Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Textiles in Trade: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America Biennial Symposium , September 14–16, 1990, Washington, DC


Copyright © 1990 by the author(s).


The original inhabitants of the United States were hunters and farmers, who used the produce of the hunt and of their gardens for food, clothing and shelter, for ritual purposes and pleasure. While some textiles were produced by Indians before the arrival of Europeans, the colorful yardgoods, blankets, kerchiefs, ribbons, and tapes introduced by the Europeans quickly became popular items of trade.

As early as 1685 wool fabrics such as matchcoat (a cloak material), stroudwaters, blankets, and stocking were listed among goods traded by William Perm's agents for lands west of the Delaware River. Two years earlier in a similar transaction, coats, shirts, and duffel yardage were also listed.1 Calico--printed cotton--was used for 18th-century garments, judging by a documented woman's shirt in the Museum of the American Indian. Portraits of important chiefs and invoices of goods ordered for the Indian trade also attest to calico's popularity during the 19th century, as well.

Pictorial and written evidence of trade in the plaid, striped, and solid-colored cottons, that are the subject of this paper, is much more difficult to find. While mentioned occasionally on 19th-century traders' invoices and in official papers of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, these less colorful utilitarian fabrics are not as obvious among extant artifacts or in the iconography of the time. These facts, affirming the rarity of such material, gave us cause to celebrate when a little leatherbound book containing 50 samples of Indian trade goods arrived in the Division of Textiles last year.

The goals of this research have been to learn as much as possible about the origin of the book and its samples, and to discover how such fabrics might have been acquired and used by Indians living within trading distance of Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, where the materials were assembled. To date not all these goals have been met; this report should be considered work in progress.