Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Just bead it

Fashionable beaver hats of the time.
Image courtesy Library and Archives Canada
Fort St. Joseph was an important trade center for the French, Potawatomi, Miami, and others during the Fur Trade in the 18th century, but what were people trading?

The French were predominantly interested in pelts, specifically beaver, as beaver hats were all the rage in Europe at this time. This trade did begin to decline in the 1700s as Europe experienced a surplus of furs and fashions began to chance to the point where it was no longer profitable to maintain the fur trade' however, the French continued the practice for the sake of maintaining alliances and relationships with the Native Americans. Keep in mind, there were a whole lot more Native Americans than there were French at the time, and the French also had to think about what the British were doing in terms of imperial policy.

While the Native American groups shared similar concerns in terms of relationships, their preferred trade items were obviously different. The most desirable trade item was cloth, an item that generally does not appear in the archaeological record though archives and invoices from the period of New France list cloth as one of the most commonly traded items. This is no surprise given the ease of working with and wearing cloth as opposed to leather/animal skins. Leather has to undergo a long treatment process to be wearable, is very thick, and can be rather uncomfortable when wet. Cloth and pre-made clothing saved Native Americans time and was a suitable replacement for skins.

Beads from previous excavations at the fort.
Cloth was not the only trade item. Other objects included kettles for cooking, vermillion for ceremonial painting, some guns but mostly ammunition supplies like powder and shot, knives, and, on a smaller but no less important scale, beads. Beads came in many different types including those made from clay, antler, bone, and glass. Trade beads were made from glass and mostly came from Italy or the Netherlands, though there was possible a factory located near Jamestown, Virginia. Seed beads were used for embroidery, but there were other varieties of glass beads as well including those that were wound. This image shows a small sampling of the shapes and colors we have been finding. As displayed in previous blog posts, adornment was very important for both Europeans and Native Americans, evidence of which appears constantly in our excavations!

Photo credit Cathrine Davis.



pquantock said...

Wow! That's a nice assortment of beads!

Kelley said...

It is fun to find so many after what cannot be much more than five or six beads from all those excavations at Port Tobacco (but I still miss that place)!

clay tiles said...

very nice blog,awesome images looking very nice.......