Excerpts From Who Was I?:

For most research, go to primary documents for information on what was done and by whom, what was worn, used, or eaten, and when it was available--and in common use. Journals, diaries, advertisements for runaways, inventories, etc. are wonderful sources, as are period engravings or sketches. (Later illustrations may have been romanticized or simply the result of lazy research--they can be good sources if you're familiar with the basics.) Here are a few examples taken from a variety of sources which demonstrate the types of information that can be gleaned. Some are from "my" territory, which covered a huge area and a long period of time, and others are from Canada and the east. Don't overlook unexpected sources; in the writings of another culture we may find tidbits to tell us about our own. Here, the French Baron de Carondelet, Governor of Louisiana, writes of the menace of American expansion into French territory:

Louisiana Territory, 1793: "This vast and restless population, driving the Indian tribes continually before them and upon us, is endeavoring to gain all the vast continent . . . The wandering spirit, and the ease with which these people procure their support and shelter, form new settlements readily. A carbine and a little cornmeal in a sack is sufficient for an American to range the forests alone for a month. With this carbine he kills wild cattle and deer for food, and protects himself from the savages. Having dampened the cornmeal, it serves in lieu of bread. He erects a house by laying some tree trunks across others in the form of a square; and even a fort impregnable to the savages, by building on a story crosswise above the ground floor. The cold does not fright him, and when a family grows tired of one place, it moves to another . . . " (Houck, Louis A., ed.; The Spanish Regime in Missouri, Vol. II Chicago: R.R. Donnelly and Sons Co., 1909; 12, 13). From this we can pick a variety of facts: That the Americans were very self-sufficient; that they had continued moving Westward aggressively; that cornmeal was considered a necessity; that log homes were being build and fortified; and that women and children were part of the picture, among other things.

Inventories are invaluable sources for information on material culture--what people had and used. The discoveries are sometimes more than a little enlightening. One inventory from the estate of the deceased Jacques Bourdon in Kaskaskia in July of 1723 included:

1 old hunting horn

1 bullet mold

14 guns and one musket

200 gun flints

9 dozen and 8 knives a Chien de Corne, 10 Flemish knives, 2 woodcutter's knives

40 pounds of lead balls

1 pair of pocket pistols

2 barrels of powder weighing 100 pounds each

Among other more domestic items were a cot, a peppermill, and "2 miserable scythes." This man was well prepared. Another inventory from this same source, this time of a woman, Marie Catherine Baron, who died in July of 1748, also included a cot, along with a hunting knife, a silver pistol, and her own bullet mold among her more expected household belongings. (Belting, Natalia; Kaskaskia Under the French Regime, Urbana; University of Illinois Press, 1948; 43-46).

Journals are often good sources. It's necessary to take attitude into consideration, since the more educated travelers may have been shocked by what they saw. However, because the backwoods or Colonial inhabitants were often unusual to them, they noted what they saw in some detail. We are the beneficiaries.

East Coast, mid 1700s: ". . . The people spin and weave a great part of their everyday apparel and dye it in their houses. Flax is cultivated by many people and succeeds very well, but hemp is not used here" (Kalm, Peter; Peter Kalm's Travels in North America; the English Version of 1770; Dover Publications, NY 1987; 185). He may have meant on the east coast/Pennsylvania, NY, etc., since hemp was apparently woven elsewhere.

Virginia, Pennsylvania, 1763-1783: The Rev. Joseph Doddridge on clothing: "The hunting shirt was universally worn. This was a kind of loose frock, reaching halfway down the thighs, with large sleeves, open before, and so wide as to lap over a foot or more when belted. The cap[e] was large, and sometimes handsomely fringed with a ravelled piece of cloth of a different color from that of the hunting shirt itself. The bosom . . . served as a wallet to hold a hunk of bread, cakes, jerk, tow for wiping the barrel of the rifle, or any other necessary . . . The belt, which was always tied behind, answered several purposes, besides that of holding the dress together. In cold weather the mittens, and sometimes the bullet-bag, occupied the front part of it. To the right side was suspended the tomahawk, and to the left the scalping knife in its leathern sheath. The hunting shirt was generally made of linsey, sometimes of coarse linen, and a few of dressed deer skins . . . The shirt and jacket were of the common fashion. A pair of drawers or breeches and leggins were the dress of the thigh and legs; a pair of moccasins answered for the feet much better than shoes. These were made of dressed deer skin. They were mostly made of a single piece with a gathering seam along the top of the foot, and another from the bottom of the heel, without gathers as high as the ankle joint or a little higher. Flaps were left on each side to reach some distance up the leg. They were nicely adapted to the ankles and lower part of the leg by thongs of deer skin so that no dust, gravel or snow could get within the moccasin. . . "

Doddridge also describes the common dress of women, the "linsey petticoat and bed gown . . . which were the universal dress of our women . . . they went barefooted in warm weather, and in cold their feet were covered with moccasins, coarse shoes or shoepacks."

"In the later years of the Indian war our young men became more enamored of the Indian dress throughout, with the exception of the matchcoat. The drawers were laid aside and leggins made longer, so as to reach the upper part of the thigh. The Indian breech clout was adopted. This was a piece of linen or cloth nearly a yard long, and eight or nine inches broad. This passed under the belt before and behind leaving the ends for flaps hanging before and behind over the belt ... strings which supported the long leggins were attached. When this belt, as was often the case, passed over the hunting shirt the upper part of the thighs and part of the hips were naked.

"The young warrior instead of being abashed by this nudity was proud of his Indian like dress. In some instances I have seen them go into places of public worship in this dress. Their appearance however, did not add much to the devotion of the young ladies" (Doddridge, Joseph; The Settlement and Indian Wars of the Western Parts of Virginia and Pennsylvania, 1763-1783; Heritage Books Inc., Bowie, Maryland, 1988; 91-93). Talk about understatement!

Louisiana Territory, 1797: Lest you imagine this is a strictly eastern phenomenon, rest assured that Nicolas de Finiels, the French engineer assigned to the Louisiana Territory from 1797 through 1803 mentions the same fashion. "They were compelled to adopt many Indian customs and clothing styles: the breechclout took the place of culottes; leggings replaced stockings; doeskin moccasins succeeded European shoes; a loose-fitting tunic covered the rest of the body; a blue kerchief wrapped about the head completed the costume. When cold weather renders this dress inadequate, a cloak of bergopzoom or rough blue fabric, fitted with a hood, protects the body. Some persons don fur hats that cover the necks and ears, and a pair of fur mittens attached by a long string that passes over the shoulders like a stole; the mittens hang down on either side in case your hands need protection, but when not required they are out of the way without any danger of being . . . lost. [Author's note: This is the same arrangement of mittens required of Rogers' Rangers as a lifesaving measure.] With this simple outfit you can move easily through the woods, tracking deer, wildcats, and wild turkeys . . ." (de Finiels, Nicolas; An Account of Upper Louisiana, eds. Carl J. Ekberg and William E. Foley, trans. Carl J. Ekberg; Columbia; University of Missouri Press, 1989; 112).



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