I was going to write about silk ribbons and colors, but got distracted by quillwork. It has become tradition amoung Southern peoples to incorporate quilled items into their regalia. This practice is more recent than the 18th century, however. Sadly, interpreters have been lead astray by those who are less than scholarly and balanced in their approach to studying the 18th century Southeast. It is important to incorporate oral tradition with the study of documents and artifacts. But we have to also recognize that no piece of the puzzle really outweighs another piece. Is there some fact to the notion that the Cherokee used porcupine quills in the 18th century? Yes. Were they using them for knife sheaths, bags, leg ties, and straps? No.
Where did this idea of the widespread use of quillwork in the Southeast come from? Some of it came from blurring "tradition" with "historical practice". That something is traditional does not mean it is an ancient, or even old practice. To be traditional, something only has to be passed from one to another. Before I get too side tracked..
Unfortunately, a lot more of the problem with quillwork came from misunderstanding what constitutes documentation. I have actually been shown the following images as proof that Cherokee used quilled bags and knives:
Now, Robert Griffing is a really talented artist. The problem is, he is a modern artist who paints reenactors. The only thing you can really document with these images is what reenactors wear. That is not history.
So what did the Cherokee really decorate with quills in the 18th century? The answer can be found in the writings of more than one trusted 18th century source who weas actually on hand to see for themselves. Henry Timberlake is an excellent example:
describing the calumet, or peace pipe:
.."The stem is about three feet long, finely adourned with porcupine-quills, dyed feathers, deers hair, and such like gaudy trifles."
describing the clothing:
..."mockafons, which are shoes of a make particular to the Americans, ornamented with porcupine-quills..."
While he describes all of their clothing in great detail, these are the only two items described as decorated with quillwork. Similar descriptions can be found in the writings of Adair, Busso, and others. The one other item these other authors relate as being decorated with quills is a diadem, or crown. Diadems, like the calumet, were for special occaisions, not everyday wear. So we can infer, that because porcupines, whose habitat only extended into NW West VA, were not a source of artistic materials for everyday things. If quillwork was so widespread among the Cherokee and the rest of the Southeast, why does is show up so infrequently in the historic record? The answer is obvious to me: because the quillwork wasnt there in the quantities many wish it was.
There is another item which quite frequently appears in hair decorations of both Northern and Southern interpreters of 18th century Native culture is out of place... porcupine guardhair in roaches. There are a number of red deer hair roaches which survive from the 18th century. Some are round, some are U shaped. None of them feature porcupine hair. None at all. In fact, porcupine guard hair on roaches doesnt begin to show up until the 19th century! Why is it being worn by 18th century interpreters? Take a look at the pictures I posted above. It was painted (and continues to be painted) by modern artists. Wearing porcupine guard hair in your roach is incorrect for 18th century interpretation! For the love of the porcupine and history, please stop!
I am sure that someone along the way will be offended by this. That is not my intention. The Cherokee, along with the rest of the peoples of the Southeast had other outlets for their artistic expression. Ever seen the cane basket work the Cherokee were famous for, even in the 18th century? How about their pipes?
Cherokee River Cane Basket
collected in 1753, British Museum.
Cherokee Pipes, circa 1759
Ft Loudoun Museum/Visitor's Center
Anyone who has talked Southeastern material culture with me in the past several years would have noticed a trend in my rants: simple is better. Blue Strouds, red wool twill tape, check shirts,... very simple stuff. Admittedly, this has been somewhat reactionary. Reactionary to what? Well, there's a lot of honest to God bad stuff out there. So many makers are providing complete B.S. items like "Southern style quilled neck knive sheaths", "Southeastern style quilled bags", "Southern style painted bags", on and on and on. I mean, the list could very litterally go on and on.
The problem is, all of these are pure fantasy. They are based on 100% imagination. We dont have a single reference to quilled knife sheaths or bags in the SE. There are no references to painted bags, knife sheaths or leggings either. So why does everyone want a quilled neck knife if they are doing a Catawba (or Cherokee, or Seminole...) impression? Lack of imagination? It "looks" Indian? It was in X painting by R____t G______g? No matter what the reasoning, it is a distortion of history... or in other words... a lie.
Ok, off of the soapbox of redundancy, sorta. So, if you can't use quillwork, what the heck can you use to look "Indian" when doing a Southeastern portrayal? There is one item rarely seen on SE reenactors, commonly seen on NE reenactors; but the historic SE peoples were likely dripping in it. Give up yet?
That's right. SILVER
But before we discuss the fancy stuff, I need to clarify something. For so long, I've discussed "dressing down" and now I'm talking about dressing up? "Make up your mind, Melius!" I know, I know... just hear me out.
Carefully read the following quotes, paying close attention to the underlined and bolded phrases:
"... decorated with silver ear-bobs, or pendants to their ears, several rounds of white beads about their necks, rings upon their fingers, large wire or broad plates of silver on their wrists,..."
"The Indian nations are agreed in the custom of thus adourning themselves with beads of various sizes and colours; sometimes wrought in garters, sashes, necklaces, and in strings round their wrists; and so from the crown of their heads..."
"...they wear ear-rings and finger-rings in abundance..."
"...it is a common trading rule with us, to judge of the value of an Indian's effects, by the weight of his fingers, wrists, ears, crown of his head, boots, and maccaseenes - by the quantity of red paint daubed on his face, and by the shirt about the collar, shoulders, and back, should he have one."
"I did myself the honour to fit them out with silver arm-plates, gorgets, wrist-plates, ear-bobs &c. &c. which they kindly recieved, and protested they wouldn't ever part with them, for the sake of the giver..."
"For it being their custom to carry their ornaments, and looking glasses over their shoulders, on such public occaisions, my companions were fully trimmed out, and did not strip themselves, as they expected no such disaster [they were ambushed]..."
and from Henry Timberlake:
"They that can afford it wear a collar of wampum, which are beads cut out of clamshells, a silver breast-plate, and bracelets on their arms and wrists of the same metal, a bit of cloth over their private parts, a shirt of English make, a sort of cloth-boots, and mockasons,... but when they go to war they leave their trinkets behind, and the mere necessaries serve them."
I should be clear why I advocate simplicity of dress! Most events are centered on some historic or not-so-historic battle. In the SE, we are used to seeing Indian reenactors on the field heavily ornamented- wearing tons of silver, super nice garters and sashes, silk covered leggings and breechcloths... This is NOT how Southern Indians went to war! Adair, Timberlake, and others make it very clear that all the fine stuff was packed away for battle - they carried only what they needed. A gun, shot pouch, knife, club/spear/ax, paint, mirror, breechcloth, leggings, mocs and a blanket. That's it.
So, yes, for battles, plain and simple is the only authentic way to go. After the battle, if the portrayal for the entire weekend is not that of a war-party on the move, put the good stuff back on. Change out the plain blue wool leggings for blue wool adourned with silk ribbon. Put on the silver armbands, beads and gorgets. Put the big, fancy feathers and hair ornaments on your scalplock. Off of the battlefield is the time for all of that.
Up next, good vs bad ornaments... or not all silver was created equally...
Yes, its next already. I decided to make this into a really long blog post. If you get distracted by the squirrel in the tree, come back later. I understand...
Above, we examined the quotes proving that Indians in the SE dressed up ... and dressed up real nicely. Some might still doubt it. So let us take a look at another aspect of the trade network: the number of deerskins exported from Charleston, SC compared to the goods available.
Sites like Wikipedia echo what can be found in numerous secondary sources regarding the annual quantities of deerskins shipped out of Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA. In the 1750's, both cities were averaging over 100,000 deerhides per year. That is a heck of a lot. But where is the hard evidence? Well, here are the shipments of deerskins sent to England by Austin, Laurens, & Appleby (Henry Laurens joint trade corporation) in 1759 alone - the year the Cherokee War began:
2 hogs heads
10 hogs heads
12 hogs heads
Each hogs head averaged 350 hides, or about 625lbs. That accounts for approximately 8400 deerskins at 15000 lbs; from just one company.
Now, at that time, a common trade gun (most expensive item a trader offered) officially cost 16 lbs in deerskins (roughly 8 hides) and a pair of ear-bobs cost 2 lbs. I could keep going with the crazy math, estimating hides per Indian and all that, but frankly I am not that good at math. Just look at the amounts and understand that the vast majority of those hides were coming from INDIANS.
Take a look at the number of armbands, wristbands, and gorgets purchased in Charleston, SC over the course of 7 days by E. Atkins:
Sept 16 - 23, 1758
Silver arm bands: 43 pair
Silver wrist bands: 27 pair
Silver gorgets: 39
Gilt (gold plated) gorgets: 13
I honestly can not begin to quantify the silver broaches, rings, and ear-bobs. In the end, the point is, silver was very plentiful on the typical SE Native who was not on the battlefield. The vast quantities of deer hides brought in by the Indian hunters proves that these men were wealthy and they were shopping. Silver, beads, silk ribbon, blue wool.... they were fancy when they were not on the battlefield.
What I would like to do next is show examples of a couple archaeological pieces and compare them to what is available today.
Lets look at this picture from the TVA archaeology projects:
In the three images immediately above, the middle image is the original. Notice how the ball is not free-floating on the wire. The wire actually passes through a hole in the bottom of the ball to form a loop, which the cone is suspended from. When worn, the wire passes through the hole in the ear and is slipped back into a hole on the back side of the ball. The pair on the left are not constructed correctly. The ball is suspended from the wire by a loop. The wire is closed with a fastening technique not seen on any original earbobs. The cones are hollow; another feature not seen on original examples. From 20 feet away, these might look sorta... nah, never mind, they don't. Pieces like this, and others are also often made of German silver; a material which was not used in the 18th century for trade silver. (Remember the story about the Cherokee killing a few traders to get a better price? You really think they would not have noticed the difference between real silver and fake silver???)
The sets on the right are all constructed in the correct fashion (there are archaeological examples of flat bottomed cones from the SE!!!). They are made just like the piece in the center picture. At this time, there is only one manufacturer offering correctly made, real silver earings - At the Eastern Door (click on the pic!). Please, if you are going to buy silver, don't waste your money on crap! And there is a lot of crap out there.
Drawing of a the hundreds (thousands?) of surviving 18th century earbobs. This is how reproductions should be made. Thanks to Fred Lucas for reminding me of this image drawn years ago by Alan Gutchess.
Now let's talk briefly about nose rings!
Ever seen someone wearing one of those semi-flattened gorget style nose rings?
Well, I am sorry to say, this is another one of those things that just didnt exist in the 18th century. Sure, they show up in the 1800's, but for what ever reason, we have absolutely no evidence of their existance in the earlier period. Best bet is to leave it at home and go without until a quality reproduction can be found or, just don't wear one at all!
Now, if you absolutely must have a nose ring - they were made in the same exact manner at the above shown ear-bobs. In fact, the 18th century nose rings were nothing more than earings worn in the shnozz.
Now that we have gone from the presence of vast quantities of silver in the SE to what makes quality reproductions ear rings... toss the cheap brass armbands, German silver broaches, 19th century nose gorgets and save your pennies for the good stuff. 18th century Indians were tough customers... we should be too. As with everything else, it is our duty to do our best at interpreting the past, especially so if you choose to interpret a culture which is not your own.
(Maybe I'll chat about silk ribbon, bed lace, gartering and other fun textile ornaments in the next episode.....)
Just a couple quick thoughts to follow up on the last post and to tag along with the "shirt" section on the general clothing article on the main site...
I believe I successfully argue that check shirts are a defining article of Southeastern fashion, which developed in the mid-1750's. In short, check linen shirts grew in popularity. While seen only on occaision in 1754, by 1758 they were the most common shirt material seen in the SE. White linen shirts were the most common in 1754 and quickly took the back seat by '58.
We have plenty of references to shirts being adourned with silver buckles (ring broaches) and being worn until they are nearly rotting off of the owner's body. Adair tells us Indian men wore their shirts until they were filthy. Another author states the shirts were so filthy that they were nearly black. This is likely the story for both white linen and checked linen shirts... they got filthy.
But there is a shirt decorating technique which does not appear to have been practiced in the Southeast, and was apparently a Northeastern style: painting the shoulders red. There are a number of references to the shoulders of white shirts being painted with vermillion. We could speculate all day long about why it was done. But it certainly was done in the Northeast.
Painting the shoulders of a trade shirt red seems to not have been in fashion in the SE. To my knowledge, there is not a single reference to Indian shirts with red painted shoulders in the South. This is very likely just another way that Northeastern and Southeastern peoples could tell each other apart. I would highly suggest that until such time as we can produce evidence for the practice, that interpreters of Southeastern cultures avoid the application of red pigment to the shoulders of their shirts... let them get dirty naturally. It won't take too long!
Up next will either be a full blown post about the lack of quilled items in the Southeastern or a rant against bad metallic ornaments like gorget style nose rings, brass armbands, ear wheels, elaborate pattern broaches... BS trade guns with 42" barrels... or all the above. ;)
A quick glance at any trade list from the middle of the 18th century leaves one with the realization that textiles dominated most of the trade. It is easy to connect the puzzle pieces for the vast quantities of woolen items. Wools were used for breechcloths for men, wrap skirts for women, leggings and matchcoats for both... etc. But what about all the other types of cloth? Especially in the SE, we see huge quanitites of check linens, plain linens, cottons, oznaburgs, and (later in the century) printed linens and cottons. What were all of these used for?
Thankfully, Edith Mayes was fascinated enough with Amherst to have compiled his papers in a book: Amherst Papers, 1756-1763, The Southern Sector: Dispatches from South Carolina, Virginia and His Majesty's Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Published by Heritage Books in 1999, this work is a great resource for anyone interested in the material and political culture of the SE. Contained within this work is a large section describing what goods were to be presented to each Indian warriror before, during and after joining the British forces in Pennsylvania. It gets better; the passages describe what the different textiles are typically used for!
At first fitting them out to War
Guns: One to each Man that wants it, or, to him that does not;
Either 6 Yards of Callicoe for a Jacket & Petticoat
8 yards of ¾ Garlix for two Shifts for his Wife;
Which will interest the Women in the expedition & will prevent the buying & Selling spare guns for a trifle; being commonly Spent in Rum....
...Blankets; one to each Man that wants it;
Or 4 Yards striped flannel for a Squaw’s Petticoat to him that does not...
In addition to made shirts, yards of materials (and thread further in the list) were commonly being provided for the Indians to use in the construction of garments by their own hand. Other sources tell us that Indians in the North and South were commonly making their own shirts, of varying qualities.
So what did these Indian-made shirts look like? Well, it is my belief that the following images tell us:
A Stockbridge circa 1776
A Shawnee circa 1790
Without looking too closely at details, because we eventually all see what we want to see, there are some common traits seen in all of these images. Both shirts have tight sleeves, unfininshed necks and are similar to both European men's shirts and women's shifts. Similar, but not the same. There really is no 18th century European garment with construction details to match these two garments.
So that brings me to this guy depicted on Oconostota's 1761 French Commission (US National Archives):
Everyone has their theory about WHO this fellow is... My arguement is that he is just a SouthEastern Native, not a "portrait" of a particular Cherokee headman... but that is neither here nor there in this discussion. I am more interested in what he is wearing. Or, comparing what he is wearing to the two previous images.
Through examining hi-resolution images of the Cherokee Commission piece, details do present themselves, which are not appearant in the grainy reproductions (like above) that most of us are familiar with. The shirt appears to have an unfinished neck like like the Stockbridge and Shawnee fellows above. The neck line is very similar to the Stockbridge in particular. The sleeves are lacking gathers or pleates and the ends are also unfinished. Mind you, not "fringed" , but just raw. It is also particularly short, like the Shirt worn by the Shawnee warrior.
While many contend that this is the rare example of an Indian warrior wearing a women's shift, I believe it is actually another visual depiction of an Indian-made shirt. A couple of years ago, I made an interpretive piece based on this out of white linen. It is pretty filthy now, but I believe it accurately mimics the details above and proves my theory correct. Of course we will never know for certain, and some will maintain it is a women's garment... That's the beauty (frustration?) of interpreting artifacts and documents.