Among the few organic materials recovered from the wreck site was an individual leather shoe sole with its heel still intact, located at the southern, starboard end of the wreck. The heel on the recovered example lacks evidence of any wear, suggesting it had never been worn and conceivably may be a part of a deteriorated larger cargo. While the sole and heel of the shoe are relatively well-preserved, little remains of the uppers, making it difficult to determine the precise style of footwear; yet it appears to have been a man’s shoe. The heel of the shoe is made of stacked leather and the top piece is held in place with cut nails and wooden pegs across the breast.
This single square-toed shoe features a pegged sole, a method by which the sole was attached using wooden pegs instead of by stitching. The technique of pegging new soles in this manner made its appearance in the United States by 1815. By 1830 hand pegging was the dominant construction for cheap US shoes. Two decades later this design was no longer accomplished by hand following the invention of the pegging machine by A.C. Gallahue in 1851 (and subsequently improved by Townsend and Sturtevant of Boston). The evenness of the pegging apparent on the recovered shoe suggests the sole was pegged by machine.
The steam-powered pegging machine was used extensively throughout the country and greatly increased the quality and production of pegged shoes. According to a late 19th century source, “It would punch the holes, cut off and shape the peg, and drive them at the rate of 14 per second, and would peg two pair of women’s shoes a minute, putting in two rows of pegs if required.” By 1872 about 1,700 of these machines were in use across America, largely employed by manufacturers whose predominant convict labor made vast quantities of cheap, but neat looking products. Even for the finest examples, pegged shoes were not the choice of those who were ‘delicately reared.’
The sole of the shoe features an unidentifiable stamp. Some civilian shoes of the era featured hash marks on the sole to indicate size, and during the Civil War contractors and depots stamped their identification mark inside the quarters of the shoe (pers. comm. Valentine Povinelli, 22 December 2010). The purpose of this particular stamp from this time is not apparent.
The square toe of the Jacksonville "Blue China" wreck’s shoe was a recurring style enjoyed over many centuries as referenced by John F. Watson (1779-1860), a Philadelphia antiquarian and amateur historian best known as the author of Annals of Philadelphia. In the 1857 edition, Watson stated that “I came into the world as the first generation of square toed boots were going out of it; and my feet are, at this moment, after an interval of -- years, no matter how many, incased in a pair of square toes No. 2.”