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Hi-Low also called Startup, upstart, buskin or half-boot


Fugawee has received several inquiries about the authenticity of the Hi-Low also called Startup, upstart, buskin or half-boot.  They are all names for the same footwear, a boot not too different from the modern-day work boot.  I’m going to poke around and much of what I write will seem to be disjointed……but then all of historical research consists of putting together the bits and pieces left behind.  June Swann is considered by most people to be the ultimate authority of historical footwear.  She has a long and honorable career as author and museum curator.

June Swann says, in “Shoes” (ISBN 0 7134 0942 8) P.28:

“There were also half boots from the 1750s, cut a little higher than modern ankle boots, which descend from them and worn for shooting and by the military. St James Chronicle, 1763, comments on ‘tradesmen who ape their betters….breeches almost met by a pair of shoes that reached about three and a quarter inches above the ankles.’  They were typical wear for both sides during the American War of Independence  (see Peale’s portrait of Captain John Harleston of Chicago.”  Good luck)

I have tried to track down the Harleston portrait without luck.

Three and a quarter inches above the ankle makes an eight-inch boot.  Remember that the St. James Chronicle was a snob’s gazette and was ridiculing the ‘tradesmen who ape their betters.’ Was this the foundation for the term ‘upstart’?

A little before this, in 1745 an English painting shows a sportsman using such shoes for hunting on foot.  The term used by the English was ‘buskin’, called after the classical Greek-Roman footwear which was a high, laced sandal.

Similar high laced shoes appear as far back as the middle ages, about the time that people got tired of wearing wooden shoes full of manure.  The hi-lows were made with tongues and without tongues.  The pair pictured in the Collector’s Encyclopaedia of the American Revolution does not have tongues.  It is called an ‘overshoe’ and is said to have belonged to Thomas Jefferson.

In the Colonies, the hi-low was a farm boot meant for the barnyard and pig-stye in a day when there were no rubber boots.  Do you wonder that surviving specimens are hard to find?

It is just such a farmer’s boot that Don Troiani shows on his Lexington Minute Man.

Someone asked Nancy, ”Where did Troiani get his authentication?”

If there is one man I would never question on such matters, it is Don Troiani.

Then there is Mr. Al Saguto, long time resident cordwainer at Historical Williamsburg:   He says,

One detail from the surviving 18th c. boots: where the original lacing survives, it’s always “spiral” laced, that is the length of thong is knotted at one end

[the bottom], and it spirals round and round up the front opening, then is half-hitch looped, and the other end tucked inside the boot…….     DA Saguto

Al made the first pair of reproduction hi-lows for a customer several years ago and deserves credit for bringing back a safe and comfortable shoe for Colonial re-enactors. He does only bespoke work and has a waiting line but it is worth it.

by Art Ayotte

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