Most memoirs written by veterans of the Revolutionary War concentrate on glorious battles won, comrades lost, and patriotic fervor, and the memoirs of James Potter Collins (1763-1844) are no different. Born in Tryon County, NC, Collins enlisted in a local militia company at the age of seventeen, and saw action in several of the most important battles of the southern campaigns. But Collins's memoirs also include this entertaining anecdote from his days as a twelve-year-old tailor's apprentice with a bit too much unsupervised time.
"I had been at work about two months when Christmas came on – and here I must relate a little anecdote. The principal [the tailor] and his lady were invited to a party among their friends...while it devolved on me to stay at home and keep house. There was nothing left me in charge to do, only to take care of the house. There was a large cat that generally lay about the fire. In order to try my mechanical powers, I concluded to make a suit of clothing for puss, and for my purpose gathered some scraps of cloth that lay about the shop-board, and went to work as hard as I could. Late in the evening I got my suit of clothes finished; I caught the cat, put on the whole suit – coat, vest, and small-clothes [breeches] – buttoned all on tight, and set down my cat to inspect the fit.
"Unfortunately for me there was a hole through the floor close to the fireplace, just large enough for the cat to pass down; after making some efforts to get rid of the clothes, and failing, pussy descended through the hole and disappeared; the floor was tight and the house underpinned with brick, so there was no chance of pursuit. I consoled myself with a hope that the cat would extricate itself from its incumbrance, but not so; night came and I had made on a good fire and seated myself for some two or three hours after dark, when who should make their appearance but my master and mistress and two young men, all in good humor, with two or three bottles of rum. After all were seated around the fire, who should appear amongst us but the cat in his uniform. I was struck speechless, the secret was out and had no chance of concealing; the cat was caught, the whole work inspected and the question asked, is this your day's work? I was obliged to answer in the affirmative; I would then have been willing to take a good whipping, and let it stop there, but no, to complete my mortification the clothes were carefully taken off the cat and hung up in the shop for the inspection of all customers that came in."
– Autobiography of a Revolutionary Soldier, by James Potter Collins, published 1859
With his own master away from the shop for the holiday, Michael McCarty, below, a tailor's apprentice in the Historic Trades program, Colonial Williamsburg, was inspired to copy Collins' achievement in 2013, and make a miniature red hunting coat for his own kitten, Bear. The coat was made to measure like every 18th c. gentleman's coat would have been, and cut and sewn entirely by hand of fine red woolen, trimmed in black with tiny covered buttons and gold-thread buttonholes. Just like young Collins' cat-coat, Michael's handiwork has been on display in the tailor’s shop window ever since throughout the Christmas season.
This year, the newest tailor’s apprentice at CW, Timothy Logue, continued the tradition by making another stylish red coat plus a leopard-print waistcoat for the now-grown Bear, shown above as a perhaps-unwilling model (but then what true gentleman preens for the paparazzi?)
There are more pictures on Colonial Williamsburg’s blog here.
Top photograph copyright 2018 Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Bottom photograph copyright 2013 by Susan Holloway Scott.