Sunday, 31 August 2014

Notes & Information on 18th Century Blankets.

Winter Trade By Robert Griffing.


Father Pierre Briard relates in the work Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents that in 1611 the Arcadian Indians "often wear our capotes, and in the winter our bed blankets which they improve with trimming and wear double". Also around this time Mother Marie de L'Incarnation recorded that she saw Indians wearing coats made from trade blankets {it should be noted that not all capotes were made in North America, nor were they all made from trade blankets}. While having established that blankets and blanket capotes were indeed used during the early years of the Age of Exploration; we should take the time to examine the quality of the material used and the colors which were prevalent.
During the early years we find that Indians used white, red and blue blankets. "In 1663, ten Normandy "white" blankets are listed among the goods belonging to the trader Jacques Testad dit Loforet. The term "Normandy" refers to the location of textile manufacture. In 1693, during a council held in Montreal involving the French authorities and twelve foreign Indians tribes "no less than 83 white blankets were given as presents." Another important aspect of these blankets were that some bore embellishments such as red or blue stripes at their borders, embroidery, and lace. In fact we see that when the trader Jean Mailhot died in 1687 an inventory of his "la morte" possessions included "seven blankets made of capote cloth trimmed with nonpareille lace". (a very narrow strip of ribbon which was made of false gold, silver or silk) Drawings by Jesuit Missionaries recorded that this trimming in many instances was done in a zig zag pattern and consisted of two pieces of lace.
The actual sizes of trade blankets also differed. During the 1690's the French introduced the "point system". The term "point" then referred to a unit of measurement. In fact the French verb " ‘empointer’ was used to describe that action of making stitches with a thread on a piece of cloth". The historical norms of these blankets ranged from 1 to 5 points, 5 being the largest and 1 being the smallest known as "cradle blankets". {It must be noted that blankets bearing up to 12 points can be found during this same time period HOWEVER these blankets were intended to be used as bedding for the Canadians and not trade items.}
"An analysis of 649 blankets sold to Indians at Fort Niagara between 1719 and 1722 gives an idea of the most popular sizes used in the fur trade; of this number, 64% were 2 point, 22% were cradle blankets, 10% were of 3 points and 2% were 4 points". One surviving example is reported to be a "two point blanket measuring 59x48 inches and weighs 3 lbs. 7oz."
During the early and middle years of the 17th Century attempts to regulate the growing trade of blankets were enforced. Pierre Boucher, then governor of Troi-Rivieres decreed that one blanket was worth at least five or six beaver pelts. Also the governor of New France Alexandre de Prouville de Tracy enacted a regulation that a white "Normandy" blanket could be traded for no less than six beaver pelts and what was known as an "Iroquois blanket" {coverte a L'iroquoise, a rateen blanket made from a lesser grade of material} could be had that the price of three beaver pelts.
The following is as example of some trade items and their worth in both Montreal and Albany in the year 1689:
Item Albany Montreal
8 lbs of gun powder 1 beaver 4 beavers
1 gun 2 beavers 5 beavers
40 lbs of lead 1 beaver 3 beavers
1 blanket of red cloth 1 beaver 2 beavers
1 white blanket 1 beaver 2 beavers
4 shirts 1 beaver 2 beavers
6 pairs of stockings 1 beaver 2 beavers
As trade relations grew competitiveness between the French and English colonies began to intensify. In an attempt to sway the fur trade away from French traders it was made known that in Boston, Massachusetts Colony, Indians could get a white or red blanket for one beaver pelt while in Montreal it would cost much more. Almost 30 years after the enactment of these price regulations Native Americans could still go to New England and get a blanket for one beaver while up in Montreal the price was then a heavy payment of six pelts. In order to subvert this shift in the colonial trade wars "voyageurs loaded with French goods (were sent) directly to the Indian Villages, and thanks to the Kings stores, each tribe yearly received a generous supply of presents". Although this did somewhat stem the tide the great difference in price did encourage a healthy black market trade with the English.
The growing concern with quality sparked the French government to attempt to procure a product as good as their English competitors. At the turn or the century (1701) the government of New France sent a letter to Versailles stating that among the traders there was not a trace of the "certain kind of red or blue cloth whose breadth is 1 ell 1/4" (5 feet.) and is called escarlatine" {Common trade blankets at the time were 1 ell and half or 6 feet long}. The Indians also tended to prize blue colored blankets possessing white stripes, and red coloured blankets with a darker selvage edge. Examples of English blankets were found and sent back to France for examination. These "escarlatine" blankets were divided into the following styles:
Red or blue with black selvedges, red with a white stripe the length of a finger close to the selvedge, red or blue with two white stripes the length of a finger; one close to the selvedge but separated by the length of two fingers.
By 1715, 200 examples of French made cloth were sent to New France with less than desirable results. The Native Americans liked the cloth and while it was much higher in quality it proved far too expensive for French general trading purposes. Other examples later sent proved not to be as strong or woven as tightly as the English products. The intendant of New France, Michel Begon commented that the "Indians are as much refined to judge cloth as the most skillful merchant, they manage to burn hair of a sample with the purpose of examining the quality of its woven structure".
By the 1720's governmental permission was granted to buy English made blankets for trade with the Native tribes. This move was purely political in nature and gave the French manufacturers time to improve on their products. Unfortunately while some French regional manufacturers did produce upwards of 100,000 blankets yearly destined for the Indian trade a lack of financial support hampered efforts.
By the later 1740’s records show a diverse collection of trade blankets. While the naturalist Petr Kalm described Indians wearing white and red blankets, "the white blankets having one or many blue or red stripes".Also found were green blankets bearing 7 to 8 stripes {manufactured in Montpellier}, blue and red blankets with white stripes {manufactured in Limbourg}, along with blankets with red and yellow stripes...made of dogs hair {manufactured in Bordeaux}.

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