Monday, March 9, 2015

Updates and "An Introduction to Research Methods"

Hello everyone, 

A few posts have been saved in draft form, but never published because of time constraints.  There are a few blogs that I follow and really enjoy the daily or weekly updates and have noticed that sometimes even the smallest posting about historical endeavors, thoughts or projects really inspires me.  

With that notion in mind, I have come to the realization that trying to post fairly in-depth research and then undertaking the creation or acquisition of the reproduction based on the research is well-meaning, but not an easy commitment with family, career and going back to school.  In other words, it makes it to where I can't post anything for over a year and I don't like it! 

Let's face it:  It is just a hobby and past time!  It is still an obsession on my part, but most of my time resources have been and continue to be used elsewhere.  (Much to the delight of my wife!)  Remind me, we need to have a conversation about how everyone's spouse fits into living history.  Mine considers my history obsession a "mistress".  

Before I get to the history part, we welcomed another addition to our home.  On February 4, Ella Marie was born and at the moment she is sleeping peacefully in the bouncy seat.  Always with a historical mind, it pleases me that both of my children can easily have 18th Century French names: Jacques and Marie!   I have also adopted the French name of Philippe Robert, habitant du Kaskaskia for myself, since it is my given first and middle name.  With another stroke of luck, Robert happens to be a very common French name.  Things keep falling into place!  I hope to receive a dit name.  I will take suggestions into consideration... 

Now for what I have been working on, researching, spending too much time on, etc:  

First, I have been looking at several Papal artifacts and recreating rosaries for 18th century reenactors.  Catholicism was a major part of French society at the time and my thoughts lead me to believe French reenactors should have a fair amount of Catholic accoutrements in their kit.  

This led me to other small projects, including obtaining an original Jesuit cross to use for the molding of "lead" crucifixes found at the Guebert Site at Kaskaskia.  My reproduction is a lead-free pewter, although I have no personal objections with keeping a lead one.  

As a shameless plug, some of my work is pictured and available on the "Philippe Robert, habitant du Kaskaskia" Facebook page.  Please like the page if you visit it.  I certainly appreciate it!  

I also am proud to offer my porte crayons for the writer and artist.  

Other items in the "research and development" stages are the creation of hawk bells, awls, fire steels, petit calumets, lead bale seals, Jesuit rings and just about anything else that would be common artifacts found in a Nouvelle France context.  If you have suggestions or an interest in something that you would like to see on the trade blanket, please contact me.  

Now then, on to something new:  

An Introduction to Research Methods

It is my recommendation that anyone interested in living history to join Facebook (if you have not already) and begin looking for groups with similar interests.  You will find groups devoted to anything from using stuff that looks old, but is not copied from original historic items to groups that are die-hards down to the construction of their clothing.  

My broken record mantra is "it is a personal journey", so join these groups with the caution that some folks are satisfied with primitive camping and "bushcraft" types of stuff, while others will not compromise their goals by making historically-researched items without using historically-researched tools.  I respect both, but believe it is important for people to understand the focus of a group and play by the rules of the sandbox in which they are sitting.  It is easier to make friends that way and friends will help you! 

Another personal lesson I have learned over the years on message boards and internet groups is to ask questions, but offer up what research you already have done.  This shows people you are serious about your intent and that you are not an information moocher. The research offered should be more than just a Google search, but make sure you have at least done a Google search.  People do expect you to research your own stuff eventually.  I am so thankful for a handful of friends that have helped me to not be scared of primary documents!  (Thanks, Chris Wills.) Now we all share information freely, which advances our historical perspective exponentially!  

You may have people at all research levels offer advice.  They really do mean well.  It may be anywhere from an opinion to images or quotes from primary sources.  If there isn't a primary source behind it, don't trust it.  Use the primary source to further verify the conclusions of the person offering the advice.  My best friends in the hobby will precursor any "conjectural" statements before they offer educated advice.  Those are the best kind of friends.  

Some people on the internet are brash, crabby and/or hardheaded.  Remember that even a crank may offer tidbits of wisdom.  Don't dismiss the advice.  Gems are sometimes found in the mud.  

Above all, if someone is giving primary documentation, don't try to disprove them with secondary documents or a website that has no historical context or contains only opinion.  This will shut down further help pretty quickly.  Life gives us all situations where we need to smile, nod and move on.  No one likes to be asked for help and then have the help they offer be dismissed with an argument.  

Right now, it is important to understand the difference between "primary" and "secondary" research sources before searching:  

Now then, where to start with research?  I will share what works for me.  

Here lately, I have been on a "Jesuit ring" kick and wanted to know more about them in hopes of maybe making some.  Here is a little "flow chart" that flows through my head when I first get started:

My Jesuit ring search led to several images.  I first focus on "credible" resources like this picture found from the National Park Service:  

Clicking on the picture in the Google image search yields a trip to the NPS' Grand Portage website, with more information about the pictured ring.  Connected to the site is even more information about personal adornment items found at the historic site:

Very quickly, with just the few strokes of a keyboard a person can unlock the answers to a historical question and find even more information on a related topic, which allows the research to continually branch into other topics.  If something is interesting, I screen shot, save the page as a web archive or find some other way to make note of it on my portable hard drive.  My virtual file cabinet is constantly being added to as more information on a topic is found.  Just like a physical file cabinet, I have information filed by topic and sometimes I try to cross-reference related topics (i.e. a painting shows both ceramics and kettles, it gets stored in both topic files).  

Above is the quick and dirty search to get a person going on a topic.  Just one source is not nearly enough evidence to support an item's prevalence, especially if a person is wanting to prove an item as being commonplace, which is a big part of my initial goal in the hobby.   This is where archaeological reports (usually in hard-copy print) come in handy.  

For my Jesuit ring example, I started looking at other French-occupied sites in the Midwest: Grand Portage, Michilimackinac, Fort de Chartres and Kaskaskia to name a few.  The search for an archeological report quickly led to this book:  

Being the cheap-skate that I am, a search for the cheapest copy of this book had begun and fortunately the Mackinac Park people (I am guessing the gift shop?) had the most economical copy.  There were also several other titles that interested me and have great information on the material culture of the site.  

When the Jesuit ring book arrived, it is chock-full of examples, tables that classify common shapes and just about anything else a person on a Jesuit ring kick would want to know about the specific artifact.  With just that small amount of researching, I can conclusively make these general statements:

  • Jesuit rings of the 1600's generally had raised, cast artwork and iconography.  Examples from the 1700's are typically engraved or stamped in a crude manner.  It is believed a goal in production was to produce the rings quickly and more economically during the latter time period, possibly being engraved on the American continent with simple tools.  
  • The octagonal plaque (face) on the ring is the most prevalent shape, followed by heart shaped plaques. 
  • Rings were often very small, typically sized to fit the fingers of a small woman or child.  
For a minimal amount of work and investment, I was able to glean a basic understanding and set of answers to my historical question.  Best of all, I have an initial set of research sources that can be revisited as time and interest allows.  

Research does not have to be daunting or time consuming.  It is whatever you wish to make of it.  However, it is worthwhile to be able to make informed decisions when choosing gear and have the ability to provide sound evidence for your choices.  

Happy researching, everyone!  

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....  

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Personal Items Part I: The Fixed-Blade Knife/Couteau Boucheron

"Table knives were not common, but the habitant's hunting knife served very well."  - From Kaskaskia Under the French Regime by Natalia Maree Belting, page 42

"Marie 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"
(Belting, 45-46 emphasis mine)

Hopefully fall and winter weather will free up time for more how-to posts in the future, but I felt it was just as important to look at some of the common things a habitant would have carried or used daily.  Among those items used daily, if not carried daily, would have been the common hunting/butcher knife or couteau boucheron.

This posting will take a look at fixed-blade knives used in the Pays des Illinois during the 18th century.  My target for acquiring materials for my living history impression continues to be 1750.  

The inventory of Marie Catherine Baron listed above has been translated as containing a "hunting knife".  This raises the question: What makes a knife a hunting knife?  My personal thoughts on this is that the knife would be a fixed-blade knife used in dressing game for the table and it would have been sheathed for portability so that the user can wear it for use in the field.  

My next question: What is a common French fixed-blade knife?

We French reenactors are fortunate that a set of wonderful articles have recently been written by Kevin Gladysz and Ken Hamilton for the Journal of the Early Americas.  To date, there are three articles entailing the topics of French knives and the fourth, most recent, article is about French Biscayne axes.  Gladysz and Hamilton's article on boucherons, "French Knives in North America: Part III" can be found in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of JOTEA (Volume I, Issue VI).  

From "French Knives in North America: Part III":

The couteau boucheron was not only extremely popular in the Indian trade, but was frequently considered as a frontier weapon.  According to surviving French archival documents, the couteau boucheron was by far the most numerous fixed-blade knife of the period.  (p. 7, emphasis mine)

The article goes on to mention that around 10,000 boucherons were recorded to be in the King's storehouses at Quebec and Montreal in 1749.  It is pretty evident that LARGE numbers of these knives were available in Nouvelle France and could have easily found their way into every reach of France's holdings in North America.  Archaeological examples have been found from Michilimackinac to Ticonderoga and south into Louisiana.  

In an Illinois context, examples have been found at the Duckhouse Site in Cahokia.  The three Duckhouse Site examples shown below are from French Colonial Cahokia 1765 - 1800.  Although the date is a bit late for my use, I believe it is worthy of note because a knife that was dropped or lost in that period may have been manufactured in an earlier year closer to my target date of 1750.  

Note the half-tang construction
Image from At Home in the Illinois Country by Robert F. Mazrim (page 67)
Now let's compare the blade profiles to dug examples from Ticonderoga in the Gladysz/Hamilton article:  

Image from "French Knives in North America: Part III" Journal of the Early Americas,  Volume I, Issue VI (page 14)
Flipped horizontally for comparison

Something sticks out right away when I compare the two photos.  The top knife from the Duckhouse site has a VERY pronounced upward sweep to the blade.  From my understanding that is a tell-tale sign of an English scalper/trade knife.  Choosing an English knife in French territory appears to be completely correct.  After all, global trade was in full swing and on the flip side of things, the English bought boucherons from the French and continued to ship them to the English colonies even after the French and Indian (Seven Years) War according to Gladysz and Hamilton.  

The next thing that stands out is the use of the half-tang construction on both sets of examples.  The examples found in Cahokia seem to lack the pin holes that are prominently shown in the lower picture, but it may be the bubbling oxidation covering the holes.  

Now to apply it to my goal: There is written proof in primary documents of hunting knives in the Pays des Illinois.  There are local archaeological examples have been dug from around the target time period. Secondary source research shows that the boucheron was prolific throughout North America.  It sounds like a safe bet to add one to my kit!  

When a boucheron became available from Ken Hamilton, I snatched it up!  They sell like hot-cakes!  Besides co-authoring the articles about French knives, he also produces excellent reproductions of period items.  In this case, I received a medium boucheron and sheath.  No detail is overlooked:  all measurements are in French "pouce" (1 pouce = 1 1/16 inch), the handle is made of boxwood and it has actual French makers marks.  Here it is!

Overall length is 10 inches, with a 6 1/8 inch blade

Note the half-tang construction detail

Wowee!  Even the sheath is pretty!  

I keep begging Ken to make a large boucheron for me.  Perhaps he will read this and continue to hear my plea!  I do love my medium boucheron!  The quality is superb.  

If you are interested in learning more about Colonial French artifacts found in the Illinois Country, Robert F. Mazrim's book entitled At Home in the Illinois Country is unbeatable!  This title and several others are available from my friends at the Fort de Chartres Store.  Please check out all they have to offer:  

Fort de Chartres Store Website

I also recommend a subscription to Journal of the Early Americas. They are by far the most professional publication of research for living historians.  The articles on French knives and axes alone have been worth the subscription!