Uniform Dress Regulations for U.S. Navy Surgeons and Surgeon’s Mates
The clothes worn by members of the United States Navy in the 19th century embodied the skills and knowledge of their profession, reinforced their place in the service’s hierarchy and, in the case of officers, suited their status as leaders and gentlemen.
The first U.S. Navy uniforms authorized in 1794, and again in 1797, were austere and plain. By the turn of the 19th century, however, naval officers began to agitate for something more elaborate and navy-like. In 1801, the Jefferson administration sent a squadron to the Mediterranean, and for the first time American naval officers came into close and frequent contact with both their British and French counterparts. These nations had long naval traditions and the officers of both services wore expensive uniforms. In August 1802, Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith revised the U.S. Navy’s uniform regulations. The new dress uniforms introduced a profusion of gold “lace,” or gilt metallic wire braid, gilt buttons, and the coveted blue and white color scheme.
This U.S. Navy Department memorandum, dated December 10, 1801, details the uniform dress regulations for surgeons and surgeon’s mates in 1801. The regulations call for “three navy buttons on the pocket flaps and the same number on the cuffs” for both surgeons and surgeon’s mates, and “two gold frogs on each side of the collar” for surgeons. This particular copy is addressed to Dr. Peter St. Medard, a naval surgeon in Boston who served on USS Constitution during the Quasi-War with France.