The North American Frontiersmen




Acting Editor

Staff Writer

Smoke Signals

May/Jun 2011



This issue will be a little short on edibles as I have to look back at what we have shared with you in past articles. 

So in this issue Bill thought it would be nice if we shared a correct an article on a pair of period coats that was published years ago in a magazine that went south with only a few issues back in the mid 70's. The "Peale" I had copied a few years ago right down to the stitching, expensive but correct.


A little history about the owner of one of these coats.

Introduction to Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827)

Finding that he had a talent for painting, especially portraiture. Peale's enthusiasm for the nascent national government brought him to the capital, Philadelphia, in 1776, where he painted portraits of American notables and visitors from overseas. His estate, which is on the campus of LaSalle University in Philadelphia, can still be visited. He also raised troops for the War of Independence and eventually gained the rank of captain in the Pennsylvania militia by 1777, having participated in several battles. While in the field, he continued to paint, doing miniature portraits of various officers in the Continental Army. He produced enlarged versions of these in later years. He served in the Pennsylvania state assembly in 1779–1780, after which he returned to painting full-time.

Peale had a great interest in natural history, and organized the first U.S. scientific expedition in 1801. These two major interests combined in his founding of what became the Philadelphia Museum, and was later renamed the Peale Museum. This museum is considered the first. It housed a diverse collection of botanical, biological, and archaeological specimens.


Introduction to Titian Ramsay Peale (1799-1885)

On "Christmas Day 1817, Titian Ramsay Peale (1799-1885), the seventeen-year-old son of Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), noted painter and founder of the nation's first museum, left Philadelphia with zoologist George Ord (1781-1866) and sailed to Savannah, Georgia. There, the two men joined the wealthy geologist William Maclure (1763-1840) and naturalist Thomas Say (1787-1834), whose pioneering work on American insects "the self-styled Dr. T. R. Peale" had begun to illustrate. All four, including young Titian, were officers of the newly organized Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. As Academy president, Maclure generously supported fieldwork, although exact scientific expectations for the trip to Florida remain unclear. According to Say, Maclure delayed until December 12, 1817, to invite him to follow in "the track of Bartram," Say's great-uncle William Bartram (1739-1823) whose well-known travels into East Florida had been published in l79l. Despite insights provided by Say's correspondence at the Academy and Titian's few letters home (now owned by the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia), there appears to be no full narrative account of their trip other than Peale's description. This trip to Florida established directions that Titian's long and uneven career would follow. As an explorer, he accompanied Major Stephen H. Long's expedition to the Rocky Mountains in 1819/20, collected birds again in Florida in 1824, traveled from Maine to Colombia from 1829-1832, and joined the first United States Exploring Expedition to the South Seas in 1838-42.


19th Century Buckskin Hunting Shirt/Jacket

By William L. Brown, III

Titian Ramsay Peale Hunting Jacket


[Washington’s Headquarters Museum, Newburgh, New York.]

Titian Ramsay Peale son of the famous American artist, naturalist, and museum operator Charles Willson Peale, joined the Major Stephen H. Long expedition as assistant naturalist in 1819. The expedition left Pittsburgh and reached the Rocky Mountains, returning to the East in late 1820. Peale had this hunting jacket/shirt made for him over the winter of 1819-1820 probably by an Indian woman near Council Bluffs, Iowa.

It is a combination of smoked, tanned buckskin and early commercial tanned buckskin, all sinew sewn. The main body is of the European method of tanning, while the sleeves are of the Indian process, as are the welted seams. Hunting shirt/jackets are very rare today and this one is very special with the combination of leathers, and another feature not seen very often is this jacket was lined in a French Blue period cloth like fusian that we have seen used in other garments. It is most unfortunate that most garments used as everyday wear have a low survival rate.

The hunting shirt had its beginning in Europe as a simple peasant smock; brought to America it continued as a pull over smock, the working man’s garment, usually made of tow or coarse linen.

Titian Ramsay Peale Hunting Jacket


[Washington’s Headquarters Museum, Newburgh, New York.]

By the time of the French & Indian War we find an off-shoot called the hunting shirt, jacket, or coat. One description of the militia at the battle of point Pleasant in 1773 describes the militia as wearing "hunting shirt, many reaching to their ankles, various colors. As the leaves in autumn."

We know of one surviving linen hunting shirt of the revolutionary era; it is now at the Washington’s Headquarters Museum, Newburgh, New York.



This next garment, chronologically, is the next earliest one surviving, that I know about. Hollywood would have us believe that American soldiers of the 18th century were wearing buckskin hunting shirts, but we can find no evidence for it, all facts point to linen and no paintings or sketches show buckskin hunting coats.

But in the 1830’s and 1840’s we have a great deal of graphic sources showing buckskin garments in use in the West.

This shirt is believed to be one of the earliest buckskin shirts to have survived the hazards of time. The documentation shows this coat being made before 1818 or 1819 on the Missouri River in the present State of Iowa.

There are some features that should be noted, particularly to those readers who might wish to reproduce this garment:

  1. All of the seams have a welt sewn in them.
  2. While it is a simple garment, the sleeves conform to the fashion of the period - fairly tight, pinched at the wrist, flaring to the cuff.
  3. The belts, crossing in the back, then tying in front, are interesting and unusual feature.
  4. Titian Peale, then 19, was of slight build and stood between 5’8" and 5’9" tall - thus the coat reached about halfway between his crouch and knees.


The garment is made similarly to a regular shirt of the period. It is essentially two large rectangles with sleeves. The neck opening size is determined by a gusset on the shoulder/neck seam.

Note that the collar and the sleeve are one piece of material, folded over.

The sleeve is long; it comes in at the wrist and flares out at the cuff. The cuff would extend from the wrist to the knuckles. The cuff is made twice as long as necessary and then folded under and sewn down.

The sleeve is left un-sewn, or open, from the wrist to the knuckle of the little finger.

If you wish to make this garment, I would suggest making it first in muslin, to get your proper fit, then going to buckskin.

This unique hunting shirt, along with Mr. Peale’s, his moccasins, tailored buckskin underwear, a pair of pistols and other memorabilia from the expedition will soon be available for public viewing at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, National Park Service, St. Louis, Missouri (under the arch).

   Good luck on reproducing either one of these interesting garments.

Reprinted from:

  • The Colonial Society Journal - Fall 1982

  • American Rendezvous Magazine - Spring 1983


This is the real deal we built the Titian Peale coat, but be aware of the old material called "fusian". It's the pickiest fabric you'll ever encounter, makes 100% wool look like the softest of cottons. Two under garments takes care of the problem. WOW

I had this coat built to these specs. from the correct brain tanned, commercial leathers, to the "fusian" baby blue color. 

  1. All of the seams have a welt sewn in them.
  2. While it is a simple garment, the sleeves conform to the fashion of the period - fairly tight, pinched at the wrist, flaring to the cuff.
  3. The belts, crossing in the back, then tying in front, are interesting and unusual feature.
  4. Like Peale's coat it reaches about halfway between my crouch and knees.

I contacted CJ Wilde (weaver for the fabric & belt), her and Cathy Johnson dyed it at a Fort Osage event for the  correct color. "River Crossing" of Ft. Collins, CO. was contacted for assembly (know for their outstanding workmanship on primitive wear). Neat experience.





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