Wendat and Trade 1550 – 1650

Below is a rewrite of a paper I did in 2004 for Archaeology. It may have some dated information as new research is constant. I used it as part of a job interview last Thursday for archaeological field technician. The interview went well and they took the original with the mark attached to it. I think it was a B+.

The Wendat or Huron peoples lived at the centre of a series of trading hubs long before European contact. To the north and east were Algonquian routes to Hudson Bay and St. Lawrence valley. South was the Neutral Iroquois trade networks that spread to the Cherokee and Chesapeake Bay. To the west was Lake Superior at the hub of trade in all directions deep in the centre of North America.
Copper (Cu) was one of the resources traded in North America before European arrival. Copper being the most recycled and oldest metals used by humans makes it a good indicator in the archaeological record. This is because it does not decompose. There were many natural, easily accessible deposits in the world. A main North American deposit was along the west shore of Lake Superior.
Pure copper is 99.3% or higher, high copper alloy is 96-99.3% and less than 96% is alloy. Copper and zinc combine to form brass and copper and tin to form bronze. The difference between North American copper and the imported European copper is the amount of antimony (Sb) added. Antimony is a brittle silvery-white metalloid added during smelting to harden the copper. North American copper had 0.004% while European copper had between 0.0210% – 0.3022%.
To identify the copper’s origins two methods are used. The test scratch method checks the colour of the copper, reddish orange for high copper content and yellow are alloys of bronze or brass. Emission spectroscopy is also used to identify the present levels of metals.
The Wendat most commonly traded for beads made of copper before European contact. After European contact more copper alloys are found in the archaeology, both bronze and brass. Copper based artifacts in the archaeology can identify the extent of trade pre and post European contact. The period 1550 to 1650 is when European trade goods were traded by Native North Americans on their existing trade routes.
Wendat trade was governed by rules and ceremonies with goals of profit, adventure, gambling and tests of courage. Most trade expeditions were conducted by those in the prime of life. The wealth acquired was given to the community to be a social safety net or as reparations for war. Trade was used to feast neighbours and alleviate suffering from disasters such as fires, common in wooden longhouses. Generosity was the goal of gaining wealth and earning respect from the extent of the wealth given out. All part of complex Wendat society where reciprocal gift giving was the norm.
Trade was valued for the good relations forged with neighbouring communities. Trading partners were treated as kin and often were. Sometimes boys would be left to stay with the trading partners family. This fostered trust and goodwill or allowed for a hostage if the deals went bad.
Trade ceremony would start by the visiting party dressing up and painting themselves before entering the host village. Next would be speeches, feasts and exchange of ceremonial gifts between the chiefs. At the first feast the exchange rates would be set based on friendship and getting the best rates. Once the exchange was settled their would be no haggling. The visitors would be requested to return the next year. These visits would foster bonds and alliances between Wendat villages and the neighbouring peoples.
Prior to European contact different partners provided different goods. The Ottawa and Nipissing came from the north and brought; skins, meat, camping equipment, buffalo robes, porcupine embroidery, charms, dried fish and copper from Lake Superior. The Wendat would trade; corn meal, tobacco, clothing, pottery and goods acquired from other partners. A Nipissing encampment on Frank Bay has Wendat pottery from 1000 AD. Another site at Juntunen in the straits of Mackinaw contains Wendat and Iroquoian influenced pottery, housing, and burials about 1200 AD.
The Neutral Iroquois would provide; black squirrel and racoon robes, gourds, sea shells, Lake Erie chert (for stone tools) and deer skins. They also traded their own children. Chief Tsouarrissen was the most ambitious Neutral Iroquois trader. His use of spies, scouts and envoys kept him informed and kept his lucrative trade going. He married several women to foster trade ties, including a woman from the Chesapeake Bay area. His main commodity was Virginia deerskins, evidence of which was found in archaeological sites. He is said to try to domesticate deer.
Other Iroquois trade with the Wendat was mostly in the form of war reparations. The Wendat would give beaver pelts for Wampum beads. In periods of peace the trade would be similar to that of Neutral Iroquois.
Early European trade goods received by the Wendat would arrive via the Ottawa and Neutral. The Neutral Iroquois would get them from other Iroquois groups or the Susquehannock. Later the Ottawa would introduce the Wendat to the French. Wendat dialects were the Lingua Franca in the region and even the French were expected to speak Wendat to trade. The Wendat were at the time the largest population of the area.
European goods lead to more friendship and trade between the Wendat and their neighbours. At first trade was small do to the lack of European demand of Native goods. Copper and glass beads were the first goods adopted by Native societies. The German or Basque metals and mainly Venetian glass beads brought by French and Basque ships to the Atlantic coast and traded on.
Glass beads are common in the archaeological record between 1580 to 1650. Sites near Balsam Lake had European copper. Two rolled copper beads from about 1550 was found at Kirche, while Wet back had a rolled bead and Benson had a kettle rivet and rolled brass bead from 1580 to 1600.
French fashion changed in 1580 leading to economic demand for beaver skins to make hats. Both French and Wendat economies were transformed from this. King Henri IV started an intense industrialization program from 1598 to 1610. This made all trade goods being sent to North America for beaver pelts had to come from French industry and not imported from around Europe.
The quality and variety of copper beads dropped as the French barred others from the fur trade. Brass kettles are easier to cast and became the standard trade good of the period. Archaeological evidence from 1600 to 1630 show mostly brass goods and 1630 to 1650 almost all copper goods are brass.
Wendat sites after 1600 reflect increases in European trade goods as the Wendat monopolized the trade. This was achieved by keeping their trade networks and routes secret, some known only by hereditary chiefs. Not even the French were permitted on Wendat trading missions. The Wendat Confederacy was strengthened by the desire to protect the trade secrets.
The fur trade changed settlement patterns and relations with neighbouring peoples. Warriors were so eager to go on trading expeditions rumours of imminent Iroquois attacks were spread to keep enough home for defence.
The increased Wendat wealth lead to peace with some neighbours who relied on the Wendat as their only source of European trade goods. The Neutral Iroquois and Tionontati are two such peoples. All the trade goods were distributed to all the Wendat communities and all in those communities.
The Wendat used trade routes still used today, mostly for leisure activities. Some routes are followed by more recent technologies such as highways and rail routes. Traditional portages are now communities as are some of the main trading sites. These routes are centuries, perhaps millennia old.
Wendat trade routes and relationships were controlled by the family that discovered them. If anyone wanted to use a route they had to seek approval by the leadership of the family or clan that controlled them. Gift giving to those who ran the route was the way to achieve approval. Trading parties that used routes without permission risked ambush that increased in likely hood the more powerful the family or clan responsible was. If the interlopers were successful only complaints to the elders were allowed.
The most important routes were controlled by chiefs of influence and could be hereditary. The great wealth of these important routes were used to gain more respect by showing the families generosity. The men on trade expeditions were considered courageous for risking the dangers. The biggest danger was Iroquois war parties. Warriors had to be kept back to protect the village or it would be vulnerable to the war parties.
The main route between the Wendat and the French was the Ottawa river. Canoes being the principle transportation of goods. The original route leaves the Ottawa river at Lac des Chats and rejoins at Lac des Allumettes thus cutting the distance and time. Larger canoes meant the long route along the Ottawa had to be used.
At the Mattawa River the canoes would leave the Ottawa River and go to Trout Lake followed by a portage to Lake Nipissing. A tributary of the La Vase system was also used until depleted beaver stocks lowered the water levels. Sites have been found with pre-European contact artifacts and some French style clay pipe fragments.
Lake Nipissing feeds the French River that flows into Georgian Bay. Having canoed Lake Nipissing and part of the French River it was exciting to discover how long people may have been using it as a means of trade and travel. South along Georgian Bay to a series of rivers into the heart of Wendat country. Each of these rivers lead to a different clan area.
The Trent-Severn system was used for trade on Lake Ontario and a riskier route to the St. Lawrence Valley. This is the route Samuel de Champlain used in 1615 while part of a war party against the Iroquois. A shorter to route Lake Ontario goes through Lake Simcoe.
Using Georgian Bay and rivers entering it from the north Wendat traders could reach deep into Algonquian territory, as far as James Bay. Using the north channel of Lake Huron to Sault Ste. Marie and Lake Superior the Wendat could trade with people on the prairies. Lake Michigan also provided trade opportunities with peoples of the prairies.
Early European trade goods could take a year to reach Wendat territory. After the Neutral Iroquois Chief Shalinka gave Champlain detailed geographical information of the region goods started to move much quicker. 1611 was the year recorded in oral tradition and French records for the meeting leading to a map in 1612.
None of the trade would be possible without an amazing piece of North American technology, the canoe. They must have evolved over time to have the simple design and construction. They are well adapted to the environment and the resources available. They allow the crew to see where they are going and can manoeuvre the lakes, rivers and streams that dominate the Great Lakes Region and beyond.
Canoes were made in various sizes from small hunting canoes to giant war canoes. They were disposable if need be and could act as a ladder to scale enemy palisades. Trade made the canoes even bigger to haul more of the profitable cargoes, some could carry a ton. The Europeans quickly adopted it and added sales which were then adopted by Native North Americans.
Very little of canoes can be found in archaeology because they were made of biodegradable materials. The tools for their construction remain as do accounts of Europeans. The Wendat had some of the best materials for canoe making, which may also have been trade goods. Frames were made of any available wood. Black Spruce roots were used for tying the frame together. The skin was birch bark as it was easiest to use or if unavailable some were made with maple bark.
Stone and later metal adzes, axes, mallets and hammers would be used to form the frame. Wooden basins full of boiling water would be used for bending the wood to form the frame. Knives would remove the bark from the tree and the scrappers and punches would prepare it to be applied. Black spruce roots would tie it all together and pine resin would help make it water tight.
Copper is a clue to the trade Wendat peoples were involved in from before 1550 to 1650. Because so many trade goods were biodegradable as were the canoes to transport them copper is one of the few artifacts left, along with stone and later metals from Europe. Development projects have been changing the landscape for over two centuries, yet still our main routes mirror the earliest known routes of North American trade. These developments may have erased key information for better understanding North American trade at its earliest.
The Wendat were nearly destroyed by the Iroquois in the 1640s and the survivors and their descendants live near Quebec City. Many of the artifacts archaeology could discover may have been looted as Wendat villages fell to war parties. Other items could have been taken with the survivors as they fled to the French protection.
There are secrets of pre-European North American trade left to unlock.
Sources:
Adney, Edwin Tappen and Howard I. Chappelle
1964 The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office

Amythest Galleries inc.

1996 Native Copper Electronic Document http://mineral.galleries.com/minerals/elements/copper/copper.htm

Copper Development Association

2003 Copper the World’s Most Reuseable Resource Electronic Document http://www.copper.org/environment/g_recycl.html 

British Columbia Institute of Technology

Copper Electronic Document http://nobel.scas.bcit.ca/resource/ptable/cu.htm
Fitzgerald, William R. and Peter G. Ramsden
1988 Copper Based Metal Testing as an Aid to Understanding Early European – Ameridian Interaction: Scratching the Surface Canadian Journal of Archaeology 12 pp153-161
Fitzgerald, William R. with Dean H Knight and Allison Bain
1995 Untanglers of Matters Temporal and Cultural: Glass Beads and the Early Contact Period Huron Ball Site Canadian Journal of Archaeology 19 pp 117-138

La Vasse River Archaeology Project

La Vasse Archaeology Electronic Document http://archaeology.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.city.north%2Dbay.on.ca/lavase/index.htm
Latta, Martha A.
1985 Identification of the 17th Century French Missions in Eastern Huronia Canadian journal of Archaeology 9(2) pp147 – 171 
Morse, Eric W.
1979 Fur Trade Canoe Routes of Canada: Then and Now Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Natural Resources Canada

2004 The Atlas of Canada: Aboriginal Peoples Circa 1630 Electronic Resource http://atlas.gc.ca/site/english/maps/historical/aboriginalpeoples/circa1630?map=%2Fhome%2Fmapdata%2Faoc_v3%2Fenglish%2F798.map&imgext=1041957.552138+-518652.491000+1437859.880262+-167150.423974&mode=browse&scale=2622064.07918928&imgxy=&img.x=207&img.y=185
Noble, William C.
1985 Tsouharissen’s Chiefdom: An Early Historic 17th Century Neutral Iroquoian Ranked Society Canadian journal of Archaeology 9(2) pp131 – 146
Trigger, Bruce G.
1990 The Huron: Farmers of the North 2nd edition Montreal: Holt, Rineholt and Winston
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