The Regional Review

Volume II - No. 2

February, 1939


By Alfred F. Hopkins,
Museum Curator,
Morristown National Historical Park, New Jersey.

Morristown's Sam Browne

Among the wealth of interesting objects exhibited by the Morristown National Historical Park Museum is one which suggests that Yankee ingenuity inaugurated that current bit of military equipment now universally worn and heretofore attributed to our British cousins, the Sam Browne Belt.

The rattling sabre, while still in service on occasions of pomp and display, was eclipsed during the period of the World War, and in its place as an insignia of rank in most of the armies of the civilized world was substituted that simple harness, consisting of waist belt with breast strap attached, known as a "Sam Browne." In Fascist Italy or Communist Russia, in Parisian Bois de Boulogne, British Piccadilly or Oriental Shanghai, the officer today is readily recognized by those two simple straps, worn with as much jauntiness as ever the sabre was trailed. Over the origin of this gear there has been much controversy, although it has always been accepted as having its genesis in the British Army. Some authorities attribute the device, with a double shoulder strap, to a Major Sam Browne, believing him to have designed it a few years before the Boer War. His design was not officially adopted in the British service until 1900. Later the single strap passing from the left side over the right shoulder came into favor. Recently it has been stated by those in a position to know that as early as 1878 a Sir Basil Montgomery, of the 60th Rifles, had his belt fitted with braces by a saddler in India and that this same type of belt was worn shortly afterwards by a General Sir Sam Browne.

The belt in the Morristown collection, however, is wholly American and antedates the British conception by at least half a century. Purchased by the Washington Association of New Jersey in 1886 and donated to the park in 1933, it is of white buckskin, 2-1/4" wide, with a breast strap 7/8" wide, fastening in front with a buckle and terminating at the waist belt in lion head masks, with rings for the attachment of sword slings. The belt plate, 2-1/2" square, is of silvered brass, slightly convex in form, and has on its face a spread eagle with shield on breast, surmounted by a scroll with the motto, "E. Pluribus Unum". The period of the belt is early Federal. It was probably made at the time of increasing the American military forces in 1812, and was worn by an officer of infantry, as the silvered plate indicates. It is regrettable that no record remains relating to the designer or wearer of what is probably the first example of this now famous harness.

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Date: 04-Jul-2002