18th Century Facial Hair – Shaved Close
The re-enacting organization called the Continental Line has an impromptu ten-foot rule, meaning, if your 18th century re-enacting appearance, clothing and equipment should pass minimum scrutiny. Facial hair would not pass a ten-foot nor ten-yard test.
Personal experience at a President’s Day Parade in Old Alexandria, Virginia; a fellow re-enactor and I, both members of the Virginia Society Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) Color Guard, decided we would march with our Society Color Guard and not the re-enacting unit (1st Virginia Regiment). We were separated by a distance of at least one hundred yards and the former commander of the re-enacting unit couldn’t believe we were SAR because of our uniforms and no beards. Even distance does not forgive.
As re-enactors, we are to encourage historical accuracy of appearance and performance which is the purpose of this article.
In the eighteenth century something changed.
“For reasons that are so far obscure, men stopped wearing beards and, more than this, the beard became socially unpopular. The eighteenth-century culture of politeness certainly played a part in this. The ‘man of letters’ was clean-shaven; the beard was seen as hiding the face, whereas shaving it left it clean and smooth and, therefore, more aesthetically pleasing. Having an ‘open countenance’ was also a metaphor for an open mind-the keystone of the enlightened thinker.” [i]1
“The eighteenth century was a rare moment in history when “almost total beardlessness” was the norm. None of the American founding fathers wore beards.
An example of public mistrust of beards was the case of Joseph Palmer, born in 1791 (eighteenth century) a veteran of the War of 1812 who lived near Fitchburg, Massachusetts. He was found to be the only bearded man in the entire community. The residents harassed him for what they deemed “his eccentricity.” Palmer resisted and was arrested and sent to prison for more than one year. On his tombstone is inscribed “Persecuted for wearing the beard.”
“The first US President to display facial hair in the second half of the nineteenth century was Abraham Lincoln in 1860….Since 1913, and before 1860 not a single president wore a beard or moustache of any kind.” 2
“By 1700, this new fashion (no facial hair) had spread through western civilization, causing fewer and fewer beards, and comment upon them when noticed. Blackbeard (Edward Teach the Pirate-died 1718) was a notable exception, and wore his beard to appear more “different” and fearsome.” 3
From a Crown Forces re-enacting unit, these comments appear with supporting period illustrations on their unit Facebook page: “This is an assembly of images showing numerous examples of facial hair in British and British Colonial contexts-and a couple of non-British examples. Note that those who have beards are either members of a small number of religious or ethnic sub-groups, or otherwise “incapable” of shaving – the indigent, the insane, and the nearly dead…..In plain English: if you’re re-enacting a Briton or an American colonist (also a Briton, please) in the mid- to late 18th Century you should be clean shaven. Or certainly keep the beard, but accept that you’re not accurately portraying a soldier, or any other common man of the British colonies/United States…. So, please consider doing the cheapest and easiest thing you can to improve your impression: SHAVE.” 4
Not in our Continental Army, but French and Hessian grenadiers were noted for having mustaches. There is mention of the French hussars of Duke Luzan’s Legion having “large mustachios on their upper lip” near Gloustertown, VA. – It appears something unusual to note in a pension request. 5
Royal Fashion Statement
I found that Royalty fashions play a great deal in the styles of the times. Peter the Great of Russia was making an effort to Westernize his country so he copied the fashions of his Western monarchs. Note, Czar Peter did sport a moustache.
“Czar Peter I-known as Peter the Great, set out on a “fact finding tour” from 1697 to 1698 to learn from western European nations’ successes. The Czar travelled incognito as part of a Russian Grand Embassy.
After Peter’s triumphant return to Russia at the end of his European voyage in 1698, a joyous reception was thrown in his honor. In attendance were his commander of the army Fyodor Romaodanovsky, and a host of assorted aides and diplomats. Suddenly the crowd’s mood went from elation to horror as Peter unexpectedly pulled out a massive barber’s razor. “After passing among his friends and embracing them…he began shaving off their beards” with his own Hands! Given his political stature, none of his associates dared question this stunning turn of events. (His physical stature didn’t hurt either, Peter stood an imposing 6’8.)”
Hairless necks and faces were all the rage in the Western World, so the Czar initially ordered that all of his subjects (excluding clergy and peasants) must lose their face fuzz and instructed police officials to personally shave those who refused to comply.
Eventually, the ruler’s stance softened. Smelling a profit, Peter imposed an annual “beard tax” upon those who hoped to keep their facial hair…. Despite the fee’s widespread unpopularity, it remained in place until 1772, 47 years after Peter’s death.” 6
Continental Soldier Shaving Guidelines
I have heard referenced that going on long wilderness campaigns or expeditions, Continental soldiers like George Rogers Clark going to Illinois or Daniel Morgan going to Quebec would not have been shaving. I don’t disagree with the logic, but both men had portraits done later and took time to have a clean-shaven portrait image.
I’ve found a couple of references to Continental unit barbers:
Virginia Line – 6th Regiment, Lieutenant Samuel Selden’s Company, December 12th, 1780, Colo. (John) Green’s Detachmt (sic) taken at Petersberg.
Trades listed for soldiers in this company listed 44 as farmers, one taylor (sic), one sadler (ditto), one cutler, one cordmaker, three shoemakers and 11 barbers.” Maybe this helped keep them clean shaven! 7
“January 1776 from the Diary of Jabez Fitch Jr., a Connecticut lieutenant who wrote that “I arose a little after 3 o’clock, attended the alarm post as usual. I then went to Capt. Ripley’s barber and got shaved and at 8 o’clock went to the main guard…We marched down to the main guard house where we relieved the old guard.” 8
Here are three examples of orders for shaving given to Continental soldiers, from surviving orderly books:
General Order, Williamsburg, March 28, 1776. “I would recommend it to all young Officers of a Company to view their men warned for Guard and see that their Beards are close shav’d and as clean and decently dressed as their situation will allow.” 9
“Valley Forge, 8 April 78…. For instance; the Soldier may always shave his Beard, appear with clean hands & face, and in general, have an air of Neatness, which will be auspicious under all disadvantages.” 10
Camp at Isle aux Noix. Colonel Wayne’s orders for the 4th Pennsylvania Bn. 12 June 1776 “The men to be under arms at 9 o’clock…in order to be inspected…Every non-commissioned soldier who shall come to the Parade dirty, with a long beard or his Breeches knees open shall be mulcted a days Provision for each offence, and do a double tour of duty, for the Col. Lays it down for a (torn page) that the soldier who neglects to appear as decent as the nature of his situation will admit, is unfit for gentlemen’s Compy (sic) and a coward.” 11 Strong words from Mad Anthony Wayne indeed.
So, the bottom line is, if you are not Close Shaven and you are portraying an 18th Century male, especially a Continental Soldier, please avoid anyone portraying Czar Peter the Great!
1. Alun Whithey, Beards, Moustaches and Facial Hair in History, (https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/beards-moustaches-and-facial-hair-in-history-wcz : October 12, 2014).
2. Sarah Gold McBride, Power is on the side of the beard, Masculinity and Facial Hair in Nineteenth-Century America, (https://bluebottlebeard.com/blogs/news/tagged/manly) January 28, 2013
3. John Thornton, Royal North Carolina Regiment (Re-enactors), Short Version-Facial Hair was virtually non-existent in the late 18th Century. (http://events.rncr.org/bnw/Docs/beards.htm)
4. His Majesty 40th Foot/2nd Battalion Light Infantry-Bloodhounds Facebook Page – BEARDS (and other facial Hair) in 18th Century British Context (https://www.facebook.com/pg/HM-40th-Foot-2nd-Battalion-LI-Bloodhounds-188461437850483/photos/?tab=album&album_id=601645949865361 ) 2014
5. Pension Application of Enoch Breeden, King William County Militia, S1747 National Archives, Washington, D.C.
6. Kat Eschner, Why Peter the Great Established a Beard Tax, (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/why-tsar-peter-great-established-beard-tax-180964693/ September 5, 2017)
7. Muster and Pay Rolls of the War of the Revolution 1775-1783, Reprinted from Collections of the New-York Historical Society for the Years 1914 and 1915.
8. “Shaved, combed, and powdered…” Soldiers’ Tonsorial Practices during the War for Independence” by John U. Rees. Herbert T. Wade and Robert A. Lively, “This glorious cause…” The Adventures of Two Company Officers in Washington’s Army (Princeton, 1958) 43.
9. “Shaved, combed, and powdered…” Soldiers’ Tonsorial Practices during the War for Independence” by John U. Rees
10. Valley Forge Orderly Book of General George Weedon of the Continental Army Under Command of Gen. George Washington, in the Campaign of 1777-8, page 283.
11. “Shaved, combed, and powdered…” Soldiers’ Tonsorial Practices during the War for Independence” by John U. Rees. “Orderly Book, Fourth Pennsylvania Battalion, Col. Anthony Wayne 1776.”, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 30 (1906), 215-216.