The Snapsack
by Dan Lambert
Originally published in GA CoHT Newsletter June 2003

ďabout breake of day stole upon ye towne. Ye first house Gabriell came too there was an English man. Hee hard him say Lord have mercy upon mee. Gabriell said to him runn for thy life. Said hee which way shall I run. Gabriell reployed, which way thou wilt they will not meddle with thee. Soe hee rann and ye Tomahittans opend and let him pas cleare there they got ye English mans snapsack with beades, knives and other petty truck in it. They made a very great slaughter upon the Indians and a bout sun riseing they hard many great guns fired off amongst the English.Ē From THE JOURNEYS OF JAMES NEEDHAM AND GABRIEL ARTHUR IN 1673 AND 1674 THROUGH THE PIEDMONT AND MOUNTAINS OF NORTH CAROLINA TO ESTABLISH TRADE WITH THE CHEROKEE Contained in a letter from Abraham Wood to John Richards August 22, 1674.

"Every listed souldier...shall be always provided with a well fixt firelock musket, of musket or bastard bore, the barrel not less then three foot and a half long, or other good firearms to the satisfaction of the commission officers of the company, a snapsack snapsack, a coller with twelve bandeleers or cartouche-box, one pound of good powder, twenty bullets fit for his gun, and twelve flints, a good sword or cutlace, a worm and priming wire fit for his gun.Ē Massachusetts Militia Laws, Nov. 22, 1693.

The bag we call the snapsack dates from the mid 17th century. The first documentation of this type of bag goes back to the English Civil War, where it was used extensively. It has been made in a variety of styles and has been known by a variety of names.

Common names for this style of bag are snapsack, wallet, country pack, and even knapsack. What it was called is related to where you were, and whether you were English or French, as both people used this style of bag. For purposes of simplicity, it will always be referred to as a snapsack here.

The typical snapsack style is a tubular bag carried by an attached strap. The bag is carried across the back. The type of strap can be a plain heavy canvas strap, woven hemp, leather, or whatever the user desires. Military snapsacks were made of leather with a leather strap and a metal buckle in the strap. Civilian styles were typically heavy linen or sailcloth (canvas) and may have had a plain woven or multilayer canvas strap, with or without a buckle.

The tubular bag itself can be made either as a single opening bag with one full-length compartment, or divided into two compartments by adding a divider to the pattern. In either case, a simple drawstring that gathers the end of the bag tightly enough to prevent items from falling out makes the typical closure.

Charles Casada, the well known living historian and writer, makes one version of the snapsack which he sells commercially. With permission from Charles, Iíll insert a picture of his interpretation of the period snapsack, and some historical documentation he quotes on his web site at

http://www.colonialmarket.com/casada/.

This pack is documented to the early 1600ís. Itís simple design was used by both the British and French Armies well into the 18th Century. The Snapsack is a simple canvas tube that is secured at each end and carried by the use of a stout 3" leather Tumpline Strap. Often referred to in journals as a Country Pack. The finished size is 18" X 30.

"The men are to take the Knapsacks, tents, camp equipage and one blanket of the ships, bedding besides their own blankets." Orders for the embarkation for the invasion of Louisburg- June 1759 Journals of Captain John Knox p. 376.

This version is very correct and is only one of many variations on a theme that were universally used in the American Colonies. The version that will be detailed here is slightly different, but will be easily made by an individual with moderate sewing skills and a little time.

If one is so inclined, full instructions with diagrams for this bag are available on line at http://www.southernrangers.org/snapsack.htm , and materials are available everywhere to make this bag. If one requires only the very best in period correct material and construction, I would suggest buying the 16 oz. Hemp canvas from Jim Jacobs at Blue Heron Mercantile. His web site is at http://www.blueheronmercantile.com and all of the materials required for this project and many others can be had from Jim.

If one doesnít own a device to connect to the information age, your local library can help with this long enough for you to be able to gain this information.

If you canít use the links provided to get copies of the instructions and patterns, simple relational information will be given here.

In the directions below, the material for the body of the bag is a 24" x 36" piece of material that when turned so that the long side is horizontal, has the A to B line along the top and the C to D line along the bottom. With the material arranged in this fashion, the A end is the left end and the B end is the right end.

Snapsack Directions

1.) The snapsack can be made of bag leather, coarse woolens, tow cloth. or other sturdy goods. Cloth bags are typically made of 16 oz. linen canvas or similar cotton canvas. You will need a piece 24 x 36 inches for the bag and a piece 6 to 8 inches wide and 26 to 32 inches long for the strap.

2.) Fold end "B" 1" upon itself and hem.

3.) Fold end "A" 2 inches upon itself, and after folding the raw edge under 1/2 inch, hem. This will finish the mouth of the bag.

4.) Fold the bag so that the finished (no seams) sides are together. Folding the raw edge under 1/2 inch, overlap the fabric 1 1/2 to 2 inches and sew from C to D (or A to B). This is the top of the bag. Fold the remaining raw edge under at least 1/4 inch and sew the other edge of the overlap down to fell the seam. This is where you can adjust to insure that your strap will fit into itís intended channel.

5.) Sew the B-D end together so that the end of the bag is curved starting at a point about 6 inches from the end of the bag. The curve should have an even radius up to the point where it intersects the end seam of the tube. Trim off the excess material and blanket stitch the inside seam to keep it from unraveling. NOTE: DO NOT sew the overlap on the top closed! Youíll want it open to insert your strap. Turn the bag right side out.

6.) Make a strap for the bag. If you are going to make the strap out of the same material as the bag (canvas, for instance), cut a piece that is 4 times as wide as the finished strap needs to be (6 inches for a 1 1/2 inch strap, 8 inches for a 2 inch strap), and 26 to 32 inches long (depending on chest size). Fold the strap material in quarters lengthwise, and stitch down each side to fell the seam and opposite edge.

7.) Insert one end of the strap into the opening left at the top seam of the B-D end of the snapsack. Insert 3-4 inches of the strap and sew across the strap in 2 or 3 places for strength. It is recommended that you stitch across the strap at itís end and at the end of the bag, down both sides of the strap and then stitch an X across the diagonals of the box you just sewed.

8.) Insert the other end of the strap into the wide felled seam at the mouth end of the bag. This is where you will make any adjustments for length. Remember that the bag will fit differently when it is filled, and will require more strap length if you intend to wrap your blanket or ground cloth around it. Heaver winter clothes will require more room, too. Stitch the strap in using the same method described on the previous end.

9.) Using a large (approximately 1/4 inch) leather punch, punch a series of 12 to 18 holes, regularly spaced around the mouth of the bag in the area where the fabric is doubled. Keep the holes the same distance in from the mouth. The two end holes should be right next to where the strap is stitched into the bag along the top. It is recommended that you stitch around the holes using a buttonhole stitch to prevent the holes from unraveling.

10.) Thread a leather whang or small piece of hemp rope through the holes to use as a drawstring. Tie a knot in each end of the drawstring so that it canít pull back through the holes. When the drawstring is pulled tight, the bag closes up very tightly, like an accordion. Tie an overhand knot in the drawstring and your gear canít fall out.

Wear the bag by passing the strap over your head with the closed end at your right shoulder and the left end hanging just behind your left elbow. Snacks and frequently used gear can be placed just inside the mouth and easily accessed when needed, even while on the trail with the bag on.

When used as part of my kit, I wrap my blankets and tarp around the bag after itís stuffed with my extra clothes and food. I typically carry my copper kettle (stuffed with bags of cornmeal and barley or oats to prevent rattling), my tin cup, and any other items that wonít fit neatly into my haversack in the snapsack.

I have found that with a little practice (Iím sure that folks in the 18th century practiced walking a lot!) itís easy to carry a good load of food, blankets, and all the other necessities in my snapsack very comfortably.

Although not as comfortable and convenient as some of the later designed bags, the snapsack provided a practical and versatile method of carrying the necessities of travel and warfare for almost two centuries. There must have been something about the concept that our ancestors found useful.