Notes on mittens in the 18th century

Last updated: Nov 15, 2021

18th century mittens and assorted notes on wearing (or making) mittens from 18th century documents, arranged in roughly chronological order.

  • Hunterian Museum Archaeology & Ethnography Collections GLAHM E.105, a pair of mittens of black-smoked deer hide with embroidery in dyed moose hair, Huron, 18th century
  • 18th century mittens from Scandinavian museum collections on DigitaltMuseum; most are embroidered, and some have a slit through the palm so the fingers can emerge for better dexterity
  • “All sorts of Stockings new grafted and run at the Heels, and footed; also Gloves, mittens and Children’s Stockings made out of Stockings; Likewise plain work done by Elizabeth Boyd, at the Corner House opposite to Mr. Vallete’s.” (The New-York Gazette Revived in the Weekly Post-Boy, September 26, 1748, in The Arts and Crafts in New York
  • “This is to give Notice, That Elizabeth Boyd, is going to remove next door to the Widow Hog’s in Broad Street, near the Long Bridge, and will continue, as usual, to graft Pieces in Knit Jackets and Breeches, not to be discern’d, also to graft and foot Stockings, and Gentlemen’s Gloves, Mittens or Muffatees made out of old Stockings, or runs them in the Heels: She likewise makes Children’s Stockings out of old Ones; at a very reasonable Rate. There is a Shop to be Lett in the said House.” (The New-York Gazette Revived in the Weekly Post-Boy, April 1, 1751, in Manual of the corporation of the city of New York)
  • “RUN away, on the 17th Inst. from the Subscriber, living in Evesham, Burlington County, West New Jersey, a Servant Woman, named Eleanor Ferrell, born in Ireland, talks good English, is of a short Stature, long visage, has brown Hair; Had on and took with her, a cross barred dark Worsted Gown, three short Calicoe Gowns, one of them double; three good Shifts, one of them new; three good speckled Aprons, one white Ditto, one red Petticoat, one home spun Ditto, with green, blue and white Stripes; a white Flannel Ditto, a Pair of blue worsted Stockings, with white clocks; one Pair of Leather Shoes, with Straps and Leather Heels; a new Pair of yellow Stuff Shoes, with red Binding; a Pair of odd Buckles, a considerable Quantity of Caps, several Handkerchiefs, and two Silk Ones; a Pair of black Silk Mittens, a new black Silk Bonnet, a Bag, with a Yard of white Linen, and a Quarter of Cambrick in it; and sundry other Things.” (The Pennsylvania Gazette, July 23, 1761, in Runaway Servant Ads)
  • Gants et Mitaines d’ Hommes s.n. Gantier, The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d’Alembert, 1765 (possibly made of leather; note that what Diderot calls “Mitaines de Femmes” are what we’d call mitts)
  • “New London, May 16, 1768. Stolen or Run-away from the subscriber, on the 14th Instant, a Negro Woman named SOBINER, between 30 and 40 Years of Age, of a slender Body, and middling Stature, talks good English, and can read well; carried off with her one homespun check'd Woollen Gown, one blue and white striped Linen Ditto, two Linen Shirts, and one Woollen Ditto, three check’d Aprons, two or three Pair Woollen Stockings, one quilted Coat, one Side brown, the other striped, a red short Cloak, a chipt Hatt, a Pair white Woollen Mittins, a Cambric Handkerchief, several Caps, and sundry other Articles.” (Connecticut Gazette, June 10, 1768)
  • Historic New England 1928.1076AB, a pair of cream mittens with shaggy looped trim at the cuffs, cross-stitched 'DW' on the back of the cuffs of both mittens, c. 1772
  • A letter Benjamin Franklin wrote to Benjamin Vaughan in 1784, on the subject of luxury, idleness, and industry -- and how the girls of Cape May knit mittens that were sold in Philadelphia:
  • A pair of knit mittens from the shipwreck of the General Carleton of Whitby, 1785; they “feature a wide band of checkering at the wrist. They were hand-knit in the round with what was originally grey or natural wool yarn. The points of the hands and thumbs were formed by simply dropping stitches. The wrist hem is three rows wide. The mittens’ style and construction technique bears a close resemblance to traditional Latvian mittens, suggesting they were acquired in the Baltic region by one of the ship’s sailors.”
    A news story also provides a photo of a pair of seaman’s mittens, 1785, but it is not clear where they are from.
  • 18th and 19th century mittens from Latvia from the Kūlainis, pērstainis, delnainis… exhibit at the National History Museum of Latvia
  • Martha Ballard’s diary has entries that reference knitting, wearing, giving, or receiving mittens on several dates from 1787 to 1811, most of which are in December, January, or February
  • National Museum of American History 1979.0980, a pair of knit mittens with a poem and shag wrists, early 19th century