“A slow packer he was, and inefficient; if Killick had not come to him, having stowed the
Captain’s sea-bag, Stephen might have gone on staring at the handkerchiefs, the
neckcloths, and the warm-weather drawers until the drum called him away to dinner.” – The Fortune of War
I’m cheating a little in adding this to the Royal Navy Uniforms Extant Garments album. In the first place, a sea bag wasn’t necessarily part of a sailor’s uniform. It’s also not so much Royal Navy as American. I justify these discrepancies thus: many sailors had sea bags, so it’s still useful to know what one looks like, and many American sailors ended up on Royal Navy ships. Oh, also, Jack Aubrey has one. So there.
This bag is really an incredible work of folk art. Life at sea was often demanding, but instances of free time could hang heavy on one’s hands with nothing to do. Because of this sailors invented or took part in many forms of folk art, including scrimshaw and embroidery.
This early American example was made either ashore or at sea out of linen panels and hand sewn and hand embroidered. It is decorated with with traditional symbols of the period comprised of an early American flag, an anchor, a tree with a serpent, a very ornate star medallion and many other stars as well. They’re worked in gold, navy and beige thread, and is of exceptionally fine quality indicating a very accomplished artisan as shown by the star emblem on the bottom of the bag.
The nineteen star, fifteen stripe flag our sailor depicted dates from 1795 when the number of stars and stripes were increased to reflect the entry of Kentucky and Vermont into the Union. It is the style flag that flew at Fort Mc Henry in 1812 inspiring Francis Scott Key to write “The Star Spangled Banner”, now our national anthem. This arrangement was not changed until April, 1818 when the number of stars was increased to twenty, and the number of stripes reduced to thirteen, honoring the original colonies.
Courtesy of Land and Sea Collection.
Dr. Maturin suggests further reading