Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, (2004).


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


In the spring of 1803, Meriwether Lewis traveled to Philadelphia to prepare for his journey west. During a busy month there, he gathered thirty-five hundred pounds of supplies. His shopping list included “Indian Presents”: beads, tomahawks, fishing hooks, combs, and “30 calico shirts.”

Israel Whelan, Purveyor of Public Supplies, purchased from twenty-eight Philadelphia merchants many of the needed items, including the calico shirts. Where did he get them, were they ready-made and what did they look like?

The North American marketplace of 1803 offered a wide variety of fabrics. Canoe manifests from the customs house at Michilimackinac in 1802 listed “Indian calicoes”, “painted cottons” and “striped cotton made into shirts.” These items were for trading posts at Duluth and westward. The Choteau ledgers from St. Louis at that same time mention sale of “indienne” and “caillaico” yardage as well as “shirts of indienne.” The United States Factory System (1796-1882) requested plain and printed shirts as trade items. Philadelphia newspapers advertised auctions of local merchandise and goods arriving from Europe and Asia. Textiles available in the city that Spring included “dark and light Indian calicoes”, “cases of chintz” and “Germantown prints.”

In 1904, the quartermaster at Schuylkill Arsenal found six previously unknown Lewis and Clark documents. One was a list of “Supplies from Private Vendors.” Included in this list were payments for “calico” and “mak (in)g. shirts.” Lewis and Clark traded made in America shirts on their epic journey West.