We all have heard the story about how the Dutch bought Manhattan for $24 worth of beads.  We are often lead to believe that Europeans took advantage of the supposed Indian ignorance of quality in trade goods and general concepts of value.  While it is silly, it is also insulting. 

 The real truth is that Indians were notoriously shrewd business people.  They could not, and were not fooled into accepting worthless trinkets.  The historic record is full of episodes illustrating just how picky Indians were.  At Ft. Loudoun in present day Tennessee, Paul Demere had recieved a shipment of trade coats which were so bad that the Cherokee refused them, even as gifts.  Demere admitted that the clothing was so poorly made that he couldnt even distribute them to his soldiers.  There are numerous similar examples of Indians leaving a trade house because the goods offered were of poor quality.  Traders quickly, and sometimes painfully, learned that they could not pull the wool over their customer's eyes.

 Taking this idea a step further, is an episode found in the annonymous journal of a trader (Colonial Records of South Carolina, Series 2: Documents relating to Indian Affairs, P65-66.):

…. It may not be improper to hint at the Reason of this insolent proceeding by the creeks, in order thereto it must be noticed, that when a Peace was proposed between them and the Cherrockees, the Creeks had all along the Cherrockee Trade in View, and was a strong Notice with them as well as in
Compliance with the Governor’s Request to a Peace with the Cherokees and though the Creeks met with several Insults during the Preliminaries, they choose rather put up with that than break off a Megotiation that would obstruct the Hopes they had of obtaining a Cherrockee Trade.  Agreeable to this scheme the Wolf Warrior of the Okehoys took upon him to conduct that affair who also brought in the Gun Merchant and other Head Men into the Scheme. The Gun, Wolf Warrior, Helabbee Captain and other head men meeting the Cherrockees in the Hunting Grund by Appointment (besides several more that went into Tereico and Chote to trade) conferred together concerning the Trade, they enquired of the Cherrockees by what Means they got such a low and easy Trade.  They were told that they did not obtain that low Trade as a Favour from the Governor, but that the stout hearted Head Warriors obtained it by killing some of the Traders, beating almost to Death and
abusing others, order them to be gone, tumble their Goods out of their Houses, take some of their Goods by Force, and in short use them with all Manner of bad Usage, that was the Method the Cherrockee Warriours fell upon to get Low Trade, and found it always effectual, that it might be observed for a constant Maxim to us the White People ill, will make them good, but to use them with Civility was just putting them in the Way to impose upon the Indians, that they the Cherrockees kill several English Men at Times, never made any Satisfaction but for one.  A few Years ago they killed two Englishmen in the Chekesaw Path at the great hill on the other side the Coosaw River and the Leader of that Gang wore one of the white Men’s Hatts publickly at the Dance at Terrico to this day and boasts of the Action.  The great Warriour of Terrico or Chote told them that when he goes to see the Governor he never talks soft and easy but stoutly, this is the Method by which we (the Cherrockee) got the Trade, and if you (the Creeks) would resolutely follow the same Rule, you would get the same Trade for you need never expect it by Fairness.

 Would a people undertaking an action like this be fooled into accepting cheap goods?  Heck no!  They were shrewd men.  This course of action was well earned by the traders.  There were plenty of complaints lodged by Indians in the North and South against attempted swindling by alcohol and abuse on the part of the traders.  Its nice to read episodes like this to balance the view.


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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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