Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 2013


Great Plains Quarterly 33:4 (Fall 2013).


Copyright © 2013 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska.


In the seventeenth century, when Europeans first arrived in what are now the New England and mid-Atlantic states, they encountered a wide array of indigenous tribes already calling the land home. The new setrlers soon realized the importance of shell beads called wampum. Manufactured primarily along Long Island Sound, these beads, shaped from marine shells, could be made into belts or grouped as strings.1 Though whites failed to grasp the nuances of wampum culture, leading to the generalization of wampum as "Indian money," they nevertheless recognized its significance in Native American trade and diplomacy. Eventually, wampum came to be used among whites as well, serving as a common monetary unit for Dutch and English colonists.2