Saturday, July 23, 2011

Lead seals and some history

Hi all,

I spy an artifact! Looks like part of a bone.
For this weekend update I wanted to keep everyone posted on our latest finds especially now that the students are getting down into layers dating to the occupation of the fort, but also spend some time summarizing the history of Fort St. Joseph for our readers that are less familiar with the site.

Yesterday our week ended early when a fast-moving storm swept into Niles, but the day was not without success. One of the most exciting finds came out of Lance and Erika's unit--a lead bale seal! These seals were used to identify and regulate the quality of merchandise, typically cloth. Seals found in this region typically date to the eighteenth century, matching with the time period of French presence at Fort St. Joseph! The impression on the seal would have been made when one disc was folded over to overlap with the other and then stamped closed. The impressions left would typically designate the place of the goods' origin as well as the quantity or quality.

This particular seal is unlike any other found at Fort St. Joseph to date. The first line appears to be a "B" followed by a fleur de lis; the remainder looks as though it reads "GRAINE DE LILLE." Lille is a city in the north of France that specialized in textile production, which would lead us to think that this seal was used for cloth. Further evidence that this was connected to goods from Lille is the fleur de lis, the city's traditional coat of arms. What is puzzling is the actual translation of the writing, which is "seed/grain of Lille." Could this seal have been used for a shipment of B-grade wheat or other type of grain, or is it simply a way of saying that the seal marked a product from Lille? In some instances Jesuit priests attempted to have Native Americans adopt more intensive farming. Is it possible that seed from France was imported to Fort St. Joseph for this purpose? This may be a single artifact, but it certainly raises a lot of questions! If you have any ideas or thought please feel free to share them!

We have been finding a lot of beads that would have
been used for trade with Native Americans.
Jesuit priests were actually some of the earliest Europeans in the Fort St. Joseph area, arriving in the 1680s to establish a mission in hopes of converting the Native Americans that had been living in the area for thousands of years. In the 1700s the fort developed as a military and trading post for the French, supporting as many as fifteen households and potentially more depending on the season. The fort was particularly important in France's network of posts in the Great Lakes region, and saw a significant amount of trade between the French and the Miami and Potowatomi Native Americans.

Most artifacts are found when wet-screening.
The British gained control over the fort in 1761 during the French and Indian War; however, the British attitude of suppressing and dominating the Native Americans was very different from that of the French which consisted of intermarriage, gift-giving, and a mutual trade relationship. Thus in 1763 the Ottawa leader Pontiac lead a rebellion to drive the British from the region. The fort was briefly reoccupied by the British in 1779, but the presence in the region was not persistent unlike that of French traders that remained in the region until the 1780s, some possibly longer.

The reason the Spanish flag also flew over Fort St. Joseph is that a group of French and Native American men were sent to the fort by the Spanish governor of St. Louis in 1781, though the group remained at the site for less than a day. After that date the site of the fort was largely abandoned, though trade between Europeans and Native Americans likely continued in the area. This specific timeline makes the site excellent for archaeological excavations as there are no 19th and 20th-century occupations to obscure the dates of deposits.

If you have any questions about the fort's history or our ongoing excavations please do not hesitate to leave a question or comment! We will do our best to answer it or point you towards sources that may help.

Have a great weekend!

Photo credits Cathrine Davis

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Concerning the french lead seal, GRAINE means seed, but in this case, it is the wool or cotton manufacturer's or dealer's name : B. GRAINE.