What is this?
A cocked hat belonging to Pardon Mawney Whipple
When is it from?
Probably 1820 to 1823
Why is it Important?
This folding bit of buckram and plush once graced the brow of a hero. Worn by Pardon Mawney Whipple after his promotion to lieutenant in 1820, the hat was resplendent with a binding of gold lace and a knap of shiny silk. Stripped of its decoration, and worn thin by the caress of many hands, the hat remains as a relic of one who witnessed his fair share of sea fights and stormy weather. Whipple received his midshipman’s warrant in 1812, and the following year was ordered toConstitution. In a letter to a friend, he expressed his joy at the appointment: “After having been kept so long in suspense, it is like emancipation from slavery to have my name enrolled on the list of this gallant crew and be permitted to serve my country in a ship which has already so eminently distinguished herself as Old Ironsides.” He served with honor during the rest of the war and saw action during the battle with HMS Cyane and HMS Levant in 1815. Deeply affected by the scenes of gore on the defeated ships, he recalled that “it was a long time before I could familiarize myself to these and if possible more horrid scenes that I had witnessed.”
Whipple’s career did not end with the coming of peace. He sailed for the Mediterranean, where he distinguished himself by saving a handful of drowning sailors, and later served in the West Indies. Sadly, the rigors of active duty weakened his body, and he succumbed to tuberculosis in May 1827. He was barely 37 years old.
The hat’s journey did not end with Whipple’s death. In his will, Whipple bequeathed all his “wearing apparel” to his brother-in-law, but it is possible that his married sister Susan Beverly kept the hat as a memorial token of her departed brother. In 1935, Walter Beverly, Whipple’s grandnephew, donated the hat to the McLean County (IL) Historical Society. The Museum acquired it in 2005.
A little bit of background
During the early nineteenth century all naval officers wore a folding cocked hat or chapeau bras with their full dress (best) uniform. Evolving from the so-called “tricorn” of the eighteenth century, by 1810 the chapeau had become flat and crescent-shaped. The “cock” and “fan” stood 9 to 11 inches high, and from point to point the hat could stretch 16 inches or more. Designed to fold flat, they could be easily stored in a box or carried beneath the arm. Military hatters offered expensive hats made of beaver felt, finished with a fuzzy knap that they ironed to produce a smooth sheen. A cost-conscious officer had other options, however. Glued to a pasteboard or buckram foundation, silk plush (a pile of silk on a base of cotton, not unlike velvet) imitated costly beaver felt for a fraction of the price, and at a distance was virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.
Whipple’s hat conforms to the 1820 US Navy uniform regulations. A shadow line of stitching indicates that the gold lace or braid that once ornamented the edges extended 1 ¼ inches on either side. Additional lace, formed in a loop, secured a cockade on the left side. Tassels of gold bullion, tight coils of gilt wire, hung from both points. Worn with one point ranged over the right eye, the hat gave the officer a rakish, yet elegant appearance.
Learn more (download): To learn more about Midshipman Pardon Mawney Whipple, please visit our online exhibit about the letter book he kept between 1813 and 1820.