George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James McAlpin, 27 January 1799

To James McAlpin

Mount Vernon 27th Jany 1799.


The Secretary of War, by Command of the President of the U: States, having announced to the Army the Uniforms which are to be worn by Officers of the different grades, I have to request that you would make mine comformably thereto; & send it on, so as to be here at farthest by the 22d of February.1

There being some doubt in my mind respecting the Sort of Cuff & Pocket flap—that is—Whether the first shall simply turn up, or have a slash through it, with a flap the colour of the cloth (blue, with three buttons and holes) also embroidered; and whether the second shall have a cross pocket in the usual form, or slashed (that is inclining downwards)—There being a doubt I say respecting these matters, as also whether the Buff waistcoat is to have a corresponding embroidery down the front, and round the flaps to suit that on the Cuff, Cape and Flaps on the Coat, you will please to receive precise directions from the Secretary of War, & conform thereto, on all these points.

Let your blue cloth be of the best & softest French or Spanish; and the finest you can procure, of a deep colour. And the Buff of the very best sort, fine, & not inclining to yellow or Orange, like what I have been accustomed to wear. The buttons are to be plain, flat, and of the best double gilt.2

I presume there are many workers in embroidery in the City of Philadelphia—in that case make choice of the one who is most celebrated & esteemed the best. Those who follow this business will, unquestionably, be possessed of a variety of patterns. Let these be taken to the Secretary of War to chuse from.

The waistcoat should be straight breasted, that is without lapels. and the Cuffs of the Coat neither large, nor tight; observing a just medium between the two.

I again repeat my wish that they may be with me by the 22d of Feby—send your account along with the Clothes, and the Money shall be remitted to you; or payment ordered thereby3—Sir Your Very Hble Servant

Go: Washington

ALS (letterpress copy), DLC:GW.

James McAlpin was GW’s tailor in Philadelphia. See GW to McAlpin, 7 May 1797. He lived at 3 South Fourth Street.

2During the Revolution infantry soldiers had on their uniforms pewter buttons with regiment numbers or “USA” on them. Infantry officers had fancier ones of tin and bone or wood, with similar markings. Artillery buttons were brass with pictures of a cannon and flag or mortars. By this time, some military buttons had eagles on them (U.S. Army Insignia and Uniforms, description begins William K. Emerson. Encyclopedia of United States Army Insignia and Uniforms. Norman, Okla., 1996. description ends 26, 27). Yellow buttons as called for in McHenry’s “Uniform of the Army of the United States” (DLC:GW) meant brass, and “white” buttons were pewter or silver.

3See McAlpin’s reply of 15 Feb., printed in note 2 of GW to McAlpin, 10 February. Nelly Custis wished for GW to appear on his birthday and her wedding day in his new “splendidly embroidered uniform,” but, according to her brother, “the idea of wearing a costume bedizzened with gold embroidery, had never entered the mind of the chief, he being content with the old Continental blue and buff” (Custis, Recollections, description begins George Washington Parke Custis. Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington. New York, 1860. description ends 450). GW knew how to make a virtue of necessity.

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