Because I am prey to a pretty print as much as the next
princess costume blogger tenant farmer’s wife, I thought I should go looking for evidence before I launch into any cotton sacques, and to justify the use of the print remnant I’m stitching up into a jacket. (Apologies in advance to my friend who bought enough for a gown, because you know we’ll wear them to the same event…)
American Historical Newspapers to the rescue, once again. Here’s an ad for Alexander Black and Archibald Stewart, from the Providence Gazette and Country Journal of March 16, 1765. Chintz and calico: it’s here in Providence in 1765. I knew there were merchants selling calicoes and chintzes in Providence in 1768 (including Samuel Young, who printed his broadside in red).
Three years later, Joseph and Wm. Russell at the sign of the Golden Eagle are selling (lately imported from London and Bristol) “A neat and genteel assortment of dark ground calicoes and chintz.” This ad runs to four columns in the Providence Gazette and Country Journal, 1768, April 9. It’s a tantalizing list, and no, I did not miss those chip hats and bonnets!
Digression: I was attracted to this bit about forks as I recall being told by a historic house tour guide once that “forks were not in common use until the Civil War.” It’s an early house, maybe he meant the English Civil War, but I think forks were here to stay and be bought for a variety of prices long before the American Civil War. How else to explain those archaeological finds that show forks of some kind at Rev War forts and camp sites? /Digression. New digression: OMG, knitting needles! /New digression.
Back to chintz: Here, in 1771, is William Eliot, selling chintzes in Providence, and advertising in the Providence Gazette and Country Journal of June 1, 1771. He also has “flowered and sprigged lawn in aprons,” and Kenting and check handkerchiefs. (Kenting was a fine linen fabric)
In the limited search I ran (1754-1783 newspapers), plenty of references to chintz appear in Providence alone (there were 166 hits, but the ads repeat). This completely unscientific approach in which I stopped looking in 1771*, has turned up 5 merchants, if you count the RIHS Library’s broadside for Samuel Young. Chintzes and calicoes were everywhere. Dark grounds were “genteel,” checks and spots and stripes are popular and common.
I begin to see 18th century Providence, if not all of the Colonies, as a variegated, kaleidoscopic place of pattern and color. I think there was more than we realize, even if only in small amounts.
Look again at the cherry seller: her petticoat is yellow and blue, if not yellow, blue, and white striped, her apron is blue, her stockings brown or faded reddish, her cap is affixed with a pink or red ribbon, and she wears a checked kerchief. She’s poor and sort of faded, but she’s colorful–more colorful, perhaps, than we have credited.
*I do have to head out to work, but I can search again.