Material Manipulations: Beads and Cloth in the French Colonies

  • Diana DiPaolo Loren


Few can deny the impact that European-manufactured material had in the history of colonization of the Southeastern United States. Objects produced in Europe for trade with the New World, such as iron knives, copper kettles, wool cloth, yarn and blankets, glass beads, and silver jewelry, made their way into Native hands and transformed the lives and economies for many people living in the New World (Bradley, 2007; Calloway, 1997:42–45; Waselkov, 2004). Archaeological focus in recent decades on the production of commodities for the growth of mercantile economies in North American colonies has given rise to more textured interpretations of the social lives of objects in colonial contexts, not only in the Southeastern United States, but throughout colonial North America (Appadurai, 1986; Wolf, 1982; see also Given, 2005; Gosden, 2004; Lightfoot, 2004; Nassaney and Brandão, this volume; MacLean, this volume; Silliman, 2005; Thomas, 1991). In the French colony of Louisiana, which is the context for this discussion, Native and French individuals integrated newly acquired items into daily practices, putting them into use in households and communities, animating them and infusing them with meaning.


Glass Bead Native People Material Culture Wool Cloth French Author 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Many thanks are extended to Carolyn White for her invitation to join this thoughtful group of papers, originally formulated as a conference paper at the Society for Historical Archaeology. Comments by Rebecca Yamin on the presented version of this paper have been quite helpful in my revisions and conceptualizations of the materiality of colonial individuals. My thoughts on these topics have also benefited from discussions with Mary Beaudry, Stephen Silliman, Christina Hodge, Viva Fisher, Rob Mann, and Giovanna Vitelli. I also had the great fortune to explore theoretical approaches to objects and materiality with an amazing group of students while teaching an archaeology graduate seminar at University of Massachusetts, Boston. Many thanks to the students who participated in the seminar and especially Stephen Silliman and Steve Mrozowski. As always, I am grateful for the support I receive at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University. This paper would not be possible without its world-class collections and staff.


  1. Appadurai, A., 1986, The Social Lives of Things. Cambridge University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  2. Bastian, M. L., 1996, Female ‘Alhajis’ and Entrepreneurial Fashions: Flexible Identities in Southeastern Nigerian Clothing Practice. In Clothing and Difference: Embodied Identities in Colonial and Post-Colonial Africa, edited by H. Hendrickson, pp. 97–132. Duke University Press, Durham, NC.Google Scholar
  3. Beaudry, M. C., 2005, Findings: The Material Culture of Needlework and Sewing. Yale University Press, New Haven.Google Scholar
  4. Bradley, J. W., 2007, Before Albany: An Archaeology of Native-Dutch Relations in the Capitol Region, 1600–1664. New York State Museum. Bulletin 509. The New York State Education Department, Albany, NY.Google Scholar
  5. Brain, J. P., 1979, Tunica Treasure. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  6. Brain, J. P., 1988, Tunica Archaeology. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  7. Brown, I., 1992, Certain Aspects of French-Indian Interaction in Lower Louisiane. In Calumet and Fleur-de-Lys: Archaeology of Indian and French Contact in the Midcontient, edited by J. A. Walthall & T. E. Emerson, pp. 17–34. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  8. Butler, J., 1990, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge, London.Google Scholar
  9. Calloway, C. G., 1997, New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.Google Scholar
  10. Deagan, K., 2002, Artifacts of the Spanish Colonies of Florida and the Caribbean1500–1800, Volume 2: Personal Portable Possessions. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  11. Dominguez, V. R., 1986, White By Definition: Social Classification in Creole Louisiana. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ.Google Scholar
  12. Entwistle, J., 2000, The Fashioned Body: Fashion, Dress, and Modern Social Theory. Polity Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  13. Galke, L. J., 2004, Perspectives on the Use of European Material Culture at Two Mid-to-Late 17th-Century Native American Sites in the Chesapeake. North American Archaeologist 25(1): 91–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Given, M., 2005, The Archaeology of the Colonized. Routledge, London.Google Scholar
  15. Gosden, C., 2004, Archaeology and Colonialism: Cultural Contact from 5000 BC to the Present. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  16. Gosden, C. and Knowles, C., 2001, Collecting Colonialism: Material Culture and Colonial Change. Berg, Oxford.Google Scholar
  17. Greenblatt, S., 1984, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  18. Hall, G. M., 1992, Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of an Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge.Google Scholar
  19. Hamell, G. R., 1983, Trading and Metaphors: The Magic of Beads. In Proceedings of the 1982 Glass Trade Bead Conference, edited by C. F. Hayes, III, pp. 5–28. Rochester Museum and Science Center Research Record, No. 16, Rochester, NY.Google Scholar
  20. Hamell, G. R., 1996, Wampum. In One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure, edited by A. van Dongen, pp. 41–51. Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam.Google Scholar
  21. Hill, J., 2007, The Story of the Amulet: Locating the Enchantment of Collections. Journal of Material Culture 12(1): 65–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Joyce, R., 2005, Archaeology of the Body. Annual Review of Anthropology 34: 139–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Karklins, K., 1992, Trade Ornament Usage Among the Native Peoples of Canada: A Source Book. Minister of the Environment, Ottawa.Google Scholar
  24. Keane, W., 2005, Signs Are Not the Garb of Meaning: On the Social Analysis of Material Things. In Materiality, edited by D. Miller, pp. 182–205. Duke University Press, Durham, NC.Google Scholar
  25. Kirk T., 2006, Materiality, Personhood and Monumentality in Early Neolithic Britain. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 16: 333–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Latour, B., 1999, Pandora’s Hope. Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  27. Le Page Du Pratz, A. S., 1758, Histoire de la Louisiane. ParisGoogle Scholar
  28. Lightfoot, K., 2004, Indians, Missionaries, and Merchants: The Legacy of Colonial Encounters on the California Frontiers. University of California Press, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  29. Loren, D. D., 2001, Social Skins: Orthodoxies and Practices of Dressing in the Early Colonial Lower Mississippi Valley. Journal of Social Archaeology 1(2): 172–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Loren, D. D., 2004, Creolization in the French and Spanish Colonies. In North American Archaeology, edited by T. R. Pauketat & D. D. Loren, pp. 297–318. Blackwell Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  31. Loren, D. D., 2007, Corporeal Concerns: 18th century Casta Paintings and Colonial Bodies in Spanish Texas. Historical Archaeology 41(1): 24–37.Google Scholar
  32. Loren, D. D. and Beaudry, M. C., 2006, Becoming American: Small Things Remembered. In Historical Archaeology, edited by S. W. Silliman & M. Hall, pp. 251–271. Blackwell Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  33. Lucas, G., 2004, An Archaeology of Colonial Identity: Power and Material Culture in the Dwars Valley, South Africa. Plenum Press, New York.Google Scholar
  34. Lyons, C. L. and Papadopoulos, J. K., 2002, Introduction. In The Archaeology of Colonialism, edited by C. L. Lyons & J. K. Papadopoulos, pp. 1–23. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, CA.Google Scholar
  35. Merleau-Ponty, M., 1989, Phenomenology of Perception. Routledge, London.Google Scholar
  36. Meskell, L., 1999, Archaeologies of Social Life: Age, Sex, Class et cetera in Ancient Egypt. Blackwell, Oxford.Google Scholar
  37. Meskell, L., 2000, Writing the Body in Archaeology. In Reading the Body: Representations and Remains in the Archaeological Record, edited by A. E. Rautman, pp. 13–21. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  38. Meskell, L., 2004a, Object Worlds in Ancient Egypt: Material Biographies Past and Present. Berg, New York.Google Scholar
  39. Meskell, L., 2004b, Divine Things. In Rethinking Materiality: The Engagement of the Mind with the Material World, edited by E. DeMarrais, C. Gosden, & C. Renfrew, pp. 249–259. Oxbow Books, London.Google Scholar
  40. Miller, D., 2005, Materiality. Duke University Press, Durham, NC.Google Scholar
  41. Miller, C. L. and Hamell, G. R., 1986, A New Perspective on Indian-White Contact: Cultural Symbols and Colonial Trade. Journal of American History 73(2): 311–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Morse, D., 1992, The Seventeenth-Century Michigamea Village Location in Arkansas. In Calumet and Fleur-de-lys: Archaeology of Indian and French Contact in the Midcontinent, edited by J. A. Walthall & T. E. Emerson, pp. 55–74. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  43. Nassaney, M. S., 2004, Native American Gender Politics and Material Culture in Seventeenth-Century Southeastern New England. Journal of Social Archaeology 4(3): 334–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Neitzel, R. S., 1965, Archaeology of the Fatherland Site: The Grand Village of the Natchez. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, New York.Google Scholar
  45. Neitzel, R. S., 1983, The Grand Village of the Natchez Revisited: Excavations of the Fatherland Site, Adams County, Mississippi, 1972, Archaeological Report No. 12. Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, MS.Google Scholar
  46. Noël Hume, I., 1970, Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America. Knopf, New York.Google Scholar
  47. Pietak, L. M., 1998, Body Symbolism and Cultural Aesthetics: The Use of Shell Beads and Ornaments by Delaware and Munsee Groups. North American Archaeologist 19(2): 135–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Pinney, C., 2005, Things Happen: Or, from Which Moment Does That Object Come? In Materiality, edited by D. Miller, pp. 182–205. Duke University Press, Durham, NC.Google Scholar
  49. Quimby, G. I., 1966, Indian Culture and European Trade Goods. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.Google Scholar
  50. Sayre, G. M., 1997, Les Sauvages Américans: Representations of Native Americans in French and English Colonial Literature. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC.Google Scholar
  51. Shannon, T., 2005, Queequeg’s Tomahawk: A Cultural Biography, 1750–1900, Ethnohistory 52: 589–633.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Silliman, S. W., 2005, Culture Contact or Colonialism? Challenges in the Archaeology of Native North America. American Antiquity 70(1): 55–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Swanton, J. R., 1911, Indian Tribes of the Lower Mississippi Valley and Adjacent Coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  54. Tait, H., 2004, Five Thousand Years of Glass. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  55. Thomas, N., 1991, Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture and Colonialism in the Pacific. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  56. Turgeon, L., 2001, French Beads in France and Northeastern North America during the Sixteenth Century. Historical Archaeology 35(4): 58–82.Google Scholar
  57. Turgeon, L., 2004, Beads, Bodies and Regimes of Value: From France to North America, c. 1500–c. 1650. In The Archaeology of Contact in Settler Societies, edited by T. Murray, pp. 19–47. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  58. Ulrich, L. T., 2001, The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth. Knopf, New York.Google Scholar
  59. Usner, D. H., 1992, Indians, Settlers and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy: The Lower Mississippi Valley Before 1783. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.Google Scholar
  60. Voss, B. L., 2008, Race, Sexuality, and Identity in Colonial San Francisco: The Archaeology of Ethnogenesis. University of California Press, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  61. Waselkov, G. A., 1992, French Colonial Creek Trade in the Upper Creek Country. In Calumet and Fleur-de-Lys: Archaeology of Indian and French Contact in the Midcontient, edited by J. A. Walthall & T. E. Emerson, pp. 35–53. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  62. Waselkov, G. A., 1997, The Archaeology of French Colonial North America: English-French Edition, Society for Historical Archaeology, Guides to Historical Archaeological Literature 5. Waselkov, G. A., 2004. Exchange and Interaction Since 1500. In Handbook of North American Indians: Volume 14, Southeast, edited by R. D. Fogelson, pp. 686–696. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  63. Wolf, E., 1982, Europe and the People without History. University of California Press, Berkeley.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Peabody Museum of Archaeology and EthnologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations