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Joseph Hancock, Jr.

Colonist Enlists as a Private to Fight the Indians
Long brown coat, frontier brown shirt, rifle, and standing above most of his fellow soldiers, Joseph went to war.

Long brown coat, frontier brown shirt, rifle, and standing above most of his fellow soldiers, Joseph went to war.

Joseph Jr. enlisted in the service in August 20, 1776, at age eighteen. His regiment was specifically formed to fight the Indians in the western frontier, not far from his home in western Pennsylvania. Many joined with only the clothes on their backs; the uniform was a standard hunting shirt and the leggings in common use at the time. Few had decent footwear, and if they had weapons at all, they were rifles not muskets. The following description of uniforms obtained from a web site on Uniforms of the American Revolution by Dorothy C. Barck, provides insight on the rebel’s appearance and the practicality of the Continental Uniform Standards:

“The picturesqueness of the rifle dress worn by the expert marksmen of the Carolinas, Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania has made it well known, but the very general use of the hunting shirt by all American troops is not generally recognized. Lieutenant Lefferts wrote: ‘The rifle dress or hunting frock was preferred by Washington, and was worn by most of the army throughout the war. It was the field dress of almost the entire army. The hunting shirt was made of deer leather, linen, or homespun, dyed in various colors, in the different regiments, such as tan, green, blue, yellow, purple, black or white. They were all of the same pattern, but some had capes and cuffs of different colors. With the hunting shirts were worn long leggings or overalls, also preferred by Washington in place of breeches and stockings. They were made of linen or duck un-dyed, or of deer leather, and later in the war were furnished in wool for the winter. They were shaped to the leg, and fastened at the ankle with four buttons and a strap under the shoe.

“Washington recommended hunting shirts as part of the clothing bounty to be provided by the Continental Congress, and as the most practicable garment for troops not supplied with uniform coats. He pointed out the several advantages of the rifle dress in his General Order of July 24, 1776: ‘No dress can be cheaper, nor more convenient, as the wearer may be cool in warm weather and warm in cool weather by putting on under-clothes which will not change the outward dress, Winter or Summer — Besides which it is a dress justly supposed to carry no small terror to the enemy, who think every such person a complete marksman.

“Pennsylvania troops were also known to have long brown coats that were apparently a distinction of their dress. “Washington’s order of October 2, 1779 indicated blue coats of the infantry regiments, which were all to be lined with white and have white buttons. States were distinguished by different colored facings; Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia had red facings. This order could not be immediately complied with as many troops continued with brown until the end of the war. This would have been particularly true of the 8th since it was by this time of this order, on the frontier having a greater than normal difficulty getting supplied.”

Sufficient information is available to allow speculation regarding Joseph’s physical stature. A medical exam for Joseph’s pension application, taken when he was in his 70’s, determined him to be 5 feet 9 inches tall. Allowing for age and based on available anthropometric data, Joseph’s height would have been in the top 15% and more likely closer to the top 5% of the privates enlisted in the Pennsylvania Line. Long brown coat, frontier brown shirt, rifle, and standing above most of his fellow soldiers, Joseph went to war.

He did not necessarily enlist to join the revolution since his regiment was authorized to defend against the Indians. Whether Thomas Payne’s Common Sense was familiar to him at the time of his enlistment is unknown. He could not write and therefore likely was unable to read. He perhaps became more familiar with the cause after he joined. The marauding Indian parties, who were now being encouraged by the English to attack American settlements, were his primary concern. He was also young at heart and may have wanted an adventure. Whatever his motivation, he assuredly experienced a great deal more than he bargained for.