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

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