Wanda Burch: 18th Century Bed Rugs

The question was raised on &#8220what are bed rugs?&#8221 in a recent living history association [ALHFAM] on-line thread. Bed rugs, often spelled &#8220bed ruggs,&#8221 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 [1769] 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 &#8220mean&#8221 bed rugs defined by Samuel Johnson.


One thought on “Wanda Burch: 18th Century Bed Rugs

  • November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Actually there are several versions of Bed Rugs They show up as early as the 16th century as pile carpet like structures. The 17th centyury inventories they are a woven item and are available on a scale that would presume that they were a “manufactured” i.e. produced in enough quantity and variety to become a standard bed covering especially in the New Netherlands and Colonies. By the 18th century we see both bed rugs and coverlets in inventories and by the late 18th century we have sewn yarn bed rug as well as woven structures that resemble but are not completely piled. We have several surviving examples of both 18th and 19th century bed rugs and carpet coverlets…..


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