Native Reenactors’ Guide
By Maureen J. Patrick with invaluable contributions from David Mott, David Hobbs, Ned Jenkins, Deborah Sanders, Doug Rodgers, Wynne Eden, Rick Obermeyer
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This abbreviated Guide for Native Reenactors offers generally accepted norms for portrayals of Southeastern Natives during the period British Night Watch addresses: 1763-84. It is intended only as a “checklist” for experienced interpreters and/or a general outline for those new to the event, era, region, or Native peoples represented at British Night Watch. Material in the Guide comes from a great number of primary and secondary sources. More and detailed information is available online by accessing the links provided at the end of the Guide but these are only provided as a convenience for reenactors; well-developed personas demand lengthy individual research. Because British Night Watch is committed to presenting history accurately and because the event is intensely observed/recorded by the public, the media, and funding representatives, Native Reenactors – to be accepted at the event – must conform to this Guide. Assistance for new Native interpreters or those needing help with their portrayals is freely available by contacting the British Night Watch Committee. Remember: If in doubt, ask.
Overall, the attire of late eighteenth century Loyal Indian Allies*, both men and women, displayed a mix of contemporary European and traditional Native elements, as well as some innovative features made possible by trade goods such as silver (or brass) ornaments, metallic lace, ribbon, worsted braid, and beads. While the potential for rich and elaborate clothing and ornamentation always existed at ceremonial or otherwise important occasions, the modern-day Native interpreter should be wary of presenting special occasion dress as the norm. Erring in the direction of ruined, soiled, or too minimal dress is not advisable, either. British Night Watch presents a celebratory and important moment in Florida history. Surrounded by prestigious political allies, trade partners, and military figures, the Loyal Indian Allies – along with their families – would have, to some degree, “dressed to impress.” With the British, the Allies shared victory, a victory that both believed would yield long-term and colossal benefits. The right choice for Native reenactors at British Night Watch is a wardrobe consistent with the Allies’ belief that their share of those benefits was earned, just, and would be equal to any other esteemed subject of the Crown.
*A word about “Seminoles”: The label “Seminole” (spelled variously) was used as early as 1710 to denote any Native person present in Florida. The label had little or no ethnographic specificity. To Euro-American observers, “Seminoles” might be members of any of several Native communities or any blend of ethnicities (including white/Native or African/Native.) The distinctive and identifiable characteristics defined as “Seminole” in Seminole Wars reenactment (1817-1858) have no place in the context of British Night Watch. Reenactors who customarily portray Seminoles from that later period are encouraged to attend British Night Watch if they are willing to undertake the changes in interpretation, dress, and accoutrements necessary to authentically portray Native American men and women in and around East Florida during the period 1763-84.
Breechcloth: A tapered Southeastern style flap (breechcloth), held up by belt, woven strap, textile strip, or hide strap. Some earlier images display a simple rectangle (un-tapered) of trade cloth worn as a breechcloth; this is also acceptable. Edges usually bound in silk ribbon; additional rows of ribbon may run horizontally near the bottom. Trade ornaments and/or beadwork also documented.
Leggings of braintan (or look-alike) deerskin or trade wool. Best wool colors are dark blue or red (scarlet.) Side seam leggings (not front or center seam.) Side (and bottom) edges of wool leggings usually bound in silk ribbon or wool worsted tape. Some beadwork on bottom edges, side edges, and/or seam line is documented. Leggings extend to cover top of foot. (Less than half of moccasin upper usually visible.) Period correct leg ties (garters) below knee: finger woven, beaded, wool worsted “gartering”, deerskin, beaded, or plain cloth ties.
Trade shirt or shirt of Native manufacture. If trade shirt: linen, in plain white, is safest choice, however, woven linen checks were very common in the Southeast. Ordinary shirts will be plainly made; more elegant shirts may have ruffles and/or lace at neck opening and wrists. Many shirt wrist openings had cufflinks of pewter, brass, or silver, but buttons of wood, pewter, brass, or bone are acceptable, as are ties. Neck closure: loop and button. Tailoring conforms to period styles, including neck and underarm gussets. Shirts are around knee length or up to mid-thigh. Shirts of Native manufacture: linen, fustian, or period “calico.” Calico of the period was coarse cotton made in India, often block printed and colorfully dyed. Native-made shirts may have raw or fringed (by pulling out threads) bottom edges. Trade ornaments, usually ring brooches, often arrayed on shirt. The roller printed cotton shirts worn in Seminole Wars reenactment are not acceptable for this event.
Cravats, neckerchiefs, neck stocks. Worn by Native men in region/period. Knotted neckerchiefs not universal but common; cravats and European style stocks much less so. Silk or linen.
Waistcoats, coats, etc. Some number of European men’s top garments (waistcoats and coats) in use by Native men in period/region. These requested from traders (or received as presents) by persons of importance; should not be considered commonplace dress. There is some historical support for “hunting frocks” (split front top shirts or coats) in the period. Very scanty documentation for military coats, hats, or regalia worn by Southeastern Native men in this period; some does exist. (As with certain other items of attire, persons of great distinction would have worn these items.)
Moccasins and footwear. Only acceptable moccasin is center seam pucker toe Southeastern moccasin, preferably in braintan (or look-alike) deerskin. Could be “painted” with vermilion or other pigments; support for this custom sketchy. Some Colonial Era shoes and boots on trade lists or described as presents. Bare feet common, but reenactors – to deal with terrain at British Night Watch – will want to wear footwear. (Padded insoles, while not historically accurate, are a good idea.)
Cold weather attire. Wool trade blankets (or lengths of trade wool.) Worn wrapped around torso; end draped over one shoulder (one arm and shoulder free.) Also worn across shoulders and, in bad weather, pulled over head. Fur-on hides (bear, panther, bison) replaced substantially by wool blankets/matchcoats in this era. Matchcoats commonly plain but – for ranking warriors, chieftains, or other persons of importance – might be decorated with rows of silk ribbon, brass bells, trade ornaments.
Hair and headgear. As a rule, Southeastern Native men removed hair from their heads, faces, and bodies. Common style was to leave only a strip of hair in middle of the head, from crown to nape, or a scalplock, a circlet of long hair on the crown of the head (which could be divided into strands, braided, ornamented, and allowed to escape the top of the head wrap.) Plucking of hair along front scalp line documented; gave “high” forehead. Hair fobs and other dangling ornaments (silver “quills” or hair pipes, feathers, shells, trade ornaments) very common. Facial hair almost universally removed. Beards, full mustaches, and sideburns not permitted at British Night Watch. Southeastern “turban” was simple head wrap or scarf; might include trade silver headbands (“crowns.”) Headbands, also called “diadems” were documented in woven form or leather with distinctive ornamentation. Head wraps and bands often garnished with feathers (ostrich plumes prized) and trade ornaments. Rigid or pre-formed late Seminole Wars turbans not acceptable.
Note: Some violations of historical exactness will be allowable in hair, as daily life circumstances make period correct hairstyles impossible for some reenactors. However, modern hair styles must be covered/concealed at all times.
Ornamentation. Trade silver used abundantly. Ring brooch most common but other pieces (if substantiated for the period and region) extant. Please research period- and era-correct styles before purchasing/wearing trade jewelry. Multiple ear piercings were the norm. Closed-bottom ball and cone earbob is correct and commonest ear ornament; Southern tastes dictated a shorter bob than was common in Northeast. Ear lobes often split and/or distended: obviously not an option for most reenactors. Nose (septum) piercings also common and ornament was trade silver, not bone or tusk.. Brass or silver gorgets and peace medals worn by ranking warriors and important persons. Trade silver cuffs, armbands, and silver headbands (crowns) popular. Trade bead necklaces common; men wore fewer than women. Natural material beads/pendants almost wholly replaced by glass trade beads and trade ornaments by this era. Bead styles known; please research before buying/wearing. Finger woven (hand woven wool yarn) articles both ornamental and practical; were very widespread in region/period. Finger woven straps supported powder horns and bags, and worn as belts, garters, armbands, sashes, even headbands. Beads (usually white) often worked into weaving to produce patterns.
Paint and tattoos. As British Night Watch is not a battle scenario, the use of war paint is not appropriate. A limited amount of vermilion or ochre is acceptable as embellishment only – not all-over coloring. Use of Creole or other stage make-up strongly discouraged: not designed for close quarters and appears “stagey”. Tattoos extremely common and include facial markings. Modern tattoos must be covered! Temporary tattooing advisable but must conform to known designs.
Bags, belts, weapons, and other accoutrements. Across-the-chest “bandolier bag” was necessary component of warrior’s attire. Avoid distinctive late Seminole styles; stick to known styles for Loyal Indian Allies. Knives worn in belts/sashes, (over trade shirt), neck sheaths, or bags. Tomahawks (hatchets) not apparent in peaceful situations. Period correct smooth bore trade gun is correct for most Southeastern Natives. (Rifled guns generally not made available to them.) British, but some French guns might be around. Weapons datable to time period: 1763-84. Powder horn and other accessories. Tobacco bags, pipe bags, and other accoutrements encouraged if they conform to period/region norms.
Note: Eyeglasses are very rarely documented in use by Natives in the period. Wear contact lenses if at all possible; if not, wear period correct eyeglass styles.
Please DON’T wear/use: hair “roaches”; necklaces of animal teeth/tusks/claws; out-of-period guns, waistcoats, or coats; any circa 1800s attire/accoutrements (including and especially Seminole Wars long shirts, ruffled shirts, patchwork or appliqué, rigid turbans); bows and arrows or blowpipes; modern eyeglasses; buckskinner-style or undocumented “furry animal” bags and hats; Northeastern Native porcupine quill- or beadwork items; seashell necklaces or decoration; Pre-Contact Native ornaments; ribbon shirts or pow wow regalia; French or Western capotes; the clothing, footwear, ornaments, or accoutrements of any out-of-region Native peoples (such as Plains Indians.)
Basic item is wrap skirt of trade wool. Simple trade wool or saved list (saw tooth un-dyed edge wool.) Commonest/preferred colors dark blue and red (scarlet.) Knee length or a little longer. Held to body by leather belts, twined straps, or finger woven sashes. Commonly trimmed (silk ribbon or wool braid) in rows near bottom edge. Also display trade silver ornaments (usually ring brooches.)
Trade shirt or shirt of Native manufacture. Same fabrics/styles as for men’s. Can have raw or fringed (by pulling out rows of thread) hems.
Shifts (chemises.) This European undergarment was top garment worn in place of shirt for Native women. Natives at this event British-affiliated; trade relationships largely British, so correct shift is “English” style. No stays or other undergarments. If worn, modern undergarments should be undetectable.
Jackets. Bed jackets or fitted European women’s jackets can be worn over shifts or as top garments alone. Ornamented with trade silver and other Native touches. Kathryn Holland Braund states Southeastern Native women “became adept at fashioning the imported [trade] textiles into European-style clothing.” Native-made European clothing reflected Native tastes in fabrics, colors, embellishments.
Petticoats. These European garments on trade lists; can be worn with or without leggings. While came as ready-to-wear trade goods, could also be made of trade cloth by Native women, in European style but modified (in fabric, length, and decoration) to suit Native tastes. Trade cloth commonly included wool, calico, fustian, and linen; any might be made into petticoats. Native-made petticoats did not extend to ankle but ended at knee or between knee and lower calf. Can have finished hems or raw or pulled thread (fringed) bottom edges.
Leggings. Like men, women customarily went bare-legged in everyday conditions. Some support for leggings (of deerskin or wool.) Same guidelines, including color, as for men’s leggings. Perfectly acceptable for flap and bottom edges to be bound in silk ribbon, strips of coarse cotton, or worsted wool tape. Beadwork (if any) includes simple running patterns along the flap edge or seam line. Women’s leggings presumed held to same belt securing wrap skirt by strips of cloth, deerskin, or woven straps. Leg ties (garters) can also be used below knee; wool gartering (tape) was common. European stockings (plain or clocked, wool or silk) on trade inventories; no reliable images of them on Southeastern Native women. However, can legitimately be worn in place of leggings.
Moccasins and Footwear. Women usually went barefoot in “normal” circumstances and when close to home, but terrain and circumstances at British Night Watch demand same moccasins (Southeastern pucker-toe center seam) as for men. (Padded insoles, while not historically accurate, are recommended to cope with terrain.) Women’s Colonial Era shoes appear on trade lists; can be worn at British Night Watch.
Hair. Native Women’s hairstyles varied enormously in the Southeast. Difficult to dictate a “common” hair arrangement. For Loyal Indian Allies, most generally acceptable is clubbed (single hank, twisted or plaited) hair secured (by wood or bone pins) to top of the head. Primary sources describe “silk ribbands” in more or less quantity, combs (of trade silver, bone, or horn), some feathers, shells, and silver ornaments: highly dependent on occasion, circumstances of wearer, and custom in particular groups. Hair “anointed” with bear grease (or modern substitute.) No turbans or head wraps. No headbands or plumes as men wore. Women’s hair should never be worn loose, as this custom of widowhood will confuse visitors and give reenactors more to explain than is necessary or advisable.
Note: Southeastern Native Women’s hair was long. Short hair must be augmented with hair switches/braids. Women did not wear turbans, headbands, or headwraps.
Cold Weather Attire. A wearing blanket/matchcoat in cold weather is appropriate. Hides also documented but replaced largely in era by trade blankets. Women’s wearing blankets may be plain, though decorated wearing blankets not unknown among women of Five Civilized Tribes.
Ornamentation. Trade silver and brass ornaments as for men. Women did not wear gorgets or armbands, but rings and wrist cuffs/bracelets very common. Brass thimbles, buttons, and pierced coins also appear as ornaments. Bead necklaces usual; women customarily wore more than men. Bead styles for period well known; please research before buying/wearing.
Paint, piercings, and tattoos. Women pierced ears multiple times. No pierced noses (septums.) Conflicting entries in historical record re vermilion or ochre (red tint) use by Southeastern women. If reenactors employ it, should be very moderate. Women tattooed (on face and body) as were men. By late 1700s, custom waning but still visibly in place throughout region. Modern tattoos must be covered/concealed.
Accoutrements. Women’s activities demand special accessories. Include period- and region-correct baskets (such as willow, palmetto, pine needles, sweet grass, split reeds, river cane.) Baskets hold sewing implements, scraps of fabric, partially completed sewing projects, small knives, beads, etc. No known documentation for women wearing across-the-chest bags as did men. Twining was common women’s skill. Used hemp or other materials to make carrying bags, sashes/belts, tumplines (burden straps) and other useful items. Twining is simple skill to demonstrate in Southeastern Native interpretation; produces period correct crafts for use and display. It is always necessary for reenactors to have some container for car keys, hand sanitizer, money, medications, etc., so basket (with modern items covered) or twined bag is good way to carry and conceal modern-day items.
Summary for Women’s Dress
Please DON’T wear/use: Seminole c.1800s style (two-piece) dresses; Seminole beads (faceted glass “Czech” or similar); modern eyeglasses; any out-of-region Native (such as Plains Indian) garb; collared (caped) late 1800s Northern Woodland Native blouses; French or Western capotes; face paint (other than minimal vermilion); modern obvious cosmetics; military clothing or regalia; fur bags (coyote, rabbit, etc.); seashell or fresh water pearl necklaces; men’s weaponry (Native or European.)
Southeastern Native infants, as a rule, were carried in cradleboards or cloth slings on their mothers’ backs, or simply held against their mothers’ bodies. Young children went naked until the age of seven or eight, when they began to dress like adults. Very young Native reenactors at British Night Watch must wear some form of clothing. A simple period shift or trade shirt will suffice for both boys and girls. Moccasins are appropriate footwear. A small period blanket or piece of wool is appropriate for warmth. Obviously, diapers (especially disposable ones) must be concealed/covered. Diaper bags, etc. must be containerized in period baskets, bags, etc.
The on-site reenactors’ campground is public space. Shelters and equipment (including cooking, storage, and eating equipment) must conform to known Native-accessible materials and forms of the period/region. If you are unsure about any item, please check the links and/or contact the British Night Watch Committee for more information before you arrive, as you will be asked to remove or conceal historically incorrect materials/equipment on site.