Posts Tagged With: Native American

Oxfordshire, England and the American Indian Trade in Blankets

A few years ago I had gone antiquing from where I was living in Oxford to the old market town of Witney, England, where I met a very knowledgeable proprietor of one of the many antique shops in town. Being from the US, I did not know the importance of Witney in the world-wide woolen industry, so I was excited to learn about the town’s leadership in making woolen trade blankets for Native Americans since ca. AD 1700, as British trade with the Creek Indians of Middle Georgia is one aspect of my research. This was the first I heard about the “pointing” (stitching) on one edge of the blankets and its meaning in the Indian trade. Plus I even got to see one of these blankets! I had not realized that this favorite object of many Indians and tribes across North America had such a deep history that stretched back so far on the loom of history.

It seems this trade originated with the French weavers in the mid-17th century, but that the weavers of Witney had become major competitors by the end of the century. Earlier variants of the blanket shown above would have been packed on horses by Charleston’s traders and taken – along with pots & pans, cloth, guns & flints, knives & scissors, glass trade beads, rum, and many other European-manufactured goods – along the many Indian trails like the Lower Creek Trading Path, Thom’s Path, & the Okfuskee Path to trading houses set up near major Indian villages throughout the Southeast. Indian hunters and warriors would have come to these trading posts and traded their deerskins and captured Indian slaves for whatever they wanted. A fascinating topic about which more can be read in the book shown above, and at this website – http://www.witneyblanketstory.org.uk/wbp.asp?navigationPage=North%20America

Categories: Artifacts, Colonization, England, Exploration, History, Indian Trails, United Kingdom | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Visiting with the Ancestors: The Blackfoot Shirts Project, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, UK

Visiting with the Ancestors: The Blackfoot Shirts Project, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, UK

This is an amazing new exhibit in England that I just happened to walk by when I was at the Pitt Rivers recently. These shirts date to around 1850, when they were given to British officials operating near the U.S.-Canadian border (Montana/Alberta), and they eventually found their way across the pond. The Blackfoot themselves seem to have had no knowledge of them until a few years ago, when some dignitaries were invited to inspect them and help contextualize them for the museum. It was immediately apparent that these were sacred items that should be shown to the Blackfoot people at large, so the five shirts (three of which are currently on display in Oxford) were loaned out to local museums in the U.S. and Canada so this could happen. The impact was tremendous, as Blackfoot men, women, and children responded powerfully to these shirts their ancestors had made by hand and generously given away. It is another outstanding example of Native American heritage abroad that I have been overjoyed to run across thousands of miles from home here in the UK!

Blackfoot Shirt

Blackfoot Shirt

Side of Shirt

Side of Shirt

Shirt Detail showing bows and musket

Shirt Detail showing bows and musket

Painting Depicting One Shirt

Painting Depicting One Shirt

Blackfoot Shirt

Blackfoot Shirt

 

“A little while and I will be gone from among you, when I cannot tell. From nowhere we came, into nowhere we go. What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot, Deathbed Speech, 1890

Categories: Archaeology, Museums | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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