The Scarlet Scarab Banner/Header

Back to Main Page

Full List of Items

Blankets

Books & Publications

Buckles

Colonial Fishing

Food & Drink Accoutrements

Spinning & Weaving

Horn & Bone Accoutrements

Hats, Gloves, & Socks

Knitting Items

Leather Accoutrements

Metal Stuff

Oilcloth & Items

Period Toys & Games

Pirate Items

Sewing Accoutrements

Wooden Wagons & Wheelbarrows

Additional Information

A BRIEF HISTORY of EARLY FRENCH TRADE BLANKETS
& NOTES and INFORMATION on 18TH CENTURY BLANK

European trade goods during the early exploration of the New World was an important factor in the formation of alliances between native peoples and New France. Perhaps one of the most important of these trade objects was the lowly Trade Blanket.

Father Pierre Briard relates in the work Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents that in 1611 the Arcadian Indians "often wear our capotes, and in the winter our bed blankets which they improve with trimming and wear double". Also around this time Mother Marie de L'Incarnation recorded that she saw Indians wearing coats made from trade blankets {it should be noted that not all capotes were made in North America, nor were they all made from trade blankets}. While having established that blankets and blanket capotes were indeed used during the early years of the Age of Exploration; we should take the time to examine the quality of the material used and the colors which were prevalent.

During the early years we find that Indians used white, red and blue blankets. "In 1663, ten Normandy "white" blankets are listed among the goods belonging to the trader Jacques Testad dit Loforet. The term "Normandy" refers to the location of textile manufacture. In 1693, during a council held in Montreal involving the French authorities and twelve foreign Indians tribes "no less than 83 white blankets were given as presents." Another important aspect of these blankets were that some bore embellishments such as red or blue stripes at their borders, embroidery, and lace. In fact we see that when the trader Jean Mailhot died in 1687 an inventory of his "la morte" possessions included "seven blankets made of capote cloth trimmed with nonpareille lace". (a very narrow strip of ribbon which was made of false gold, silver or silk) Drawings by Jesuit Missionaries recorded that this trimming in many instances was done in a zig zag pattern and consisted of two pieces of lace.

The actual sizes of trade blankets also differed. During the 1690's the French introduced the "point system". The term "point" then referred to a unit of measurement. In fact the French verb " ‘empointer’ was used to describe that action of making stitches with a thread on a piece of cloth". The historical norms of these blankets ranged from 1 to 5 points, 5 being the largest and 1 being the smallest known as "cradle blankets". {It must be noted that blankets bearing up to 12 points can be found during this same time period HOWEVER these blankets were intended to be used as bedding for the Canadians and not trade items.}

"An analysis of 649 blankets sold to Indians at Fort Niagara between 1719 and 1722 gives an idea of the most popular sizes used in the fur trade; of this number, 64% were 2 point, 22% were cradle blankets, 10% were of 3 points and 2% were 4 points". One surviving example is reported to be a "two point blanket measuring 59x48 inches and weighs 3 lbs. 7oz."

During the early and middle years of the 17th Century attempts to regulate the growing trade of blankets were enforced. Pierre Boucher, then governor of Troi-Rivieres decreed that one blanket was worth at least five or six beaver pelts. Also the governor of New France Alexandre de Prouville de Tracy enacted a regulation that a white "Normandy" blanket could be traded for no less than six beaver pelts and what was known as an "Iroquois blanket" {coverte a L'iroquoise, a rateen blanket made from a lesser grade of material} could be had that the price of three beaver pelts.

The following is as example of some trade items and their worth in both Montreal and Albany in the year 1689:

Item Albany Montreal

8 lbs of gun powder 1 beaver 4 beavers

1 gun 2 beavers 5 beavers

40 lbs of lead 1 beaver 3 beavers

1 blanket of red cloth 1 beaver 2 beavers

1 white blanket 1 beaver 2 beavers

4 shirts 1 beaver 2 beavers

6 pairs of stockings 1 beaver 2 beavers

As trade relations grew competitiveness between the French and English colonies began to intensify. In an attempt to sway the fur trade away from French traders it was made known that in Boston, Massachusetts Colony, Indians could get a white or red blanket for one beaver pelt while in Montreal it would cost much more. Almost 30 years after the enactment of these price regulations Native Americans could still go to New England and get a blanket for one beaver while up in Montreal the price was then a heavy payment of six pelts. In order to subvert this shift in the colonial trade wars "voyageurs loaded with French goods (were sent) directly to the Indian Villages, and thanks to the Kings stores, each tribe yearly received a generous supply of presents". Although this did somewhat stem the tide the great difference in price did encourage a healthy black market trade with the English.

The growing concern with quality sparked the French government to attempt to procure a product as good as their English competitors. At the turn or the century (1701) the government of New France sent a letter to Versailles stating that among the traders there was not a trace of the "certain kind of red or blue cloth whose breath is 1 ell 1/4" (5 feet.) and is called escarlatine" {Common trade blankets at the time were 1 ell and half or 6 feet long}. The Indians also tended to prize blue colored blankets possessing white stripes, and red colored blankets with a darker selvage edge. Examples of English blankets were found and sent back to France for examination. These "escarlatine" blankets were divided into the following styles:

Red or blue with black selvedges, red with a white stripe the length of a finger close to the selvedge, red or blue with two white stripes the length of a finger; one close to the selvedge but separated by the length of two fingers.

By 1715, 200 examples of French made cloth were sent to New France with less than desirable results. The Native Americans liked the cloth and while it was much higher in quality it proved far too expensive for French general trading purposes. Other examples later sent proved not to be as strong or woven as tightly as the English products. The intendant of New France, Michel Begon commented that the "Indians are as much refined to judge cloth as the most skillful merchant, they manage to burn hair of a sample with the purpose of examining the quality of its woven structure".

By the 1720's governmental permission was granted to buy English made blankets for trade with the Native tribes. This move was purely political in nature and gave the French manufacturers time to improve on their products. Unfortunately while some French regional manufacturers did produce upwards of 100,000 blankets yearly destined for the Indian trade a lack of financial support hampered efforts.

By the later 1740’s records show a diverse collection of trade blankets. While the naturalist Petr Kalm described Indians wearing white and red blankets, "the white blankets having one or many blue or red stripes".Also found were green blankets bearing 7 to 8 stripes {manufactured in Montpellier}, blue and red blankets with white stripes {manufactured in Limbourg}, along with blankets with red and yellow stripes...made of dogs hair {manufactured in Bordeaux}.

Here in the later part of the 20th Century with our forced air furnaces, heated water beds, and insulated homes we can only vaguely imagine the importance of a wool blanket on a chilly winters evening. Indeed trade blankets were an important commodity for both the Native and European alike.

******************

Return to Top
of Page

The primary sources are the "Duffin and Taylor Accounts at Fort Niagara, in 1779". Then "The Journals of the Provincial Congress of the Providence of New York 1775 - 1777, Vol.s I & II". I will then utilize secondary information found in the book "The American Revolution in Indian Country".

Before starting with Duffin and Taylor Accounts, who and what Duffin and Taylor were. Duffin and Taylor were one of the two major firms {sutlers} that were at Fort Niagara at the beginning of the Revolution. The other firm was of Edward Pollard, who had been post sutler for fifteen years.

The Duffin and Taylor account book is a great source book because it not only gives an account of what was available, but also it in many cases, gives a description of the item.

Although the year of the account book is 1779, it must be understood that the items contained therein are germane to the entire "Ohio" frontier before and after that year. The important thing is that from the information, one can establish the size and value of blankets. One thing that is obvious is that the point system appears to have been utilized in almost all cases for blanket sizing. But sadly there is no mention of colors of blankets.

From the information below, there was a variety of point sizes to choose from. Therefore, should you want to purchase a blanket, and your persona is within the time frame of 1779 [+ -}, purchasing a point blanket would be a good start.

Blankets # on hand

1) <1 point blankets> (50 on hand) 4/4

2) <1 1/2 "" "" (30 on hand) ?

3) <2 " " (69 on hand) 7/2

4) <2 " " (10 on hand) 7/2

5) <2 " " (40 on hand) 7/2

6) <2 " " ( 9 on hand) ?

7) <2 1/2 " " fine (6 on hand) 12/6

8) <2 1/2 " " (400 on hand) 11/1

9) <2 1/2 "" "" (22 on hand) 30/-

10) <3 " " (25 on hand) 10/6

11) <3 " " fair (50 on hand) 0/3

12) <3 " " ? ?

13) <3 " " (14 on hand) ?

14) <4 " " ( 3 on hand ) 24/ -

15 <Rose> (4 on hand) ?

16 <Buffalo> (1 on hand) 4/-

TOTAL BLANKETS ON HAND = 733

As to the colors of blankets at Fort Niagara, I have only found one reference to a specific color and that color was scarlet. It appears that Chiefs and principle warriors were distinguished with gifts of three point or scarlet blankets. There also appears to have been about 7,365 male, females and children natives at or around Fort Niagara from November 1778 to March, 1779. One astounding point of information is that each Indian was normally issued a blanket.

From the Journal of the Provincial Congress of the Providence of New York 1775- 1777, Vols. I & II, the following information is found.

I found was that the size of a blanket for soldiers of New York in 1775 was to be approximately Four Points. This information is based upon letters from Mr. Peter T. Curtenius, the purchasing agent for the Province of N.Y.

On June 17th, 1775 Mr Curtenius wrote to the Provincial Congress of N.Y. that he had a hard time finding the right sort and size blankets for the N.Y. troops. Then he went on to state that he sent blankets to a Capt. Wendell and they were Two Point blankets, but Mr. Curtenius also states that two blankets " sewd together will make one good blanket."

Now based upon the aforementioned information that has been obtained so far, it appears that Four Point blankets were supposed to have been issued to the Provincial troops of N.Y. in 1775. But now we must ask, were they available and where were they to be obtained from??????

The Provincial Congress on June 28th, 1775 wrote to a Mr. John Alsop of Philadelphia, informing him that New York was raising 3000 men for its Army quota. The problem was that N.Y, was short 2852 blankets and couldn’t obtain any in that region. the provincial Congress of the colony then made a request to John Alsop to obtain as many blankets as he could.

On August 10th, 1775 Peter T. Curtenius in a letter to New York’s Provincial Congress stated: "My clerk is returned from Philadelphia, and informs me that he can get from Thomas & Issac Warton, blankets, match coats 7 etc. to the amount of 1135 pounds, 10 shillings, 3 pence, Pennsylvania currency upon condition that I take the whole of this store"

A letter from New York’s Congress dated August 14th, 1775 stating that "All our troops are furnished with blankets...".

So based upon the letters to and from the Provincial Congress of New York we have probable cause to believe that all N.Y. troops received blankets, and the intent of the colony’s Congress was that each soldier was to have a blanket equivalent to a Four Point blanket.

Therefore if your persona is a soldier in or from New York in 1775 it would be documented that your blanket should be a "four pointer".

Here is a little side note just to show you that no matter how things change, in reality they stay the same. Mr. Curtenius wrote to the Provincial Congress of New York that he "purchased of Robinson & Price last week 45 blankets for Capt. Ledyards Company at a rate of 19 shillings, 6 pence per blanket, that from the size and quality he supposes they cost 3 pounds, 10 shillings sterling per ps." Now here’s the clincher, and again this is Mr. Curtenius stating, "That within a fortnight, {Curtenius} supplied blankets of a better quality to the poorhouse at 12 shillings per blanket...".

Even in the 18th Century soldiers got screwed!

Now for another tidbit of info pertaining to blankets and bedding. On February 19th, 1776, at the lower barracks in N.Y. {Manhattan} the Provincial Congess ordered an inventory of military equipment, etc. thesis the part of the inventory pertaining to blankets and bedding:

6736 Osnaburg sheets (new)

300 "" "" (old)

140 white sheets (new)

20 "" "" (old)

92 check sheets (new)

370 pillow cases osnaburg (new)

120 Bolster cases (new)

160 old moth eaten blankets most of them fit for nothing but making cartridges for field pieces.

**********************************

Return to Top
of Page

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Jesuit Relations And Allied Documents- Information courtesy of the Sainte Marie Among The Iroquois Living History Museum. Liverpool, NY

Jim Downey, "NOTES AND INFORMATION ON 18TH CENTURY BLANKETS," WarPost.htm, http://www.i-is.com/St.ClairFlats/wpblankets

A New World, an Epic of Colonial America from the Founding of Jamestown to the Fall of Quebec, Arthur Quinn, Berkley Books, NY, 1995

La Marine, The French Colonial Soldier, Andrew Gallup and Donald Shaffer, Heritage Books, Inc., 1992

Indian Affairs In Colonial New York, The Seventh Century, Allen W. Trelease, Cornell Press, 1960

Tim Shaw, "A BRIEF HISTORY OF EARLY FRENCH TRADE BLANKETS," WarPost.htm, http://www.i-is.com/St.ClairFlats/wpFblanket