I can’t say I’ve ever heard of anyone by  that name.  But judging from an article by Mary Ann Levine, Professor of Anthropology at Franklin and Marshall College, in the January 2020 issue of American Antiquity, there might well have been one.  “Cloth,” she writes, “was . . . crucial to the colonial experience not only as an object of exchange but as a medium of the negotiation of individual and social power. . . .”

penn_cloth

John Boydell (Publisher), “William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians (Furnishing Fabric),” 1775-1795, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Indigenous people traded for a great deal of cloth.  It’s difficult to discern this from physical remains, since most textiles of the period have long since disintegrated.  But account books and other business records make clear that, in many instances, Europeans sold to Indians more (often far more) cloth and related items, such as thread or needles, than anything else.

In that trade, Native Americans knew what they wanted, and did not buy just any textiles. When ordering, therefore, merchants specified in considerable detail the size, color, and texture of the merchandise their customers would buy.  As a result, textile manufacturers in England and on the Continent produced fabric specifically designed for the Native American market.

When using their purchases, Indians also did not simply copy European clothing designs, but cut garments to fit their preferences—they generally disliked tight clothes, for example—and decorated them with various objects to suit their own tastes.  Translators and others who served as mediators between cultures would mix clothing styles to present themselves as accessible to both sides.

A reminder of the importance of cloth in dealings with Native Americans can be seen in the Canandaigua Treaty of 1794 with the Iroquois. In addition to establishing territorial boundaries, the pact required the United States to deliver each year bolts of cloth valued at $4,500.  Much of the treaty has not been scrupulously observed, but to this day, the Government continues to deliver the cloth.

 

Article: Mary Anne Levine, “The Fabric of Empire in a Native World: An Analysis of Trade Cloth Recovered from Eighteenth-Century Otstonwakin,” American Antiquity 85:1 (January 2020), p. 51-71.

Further Reading: The Junto: Native Americans and the Textile Trade; Kathryn E. Holland Braund, Deerskins and Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685-1815. (University of Nebraska Press 1993); Timothy J. Shannon, “Dressing for Success on the Mohawk Frontier: Hendrick, William Johnson, and the Indian Fashion,” William and Mary Quarterly, 53:1 (January 1996), pp. 13-42; Mary Ann Levine