Livery coat from the household of Dr. William Newton Mercer

Ready-to-wear for human wares

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During the early stages of ready-to-wear clothing manufacture, companies supplied "plantation clothing" to planters and cheaply made suits, top hats, head wraps, and dresses to slave traders eager to spruce up their human wares.

Not all clothing worn by the enslaved could be categorized as coarse or cheaply made. Some wealthy planters saw clothing worn by an enslaved people working in the plantation household as reflections of their own wealth and status. This Brooks Brothers coat was worn by an enslaved domestic in the household of Dr. William Mercer, a prominent Mississippi planter who also owned a town house in New Orleans and served as president of the Bank of Louisiana. The coat is a rare surviving example of slave clothing.

Though only this and one other coat remain, it is likely that footmen, valets, coachmen, and other enslaved men and boys working in Mercer’s home wore similarly styled uniforms.

This object is one of more than 75 original artifacts on display in the special exhibition, Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade from 1808 to 1865.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

Livery coat from the household of Dr. William Newton Mercer Artifact from New Orleans
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