Accession #: 2008.19
Item: Waistcoat belonging to Alexander Spotswood
In Wilton’s collection there are many unique artifacts concerning Virginia’s vast and wonderful history. One of the oldest pieces in our collection is a section of Alexander Spotswood’s waistcoat. Alexander Spotswood was the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia from 1711 to 1722 but, despite his short term he accomplished many things. His waistcoat was presented to the museum by his descendants Frances Roberdean Wolfe and Mary Patterson Jordan. The right front half of the waistcoat is all that remains of the original piece since the other half was cut to pieces by members of the family to be used in patchwork quilts. The waistcoat itself is made out of satin and linen, and currently has eleven ivory buttons.
The waistcoat became fashionable in England during the reign of King Charles II, 1660-1685, the same King who granted William Randolph I the right to purchase the land called Curles . On October 7, 1666, Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist stated "the King hath yesterday in council declared his resolution of setting a fashion for clothes which he will never alter. It will be a vest, I know not well how". The vest, or waistcoat as it was later called, was titled so because it ended at the waist, unlike other formal garments such as morning coats that were longer. Waistcoats during the 17th and 18th centuries were typically intricately detailed and colorful, only becoming more subdued in the 19th century. The waistcoat also became the official attire for the Restoration of the British monarchy, but maintained its popularity through the following centuries.
Alexander Spotswood probably wore this particular waistcoat to formal occasions held at the Governor’s Mansion, while on official duties as Governor and even possibly to the court of England. This particular waistcoat can be surmised to have been worn during formal occasions because of what it is made out of; satin and linen with ivory buttons. Waistcoats made out of more expensive material were typically worn during formal occasions while waistcoats made out of linen or wool could have been worn around a plantation on a regular basis; wool waistcoats were best worn during the winter.
Similar to this waistcoat is another in our collection (Item#:1989.1) belonging to Dr. Charles Douglas, husband to Susanna Randolph of Curles . It was made around 1780 and is composed of silk and linen with fabric covered buttons. According to the family records, this waistcoat was worn by Dr. Douglas to the Court of King George III.
Alexander Spotswood was born in the colony of Tangier in Morocco, Africa around 1676. His father Robert Spottiswoode, was a surgeon, a trade Alexander would never take up. Instead he joined the military in his early teens and quickly made a name for himself becoming a Lieutenant-Colonel in 1703. He was appointed Quarter-Master General in the Duke of Marlborough’s army and was later injured at the Battle of Blenheim.
In 1710 he was appointed to be the Lieutenant-Governor of Virginia at the nomination of the first Earl of Orkney, George Hamilton. Once in Williamsburg, Virginia, he was the first to reside in the brand new Governor’s Mansion, which the common people believed to be overly extravagant. During his tenure Spotswood founded several small towns for people of German descent, starting with First Germana. Since all the towns founded by Alexander were concentrated in the same area of Virginia, they jointly became known as Spotsylvania as the area is still known today. As Governor, Spotswood also established better relationships with the Native Americans, encouraged westward movement and regulated the growth of tobacco. What he did not accomplish as Governor was a peaceful relationship with the members of the Royal Council, who had him recalled as Governor in 1722.
As a private citizen Spotswood owned over 80,000 acres of land in Virginia, although he moved back to England and married Anne Butler Brayne. They had four children and moved back to Virginia to live in Germana where he later became Deputy Postmaster General of the Commonwealth from 1730-39. He died in Annapolis, Maryland on June 7, 1740.
Alexander’s Spotswood’s waistcoat may have a tenuous connection to the Randolph family, but a connection nonetheless. Peter Randolph, the eldest son of William Randolph III married Mary Spotswood, the granddaughter of Alexander Spotswood and daughter of his first son Colonel John Randolph.
The James Madison Museum. "Alexander Spotswood: An Empire in Virginia."
James Madison Museum website. Accessed June 1, 2011. Last modified 2009.
University of Mary Washington. "Alexander Spotswood: The Maker of Myth."
University of Mary Washington Department of Historic Preservation. Accessed
June 1, 2011. Last modified 2011. http://www.umwhisp.net/germanna/node/1.
The Order of the Founders and Patriots of America. "Alexander Spotswood -
Knight of the Golden Horse Shoe." The Order of the Founders and Patriots of
America. Accessed June 1, 2011. Last modified 2006.
Waistcoats Direct Bellamonte Made. "Waistcoat History: How The Waistcoat
Has Changed Throughout The Ages." Waistcoat Direct. Accessed June 20, 2011.
Last modified 2011.