While many 18thc American women seldom traveled far from their own homes, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton made frequent journeys between New York, Philadelphia, and Albany to visit her family and to follow her husband Alexander Hamilton. Depending on the season and the weather, Eliza traveled by carriage or by stage, on board a packet sailing up and down the Hudson River, and, in the winter, by sleigh.
There's a record of Eliza having made one such trip to join Alexander in Philadelphia in January. The journey would have been daunting enough, but accompanying her at Alexander's insistence was the couple's eldest son Philip, who was still a toddler at the time. Anyone who has ever had to entertain a small child on a long trip will sympathize - though none of us has ever had to do so under 18thc conditions.
A journey by sleigh did have its advantages. The ruts and dust that made early American roads so difficult were smoothed over by snow, and a good team of horses could make swift progress. But there were the risks of overturning into a snowbank, or running into another snowstorm that could limit visibility, or, in more remote areas, of being followed by wolves made bold by hunger.
Riding in an open sleigh would also have made for a cold trip, and the faster the horses, the more biting the sharp, winter air must have been. Then, as now, keeping warm depended on layers. For a woman like Eliza, this could include multiple quilted petticoats (like wearing a comforter) and a flannel waistcoat beneath a wool gown, wool stockings, scarves, and mittens, and a red wool cloak and fur muff like the ones shown here. Cloaks were so often made from this brilliant red wool that they were known as "cardinals" on account of the color; the wool was tightly woven and brushed, making it relatively wind-proof and resistant to random snowflakes. The large hood could be drawn over the linen caps that all women wore, as well as the increasingly more extravagant hairstyles.
A fur muff was a stylish accessory, and a warm one for keeping hands and lap warm. Coming from an affluent family from northern New York, Eliza would likely have had not only a muff, but a fur carriage robe tucked around her as well. She would also have had one more indispensable travel aid that I'll share in my next post....
Above: Wool cloak, last third of the 18thc, American or European. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Read more about Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.