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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
  or
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.   



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    J Melius

    If you found yourself here, you are more than likely aware of my passion for researching Southeastern American Indian material culture.  Its a sickness I've been wrapped up in since the early 1990's.  While some of my thoughts might come across as somewhat abrassive; they are not meant to offend.  No, I dont call myself and expert, only a student of history and culture.  Hopefully we all seek to further our education and this is intended as an extention of my unending desire to learn and share.

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