Global trade and an 18th-century Anishinaabe outfit

Anishinaabe outfit, c. 1790, collected by Lieutenant Andrew Foster, Fort Michilimackinac (British), Michigan, Birchbark, cotton, linen, wool, feathers, silk, silver brooches, porcupine quills, horsehair, hide, sinew; the moccasins were like made by the Huron–Wendat people (National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution), a Seeing America video

Speakers: Dr. David Penney, Associate Director for Museum Scholarship, Exhibitions, and Public Engagement, National Museum of the American Indian and Dr. Steven Zucker

Additional resources

This outfit at the National Museum of the American Indian

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

[flickr_tags user_id=”82032880@N00″ tags=”AnishinaabeOutfit,”]

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[0:00] [music]

Dr. Steven Zucker: [0:05] We’re in the National Museum of the American Indian, looking at this magnificent Anishinaabe outfit.

Dr. David Penney: [0:12] It was collected by a lieutenant in the British Army, a guy named Andrew Foster, who was stationed in the Great Lakes area between Detroit and Michilimackinac, the headquarters of the British occupation of the Great Lakes, so in this important strategic zone where the British could control trade routes.

Dr. Zucker: [0:28] First, the French came in looking for furs in this area, and were eventually displaced by the British. This was a very lucrative trade. Now, this is a complicated moment. This is about 1790. The United States has already declared its independence from Britain.

[0:43] And there are tensions between the young republic on the East Coast and Britain, which controls what we now call Canada and this area around the Great Lakes.

Dr. Penney: [0:52] The United States has been trying to claim its possessions and determine what the border is going to be in the Great Lakes, and the British, of course, trying to protect their trade interests, are resisting.

[1:02] Their allies are their Native trade partners, like the Anishinaabe, also known as the Ojibwa, Chippewa, Odawa, Ottawa. All under the umbrella of the term Anishinaabe, which is the word that in the Anishinaabemowin language means, “the people,” means, “ourselves.”

[1:16] After the revolution, many loyalists had escaped to Canada. The border between the United States and Canada was very unclear and contested in the 1790s, so the British needed their allies. They stepped up their diplomatic efforts, they increased the amount of trade, all in response to the threat of the Americans coming from the south.

Dr. Zucker: [1:35] We use the term “collected” to refer to Andrew Foster taking ownership of this outfit, but likely, it was made for him specifically. And it was made as part of ritual trade.

Dr. Penney: [1:46] Part of the relationships between the British and their Native allies would include opportunities for mutual gift-giving, and many of the gifts were clothing. The leaders among the Anishinaabe would receive military coats and other elements of uniforms.

[2:01] Several British officers received complete outfits like this one, and very likely in the ritual, they’re dressed from head to toe. It really was about mutual respect.

Dr. Zucker: [2:10] When we look at the outfit closely, we see this is part of an international trade network.

Dr. Penney: [2:15] The cotton shirt was, in fact, manufactured in Britain, but the cotton the shirt was made from was grown and exported from the subcontinent of India, brought to Britain, and milled in their factories with an eye to its export to North America. The length of the shirt, the use of that floral patterning, all was intended to appeal to their Native trade partners.

Dr. Zucker: [2:35] So this is being manufactured specifically to the styles that the Native Americans would be receptive to.

Dr. Penney: [2:42] Exactly. If we look at the necklace with the two panels with Thunderbirds, we can see that they’re made out of glass beads. The glass beads were produced in Venice and exported, but the white and dark-blue color were an attempt to replicate the color and the texture of shell beads, known technically as wampum.

[3:00] We often refer to that as imitation wampum, but they’re beads created to resemble a bead that’s made out of shell in North America.

Dr. Zucker: [3:07] Although the shirt was likely manufactured in Britain, it’s been ornamented. It’s covered with little silver ringlets, which were also meant specifically for trade.

Dr. Penney: [3:16] We call them brooches, and they’re created individually and traded individually, but then you can arrange them in these patterns. You see a grid on this shirt or clustered all over the headdress.

[3:25] There’re also a number of objects that are made out of materials native to North America. He’s wearing a little belt pouch on his sash that’s made out of deer hide that’s been dyed a darker brown with black walnut hulls and then decorated with porcupine quills.

[3:39] Same is true for these moccasins, where he has deerskin moccasins that are decorated porcupine quills.

Dr. Zucker: [3:44] Those moccasins may not be Anishinaabe. They may be Huron-Wendat, which speaks to the trade networks of the Native Americans themselves.

Dr. Penney: [3:52] And a certain amount of craft specialization. This is a kind of moccasin that we see around the Great Lakes. We think they’re manufactured downriver from Detroit, but they show up all around the Great Lakes area, and we think they’re made by Huron-Wendat women and then exchanged and traded.

Dr. Zucker: [4:06] And obviously sought after.

Dr. Penney: [4:07] You can see the tremendous craftsmanship, particularly with the decoration on the vamp, where there are a number of different kinds of techniques. The quills have to be processed — sorted to size, flattened, dyed — and then are applied to the surface sometimes in that zigzag row, as you see on the outside, or in very tight-woven patterns.

Dr. Zucker: [4:24] They’re really beautiful, and they’re a bit iridescent.

Dr. Penney: [4:27] There’s also an audible quality to them. This fringe of red, they’re attached to little tin cones that have been bent, and that red deer hair is inserted so that when you walk, they tinkle.

Dr. Zucker: [4:37] I see that also in the pouch on the belt and in the headdress. I can imagine that the silver brooches also make sound, and so I can imagine just how much this outfit comes alive when it’s worn.

Dr. Penney: [4:50] The headdress is of a turban form, made of black cloth decorated with those silver brooches, and standing straight up are a series of eagle feathers. The feathers are supported by what we call feather sticks, wrapped with porcupine quills and those wonderful red and sort of black-and-white checkerboard patterns.

[5:06] Then, attached to the feather sticks are those tassels of red deer hair.

Dr. Zucker: [5:11] What we’re seeing is this astonishing synthesis of Indigenous traditions with new imports and this willingness to adopt new technologies.

Dr. Penney: [5:19] This is really the genius of Native women artists of this era. They’re taking these raw materials of these manufactured products — the wool, wool yarn, silk, metal, and so on, and then transforming them with a variety of different meticulous techniques based upon traditional techniques of working with Indigenous fibers, but then updated to include these new materials and new tools as well — steel needles, and most importantly, scissors.

Dr. Zucker: [5:44] We have cotton from India manufactured in Great Britain, sent and reworked in the New World, and then given to a British officer who would then bring it back to Britain and presumably even wear it. There is one example of a man wearing an outfit from this area in a portrait that is now in Liverpool.

[6:02] I find [it] fascinating that these cultures that we often think of as so separate have such an integrated relationship.

Dr. Penney: [6:08] Of course, that was the notion of the British Empire, to knit all this together where they were able to assemble raw materials from all over the world, re-manufacture them, or reconstitute them as marketable products.

[6:21] Andrew Foster, lieutenant of the 24th Foot, was stationed in Mackinac to help this progress of British empire and its commercial success. He left in 1796. And then, we learned, subsequently, sadly, he was part of an expeditionary force to South Africa and died in battle in 1806.

[6:38] [music]

Cite this page as: Dr. David W. Penney, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution and Dr. Steven Zucker, "Global trade and an 18th-century Anishinaabe outfit," in Smarthistory, September 14, 2018, accessed June 14, 2024,