John Lord’s Sea Bag
This sea bag is a rare surviving example of a once common, utilitarian item. Sea bags were issued to United States Navy sailors and recommended for officers as a means of storing clothing. The space-saving properties of a soft, collapsible bag made it far less cumbersome than a wooden chest in the close confines of a warrant officer’s cabin. With a volume of more than seven cubic feet, the bag was large enough to contain most of an officer’s clothing, which could include dozens of shirts, trousers, stockings, and cravats.
The sea bags issued to sailors were painted black to waterproof them, which is in contrast to the unpainted personal bags, like this one, that were often richly decorated by their owners. Indeed, few textiles as plain as this clothing bag have survived from the early 19th century to today. Later examples of heavily embroidered, painted, or otherwise decorated “sea bags” are closer in status to folk art than the realm of the everyday use. This relatively plain sea bag was owned by John Lord, who served as gunner on USS Constitution from 1824 to 1828. The bag is labeled “J. Lord / U.S.N” and decorated with Lord’s personal motif, an image of a cannon and fouled anchor crossed over a stack of cannon balls. Writing on the back suggests that it was later used by Noah Butts, a steam engineer at the Charlestown Navy Yard and an acquaintance of Lord’s.