Friday, July 27, 2012

16 July 1793 - Ephraim Metcalf Purchases a Felt Hat

Last week, while working on the publication of an article on Haverhill, NH resident, General John Montgomery (1764-1825) and his 1793 Daybook, I focused on the purchases made in his store 249 years ago. (To put life in Haverhill into a larger world context, on July 17th 1793, Charlotte Corday was executed under the guillotine for the assassination of Jacobin Jean Paul Marat during the French Reign of Terror. News of this, and other significant events, would not reach American shores until September.)  In north country New Hampshire, most of the purchases made on this Tuesday, July 16th 1793 were typical of a weekday in this small, but important court town: West Indies rum, tea, and butter.

The largest purchase that day was made by Piermont resident, Ephraim Metcalf (born about 1770 in Cheshire, NH. died 8 April 1858 in Newbury, VT.) and consisted predominantly of textiles, although he also purchased a hymn and psalmbook for 3 shillings. He purchased linen, shoe buckles, a skein of silk and, a felt hat. The hat cost him six shillings, which was the approximately equivalent of two days work throughout the region.

At the time of the purchase, Metcalf (also spelled Medcalf) was about 22-23 years of age, and perhaps this purchase relates to a significant family event - wedding or baptism. The oldest child of Piermont residents Burgess and Jerusha Metcalf, family genealogy notes Ephraim's marriage to "Martha" about 1791. Further, the purchase of linen, perhaps for shirts, cost nearly a week's wage. The particular items may indicate that Metcalf  had completed an apprenticeship or acquired some level of training. As a married man (or soon to be married) he may have  been a man of business, establishing himself within the community with the appropriate "furnishings." 

Mentions of shoe buckles and felt hats as part of male adornments and accessories appear with some frequency during the 14 months covered by the Daybook, demonstrating the importance of such items for the male wardrobe. Thus far, all felt hats purchased in General Montgomery's store have cost 6 shillings; in one instance, a hat was returned for not fitting properly.

There are many excellent sources on line for historic men's hats:'s%20Hats/18th%20Century%20Hats/index.html

Kimberly Alexander, Ph.D.
University of New Hampshire, Durham

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