Astrolabe

Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?

Button artifacts provide clues to the tale of Ft. George Cay.
Story & Photos By Dr. Neal V. Hitch, Director, Turks & Caicos National Museum
Buttons. They are intriguing to me. There have been many buttons found on Ft. George Cay. Many of these are now in the collection of the National Museum. Some are still in private collections.
I find myself drawn to the buttons. As an artifact category, they are a fairly high percentage of the Ft. George collection. They are more than artifacts. They are a human scale artifact that connects the human condition through history. We all still button our shirt, no differently than some soldier at Ft. St. George over 200 years ago.
Something as simple as a button represents an actual person in the story of Ft. George. The biggest part of the word “history,” after all, is “story.” Something as simple as a button should remind us that the history of Ft. George is the “story” of the individual people who served there. The buttons are also one of the the key clues to determining who served at the fort.
Buttons as artifacts
As artifacts, the buttons also offer clues to who actually manned the fort at Ft. St. George. This owes to the fact that the Royal Regiments of Foot, the military units of the British army, often wore buttons on their uniforms that were specific to their individual regiments. The buttons found on Ft. George Cay, then, should aid in determining the Royal military regiments that served at the fort.
The uniforms worn by British soldiers were strictly regulated by a series of official warrants. Regulations such as the Royal Warrant of 1768 and the 1802 Uniform Regulations specified the official form, color, pattern, and dimension. In other words, these regulations provided uniformity to the uniform each solider wore.
During the American Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, the rough period when Ft. George was occupied,  the British Regiments wore the “redcoat” uniform. This basically consisted of a long wool coat dyed red. The cuffs, lapels, and collar were faced with a color distinct to each regiment. Soldiers wore the coat open revealing a buttoned waistcoat (vest) and breeches (pants). What is important here is that the 1768 Warrant specified that the labels and cuffs of the jacket were to be fastened with pewter buttons cast with the regimental number.
“Gaiters,” a black woolen cloth that wrapped the lower leg around the shoe and up to the knee (in pictures they look like boots) were also worn. These were held on by regimental buttons sewn onto the breeches above the knee. The gaiter also had small plain buttons set on equal distances.
This is the uniform that would have been worn at Ft. St. George. It would have had buttons everywhere.
Buttons found on Ft. George Cay
Buttons in the museum collection can be separated into two groups, buttons with no markings and regimental buttons. Plain buttons were worn on gaiters, breeches, shirts, and the waistcoat. These buttons were often small. Some were gilt plated, being gold in color. By official ordinance, back markings on these buttons are marked “GILT.” Several of these buttons have been found.
Plain buttons are very hard to date, but most of the plain buttons found certainly can be attributed as uniform buttons, and most were found in proximity to regimental buttons. (See opposite page.)
One button found during the survey in November, 2009 has the back marking “C Jennens London” and includes the small stamp of the Prince of Wales Plume. The Jennens company manufactured military buttons, but they only used the the plume stamp after 1860. This certainly is a puzzle.
The regimental buttons known to have come from Ft. George also present a mystery. Archival documents have been found indicating at least three regiments on Ft. George. These include the 67th of Foot, the 63rd of Foot, and the 47th of Foot. One of the objectives of the archaeological survey was to find uniform buttons that would confirm archival evidence. In fact, no buttons have been found for these regiments. Buttons that have been uncovered suggest additional regiments that are not mentioned in historical records found to this point.
Regiments at Ft. St. George
Royal Artillery
Three Royal Artillery buttons are in the Ft. George collection. These copper alloy buttons have a shield with three cannon balls above three field cannons. This type of button was only used on the uniform of a member of a Royal Artillery detachment.
By 1771, the Royal Regiment of Artillery had expanded to 32 companies. Often, when regiments of foot were on garrison duty or in the field, they were augmented by individual members of Royal Artillery. For instance, 10 gunners from the Royal Artillery were stationed in the batteries on Bermuda while the 99th of Foot was on garrison there.
In 1803, Thomas Brown wrote that a contingent of the “63rd and Royal Artillery” arrived at Ft. George in 1797. There were batteries on Ft. George. The buttons show that the cannons on these batteries were manned by members of the Royal Artillery.
47th Regiment of Foot, Lancashire Regiment
In 1801, Lt. Col. Paulus Aemilius Irving wrote a letter seeking a land grant in the Caicos Islands owing to his six years of service there with the 47th of Foot. Irving, the son of the deputy governor of Quebec, had served with the 47th during the American Revolution at the battle of Lexington, at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and had been captured and interned for the duration of the war with most of the 47th at Saratoga.
In 1790 the regiment was dispatched to the West Indies for garrison duty on several islands throughout the Caribbean. Beginning in 1793, detachments of the 47th Regiment of Foot manned the forts in Bermuda. A history of the Royal Military in Bermuda suggests that when they were ordered back to England in 1802, they returned with other members in the Turks Islands and Nassau.
No buttons for this regiment have been found at Ft. St. George. The connection of the 47th to Bermuda and the Bahamas, however, might be important. The 7th Royal Fusiliers replace the 47th after their departure. Five companies of the 7th Royal Fusiliers, the London Company, were on garrison from 1802 to 1806 and a 7th Royal Fusilier button has been found on Ft. George.
7th Royal Fusiliers, City of London Company
One 7th Royal Fusiliers button has been found on Ft. George and is currently in a private collection.
There is some indication that companies may have been on station in the Bahamas in 1802 and 1803. One of the puzzles with the Ft. George buttons is that there is a 7th Royal Fusilier button in a private collection. Is it possible that garrison duties at Ft. George were tied into the garrison duties in Bermuda?
99th Regiment of Foot
Three buttons have been found on Ft. George from the 99th. One is in the collection of the National Museum. Though all of the buttons are very deteriorated, under magnification the “99” on the button is  clear.
In 1807, the 99th Regiment of Foot replaced the 7th  Royal Fusiliers in Bermuda and may have been in Bermuda until 1815. The 99th had possibly already been serving in the Bahamas. It is very difficult to accurately track this regiment as six different regiments operated under the number. The 99th of Foot, Jamaica Regiment, was raised in the 1780s and disbanded in 1784. A second 99th of Foot was raised in 1804 and served until 1816, when it was renumbered.
18th Regiment of Foot, Royal Irish
Four buttons in the collection of the National Museum seam to be associated with the Royal Irish regiment.
The 18th of Foot was the Royal Irish Regiment. During the 1790s, the regiment was fighting in Corsica and Gibraltar. In 1805, however, the regiment was dispatched to Jamaica, where it served until being recalled in 1817, after having last 50 officers and 3,000 men to sickness.
2nd West India Regiment (image 7)
Two buttons in the collection of the National Museum have been identified as the 2nd West India Regiment. Both of these buttons have back marks indicating they were manufactured by Nutting and Son, which means they were produced after 1802.
The 2nd West India regiment was raised in Jamaica in 1795. The regiment had British officers, but recruits were slaves or free blacks. British losses in the Caribbean eventually resulted in the establishment of 12 regiments, owing to the thought that seasoned local troops would last longer than English soldiers.  There is some indication that by 1807 all outposts in the Bahamas were manned by troops raised in the West Indies.
Conclusion
What all of the above suggests is that we have just scratched the surface of the story of Ft. St. George. The story may be much more detailed than first thought. The button evidence to this point suggests that perhaps many regiments of the British army served garrison duty on Ft. George. Perhaps the fort is garrisoned for a much, much longer period of time than previously understood. One thing is for sure. The buttons of several regiments have been found. This means that there were many different uniforms on Ft. George. More than likely there were soldiers in these uniforms, and more than likely these soldiers were part of a garrison regiment and not a random event, such as someone in the wrong uniform. More research will be necessary to flush out the story of who served on Ft. George, but the buttons are a good place to start.

Button artifacts provide clues to the tale of Ft. George Cay.

Story & Photos By Dr. Neal V. Hitch, Director, Turks & Caicos National Museum

Buttons. They are intriguing to me. There have been many buttons found on Ft. George Cay. Many of these are now in the collection of the National Museum. Some are still in private collections.

Buttons found on Ft. George Cay

Buttons found on Ft. George Cay

I find myself drawn to the buttons. As an artifact category, they are a fairly high percentage of the Ft. George collection. They are more than artifacts. They are a human scale artifact that connects the human condition through history. We all still button our shirt, no differently than some soldier at Ft. St. George over 200 years ago.

Something as simple as a button represents an actual person in the story of Ft. George. The biggest part of the word “history,” after all, is “story.” Something as simple as a button should remind us that the history of Ft. George is the “story” of the individual people who served there. The buttons are also one of the the key clues to determining who served at the fort.

Buttons as artifacts

As artifacts, the buttons also offer clues to who actually manned the fort at Ft. St. George. This owes to the fact that the Royal Regiments of Foot, the military units of the British army, often wore buttons on their uniforms that were specific to their individual regiments. The buttons found on Ft. George Cay, then, should aid in determining the Royal military regiments that served at the fort.

The uniforms worn by British soldiers were strictly regulated by a series of official warrants. Regulations such as the Royal Warrant of 1768 and the 1802 Uniform Regulations specified the official form, color, pattern, and dimension. In other words, these regulations provided uniformity to the uniform each solider wore.

During the American Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, the rough period when Ft. George was occupied,  the British Regiments wore the “redcoat” uniform. This basically consisted of a long wool coat dyed red. The cuffs, lapels, and collar were faced with a color distinct to each regiment. Soldiers wore the coat open revealing a buttoned waistcoat (vest) and breeches (pants). What is important here is that the 1768 Warrant specified that the labels and cuffs of the jacket were to be fastened with pewter buttons cast with the regimental number.

“Gaiters,” a black woolen cloth that wrapped the lower leg around the shoe and up to the knee (in pictures they look like boots) were also worn. These were held on by regimental buttons sewn onto the breeches above the knee. The gaiter also had small plain buttons set on equal distances.

Buttons found on Ft. George Cay

Buttons in the museum collection can be separated into two groups, buttons with no markings and regimental buttons. Plain buttons were worn on gaiters, breeches, shirts, and the waistcoat. These buttons were often small. Some were gilt plated, being gold in color. By official ordinance, back markings on these buttons are marked “GILT.” Several of these buttons have been found.

Plain buttons are very hard to date, but most of the plain buttons found certainly can be attributed as uniform buttons, and most were found in proximity to regimental buttons.

One button found during the survey in November, 2009 has the back marking “C Jennens London” and includes the small stamp of the Prince of Wales Plume. The Jennens company manufactured military buttons, but they only used the the plume stamp after 1860. This certainly is a puzzle.

The regimental buttons known to have come from Ft. George also present a mystery. Archival documents have been found indicating at least three regiments on Ft. George. These include the 67th of Foot, the 63rd of Foot, and the 47th of Foot. One of the objectives of the archaeological survey was to find uniform buttons that would confirm archival evidence. In fact, no buttons have been found for these regiments. Buttons that have been uncovered suggest additional regiments that are not mentioned in historical records found to this point.

Regiments at Ft. St. George

Royal Artillery

Three Royal Artillery buttons are in the Ft. George collection. These copper alloy buttons have a shield with three cannon balls above three field cannons. This type of button was only used on the uniform of a member of a Royal Artillery detachment.

By 1771, the Royal Regiment of Artillery had expanded to 32 companies. Often, when regiments of foot were on garrison duty or in the field, they were augmented by individual members of Royal Artillery. For instance, 10 gunners from the Royal Artillery were stationed in the batteries on Bermuda while the 99th of Foot was on garrison there.

In 1803, Thomas Brown wrote that a contingent of the “63rd and Royal Artillery” arrived at Ft. George in 1797. There were batteries on Ft. George. The buttons show that the cannons on these batteries were manned by members of the Royal Artillery.

47th Regiment of Foot, Lancashire Regiment

In 1801, Lt. Col. Paulus Aemilius Irving wrote a letter seeking a land grant in the Caicos Islands owing to his six years of service there with the 47th of Foot. Irving, the son of the deputy governor of Quebec, had served with the 47th during the American Revolution at the battle of Lexington, at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and had been captured and interned for the duration of the war with most of the 47th at Saratoga.

In 1790 the regiment was dispatched to the West Indies for garrison duty on several islands throughout the Caribbean. Beginning in 1793, detachments of the 47th Regiment of Foot manned the forts in Bermuda. A history of the Royal Military in Bermuda suggests that when they were ordered back to England in 1802, they returned with other members in the Turks Islands and Nassau.

No buttons for this regiment have been found at Ft. St. George. The connection of the 47th to Bermuda and the Bahamas, however, might be important. The 7th Royal Fusiliers replace the 47th after their departure. Five companies of the 7th Royal Fusiliers, the London Company, were on garrison from 1802 to 1806 and a 7th Royal Fusilier button has been found on Ft. George.

7th Royal Fusiliers, City of London Company

One 7th Royal Fusiliers button has been found on Ft. George and is currently in a private collection.

There is some indication that companies may have been on station in the Bahamas in 1802 and 1803. One of the puzzles with the Ft. George buttons is that there is a 7th Royal Fusilier button in a private collection. Is it possible that garrison duties at Ft. George were tied into the garrison duties in Bermuda?

99th Regiment of Foot

Three buttons have been found on Ft. George from the 99th. One is in the collection of the National Museum. Though all of the buttons are very deteriorated, under magnification the “99” on the button is  clear.

In 1807, the 99th Regiment of Foot replaced the 7th  Royal Fusiliers in Bermuda and may have been in Bermuda until 1815. The 99th had possibly already been serving in the Bahamas. It is very difficult to accurately track this regiment as six different regiments operated under the number. The 99th of Foot, Jamaica Regiment, was raised in the 1780s and disbanded in 1784. A second 99th of Foot was raised in 1804 and served until 1816, when it was renumbered.

18th Regiment of Foot, Royal Irish

Four buttons in the collection of the National Museum seam to be associated with the Royal Irish regiment.

The 18th of Foot was the Royal Irish Regiment. During the 1790s, the regiment was fighting in Corsica and Gibraltar. In 1805, however, the regiment was dispatched to Jamaica, where it served until being recalled in 1817, after having last 50 officers and 3,000 men to sickness.

2nd West India Regiment

Two buttons in the collection of the National Museum have been identified as the 2nd West India Regiment. Both of these buttons have back marks indicating they were manufactured by Nutting and Son, which means they were produced after 1802.

The 2nd West India regiment was raised in Jamaica in 1795. The regiment had British officers, but recruits were slaves or free blacks. British losses in the Caribbean eventually resulted in the establishment of 12 regiments, owing to the thought that seasoned local troops would last longer than English soldiers.  There is some indication that by 1807 all outposts in the Bahamas were manned by troops raised in the West Indies.

Conclusion

What all of the above suggests is that we have just scratched the surface of the story of Ft. St. George. The story may be much more detailed than first thought. The button evidence to this point suggests that perhaps many regiments of the British army served garrison duty on Ft. George. Perhaps the fort is garrisoned for a much, much longer period of time than previously understood. One thing is for sure. The buttons of several regiments have been found. This means that there were many different uniforms on Ft. George. More than likely there were soldiers in these uniforms, and more than likely these soldiers were part of a garrison regiment and not a random event, such as someone in the wrong uniform. More research will be necessary to flush out the story of who served on Ft. George, but the buttons are a good place to start.



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