until its wool were of sufficient length to be clipped and thereafter made into garments. Consequently they resorted to the culture of flax. Every family had its little plot of ground sown with flax-seed, and one of the standard accomplishments of the brave women of those days was the knowledge of its culture. They had to weed, pull and thresh out the seeds, and then spread it to rot. After it was dressed they spun and wove it into coarse linen, which supplied garments for both sexes. The spinning and weaving processes were generally difficult on account of the rude home-made implements which the early settlers had to use, for but rarely had any spinning wheels or looms been brought over from the States. The “fulling” of the cloth had to be accomplished by the process of “treading” the fabric in large tubs. This coarse linen cloth, which was very often mixed with what little wool could be obtained, made a material which would last for years.

The next most important clothing material was deerskin, which was used not only for shoes, but for garments also. The settlers got the idea of using it from the Indians, who taught them how to prepare it, so as to be pliable and comfortable. The tanning process consisted in removing the hair, and working it by hand with the brains of some animal until it became soft and white. This, of course, made the most durable garments, and was a favorite material for trousers. Petticoats were also made of it for the women.

The only objection to deerskin garments was that they soon got lamentably greasy and dirty, and were hard to clean. In Dr. Ryer-son’s history an interesting story is told of the domestic, Poll Spragge. She had but one article of dress, a kind of sack made of buckskin, with holes at the top for her arms, and this garment hung from her shoulders, and was tied in at the waist by thongs of the same material. She was left alone in the house one day with orders to wash her single garment. In the absence of soap she bethought herself of the strong lye, made from wood ashes, not knowing its effect on leather. When she took it out of the pot where she had been boiling it, it was nothing but a partly decomposed mass. The feelings of poor Poll may be more easily imagined than described. As soon as she caught sight of the returning family she hid herself in the potato cellar, and refused to come out until some one’s second best petticoat was procured for her. Such was the scarcity of clothing of any kind in these early years.

As for personal ornamentation or decoration the pack of the Yankee pedlar supplied the wants of the families who were rich enough to buy such luxuries. The coming of the pedlar and the opening of the pack was a long-looked for occurrence. The ordinary articles always carried by these itinerant merchants were gaudy printed calicoes, a yard of which sold for the usual price of an acre of ground ($1.00), coarse muslin at about fifteen shillings a yard, and shawls and kerchiefs, of elaborate pattern, “fearfully and wonderfully made,” the gaudy colors greatly enhancing their value. Besides these, he was accustomed to bring around the standard assortment of tape and needles, horn combs, pencils, paper, hooks and eyes, and some yards of narrow ribbon of divers colors for hair and neckwear on special occasions.

To get a long chintz or gingham dress to go to meeting in was the height of many a fair maiden’s ambition. The writer has been told of an instance where two daughters of the same family were accounted the most finely dressed “belles” of the settlement, because they had each a long veil of coarse muslin to wear to church, though, indeed, neither of them had anything to wear in the line of footgear, and so went to meeting barefoot.

As to wedding garments, generally some faded silk dress of the mother, which had been laid away for a quarter of a century or more, with cinnamon bark or sprigs of cedar, was remodelled to fit the fair damsel on this auspicious occasion. Some amusing stories are told of smaller dresses being “let out,” with the coarse linen of the household, so as to fit the extensive figure of a maiden who was not so slender as her mother had been. But “necessity constraineth us,” and these trifling inconsistencies, which would drive a modern fiancee to distraction, did not alloy the happiness of the Loyalist maidens.

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