The question was raised on “what are bed rugs?” in a recent living history association [ALHFAM] on-line thread. Bed rugs, often spelled “bed ruggs,” were common bed coverings that appear in both 18th and 19th century house inventories. Bed rugs were inventoried in Johnson Hall in Johnstown, NY, in a 1774 inventory of household goods by Daniel Claus. Johnson Hall was built in 1763- but the inventory was completed in 1774, a common recording for wills and cataloguing household goods. N. Bailey’s 1753 dictionary defined bed rugs as “the shaggy covers of a bed, woven, and worked.” [N. Bailey, An Universal Etymological English Dictionary, London, 1753] and Samuel Johnson’s more common dictionary defined them as “a coarse nappy coverlet used…” for “mean” beds. Johnson would more than likely disagree that his beds were “mean.”
On a beautifully detailed website created by Gunston Hall, there is a lengthy description of textiles, including all the components of the 18th century bed. The website has links to all aspects of the 18th house, research based not only on Gunston Hall but on supporting contemporary ads, inventories and other documentation. In their bed rug research they take issue with modern texts that insist that bed rugs were a “home production,” proving their point with references in merchants’ account books from the period.
Johnson’s bed rugs, as a case reference, appear to be from both sources. One order comes from Thomas Shipboy of Albany in 1770- and one comes through merchant Daniel Campbell of Schenectady  whose rugs came in from Bath, England. Campbell supplied Johnson with a “fine Gray Coloured” rug and explained that he could not locate the blue ones Johnson desired.
It is unclear whether Shipboy’s bed rugs were made in Albany or were obtained from British orders. There are references to Johnson ordering “fine” bed rugs for himself, leaving one to speculate that he also ordered less fine ones for his trading stores, the “mean” bed rugs defined by Samuel Johnson.
Johnson Hall Opens for 2012 Season Johnson Hall, the 18th century baronial estate of Sir William Johnson and his family, has opened its doors for the 2012 season. Through Sunday, October 14th, the State Historic Site will […]
Johnson Hall to Host Visit From Ben Franklin Johnson Hall State Historic Site will host “A Visit from Ben Franklin” this Saturday, September 17th at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm. Paul Stillman will provide the first-person […]