Leatherman (vagabond)

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The Leatherman (June 9, 1885)
Jules Bourglay

c. 1839
DiedMarch 24, 1889(1889-03-24) (aged 49–50)
Resting placeSparta Cemetery

The Leatherman (born Jules Bourglay (unconfirmed)? c. 1839–1889) was a vagabond famous for his handmade leather suit of clothes who traveled through the northeastern United States on a regular circuit between the Connecticut River and the Hudson River from roughly 1857 to 1889. Of unknown origin, he was thought to be French-Canadian because of his fluency in the French language, his "broken English", and the French-language prayer book found on his person after his death. His identity remains unknown, and controversial. He walked a repeating 365-mile (587 km) route year after year, which took him through certain towns in western Connecticut and eastern New York, returning to each town roughly every 34 days.[1]


Entrance to the Leatherman Cave in Watertown, Connecticut
The Tory's den

Living in rock shelters and "leatherman caves", as they are now locally known,[2] the Leatherman stopped at towns along his 365-mile (587 km) loop about every five weeks for food and supplies.[3] He was dubbed the "Leatherman" as his adornment of hat, scarf, clothes, and shoes were handmade from leather.[4]

An early article in the Burlington Free Press dating to April 7, 1870, refers to him as the "Leather-Clad Man". It also states that he spoke rarely and when addressed would simply speak in monosyllables. According to contemporary rumors, he hailed from Picardy, France.[5]

Fluent in French, he communicated mostly with grunts and gestures, rarely using his broken English. When asked about his background, he would abruptly end the conversation.[6][7] Upon his death, a French prayer book was found among his possessions.[4][7] He declined meat on Fridays, giving rise to speculation that he was Roman Catholic.[8]

It is unknown how he earned money. One store kept a record of an order: "one loaf of bread, a can of sardines, one-pound of fancy crackers, a pie, two quarts of coffee, one gill of brandy and a bottle of beer"[4][9]

The Leatherman was well known in Connecticut. He was reliable in his rounds, and people would have food ready for him, which he often ate on their doorsteps.[7][10] Ten towns along the Leatherman's route passed ordinances exempting him from the state "tramp law" passed in 1879.[2]

Health and death[edit]

The Leatherman survived blizzards and other foul weather by heating his rock shelters with fire. Indeed, while his face was reported to be frostbitten at times during the winter, by the time of his death he had not lost any fingers, unlike other tramps of the time and area.[11]

The Connecticut Humane Society had him arrested and hospitalized in 1888, which resulted in a diagnosis of "sane except for an emotional affliction", after which he was released, as he had money and desired freedom. He ultimately died from cancer of the mouth.[4][9] His body was found on March 24, 1889, in his Saw Mill Woods cave on the farm of George Dell in the town of Mount Pleasant, New York,[11] near Ossining.[6]

Identity controversy[edit]

Inside the Leatherman Cave in Watertown, Connecticut

The Leatherman's former tombstone read: "Final resting place of Jules Bourglay of Lyons, France, 'The Leather Man'…" He is identified with that name in many accounts.[2][12] However, according to researchers including Dan W. DeLuca,[13] as well as his New York death certificate, his identity remains unknown.[11] This name first appeared in a story published in the Waterbury Daily American on August 16, 1884, but was later retracted on March 25, 26, and 27, 1889, and also in The Meriden Daily Journal on March 29, 1889.[3][10] DeLuca was able to get a new headstone installed when the Leatherman's grave was moved away from Route 9 to another location within the cemetery on May 25, 2011. The new brass plaque simply reads "The Leatherman".[14]


The Leatherman's grave is in the Sparta Cemetery, on Route 9 in Ossining, New York. The following inscription was carved on his original tombstone:[15][16]

Jules Bourglay
who regularly walked a 365-mile route
through Westchester and Connecticut from
the Connecticut River to the Hudson
living in caves in the years


The 2011 grave site with new headstone that reads "The Leatherman".

The Leatherman's original grave in Sparta Cemetery was within 16 feet (5 m) of Route 9. On May 25, 2011 the grave's contents were exhumed and reburied at a new site in the cemetery. No visible human remains were recovered during the exhumation. Only coffin nails and soil from the original burial plot were reburied in the new grave. One of the reasons for the exhumation was the hope there were remains that would help determine Leatherman's origins.[17][18]

Nicholas Bellantoni, a University of Connecticut archaeologist and supervisor of the exhumation, cited time, the effect of traffic over the shallow original gravesite, and possible removal of graveside material by a road-grading project for destroying all hard and soft tissue in the grave.

Popular media[edit]


  1. ^ DeLuca, Dan (2008). The Old Leatherman. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press. p. xi. ISBN 9780819568625.
  2. ^ a b c Connecticut State Forests – Seedling Letterbox Series Clues for Mattatuck State Forest (retrieved September 23, 2007)
  3. ^ a b c Hudson Valley Ruins (retrieved July 21, 2006)
  4. ^ a b c d Samantha Hunt, Jules Bourglay, Notable Walker. McSweeney's Internet Tendency, 11/2002 Archived 2005-09-20 at the Wayback Machine (retrieved July 21, 2006)
  5. ^ "A Leather-Clad Hermit". The Burlington Free Press. April 7, 1870.
  6. ^ a b History of Redding (retrieved July 21, 2006)
  7. ^ a b c NY Hudson Valley[permanent dead link] (retrieved July 21, 2006)
  8. ^ Piece broadcast on (US) National Public Radio, in Connecticut, 19 Dec 2008
  9. ^ a b Canning, Jeff and Wally Buxton, History of the Tarrytowns, Harbor Hill Books 1975
  10. ^ a b Research by Dan W. DeLuca Archived 2006-12-06 at the Wayback Machine (retrieved July 21, 2006)
  11. ^ a b c DeLuca, Dan (2008). The Old Leather Man: Historical Accounts of a Connecticut and New York Legend. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 978-0-8195-6862-5
  12. ^ "Leatherman's Cave, Watertown, CT". Archived from the original on August 8, 2009. Retrieved 2007-08-29. (retrieved September 23, 2007)
  13. ^ LeMoult, Craig. "Search for Clues Only Deepens 'Leatherman' Mystery". Vermont Public Radio. Retrieved 5 December 2011.
  14. ^ "Search For Clues Only Deepens 'Leatherman' Mystery". National Public Radio. May 26, 2011.
  15. ^ "Wanderer's Grave is Marked at Last; ' Leather Man' Died in '89 Near Ossining in Cave – Honored by Historical Groups". The New York Times. 1953-05-17. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-06-14.
  16. ^ Melvin, Tessa (November 8, 1987). "Tracing steps of leather man". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-06-11.
  17. ^ Dan Brechlin (3 January 2011). "Leather Man body may yield clues". The Record-Journal. Archived from the original on 9 February 2011. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
  18. ^ Sam Cooper (29 November 2010). "Who was the Leather Man? Experts hope forensic tests will solve mystery". The Republican-American. Retrieved 11 January 2011.[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ J. Karjalainen – Mennyt Mies, retrieved 2020-10-30
  20. ^ Bertel, Dick (14 February 1965). "The Life and Legend of the Old Leather Man". Perception. Hartford, Connecticut. WTIC-TV, Channel 3 (WFSB today). Retrieved 6 April 2020.
  21. ^ "Where the Water Tastes Like Wine postmortem". Laura Michet. 4 March 2018. Retrieved 9 June 2023.

External links[edit]

Mapped routes[edit]