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Uniforms of the First Officers
of the United States Navy

A Resolution to the Marine Committee:
In Marine Committee
Philadelphia, September 5, 1776
      Resolved, That the uniform of the Officers in the Navy of the United States be as follows:

    Captains.  Blue cloth with red lapels, slash cuff, stand-up collar, flat yellow buttons, blue britches, red waistcoat with narrow lace.

    Lieutenants.  Blue with red lapels, a round cuff, blue britches, and red waistcoat.

    Midshipmen.  Blue lapelled coast, a round cuff, faced with red, standup collar, with red at the button and button hole, blue britches, and red waistcoat.

    Extract from the Minutes,

    John Brown, Secretary


    Uniform of the Marine Officers

        A green coat faced with white, round cuff, slash'd sleeves and pockets, with buttons round the cuff, silver epaulette on the right shoulder, skirts turned back, buttons to suit the facings.

        White waistcoat and britches edged with green, black gaiters and garters, green shirts for the men if they can be procured. (1)


    The original uniform order did not meet with the satisfaction of the majority of naval captains.  In a meeting in Boston in March 1777 strong opinions were voiced.   The captains  "... proposed a uniform consisting of a blue coat, lined with white and trimmed with gold lace and gold buttons; a white waistcoat, breeches, and stockings; and gold epaulets. Both the epaulets and buttons were to bear the figure of a coiled rattlesnake and the Legend, 'Don't thread on me.'" (2)

     Although the uniform was never officially approved a few officers adopted it including John Paul Jones.  Some suggest the Boston 1777 uniform was Jones' idea. 

     John Adams, who had gone to France in the "Alliance" with Captain Landais, wrote in his diary in May 1779 his impressions of Jones and his uniform.

     "After dinner walked out with Captains Jones and Landais to see Jones's marines dressed in the English uniforms, red and white.  A number of very active and clever sergeants and corporals are employed to teach them the exercise and manoeuvres and marches after which Jones came on board our ship.  Jones has art and secrecy, and aspires very high.  You see the character of the man in his uniform, and that of his officers and marines, variant from the uniform established by Congress - golden button holes for himself, two epaulettes; marines in red and white instead of green.  Eccentricities and irregularities are to be expected from him - they are in his character, they are visible in his eyes.  His voice is soft and still and small, his eye has keenness and wildness and softness in it." (3)

     Congress evidently did not think well of the uniform and resolved to bury the gold trim as it suggested royalty.  They resolved on February 28, 1781  "...that after the first day of January next, no officer whatsoever in the service of the United States shall... wear... on his clothes any gold or lace embroidery or vellum, other than such as Congress or the Commander-in-Chief of the Army or Navy shall direct." (4)

    The first official uniform regulations for naval uniforms were not issued until August 1797.  Uniform for the Navy of the United States, 1797 was signed by the Secretary of War, James McHenry.  The prescribed uniform was not "blue and gold" but "blue and buff."  In that the Continental Navy ceased to exist in 1785 and the United States Navy was not established until early 1794 it is interesting that responsibility for dictating naval uniforms resided with an Army dominated War Department until a separate Navy Department was established on April 30, 1798.

 


Artist rendering of John Paul Jones' uniform.

 
References (Secondary):
(1)  Lovette, Leland P., Naval Customs Traditions and Usage; Annapolis, MD, U.S. Naval Institute, 1939, p. 375.
(2)  Rankin, Robert H., Uniforms of the Sea Services: A Pictorial History; Annapolis MD, U.S. Naval Institute, 1962,  p39.
(3)  Lovette, p. 375-6.
(4)  Rankin, p. 39.
 See also, Tily, James C., The Uniforms of the United States Navy; New York, Thomas Yoseloff, 1964