The saddle pictured is 1830's at the earliest and likely later. It is "typical" of the so-called American or wagon saddle of the first half of the 19th C. The saddle pictured in Steffen's work listed as Revolutionary War are taken from examples at Mt. Vernon. These saddles too appear to be (mostly) 19th Century. A couple are questionable and may be late 18th Century.
A review of period artwork shows a very different looking saddle from these types. The "Book of the Continental Soldier" shows two saddles dating from just before the Revolution. These are taken from Dennis Diderot's encylopedia. Two types are shown, viz. the "English" or so called flat saddle. The other is an officer's saddle. The distiction is significant. The officer's saddle is the descendent of the "Spanish" saddle, popular throughout western Europe from the 16th Century until the end of the 18th C. See Sylvia Locke's book, "The Royal Horse of Europe" and Dr. Deb Bennett's "the Conquerors" for several photographic examples of this type saddle. Major G. Tylden's "Horses and Saddlery" has an excellent example of a saddle of this type ridden by a Scottish officer in the rebellion of 1689. Baron DeKalb rode a very similar saddle during the Revolution. I believe this saddle is in the Smithsonian collections. All are of the Spanish type. If you noticed a similarity to a modern western saddle in the Diderot print this is no coincidence: it descended (through Mexico) from this Spanish type saddle. The Spanish saddle was used in the Spanish High School still famous in Europe today. The saddle (or its modern descendent is still being produced in Europe.
The English or flat saddle dates at least to the the end of the 16th Century and as the name suggests originated in England. It was the saddle of the working class until the advent of Thouroughbred racing in the 1st half of the 18th Century. Because of its lightness compared to the heavier Spanish saddle it was used exclusivly in racing. By the early years of the 19th C. the flat saddle had replaced the Spanish saddle among the genteel class, just as the Thouroughbred racehorse had replaced the "Spanish" ambling horse among the same class.
The flat saddle went through several evolutions to suit the American landscape, inluding a higher cantle like the one pictured. Another variation is the flat saddle with a cantle that sweeps down to support the thighs with knee rolls in front to lock the rider in. These are popularly called Plantation saddles (an early 20th C. term). They are still being custom made today in Kentucky and Tennesee.
To get a good idea of the 18th C. saddle the best place to look is period artwork. This can be difficult because the full skirts of the coat often hide the saddle. But there often good paintings, prints etc. that do show the saddle, usually with the owner or rider posing standing beside the horse. This is especially true of the race horse genre painting of the 1750, '60's and '70's. Stubbs is one artist that comes to mind, but there are many others. There is an interesting period French print of Washington standing beside his horse with the "typical" officer saddle of the period. Compare it with the Diderot Officer's saddle. There is also a cartoon of General Lee fleeing a British patrol. He is shown as a bumpkin by his wig and dress but also by his saddle, which is plainly shown because Lee is bouncing in the air above the saddle! The saddle is not that of an officer but a common riding saddle of the working class. The 18th C. viewer would have recognised this right away as another reinforcement of Lee as an inept officer. In Russel Bettie's book "Saddles" ther is a 1739 drawing from a French source showing an English saddle of the period.
Steffen is a wonderful source but as with any book where new ground is being broken there are bound to be mistakes. He was a pioneer in a field that has been too little tilled. Saddly he was fighting against the clock as he finished his book and died shortly after. He no doubt would have made corrections in a later edition if he had survived.
This is almost virgin soil and should prove very fertile with a little work and determination. To my knowledge there is no one in the field of Revolutionary War re-enacting who had made the effort to reproduce a correct period saddle. Most settle for a modern English saddle or an early 20th C. military officer's saddle (English or German). Find a saddle tree maker who can work from a picture (tough, I know but they are out there) and find a saddler who can cover the tree and voila! you may just be the first out there to do it right! The satisfaction and reward should be well worth the effort. Good luck in your quest.
Charles F. Winchester
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