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In Washington’s army, buttons signaled how they served

August 18, 2015

Filed under Collections, Military History, Pennsylvania Icons, Pennsylvania Treasures

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Henry Felty's blue-and-red wool uniform coat

This blue-and-red wool uniform coat, one of the earliest examples of military dress in the State Museum’s collection, is attributed to Henry Felty of York County, Pa. Felty appears in the muster rolls of the 8th Battalion, 1st Company of the York County Militia in 1778, and is listed in the 7th Battalion, 2nd Company in 1779.

When Gen. George Washington took command of the Continental Army in 1775, regulations regarding soldier uniforms did not exist. Generally, enlisted men wore whatever they owned, resulting in many variations in color and material. An unofficial standard was the linen hunting shirt, which many men at this time would have owned. In 1779, Congress passed its first set of uniform regulations. Navy blue became the official coat color of the Continental Army. Red lapels and cuffs identified soldiers who hailed from the Mid-Atlantic region. White metal buttons signaled that the soldier was part of the infantry, while yellow metal buttons were worn by members of the cavalry.

This blue-and-red wool uniform coat is attributed to Henry Felty of Heidelberg Township, York County, Pa. In 1778, Felty, who appears in tax records as a saddler, purchased a “saddler’s bench” and tools at an estate sale. He appears in the muster rolls of the 8th Battalion, 1st Company of the York County Militia in 1778, and is listed in the 7th Battalion, 2nd Company in 1779. However, this coat does not conform to Revolutionary War patterns of the period.

The cut and style of the coat, a coatee with shortened tails, as well as the flat white-metal button design, appears to point to an infantryman who served in the army after 1795. Felty’s service continued to at least until 1799, when he was listed as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Hanover Troop of Horse, which is the most likely time in which he wore this uniform. Felty’s widow, Anna Maria, was awarded his veterans pension upon his death in 1835. This coat is one of the earliest examples of military dress in the State Museum’s collection, and was chosen by CAP Curator Katie McGowan as this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure. The coat will be on display this fall at The State Museum as part of the upcoming Pennsylvania Icons exhibit.

 

About Pennsylvania Icons:
Featuring a diverse array of artifacts from the collections of the State Museum of Pennsylvania and other Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historic sites and museums, Pennsylvania Icons tells the story of our commonwealth, its people and the role they played in shaping the nation. The exhibit features historic artifacts ranging from a 1654 map of the Philadelphia region to pieces of the Walnut Street bridge in Harrisburg. Pennsylvania Icons opens to the public on Sunday, November 8, 2015.

 

About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.