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In Fred Adolphus’s article on the Houston Depot, printed in the CMH Journal many years ago, he talked about the fact that russet brogans were considered slave shoe and were not liked by even the slaves themselves. I wanted to see if I could find out more about russet brogans when I began do shoe research so as I would find period sources about the manufacturing of shoe little tidbits began to show up. I am sharing the part I have found about russet brogans and the unlikely places of their manufacturing.
The firm of T. & E. Batcheller & Walker is the first company to make russet brogans in Massachusetts. In 1831 they introduced the trade of russet brogans, especially for the southern trade. They soon became a leading product in the shoe trade and continued to be so until the outbreak of the Civil War.
Dewing and Edmands commenced the shoe making business in 1835, making only russet brogans and course thick boots designed especially for the southern trade. In 1837 to increase and facilitate their trade they established a shoe and boot manufacturing in Mobile, AL. They had a large trade with planters along the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, furnishing boots and shoes for their slaves, many of whom had feet of enormous size. On the large size shoe were often marked Tom, Pete, Sam and Joe, it seems the large size shoes were made in Mass and sent back south. The largest shoe made was for a former African chief that wore a size 18.
The fisherman of Massachusetts tended to do two different trades depending on the season of the year in the warmer months they fished and in the winter many found work as cobblers. As you can see from this quote that many made these cheap brogans; industrious cobblers sat at their door with his hands occupied in stitching russet brogans or boots for the southern negroes. The heavier kind of shoes and the coarsest kind usually called brogans are made a Danvers, Mass. These brogans are chiefly manufactured for slaves in the southern markets.
This type of trade continued until 1861 when the southern states succeeded from the Union and caused quite a problem in the cheap shoe trade which was mostly southern markets. There were several southern companies that made slave shoes. Along with the one mentioned in Mobile there were other that I have found in Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana. Many of these firms made both slave (russet) shoes and common shoes (no right or left for common people). The workers in many of the factories were slaves themselves along with a few free men who over saw the operations.
The army shoe of the time was called a bootee. Here is the definition of a bootee: a boot without a top or a shoe made like a boot without a leg. The word brogan is an American word. Brogans means: to distinguish a heavy, coarse shoe, between a boot and a shoe.
Leather researcher and conservator