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“Stand Fast in the Liberty”

:
A Rare Waistcoat Belt
Matthew Skic
On September 6, 1776, Peter, a slave from Salem County, New Jersey, ran away from his master’s
property wearing “a white jacket with a belt before.” Charles Sherry, a convict servant, escaped
from William Scott of Dumfries, Virginia, on February 7, 1777, wearing “a greenish coloured coat
and jacket, with a belt round the bottom of his jacket.” On November 29, 1781, Jesse Vickars
broke out of jail in Newtown, Pennsylvania, wearing “a red belted waistcoat.” These excerpts from
newspaper advertisements describe a specific type of man’s garment known during the late
eighteenth century as a belted waistcoat or belted jacket, which comprises a waistcoat body, cut
square at the bottom, and a matching, detachable belt fastened to buttons on the waistcoat and
worn around the belly. Evidence of belted waistcoats exists not only in descriptions of runaways
dating to the late eighteenth century but also in uniform prescriptions of the Continental Army
during the American War for Independence and in paintings of the period. Previous to this study,
however, no belted waistcoats or corresponding belts were known to survive in American museum
collections. The printed linen band purchased by Winterthur at the 2013 Delaware Antiques Show
may be the first identified material evidence of such a garment (fig. 1).1

Fig. 1. Belt for a waistcoat, linen, 1770‒1800. Museum purchase with funds drawn from the Centenary Fund
2013.38

Not knowing the specific purpose of the band at the time of purchase, the museum acquired the
piece with the intention of conducting further research. The previous owner, Sumpter Priddy III,
thought that the textile might be a “stock” that buttoned around a man’s shirt collar. Winterthur’s
Senior Curator of Textiles Linda Eaton suggested that it might be an armband. My conclusion—
that this band is a belt for a waistcoat—emerged following a conversation with Alden O’Brien at
the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum and a review of the textile’s size and six
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buttonholes. O’Brien encouraged me to think about a man’s waist in relation to the dimensions of
the band.2 At 17.5 inches, the length corresponds to half of a 35-inch waist, a practical size for an
adult male. This consideration led me to a painting in the Winterthur collection, Henry
Benbridge’s Captain John Purves and His Wife, Eliza Anne Pritchard (fig. 2). In the portrait, the
South Carolina military officer wears a belted waistcoat decorated with embroidered florets around
the belt’s two central buttonholes. Upon measuring the distance between the central buttonholes of
the Winterthur band, I verified that it does match typical buttonhole spacing for waistcoats of the
eighteenth century (fig. 3). The two buttonholes at each end of the belt may have attached to
buttons on the side of the waistcoat.

Fig. 2. Henry Benbridge, Captain John Purves and His Wife, Eliza Anne Pritchard, oil on canvas, 1775‒77.
Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1960.582

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Fig. 3. Detail of the central buttonholes and printed border pattern. The brownish medium, likely ink rather
than dyestuff, lies on the surface of the linen fibers. Flaws in the lettering and overlapping sections of the border
pattern indicate the rapidity and low quality of the printing.

Historical evidence supports this interpretation of the object’s dimensions and buttonhole
arrangement. An advertisement for a runaway, from a 1773 edition of The Virginia Gazette,
mentions “a blue Waistcoat and a Half Belt and yellow Buttons.” “Half Belt” likely refers to a
fabric belt that wraps around the front half of the waist, covering only the belly. Because of its
length, Winterthur’s belt could be described as a half belt. A Continental Army uniform
prescription written by the Marquis de Lafayette during the winter encampment at Valley Forge
clarifies that such belts were detachable and reveals that they might be secured with ties: “If we
could get materials enough it would be possible to have a large belt out of the jacquet and
independent of it, which could be tide upon the belly.”3

Printed on one side of the Winterthur belt is a border pattern as well as a rewording of Galatians 5:1,
from the New Testament, “Stand Fast / in / the Liberty / Wherewith Christ / has / made you Free.”
Sumpter Priddy has associated this verse with early American Methodism, as John Wesley, the
English founder of Methodism, used the exact wording in letters to three different followers in the
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1770s. The verse, however, also has ties to the American Revolution. At least five New England
preachers mentioned it in sermons about American liberties delivered between 1773 and 1778. In
Boston, 1773, Simeon Howard’s sermon to the city’s Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company
focused on the verse. His commentary on defending liberty is striking: “Now for men to standfast
in their liberty means, in general, resisting the attempts that are made against it, in the best and
most effectual manner they can.” An even more compelling example is a sermon delivered to the
First Battalion of the Philadelphia Associators by Jacob Duché, rector of Christ Church in
Philadelphia, on July 7, 1775, titled “The Duty of Standing Fast in Our Spiritual and Temporal
Liberties.” It was dedicated to George Washington and the recently established Continental Army
and frequently referenced Galatians 5:1. Advertised in Philadelphia newspapers and reprinted
across the Atlantic, the sermon gained widespread popularity. In light of this evidence, I speculate
that the Winterthur waistcoat belt may have been made in support of the ideology expressed in one
of the radical sermons.4

This political purpose connects the belt to other material culture of the period referencing
American liberty. In 1775 militiamen of the newly formed minute battalions in Tidewater and
northern Virginia wore linen hunting shirts with Patrick Henry’s slogan “Liberty or Death” sewn
onto the breast.5 Metal “45” pins showed support for John Wilkes’s radicalism in Parliament and
his advocacy for the liberties of the thirteen American colonies. The 1775 satirical mezzotint A
New Method of MACARONY MAKING, as practised at BOSTON depicts such adornment (fig. 4).
Apart from clothing, American militiamen and Continental soldiers showed their support for
independence, General Washington, and the Continental Congress on powder horns, weapons,
cartridge boxes, and other accoutrements—all examples of the material culture of display.

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Fig. 4. A New Method of MACARONY MAKING, as practised at BOSTON, ink on laid paper, 1775. Bequest of
Henry Francis du Pont 1957.1260.
The figure on the left wears a hat decorated with the number “45,” a visible expression of his support for John
Wilkes and American liberties. Two silver “45” pins survive in the collection of the British Museum in London,
probably meant to be worn on a hat.

As a conspicuous expression of political ideology, Winterthur’s waistcoat belt certainly fits into
that culture. As a rare surviving artifact, perhaps more important is the possibility that its
identification as a waistcoat belt might lead to further study of this heretofore largely unrecognized
article of male clothing.

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Endnotes
1.

“THREE POUNDS Reward,” Pennsylvania Gazette, September 18, 1776; “RUN away from the subscriber,”

Virginia Gazette, March 7, 1777; “Two Half Johannesses Reward,” Pennsylvania Gazette, December 19, 1781. In
the late eighteenth century, “jacket” and “waistcoat” were often used interchangeably to refer to the same garment.
The only known article specifically addressing belted waistcoats is James Kochan, “The Belted Waistcoat,”
Military Collector & Historian 33, no. 4 (Winter 1981): 178‒79.
2.

Alden O’Brien, e-mail to the author, April 13, 2015.

3.

“RUN away from York Town,” Virginia Gazette, June 17, 1773. “Letters from the Marquis de Lafayette to Hon.

Henry Laurens, 1777‒1780,” South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 7, no. 3 (July 1906). My
thanks to Neal Hurst for helping to locate Lafayette’s letters.
4.

The printed verse is based on Galatians 5:1 (King James Version): “Standfast therefore in the liberty wherewith

Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” John Wesley to Jane Barton,
March 15, 1770; John Wesley to Mrs. Marston, April 1, 1770; John Wesley to Elizabeth Ritchie, June 3, June 23,
July 31, 1774. For Wesley’s letters, see “The Letters of John Wesley,” ed. George and Michael Mattei Lyons,
http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-letters-of-john-wesley. Charles S. Hyneman and Donald S. Lutz, eds.,
American Political Writing during the Founding Era, 1760‒1805, vol. 1 (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1983), 185‒
208, 316, 446, 538. Special thanks to Linda Baumgarten, who suggested I research Jacob Duché; Jacob Duché,
The Duty of Standing Fast in Our Spiritual and Temporal Liberties, A Sermon (London: T. Evans, 1775); “On
Friday evening,” Pennsylvania Gazette, July 12, 1775.
5.

Neal Hurst, “‘kind of armour, being peculiar to America’: The American Hunting Shirt” (Unpublished thesis,

The College of William and Mary, 2013), 19‒20.

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Charles Willson Peale, Major Isaac Harleston, 2nd South Carolina Regiment, circa 1778
(Art Institute of Chicago)

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Major General Jabez Huntington, Sr. (1719-1786)
(By John Trumbull)

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