What is this?
Clothing bag belonging to John Lord, USN
When is it from?
1812 to 1829
Why is it Important?
Rarely do textiles as plain and utilitarian (and as early) as this clothing bag survive. It is true that museum collections abound with later examples of heavily embroidered, painted, or otherwise decorated “sea bags,” but the silk or worsted cross stitch or stump work with which they are ornamented have removed them from the realm of the everyday and elevated them to the status of folk art. This example is untouched, and except for the evidence of later use by one Noah Butts (steam engineer at the Charlestown Navy Yard and an acquaintance of Lord’s), it remains as Lord left it. Chests could be cumbersome in the close confines of a warrant officer’s cabin. A soft, collapsible clothing bag was recommended for its space saving properties. 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 clothing bags issued to the seamen were painted black to waterproof them, and stand in contrast to the unpainted personal bags so often richly decorated by the owners.
Constructed of coarse 10-11 oz. plain woven flax linen, this clothing bag is in good condition overall, although considerably soiled, including a number of 3/4 or 1 inch dark brown spots scattered throughout. The seams are tightly sewn with 2 ply linen thread (no. 8 or 10 size). There is some tearing along one seam where the fabric pulled away from the stitching. The long seams of the body are sewn with closely spaced overhand or whipstitches that enclose all the raw edges and prevent raveling. At the top, a 2 inch tabling encases a ¼ inch hemp cord that functions as a drawstring. The cords come through the tabling at two reinforced worked grommets, ½ inch in diameter. The bag is composed of 4 panels, each panel 48 inches long by 12 ½ inches wide. The bottom is of one piece, with the seam flat felled to encase the raw edges. Centered on one of the body panels is the hand-lettered inscription J. LORD surmounting a motif consisting of a cannon and fouled anchor crossed over a stack of cannon balls. Beneath this are the letters U.S.N. On the interior of the bag, painted freehand with a large round brush, are the following markings: N. Butts Boston No 14 Mass