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Daring to be plain

Wool leggings are often mentioned in colors of red and blue in the fur trade. These were worn by natives and canadiens as well as by soldiers. Red and blue are by far the most common colors mentioned in trade lists and in descriptions of natives. Occasionally other colors are also mentioned. This considered, it was with great surprise that I learned that white was most common in inventories and estate records in Quebec. In a discussion with Francis Back (historian, illustrator, and super hero… well, at least to me), he noted that in his research of notarial data from 1730-1760 of habitants in the settlements of Nouvelle France, of those leggings where color is mentioned (which was a small fraction of the whole), white was most common. His break down actually was:

White 66.6%
Blue 20%
Violet 13%
Red – not mentioned

This was somewhat surprising, but as Francis pointed out, undyed white leggings came to a cost of 1/3 blue and violet. I would also imagine that red was even more costly as most red trade wool was cochineal dyed. I then noticed an entry from the Montreal Merchant Records Project that listed goods coming to Ft. LaBaie (Green Bay, WI) in 1743 as including 20 ells of white molton made into 20 pairs of leggings. Also, white molton is commonly seen on all lists coming into Wisconsin (and elsewhere). Some of this may have gone to leggings. I then started critically looking at later period images of candiens and natives; some images show white or what could be white leggings. For out here in the western Great Lakes, I would not go as far as to say that white was most common, but it is certainly a correct color and one that is not seen worn by many (if any) reenactors.

Noting all of the above, I decided that I might like to make a pair of white wool leggings. This was fueled by my time spent in northern MN on the Hivernants du Perrault outing this past Feb. While on this outing, I was in the company of some other very good fur trade reenactors. The clothing and equipment of these men was VERY plain and unadorned. As can be seen in the various images of me on my website, I dress rather conservatively and without much adornment or decoration. I strive to portray what is plain, everyday, and common. I occasionally do have nicer items which is correct but, being able to quill, bead, sew, etc., I often have to hold back. In spite of all of this, on this outing, I felt almost out of place in how nice and fancy some of my clothing and equipment was (although still plain and common). It was then decided that white, unbound leggings would be a nice addition to my wardrobe.


One Response to “Daring to be plain”

  1. White is the most common universal color for woolens, cottons, and hemps in any corner of North America. Point blankets with the dark indigo stripe are a mainstay Number one bulk of all blankets sent and made in North America. Duffel is still largely used in white in the interior Canadian outback. Is the led color for hemps, swanskin vest, short wool leggings, capotes, summer overalls, blankets, hemp short jackets, hemp frocks (not fringed with cape, just pullover), socks and fatigue hemp overalls for the 1803 US Infantry (about 2000 men).

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