This silk velvet cap was once said to have been lost by a British officer of the 32nd Foot at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. But even that was a little off: Rhode Island History published an article by Anne S. K. Brown in 1953 citing the work of Captain Cecil C. P. Lawson, an authority on British Army uniforms, and the article made clear that it was the 35th Foot.
Even so, the cap lacked the markers of standard British Army caps, despite the Royal Cipher: there were flags, but no white Horse of Hanover. And picked up from the field at Bunker Hill? That’s not the story the cap came to us with when it was presented by Horatio Gates Bowen, physician and librarian of Brown University. In the 1833 accession book with his name is the description, “An old Grenadier’s cap, of a British Officer.”
Henry Cooke IV of Historic Costume Services examined the cap recently and thought that the “miter cap pre-dates the Royal Order of 1747 and the Royal Warrant of 1752 that codified the appearance of these caps to include the white Horse of Hanover on the flap. Also the lower height of the front panel seems consistent with what we can see of some of the early grenadier caps, especially those of the militia and those of Provincial origin.”
Now there are new questions: How did Horatio Gates come to have this cap? Is it British Army, or Provincial, in origin? Mr. Cooke believes that if it were of Rhode Island [Provincial] origin, it would have a fouled anchor worked into the design; that has been the official seal since the time of Benedict Arnold.
Also on display tonight will be the Providence Grenadier’s Cap, circa 1774. This provincial unit with the bold motto, “Hope and Our Rights” received its charter in 1774; the provincial anchor symbol is prominently painted between the unit’s initials, and the front turn up is decorated with a grinning lion and a flaming bomb. The cap is clearly less skillfully and artfully made than the British cap, and tonight, all their contrasts will be on display for this month’s Brief Encounter.
Join us at the John Brown House Museum between 5 and 8 PM, free of charge.