Monday, December 9, 2013

Brass Trade Kettles in Illinois

An entry from the Kaskaskia Manuscripts included in Kaskaskia Under the French Regime by Natalia Maree Belting, pages 45-46 (emphasis my own):
Mary Catherine Baron, when she died in July, 1748, owned:

14 napkins
4 linen tablecloths, one of diaper linen and two of Beaufort linen
3 window curtains of brown linen
2 chests and 1 valise well bound and closed with a lock
2 caskets closed with locks and covered with red copper
3 calico window curtains
1 bed furnished with a straw mattress, a pillow, a bolster, a calico counterpane, a feather bed, a green wool blanket
1 cot
1 large framed mirror
1 hunting knife, 1 silver pistol
1 small cupboard with 6 wine bottles
1 old chest closed with a lock
2 silver goblets
2 crystal goblets
1 bullet mold
1 armchair
1 square table with drawers
20 plates, 1 large dish, 1 small dish, 1 pot
14 iron forks, . . (?) . . dozen iron forks and dinner knives
6 crockery plates
1 small copper cauldron
1 old pie dish, 1 small cauldron
1 medium sized frying pan, 1 grill, 1 fork to draw food from the pot
2 medium-sized pans
2 pails hooped with iron
1 small cauldron
1 pothook with iron chain
1 old wardrobe
6 plates and 1 dish, 6 spoons, 1 small bowl, 1 covered bowl weighing about 11 pounds, 6 forks
1 frying pan
2 medium-sized pans and 1 small pan
1 silver goblet
1 small pan of yellow copper, 1 pail
8 napkins, 1 tablecloth of Beaufort linen
2 caskets covered with red copper
1 small framed mirror
1 cauldron holding about 40 pots

There are several items of interest to me in Mary Catherine Baron's estate inventory from the Kaskaskia Manuscript.  For this post, I am looking at the "pails".  

The urging of friend prompted me to get another blog entry on the web.  There are many hand-made projects in the works, but I admittedly have been enjoying my family instead of working toward finishing those projects.  The next best thing to working on my own projects is to show what modern craftspeople are offering to living historians and compare their wares to research from the circa 1750 Kaskaskia area.  

Section 1: Brass Trade Kettles at Kaskaskia

The first item of interest on the list are the "pails":

2 pails hooped with iron
1 pail

The manner in which these "pails" are listed by the notary suggest they were metal goods, since they are surrounded by other metal cooking vessels and the last pail entry is preceded by "1 small pan of yellow copper" or brass.  

This is a perfect example of where the original French would be handy to see if the translation of "pail" is what we currently refer to as a brass trade kettle.  The "2 pails hooped in iron" could refer to a wooden-staved bucket, but again, due to being surrounded by other metal cooking vessels in the list, I believe this is a brass trade kettle.  Some brass kettles of the period had an iron band at the opening, to which the bail was attached.  It is also possible the iron hoop refers to the ring of iron that supports the rolled brass lip at the opening of the kettle.  

An iron-banded brass trade kettle was found in a French context south of Peoria, Illinois.  According to the Sangamon Archaeology website, kettles such as this were fairly common as early as the 17th century.  The dovetail construction technique on this example suggests a late 18th century manufacture date.  

Source:  Sangamon Archaeology

Peoria Trade Kettle - Late 18th Century Manufacture

Perhaps the Kaskaskia examples listed were similar to the Peoria example?  

Better evidence is to look at known examples found in the Kaskaskia area:  

Trade Kettle Fragments - Guebert Site, Kaskaskia Village

The above image of kettle fragments is from Guebert Site: An 18th Century Historic Kaskaskia Indian Village by Mary Elizabeth Good, page 167.  Good also includes the following list of kettle fragments on page 166 of the text:

Copper kettle bail ears: 2
Brass kettle bail ears: 3
Iron kettle bowl fragments: 12
Iron kettle handles: 2 (one attached, one unattached)
Copper kettle bowl fragments: 37
Large copper rivets, unattached: 3
Brass kettle bowl fragments: 49
Large brass rivets, unattached: 2

The author suggests that the fragments found at the Kaskaskia village site are common to a period of 1670-1760, which puts this style well into a 1750s Kaskaskia, Illinois context for my reenacting purposes.  In fact, it really doesn't get much better than this when it comes to evidence!  

It is of interest to note the construction techniques that make these kettle fragments fall into that particular period.  The kettle ears are made of two rectangles of either brass or copper sheet, having the lower two corners cut at 45-degree angles and the upper two corners are folded toward the outside of the kettle, making a "dog-eared" appearance.  The cutting and folding of corners prevented sharp corners as well as added reinforcement for the iron bail at the top of the ear.    The ears generally appear to be attached to the kettle by two rivets, made of either brass or copper.  The bails are made of iron.  

Adding a little culture to this post, it is appropriate to look at a painting by French artist, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin:

"Pestle and Mortar, Bowl, Two Onions, Copper Pot and Kettle" by Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, 1734-1735

Now Chardin may not have been too creative when naming his paintings (after all, he forgot the knife...), but he did add enough detail to help me toward my goal.  Chardin's kettle clearly shows the basic shape of a brass kettle, the ears, rivets (in copper or brass) and even the shape of the iron bail.  Since this was painted in 1734 or 1735, it also falls within the realm of possible evidence for my purpose.  

For a self-taught, layman history researcher such as myself the evidence for what type of kettle to include in my kit has been abundantly clear and pretty easy to obtain.  Finally, something fairly easy!

Here is what I have included in my kit:  

  • Kettle by Peter Goebel of Goose Bay Workshops that holds approximately 1.5 gallons, made of unlined brass
  • Kettle by Jim Kimpell of Highhorse Trading that holds approximately 2 quarts, made of tin-lined brass 

Kettle by Peter Goebel of Goose Bay Workshops (left) and Jim Kimpell of Highhorse Trading (right)

Goose Bay Workshops - Note ear detail and copper rivets

Detail of  of my beloved Highhorse Trading kettle
They nest so nicely! 

 The Goose Bay kettle was purchased second-hand, although it is unused.  It is of very high-quality and if you would like to look at this or their other wares, visit:

My smaller kettle is offered by Jim Kimpell at Highhorse Trading Company.   EDIT AFTER ORIGINAL POSTING: If you were to choose a kettle from Highhorse Trading Company, I recommend that you buy Mr. Kimpell's products in person, when his stock is available and DO NOT send money or pre-order.  I am currently very disappointed in the service from Mr. Kimpell on an order that has been unfilled since October of 2013.  

It is nice when a plan comes together!  Here is my evidence:

  • Primary documentation in the form of an estate inventory from almost the exact year of my goal
  • Archaeological evidence of artifacts from the exact location and timespan that fits with my goal
  • Culturally appropriate artwork from the time period that supports the evidence

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Tools of the Habitant

An absolute gem of a resource to the French 18th century living historian is Denis Diderot's Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (Encyclopedia or Explanatory Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts and Crafts).  

Diderot's work is a massive collection of engravings showing various 18th century professions with details that include the tools and processes of the trade.  An online collection of these drawings can be found here:  

Applying Diderot's work to a French habitant context, I want to show the plates entailing the agricultural arts.  The fertile area around Kaskaskia was known as the "American Bottoms" and was the major grain producing region in French Louisiana.  Therefore, it is likely a safe assumption that many of the tools and methods depicted in Diderot's work would have been used in the Illinois Country. 

I hope to soon begin making some of the simpler hand tools that would have been common to the habitant.  In particular, the hoe, shovel, rake, pitchfork and threshing flail would be common tools that would be a nice addition to a historic agriculture display or any one of these would work well as a strolling companion at an event.  Several of these tools can be viewed in the plates below:   



Plowing and Harvest of Hay

The Dairy

Threshers in the Barn 

The Vegetable Garden 

In my research I encountered mention of a windmill owned by the Jesuit priests near the village of St. Philippe.  Just for fun, I included Diderot's engravings of a windmill.  I speculate that our St. Philippe mill would have been similar in both mechanics and appearance.   

The Windmill

As an afterthought, I began looking at some of the details of the farmers in these illustrations.  It seems that in France, the typical farmer depicted in Diderot's artwork wore a chapeau, chemise without a veste but possibly a gilet, culottes, bas, and souliers or sabots.  (Brimmed hat, shirt without waistcoat but possibly a short vest, breeches, stockings and leather shoes or wooden shoes.)

Descriptions have been found of farmers in the Illinois Country wearing nothing but their chemise to work the fields, so it may be the case that the Illinois habitant was completely unique in his field dress.  After all, the climate in this region is extremely hot and humid in the summer growing months.  Here are the details from Diderot's engravings:  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Buffalo Robe Beds

On a tour last summer of the Louis Bolduc House in Colonial Ste. Genevieve, I noticed a child's bed with a buffalo robe sitting atop a simple mattress.  Here is an old photograph of the family bedroom, however the bed that caught my attention would be located nearly where the photographer is standing and is out of the picture:

Louis Bolduc House Bed Chamber ca. 1792-1793

Although the Bolduc House is a bit later than my area of interest as a 1750's French habitant from the Village of Kaskaskia, it did get me to think about French Colonial bedding and the commonality of buffalo robes being used in a habitant's home.

So the questions for today are:

Would a 1750's Kaskaskia habitant have used a buffalo robe for bedding? 

If so, should I use a buffalo robe for my living history impression? 

Of course the easiest (and my favorite) method of determining the plausibility of this is to consult the notarial records, specifically the house inventories of deceased individuals.

While going through some of the inventories found in Belting's book, Kaskaskia Under the French Regime, I noticed an interesting pattern in the choice of bedding for the Illinois habitant (pg. 45):

An inventory of September 1725:

1 bed with 1 feather bead with 2 buffalo robes
2 pairs of bed curtains containing altogether 10 ells
1 pair of bed curtains of brown stuff, 10 ells

In a separate list of household goods (pg. 46):

Francois Bastien, a habitant of Prairie du Rocher, left these household goods, according to the inventory made June 10, 1763:

3 buffalo robes, 3 pillows, 1 cot
1 bed, 1 robe, 1 coarse wool blanket, 1 pillow

Even as early as 1704 in Kaskaskia, hides appear in the estate of Jacques Bourdon (pg. 66):

4,443 pounds of beavers
84 deerskins
12 doeskins
6 buffalo hides
10 otter skins
54 pounds of tallow

A quick look at three inventories from a huge timespan of 1704 to 1763 shows that buffalo hides were available.  Even better, the 1725 and 1763 inventories list "buffalo robes" with other bedding items such as pillows, beds, blankets and cots.  Things are looking good at this point...

Mary Elizabeth Good shares a report entailing the trading procedures among the French and Indians in Guebert Site: An 18th Century Historic Kaskaskia Indian Village (pg. 34):

1723, Diron d’Artaguiette, Inspector-General for the Company (of the West), came to the area on an inspection tour:

The trade of the inhabitants of the Ilinnois, who are Canadians, French or discharged soldiers, consists in selling their wheat and other products to the company for the subsistence of the troops, in exchange for merchandize (which they are obliged to fetch from New Orleans) which they trade to the Indians for quarters of buffalo, bear oil and other meats, which serve them for food or which they sell in exchange for merchandize.  They also trade in skins, such as beaver, buck and deer, buffalo and bear skins, and other peltries, which they get very cheap from the Indians, and which they sell at a very high price to the traders who come down from Canada every spring and autumn, and who give them merchandize in exchange.  For it is not necessary for them to rely upon having their needs supplied from New Orleans, whence very few convoys come, and even when they do come they bring so few merchandizes that they are not nearly sufficient to pay a part of the debts which the company is obliged to incur every year. 

To me, it looks like d'Artaguiette is suggesting that the buffalo pelts are pretty cheap and plentiful, therefore I believe it stands to reason it would be a common thing to use for a bedspread.  The buffalo robe's modern equivalent is the "Bed in a Bag" or the micro-fleece throw that just about everyone has thrown across the back of the couch.  Both are available at your local Wal-mart or Target.  However, buffalo robes are not! 

Just this little bit of research scratched the surface of something much deeper and eye-opening for me.  We have all been taught the "Buffalo were very important to Native Americans.  They used their stomachs for kettles and boiled buffalo soup by throwing in hot rocks."  Yes, this is true, but what struck me was how the "sauvage" (French for wild/untamed i/e the Indian and from silva, which is Latin for from the forest) became so quickly "Frenchified" once European contact in the area commenced.  I wouldn't say this is an evolution in culture, this is a quick mutation of culture over just a generation or two.  It has opened up an interest in the native side of reenacting for me and I hope to make acquaintances with some good native historians to share ideas and so that I may learn more.  The good part is that this is helpful with my habitant impression because the two cultures are so intertwined and interdependent that I should have a better knowledge of the sauvage.

… The Ilinnois are in general the handsomest and the best built savages that I have seen.  Proud and arrogant at home, they are the most cowardly of men when they are out of sight of their own village.  They live on maize and their hunt, which consists of buffalo, deer, roe, wild turkeys and other game, which is in abundance.  They clothe themselves and also their women with buffalo skins, which they dress on the flesh side and leave the hair which is long and fine, but after a while when the French came among them, they began to learn the French way of dressing.  (Good, pg. 34)

This side-tracking of research showed that the natives where adept at weaving clothing from the spun hair of the buffalo and early French businessmen thought there might be a market in France for clothing made from buffalo wool.  The buffalo was to be the French "golden goose", but the difficulty involved in processing the wool and factors in shipping did not make it a cost-effective venture.  It looks as though the buffalo was a cheap source of meat, leather and fur for those already in the Americas.  

Now to answer the earlier question:  

Given the following:
  • A prevalence of buffalo hunting by both the native people and the French
  • The existence of trade records of buffalo hides being and shipped throughout New France  
  • The widely recorded use of buffalo robes by the native people, including the Kaskaskia people 
  • Most notably, the household inventories of French settlers that encompass my target date of 1750 
The use of a buffalo robe in my living history impression would be a pretty safe item to use.  

So I set out to find a buffalo robe for my camp.  At the time, there was a baby on the way and my budget was (and still is...) on the low side of buffalo robes.  I really figured the robe I could afford would end up looking like a picture of those scary hairless cats that gets posted around the internet.  Off to Ebay I went with my little bid...

A beautiful, large, thick robe was listed and just for the heck of it, I put in my bid.  Of course it wasn't even close to the reserve price, but I tried.  A few days later, the seller contacted me.  She had noticed that my username on Ebay had a "history reenactor" feel about it and wondered if I was into reenacting.  I showed her this blog and explained what I was planning with the buffalo robe.  In return, she shared memories of her late brother's love of reenacting.  He had purchased two buffalo hides to use in his western fur trade camp.  Unfortunately, he passed away too soon to fully enjoy the hides and she wanted to offer them to a fellow reenactor.  We made an agreement that I would use the hides and keep them in a living history camp as they were originally intended.  I'm honored to own them and made a wonderful friend out of the deal!  

Once I get a good photo of my robes, I will remove this stock photo. 

Duke is checking out the new robe in the living room

The robes made their first trip to Fort de Chartres during the November encampment.  I don't know the overnight low temperature, but there was a fair amount of ice in my trade kettle, which I had full of water the previous night.  With one robe above me and another robe under me on my bed of straw, I have never been so warm when camping in below-freezing temperatures.  Not even when using modern sleeping bags.  I now understand how Le Page du Pratz felt:

My companions soon raised a cabin, well-secured to the North. As we resolved to continue there for eight days at least, they made it so close as to keep out the cold: in the night, I felt nothing of the severity of the North wind, though I lay but lightly covered. My bed consisted of a bear's skin, and two robes or coats of buffalo; the bear skin, with the flesh side undermost, being laid on leaves, and the pile uppermost by way of straw-bed; one of the buffalo coats folded double by way of feather-bed; one half of the other under me served for a matrass, and the other over me for a coverlet: three canes, or boughs, bent to a semicircle, one at the head, another in the middle, and a third at the feet, supported a cloth which formed my tester and curtains, and secured me from the injuries of the air, and the stings of gnats and moskitto's. My Indians had their ordinary hunting and travelling beds, which consist of a deer skin and a buffalo coat, which they always carry with them, when they expect to lie out of their villages. We rested nine days, and regaled ourselves with choice buffalo, turkey, partridge, pheasants, &c.

From: The History of Louisiana, Or of the Western Parts of Virginia and Carolina: Containing a Description of the Coutnries that Lie on Both Sides of the River Mississippi: with an Account of the Settlements, Inhabitants, Soil, Climate, and Products – Le Page du Pratz

Here are my buffalo robes in my camp at Fort de Chartres in November.  Remember, all of my stuff is a work in progress and I hope to downsize and historically verify the things I use.  Right now, it is a hodge-podge of times, places and stuff that didn't exist:  

Buffalo robes in the back of the shelter make for great winter sleeping!

Tout le Monde! Un garçon de bébé!

That's right...   I have to announce it to the world that I have a new reenacting buddy!

Born on March 28, 2013 is my bouncing baby boy.  Of course I will put a historical twist on this, so let me introduce him to you:

Meet Jacques the Voyageur!

Jacques is a new member among the batteau crews transporting wheat from the American Bottoms at Kaskaskia to New Orleans for the French Crown.  Jacques has a lively disposition and enjoys singing songs as he puffs on his pipe and paddles downstream among the cargo of trade bales, grain and smoked hams.  

His life is not an easy one; long, arduous days of paddling among mosquito-infested waters with the sun beating upon his head.  The added dangers of river rapids and hostile sauvages lurking behind trees on the shoreline makes every day an adventure that could cost him the ultimate price.  

A short and stout fellow, he is built to work the fur trade.  The less room he takes up on the batteau, the more cargo can be hauled to the ports.  Strong backs are needed for portaging canoes and cargo over the sand bars and rapids and for carrying goods suspended by tumplines onto the shore.  It is all about profits in this business and Jacques is a small part of this venture.  

Really Dad?  You dressed me up like this?  Geez....