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The Fabric of Empire in a Native World: An Analysis of Trade Cloth Recovered from Eighteenth-Century Otstonwakin

  • Mary Ann Levine (a1)

Abstract

The residents of Otstonwakin, an eighteenth-century multinational Native American village in Pennsylvania, were involved in extensive trade networks that resulted in the incorporation, modification, and selective adoption of a variety of European-manufactured goods and technologies. Although Native Americans in the fur trade era like those at Otstonwakin negotiated the exchange of a wide array of commodities including alcohol, firearms, iron tools, and brass kettles, the most commonly traded commodity was cloth. Despite its role as a cornerstone commodity, colonial trade cloth has received considerably less scholarly attention than more durable objects largely because very few textiles have survived into the twenty-first century. This article reports on a rare find, a preserved European textile from Otstonwakin's burial ground recovered in the 1930s and hitherto unanalyzed. By analyzing the fabric fragments, sewing thread, and lace with metallic thread, I explore the material and social negotiation of colonial identity on the Pennsylvania frontier.

Los residentes de Otstonwakin, una aldea multinacional de nativos americanos del siglo XVIII en Pensilvania, participaron en intensivas redes comerciales que dieron como resultado la incorporación, modificación y adopción selectiva de una variedad de productos y tecnologías fabricados en Europa. Aunque los nativos americanos en la era del comercio de pieles como los de Otstonwakin negociaron el intercambio de una amplia gama de productos, como alcohol, armas de fuego, herramientas de hierro y calderas de latón, el artículo comercializado con más frecuencia era la tela. A pesar de su rol como producto básico, el tejido comercial colonial ha recibido mucha menos atención académica que los objetos más duraderos, en gran parte debido a que muy pocos textiles han sobrevivido en el siglo XXI. Este artículo informa sobre un hallazgo peculiar, un textil Europeo preservado del cementerio de Otstonwakin recuperado en la década de 1930 y que hasta ahora no ha sido analizado. Mediante el análisis de los fragmentos de tela, el hilo de coser y el encaje con hilo metálico, este artículo explora la negociación material y social de la identidad colonial en la frontera de Pensilvania.

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Corresponding author

(maryann.levine@fandm.edu, corresponding author)

References

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The Fabric of Empire in a Native World: An Analysis of Trade Cloth Recovered from Eighteenth-Century Otstonwakin

  • Mary Ann Levine (a1)

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