“Beholden to Foreign Countries”: Trade and Clothing in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

  • Carolyn L. White


Clothing is a commodity like any other. It is an object that is produced in numerous levels of quality and expense, with associated attributes of style, fashion, and meanings traded and exchanged through local and long-distance networks. Eighteenth-century New Englanders, like people everywhere, communicated ideas about themselves as individuals and as members of various groups through the clothing they wore and the physical appearances they created (White 2005, 2008, n.d.). The objects they used to construct these appearances were imported from England, almost exclusively, through trans-Atlantic trade in the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century. In the pages that follow I explore the close trading practices between New England and England in the eighteenth century in particular, as it was embedded in the trade in clothing and personal adornment suggested by archaeological evidence from Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Two key characteristics of clothing make it difficult to study archaeologically. First, it is simply not something that was thrown away regularly, as garments were remade, reworn, and refitted for primary and secondary wearers, and worn clothing was briskly traded in used clothing markets where people of lesser means could purchase it (Styles 2007). Second, textiles are extremely fragile and degrade quickly in buried contexts, as do other components of personal adornment. Archaeologists, then, are left with two sorts of clothing items that persist in the archaeological record. The first group comprises things that were broken or lost easily, such as buttons, buckles, and fragments of fragile jewelry. The second group consists of remnants of clothing that are preserved in very unusual preservation environments (extremely arid or anaerobic conditions) or are some what stable in the ground, such as metal artifacts in particular.


Eighteenth Century Archaeological Record Late Eighteenth Century American Revolution Mother Country 
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I would like to thank the staff at Strawbery Banke Museum for the opportunity to work with the museum collections. I am grateful for the support provided by a McNeil Dissertation Fellowship at Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library for early work on this research. All errors are, of course, mine.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carolyn L. White
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Nevada-RenoRenoUSA

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