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A History of Indigenous North American Wampum Objects in France, 1678-1845

Une histoire des wampums nord-amérindiens arrivés en France entre 1678 et 1845
Paz Núñez-Regueiro et Nikolaus Stolle
Traduction de Susan Pickford
p. 78-97
Cet article est une traduction de :
Une histoire des wampums nord-amérindiens arrivés en France entre 1678 et 1845 [fr]

Résumés

Cet article examine les traces documentaires permettant de mieux connaître les sources et les modalités d’arrivée en France d’un ensemble de pièces de wampum ou perles en coquillage, conservées principalement à Paris (musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac), mais aussi à Chartres, Lille et Besançon. L’intérêt et la difficulté de cette recherche tiennent à l’ancienneté de ces pièces, datant pour la plupart d’avant 1760 et la perte des implantations coloniales françaises en Amérique du Nord. La traçabilité de leur histoire dans la documentation de l’époque a le plus souvent souffert de la césure révolutionnaire, de nombreuses collections privées et royales ayant été profondément réorganisées ou démantelées. Ainsi, sur la vingtaine de pièces dont on peut attester qu’elles ont été envoyées en France, soit dans un contexte officiel ou diplomatique, soit à travers des réseaux de collectionneurs, seule une dizaine peut être mise en relation avec des objets arrivés jusqu’à nous.

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  • 1 The Powhatan Algonquin term roanoke refers to disc- shaped shell beads, four of which “will scarcel (...)
  • 2 Glass tube beads the same shape as shell beads were also used from the 17th century on for belts an (...)
  • 3 For an example of this practice, see the “Speeches by the Iroquois Savages addressed to M. le Marqu (...)

1When 16th-century Europeans first came into contact with the Native American peoples living in the lands that were to become New France, shell beads were already in widespread use. Jacques Cartier, one of the earliest European witnesses of traditional Indigenous practices, recorded that strings of white shell beads were commonly exchanged when groups from various nations came together (Bideaux 1986: 152-153, 181-182, 195). The disc-shaped beads, known as roanokes,1 and later tubular wampum beads were used locally as adornments to convey prestige or as gifts to accompany speeches. Over the course of the 17th century, the tubular beads came to be strung together for exchange. The 1620s saw the first wampum belts, consisting of narrow woven bands of wampum beads. This new presentation, together with the purple beads by then in use, let weavers create a range of figurative and geometric designs using the two colors (Feest 2014a, 2014b; Fenton 1998; Lainey 2004; Stolle 2016).2 Wampum objects were mostly used as concrete manifestations of verbal pledges, akin to their European contemporary, the wax seal. That is at least how they were viewed by French, British, and Dutch settlers. European administrators generally kept written records of the oral messages and pledges associated with wampum for use in future diplomatic and trade councils and to update past treaties negotiated with Indigenous populations.3

  • 4 The belt also contains a few red glass beads.
  • 5 See ADEL, RES 60/15 and 60/16, 1678 ; Anonymous 1700 ; Hérisson 1816 ; Doublet de Boisthibault 1857 (...)

2French administrators were particularly attentive to diplomatic exchanges in New France, making efforts to adapt to local practices and wampum use to underpin their authority in the region and open paths to dialog and understanding with the various Native American nations. Missionaries often had knowledge of local languages and acted as interpreters at diplomatic meetings: under their influence, words progressively came to feature on wampum belts themselves, in the form of Bible quotes in Latin. Among the best-documented of these are the so-called “votive” alliance belts sent by two Huron and Abenaki communities to Notre-Dame de Chartres, which traveled to France with hand-written letters spelling out their message. The first, a gift from the Huron of Jeune Lorette in 1678, bears an inscription in purple beads against a white background,4 reading VIRGINI PARITVRÆ VOTVM HVRONVM (Vow of the Huron to the Virgin who is to give birth). The second, sent by the Abenaki of St. Francis in 1699, consists of nearly eleven thousand beads with white words on a purple background, reading MATRI VIRGINI ABENAQUÆI˙ D˙D˙ (Gift from the Abenaki to the Virgin Mother). The belts, which became objects of intense study in France, were gifted in fresh affirmation of the bonds between the Indigenous communities and the Virgin: the monks of Chartres sent gifts in return to seal the alliance.5

  • 6 One 1719 source records an order from the Conseil de marine to stop sending diplomatic belts to the (...)

3Several hundred belts and strings changed hands between the French and Indigenous peoples in New France between 1620 and 1760, though far fewer made the journey back to France itself. Since each wampum string and belt represented a pledge by an allied nation, the French king’s representatives in Canada often thought it wise to hold on to them as a record of past agreements in case their terms were broken. Consequently, wampum objects were only sent back to France in exceptional circumstances,6 and the sources, which frequently mention belts and strings in New France, rarely refer to such instances. To what extent, then, can modern-day research connect the wampum belts and related objects in French collections with the written sources that recorded them as they left North American soil or arrived in France? Why and how were diplomatic wampum belts sent back to the motherland across the Atlantic? What kind of belts were sent, and to whom? As has been seen, votive belts are known to have been sent to religious establishments in France. The sources likewise record instances of strings and belts sent to the king himself and presented at court, while a handful seem to have lost their original purpose and become collectibles acquired for cabinets of curiosities back in France. After France lost her North American colonies in 1760 (effective 1763), wampum belts and strings were almost never used in exchanges between the French and the Native Americans. Today, only around ten of the wampum belts exchanged by the Indigenous nations with the French crown and the Catholic church survive in France, most of them in museums. A further ten or so decorative objects and weapons made from or adorned with wampum beads are also held in French collections. While the verbal pledges associated with these items and their provenance is unknown in most instances, a careful analysis of written sources sheds some light on their historical and cultural context.

4Studying collections from Native North America that arrived in France prior to 1800 raises specific challenges. During the Revolution, such objects of ethnographic interest were confiscated from aristocratic and ecclesiastical collections, stashed away to save them from revolutionary destruction, and then sent to various institutions to educate the population. As a result, they were transferred multiple times to various sites, losing links to their documentation. For well over a century, generations of scholars have sought to piece together their provenance (Begue 2009; Daugeron 2009; Delpuech et al. 2019; Hamy 1897; Jacquemin 1991; Vitart-Fardoulis 1979, 1983, 1992; Feest 1992, 2007, 2014; Roux 2012). Building on their work and a new approach to known archival records, this article presents an initial attempt at recording all wampum strings and belts in publicly owned collections in France. Starting from the view that the context of presentation and associated pledges were recorded in most cases, particularly as the objects were used for diplomatic exchanges on French soil, the article seeks to connect written sources and the material record with the aim of contextualizing the corpus. It further draws on information on wampum objects mentioned in private collections in the pre-revolutionary period. Shared between the public sphere and private collections, wampum artifacts shed light on networks of political and scholarly sociability and bear witness to French colonial policy in North America and, more broadly, to European curiosity for peoples living in far-flung lands (Pomian 1987: 72ff.).

Wampum belts and other objects in French collections

  • 7 Italics in the original.
  • 8 Three belts, strings, and a series of decorative items (one to be worn on the neck, a pair of cuffs (...)

5The history of wampum belts and strings in French collections is hardly documented. The first publication on the specimens held in Paris was the work of Ernest Théodore Hamy, curator at the Musée d’Ethnographie, which opened its door at the Palais du Trocadéro in 1882. Hamy’s publication Galerie américaine recorded a series of objects from the American collection, the oldest and most prestigious holding the new museum had to offer. Having chosen to showcase “various object remarkable for their rarity, or presenting a sort of historical character”,7 he devoted one section of the work to the seven wampum objects in his care,8 giving a rare glimpse of the set as visitors to the museum would have seen it in the late 19th century (Hamy 1897a: 2, pl. 1). Hamy attributed the three belts and the strings in the set to Canadian Huron, doubtless simply because they were the chief nation allied with France prior to 1760.

  • 9 Objects 71.1934.33.494 D, 71.1878.32.267 (in enameled terracotta) and 71.1909.19.20 Am D.

6The attribution, followed by various 20th-century authors (Thévenin and Coze 1952 [1928]; Vitart-Fardoulis 1979, 1983; Philipps 1987; Vitart-Fardoulis 1992), was called into question by Christian Feest in the first publication on the “royal” North American collections at the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, which took over the collections of the earlier Musée d’Ethnographie at the Palais du Trocadéro (Feest 2007). Since 2007, several scholars have sought to document the collection of belts, strings, and decorative elements held in Paris and uncover their origins (Lainey 2008; Feest 2014; Puyo 2014-2015). The museum holds the largest collection of wampum objects in France, consisting of the aforementioned seven objects, three additional strings,9 and a wampum-inlaid ball-headed war club (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Ball-headed war club inlaid with white and purple wampum. Northeastern North America, c. 1680-1720. Maplewood, traces of black pigment, hide, quahog shell (Mercenaria mercenaria), whelk shell, stamped label, length 60 cm. Paris, Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, 71.1917.3.14 D. Formerly in the collection of the Cabinet des médailles [Coin Cabinet], Bibliothèque nationale de France, transferred to the Musée de l’Artillerie in 1861.

Fig. 1. Ball-headed war club inlaid with white and purple wampum. Northeastern North America, c. 1680-1720. Maplewood, traces of black pigment, hide, quahog shell (Mercenaria mercenaria), whelk shell, stamped label, length 60 cm. Paris, Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, 71.1917.3.14 D. Formerly in the collection of the Cabinet des médailles [Coin Cabinet], Bibliothèque nationale de France, transferred to the Musée de l’Artillerie in 1861.

© musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, photo Patrick Gries, Benoît Jeanneton.

  • 10 These collections are now recorded at the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac with the reference nu (...)
  • 11 European imports were available for trade prior to 1760 but were clearly less widely used in clothi (...)

7Ethnographic objects from outside Europe, scattered across various collections in the late 18th century, moved to the Musée d’Ethnographie at the Palais du Trocadéro between 1881 and 1934, and are still recorded according to an inventory system dating from the 1930s. The reference heading 78.32 covers ethnographic objects from the cabinet des Médailles at the Bibliothèque nationale de France transferred in 1879 (Vitart-Fardoulis 1979: 24; 1983: 144; Daugeron 2009: 505). The other objects in the Paris collection came from ethnographic holdings at the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle in 1881 (reference heading 81.17), the Musée d’Archéologie nationale in Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1909-1911 (reference heading 09.19 D) [Martin 2017: 291], the Musée de l’Armée in 1917 (reference heading 17.3 D) and the Versailles municipal library in 1933 (reference heading 34.33 D)10 (Vitart-Fardoulis 1979: 30ff.; 1983: 144). The six objects in the North American holdings covering modern-day Canada and the United States, transferred from the cabinet des Médailles, clearly consist largely of locally sourced components, mainly plant and animal fibers. Materials imported from Europe for trade, such as wool, silk ribbon, and glass beads, are present in small quantities. This suggests the objects are on the older side and can reasonably be dated to the New France period prior to 1760.11

Fig. 2. Michel Berthaud, “Wampums des Hurons. Canada, xviie siècle” [Huron Wampum. Canada. 17th century] (View of the wampum presentation case at the Musée d’Ethnographie, Palais du Trocadéro), in Galerie américaine du musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro. Choix de pièces archéologiques et ethnographiques décrites et publiées par le Dr E.-T. Hamy.

Fig. 2. Michel Berthaud, “Wampums des Hurons. Canada, xviie siècle” [Huron Wampum. Canada. 17th century] (View of the wampum presentation case at the Musée d’Ethnographie, Palais du Trocadéro), in Galerie américaine du musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro. Choix de pièces archéologiques et ethnographiques décrites et publiées par le Dr E.-T. Hamy.

Paris. E. Leroux, 1897, pl. 1. Paris, BnF, département Réserve des livres rares, GR FOL-P-1010.

  • 12 Musée des Beaux-arts et d’Archéologie, Besançon, belts 853.50.74 and 853.50.75, strings 2013.0.2072
  • 13 Musée d’Histoire naturelle, Lille, belts 990.2.3316 (attached to a bag) and 990.2.3342, pair of cuf (...)
  • 14 Feest 2007: 132; Núñez-Regueiro and Stolle 2021: 103.

8The other wampum belts, strings, and adornments identied in French collections are in Chartres (belts dating from 1678 and 1699, see above), Besançon (two belts and some strings)12 and Lille (two belts and a pair of cuffs)13. The objects in Besançon can be tentatively dated to before the mid-18th century due to the size of the shell beads (a point we will return to later) and documents associated with some objects in the North American collection, including these wampum objects, suggesting they were seized from private cabinets of curiosities during the Revolution.14 The wampum belt and other objects held in Lille seem to be the only specimens dating from after the mid-18th century, since they are made of tubular glass beads. The keys to the provenance of the wampum items in French collections are the collectors both in the field and back in France, forming networks that extended across the Atlantic in the 17th and the first half of the 18th centuries.

  • 15 See for example Alexandre de Batz’s drawings, dating from the 1730s (Gagnon 1975).
  • 16 Term used by the British, still current today. Ancien Régime France used the term «Agniers».
  • 17 Respectively, the former missions of Sault-Saint-Louis and Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes, Jeune-Lorette, a (...)

9The intrinsic features of the wampum artifacts themselves point in the same direction. Most of the New France belts share characteristics that set them apart from those produced in territories under British influence. Written sources and illustrations suggest that most wampum belts from Canada, within the French sphere of influence, had white patterns against a purple background. This reading is rooted in several elements. First and foremost, the registers of the king’s store in Montreal list more purple beads than white ones (Lainey 2004: 79 ff.). Secondly, mid-18th-century British and French officers were in agreement that French belts were larger than British ones and typically had a purple background (Stolle 2016: 220). The handful of mid-18th century illustrations of wampum items provide further evidence.15 Most wampum belts collected in the latter half of the 19th century from Indigenous nations formerly allied to the French have purple backgrounds, even those made using glass beads. Examples include specimens from the lower Saint Lawrence Valley, such as the Kahnawake and Kahnesatake (Mohawk),16 Wendake (Huron-Wendat) and Odanak and Wolînak (Abenaki).17

  • 18 From the latter half of the 17th century on, the British and French tried their hands at producing (...)
  • 19 Some scholars explain this development by the rise in demand for wampum in the latter half of the 1 (...)
  • 20 The sole exception is votive belts, mostly spelling out words in purple lettering on a white backgr (...)

One final characteristic of belts produced before the mid-18th century, wherever they came from, was the nature of the white beads, all made from the columella (i.e. central column) of a gastropod shell, leaving a diagonal groove that was often yellowish in color along their full length. Such beads became considerably scarcer in later periods, found only on items that seem to have used beads recycled from earlier belts.18 Similarly, purple beads are deeper in tone in earlier periods, growing paler from the latter half of the 18th century on (Stolle 2016: 21 ff.).19 The wampum belts now in France fit this description: they are generally broader than average and have white patterning on a purple background, suggesting —if the hypothesis on features of belts produced in New France or in regions under French influence is correct—they were probably made in a French context prior to the fall of New France.20

  • 21 The objects in this plate bear a strong resemblance to those that survive to this day, with some di (...)
  • 22 The illustration shows a wampum of thirteen rows, each with seventy beads. The depiction may be a t (...)

10The contemporary European sources for the provenance of such objects are varied. Print sources include travel accounts by French settlers, the Jesuit relations, catalogues of cabinets of curiosities and museum, and auction listings. The Sainte-Geneviève Abbey library catalog by Father Claude du Molinet contains the oldest illustration of a wampum belt in France: one plate depicting the cabinet of curiosities at the end of the 17th century shows a grand specimen whose whereabouts are currently unknown (Zehnacker and Petit 1989: 78), decorated with six male figures holding hands in dark color against a white background (Fig. 3).21 Abundant manuscript sources survive, including several thousand volumes of colonial and revolutionary archives and administrative and scholarly records held by institutions that once had ownership of these objects. Among the written sources are scholarly correspondence, private records of administrators and collectors, collection registers, contemporary publications, and so on. For instance, an engraving from a series illustrating a selection of Indigenous objects in the natural history cabinet at Versailles, likely destined for a publication in around 1800 that never saw the light of day, records the presence of the aforementioned Sainte-Geneviève wampum in the Versailles collection in the early 19th century (Fig. 4). No further trace of it has been found.22 The numerous sources are scattered across a number of sites in Paris and elsewhere in France. This article draws on a systematic study of sources held for the most part in the Archives nationales, the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle in Paris, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Académie des sciences and the Archives départementales des Yvelines. A careful reading of the sources uncovered a number of references to the wampum artifacts that made their way to France, some of which can be tied, directly or indirectly, to specific surviving specimens. We now turn to a chronological presentation of the artifacts in order of their arrival in France.

Fig. 3. François Ertinger, 1688-1689. View of the Molinet Cabinet at the Sainte-Geneviève Library. Paris, chez A. Dezallier 1692, pl. 4. Engraving.

Fig. 3. François Ertinger, 1688-1689. View of the Molinet Cabinet at the Sainte-Geneviève Library. Paris, chez A. Dezallier 1692, pl. 4. Engraving.

Paris, BnF, département Philosophie, histoire, sciences de l’homme, J-1575.

Fig. 4. Anonymous, N° 1 Painted skin from North America, n° 2 wampum belt: objects from the Versailles natural history cabinet, c. 1800, no publisher. Engraving, length 34 cm.

Fig. 4. Anonymous, N° 1 Painted skin from North America, n° 2 wampum belt: objects from the Versailles natural history cabinet, c. 1800, no publisher. Engraving, length 34 cm.

Paris, BnF, Est. Of 4b, vol. 1, États-Unis, costumes et mœurs, xvie -xixe siècles [United States, costumes and customs, 16th-19th centuries].

An initial approach to the provenance of wampum objects in French collections

  • 23 For instance, the governor- general of New France, Rolland- Michel Barrin, comte de La Galissionièr (...)

11Beginning in the 17th century, Europe became increasingly eager for non-European products. Collectors put together cabinets of natural specimens, known as naturalia, and man-made artifacts from remote lands, or artificialia. Americana was particularly popular (Riviale 1993: 38). As French colonies in Acadia, Canada, and Louisiana, grew, developing a local administration with a governor tasked with defending the Crown’s interests, a vast exchange network sprang up, rooted in networks of sociability who sent curiosities back across the Atlantic (Feest 2007: 53 ff.; Havard 2007: 25 ff.). This was joined by a network of missionaries and clerics in New France and various orders of nuns, particularly the Ursulines, who began producing craftwork inspired by Indigenous traditions specifically for the European curiosities market (Phillips 1998). One final source of Indigenous objects in Europe were the amateur naturalists who collected specimens and artifacts in the field to send back to France.23 The nature of such networks makes it challenging to track the journey of collections from past to present: objects often changed hands both before and after arriving in France (Feest 2007: 53, 56).

  • 24 Virgini Immaculatæ Hurones dono dederunt, i.e. Gift from the Huron to the Immaculate Virgin.

12As has been seen, the earliest wampum belts whose provenance is recorded were sent to Chartres in 1678 and 1699. Sources record that six belts of alliance in total were sent to orders in France between 1654 and 1699: most have been lost (Lainey 2004: 66-69, 108; Stolle 2016: 33, 68). One, probably seized by revolutionaries in the late eighteenth century for the cabinet des Médailles at the Bibliothèque nationale, is now in the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac (71.1878.32.15), in a fragmentary condition. A gift from the Huron people, it bears the inscription VIRGINI·IMMAC· HVR D·D.24

  • 25 See the Lexicon of Historic Terms in this issue. Bastons were tubular beads several centimeters in (...)

13The renowned late-17th-century naturalist and administrator Michel Bégon, the naval quartermaster at Rochefort (1688-1710), is a typical example of a collector working within the colonial administrative network. Bégon’s correspondence mentions his ownership of over thirty pieces from North America, including two wampum objects, a “captain’s necklace with its shell and porcelain bastons or canons25 and a “woman’s or girl’s necklace with two pairs of porcelain pendant earrings” (Delavaud and Dangibeaud 1925: 41). A 1694 letter from Bégon describes the former in greater detail: “I have white, purple, and incarnate porcelain attached to a necklace, with a sort of round breastplate and two large bastons, which is what you admire the most”(ibid.: 232). Bégon’s heirs sold at least part of his collection of portraits, maps, and manuscripts to Louis XVI (Guibert 1926: 92, 120 ff.). The fate of his ethnographic collection, however, remains a mystery. The descriptions of the pectoral ornament (worn by captains or war leaders as a sign of their status) and the necklace do, however, bear some resemblance to objects now held by the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac.

  • 26 For an image of the pendant, see Fig. 7 in Gilles Havard’s article in this issue; for an image of t (...)
  • 27 Joseph François Latau, a Jesuit who lived with the Mohawk at the Sault-Saint-Louis mission from 17 (...)
  • 28 Bacqueville de La Potherie was a key witness at the 1701 Great Peace of Montreal, on which he wrote (...)

14The first is a pendant made from whelk shell threaded on a modern string. It came from the Versailles municipal library. It may have been part of a set of wampum strings with alternating white and purple beads, also held by the library. They are in very poor condition, suggesting they may have been used as a necklace before breaking and losing the larger wampum “bastons or canons” (71.1934.33.36, 71.1934.33.494).26 Claude-Charles Le Roy de La Potherie, also known as Bacqueville de La Potherie, comptroller of the navy and fortifications in Canada, wrote a history of North America containing an illustration of a Native American wearing a pendant like that described by Bégon, with an extra row of circles round the edge (1722: 90)27 and wampum cuffs—one of just a handful of such depictions. Bégon records receiving a number of objects from Bacqueville de La Potherie in 1702 including “belts [i.e. wampum belts], peace pipes, etc.” (Delavaud and Dangibeaud 1930: 137).28

15The second piece is a necklace from the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle (see Fig. 2 in Laurier Turgeon’s article in this issue). It consists of alternating white and purple wampum beads and is now adorned with three bird-shaped white shell pendants. It must have lost one, as Hamy’s photograph of 1897 shows four. The pendants are typical of Indigenous adornment in northeastern North America: several individual such bird-shaped pendants have been found on digs at a range of Iroquois sites dating from the 17th century, contemporaneous with Bégon’s collection (Hayes III and Ceci 1986: 40, 42). What Bégon describes, as “pendant earrings of porcelain” with his necklace seem to have been pendants of this type, since earrings were more characteristically pairs of long pearl pendants on string. Here again, Bégon’s collection cannot be clearly established as the source of the Muséum’s necklace, but the resemblance certainly admits the hypothesis.

16In 1714 and 1720, two diplomatic belts were sent to the kings of France by the Nipissing, an Algonquin nation near Montreal allied with France. The first was presented to Louis XIV via the missionary René-Charles de Breslay according to an archival document dated May 7, 1714, describing “pledges with a belt [presented] to his Majesty as a token of their word and loyalty”. Its main purpose was to assure the king of Nipissing support in the conict with the Renard [Mesquakie] nation (ANOM B36V fol. 383v, 384). Breslay sent the second belt six years later. This time, the event was recorded by the Nouveau Mercure gazette, which reported Breslay appearing on the Seine in a birch bark canoe with two Algonquins and a boy from California and his subsequent audience with Louis XV on January 8, 1720, when he handed over the “wampum belt” and passed on the Nipissing promise it embodied (Anonymous 1720: 38, 40). It is not known where the two belts, presented by the same nation just a few years apart, were then stored. Two single belts with geometric white patterning on a purple background are now held by the Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie in Besançon. The uniform weaving and homogeneous size of the beads suggest they may have been made by the same crafters (Stolle 2016: 5, table 5, 265 ff.); the purple background could mean they were made by French allies. They are known to have been in Besançon since the 19th century, though nothing further is known of their provenance: it is hypothesized that they were among items confiscated by revolutionaries around Paris, particularly the collection of Louis XVI’s younger brother Charles-Philippe de Bourbon, comte d’Artois, later Charles X. A series of engravings dating from around 1800 features two painted skins, also in the Besançon collection, that were certainly among the revolutionary seizures (Feest 2007: 132; Stolle and Núñez-Regueiro 2021: 103). The impressive Artois ethnographic cabinet, assembled by its curator Denis-Jacques Fayolle in under five years from 1785 to 1789, drew on various earlier aristocratic holdings and, in all likelihood, the royal collections. It is by no means impossible that the wampum belts sent to Louis XIV and Louis XV are now in Besançon.

  • 29 The Kaskaskia nation belonged to the Illinois Confederacy. In 1694, Father Jacques Gravier recorded (...)
  • 30 Human figures are generally presented horizontally. The sole known exceptions are a small group of (...)
  • 31 Algonquin Christian converts wove Christian crosses into ther belts to represent themselves with th (...)

17In 1725, a delegation from Louisiana of four chiefs of the Illinois, Missouri, Osage and Otoe nations was sent to Paris. The visit made a powerful impression in France, inspiring Jean-Philippe Rameau’s famous opera-ballet Les Sauvages (Girdlestone 2014 [1969]: 8, 598 ff.). On September 27 that year, Father Beaubois, head of the Jesuit mission in Louisiana accompanying the delegation, presented Louis XV with a wampum belt on behalf of the Kaskaskia chief Mamantouensa (Anonymous 1725: 2827 ff., 2842 ff.).29 The speech made it clear the gift was presented by the four Illinois chiefs. According to the custom of the time, this information must have been incorporated into the belt’s iconography in the form of equilateral crosses or male figures, typically used in the 18th century to refer to chiefs (Stolle 2016: 230). A belt at the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac features four men in a vertical presentation (see Fig. 5 in the Introduction of this issue).30 The vertical presentation of the figures, following the direction of the belt, the rectangular shapes of the bodies and the purple background are typical of a style recently identified as Algonquin (Feest 2007: 18, 85; Stolle 2016: 228 ff., 231).31 Since the Illinois language was part of the Algonquian family, it is reasonable to suggest that this belt, associated until 2007 with the Four Huron Nations and Samuel de Champlain (Hamy 1897b: 163 ff.; Vitart-Fardoulis 1983: 146, 150; Lainey 2008), was in fact the one sent by Mamantouensa. Further research may confirm the hypothesis that it was produced east of the Missouri River, in the west of the Great Lakes region.

Fig. 5. Wampum belts. Nipissing (attributed), Northeastern North America, before 1720. Quahog shell (Mercenaria mercenaria), whelk shell, plant fibers, length 85 and 94 cm.

Fig. 5. Wampum belts. Nipissing (attributed), Northeastern North America, before 1720. Quahog shell (Mercenaria mercenaria), whelk shell, plant fibers, length 85 and 94 cm.

These are thought to be the two diplomatic belts presented to the kings of France in 1714 and 1720 by the Nipissing nation, an Algonquin ally of the French near Montreal.

© Besançon, musée des Beaux-arts et d’Archéologie, 853.50.74 and 853.50.75. Photo E. Châtelain.

18An anonymous report (c. 1725) on the characteristics of wampum beads and the possibility of manufacturing them in France mentions wampum belonging to Louis Léon Pajot, comte d’Ons-en-Bray, director general of the Postes et Relais de France and honorary member of the Académie royale des sciences in Paris from 1716 to 1754. The author compares two types of objects in his collection of curiosities: “they also make others split down the middle to hang around the neck, they make bracelets at least four inches wide for their wrists” (BNF, NAF 2550, n. d. [c. 1725]: fol. 24 ff.). Pajot d’Ons-en-Bray bequeathed his cabinets of mechanics, hydraulics, clock making and other curiosities to the Académie when he died in 1754 (AN, MC/ET/LI/994, 1756). An inventory was drawn up at that point, including several items listed as made of “enamel” (AS 1J17, 1795 Inventaire no 74. ; Puyo 2014-2015: 31 ff.). The collection was soon requisitioned by the supervisor of the Jardin royal des plantes, Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon: since his appointment in 1739, he had been hard at work extending and modernizing the gardens and now planned to expand the cabinet of curiosities. At his request, the Pajot d’Ons-en-Bray collection, on display at the Académie des sciences in the Louvre, was sent to the gardens by royal decree on December 18, 1757 (AN, O/2/101, 1757, fol. 583 ff.). The French Revolution saw the Jardin royal become the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle: the ethnographic collection was moved to the cabinet des Médailles at the Bibliothèque nationale, where it remained until 1880 when it moved on again to the Musée d’Ethnographie at the Palais du Trocadéro.

  • 32 See Fig.1 in Gilles Havard’s article in this issue.

19This collection, now at the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, holds two pieces that may be the Pajot d’Ons-en-Bray wampum (Lainey 2004: 69-70, 211; Puyo 2014-2015: 32). An ornamental neckband to be passed over the head exactly matches his description and can be definitively linked to his collection.32 This is the only complete example of this type of ornamental wampum (Feest 2014b: 74 ff.). The pair of cuffs is likewise extremely rare, though a second set in glass beads is held by the Musée d’Histoire naturelle in Lille. The similarity of style and beads of the neckband and cuffs in Paris seems to suggest that they are part of the same set, pointing to a possible shared provenance and a link to Pajot d’Ons-en-Bray’s cabinet of curiosities. His duties brought him into contact with a range of scholars and collectors in the field, almost certainly including the aforementioned Jesuit missionary Joseph François Lafitau, based among the Iroquois of Sault-Saint-Louis. Lafitau’s famous 1724 work Mœurs des sauvages ameriquains [Customs of the American Savages] featured an illustration of a cuff with white decorations on a dark background, very similar to the pair in Paris, together what seems to be a porcupine quill or alternating white and purple bead trim (Latau 1724, vol. III: 24, no 8; Feest 2014b: 71 ff.). It is possible that Lafitau’s illustration was inspired by Pajot d’Ons-en-Bray’s cuffs, or even that Lafitau may have owned them himself at some point. Such ornamental wampum objects are often considered to have been worn for prestige, but they do seem to have also had a diplomatic function. Wampum cuffs were exchanged by Huron chiefs as symbols of friendship and alliance, as recorded in 1703 when the Huron chief Michipichy of Quarante-Sols presented “two porcelain bracelets” to Lamothe-Cadillac, who founded Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, to pass on to a Huron chief at Jeune Lorette (near Quebec City) as an invitation to join him (Margry 1883: 290-291).

Fig. 6. Pair of cuffs. Northeastern North America, c. 1770-1790. Glass beads, hide, plant fibers, 14 × 14.5 cm. Lille, Musée d’Histoire naturelle, 990.2.3331.1 and 990.2.3331.2.

Fig. 6. Pair of cuffs. Northeastern North America, c. 1770-1790. Glass beads, hide, plant fibers, 14 × 14.5 cm. Lille, Musée d’Histoire naturelle, 990.2.3331.1 and 990.2.3331.2.

Photo Philip Bernard.

Fig. 7. Calumet or peace pipe. Iowa, central Plains of North America, before 1845. Ash wood, shell beads, hide, horsehair, loon skin, porcupine quills, plant fibers, pigments, length 96 cm. Paris, Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, 71.1909.19.20 D. Formerly in the Musée d’Archéologie nationale

Fig. 7. Calumet or peace pipe. Iowa, central Plains of North America, before 1845. Ash wood, shell beads, hide, horsehair, loon skin, porcupine quills, plant fibers, pigments, length 96 cm. Paris, Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, 71.1909.19.20 D. Formerly in the Musée d’Archéologie nationale

© musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, photo Pauline Guyon.

Wampum items arriving in France after 1760

20Later wampum include a group of three imitation wampum objects in glass beads at the Musée d’Histoire naturelle in Lille, the aforementioned cuffs and two belts (990.2.3331.1-2, 990.2.3342, 990.2.3316). All three came from the collection of the traveler and art aficionado Alphonse Moillet, a native of Lille who donated his collection to the city in 1850 (Feest 2014a: 39). The beadwork consists of tubes of blue and white glass, similar to objects with a better record of provenance in other collections. Examples include a neck adornment in the collection of the British army officer Andrew Foster, collected at Fort Miami or Fort Michilimackinac between 1790 and 1795, now in the National Museum of the American Indian (24/2034, Ganteaume 2010), and a belt decorated with white human figures on a purple background (c. 1777) in the collection of Colonel Arent Schyler DePeyster, now in the World Museum, Liverpool (58.83.9, Stolle 2016: 347, Fig. 358). The Lille objects are therefore more recent, dating to the decades around the American War of Independence (1770-1790), when French influence in North America increased as a result of the alliance with the independence movement (Jones 2007: 32 ff.; Feest 2014a: 39).

21The last example is also the most recent, dating back to 1845 and the visit to Paris of a twelve-strong delegation from the Iowa nation led by the American artist George Catlin. On April 21, the group was given a royal audience at the Tuileries. The war leader Neu-mon-ya placed a gift at Louis-Philippe’s feet: “a calumet or peace pipe three feet in length, its stem curiously adorned with porcupine quills” (Anonymous 1845: 2). Neu-mon-ya gave a brief speech:

Great Father, when the Indians have something to tell an eminent leader, their custom is to present him with a gift before speaking. My chief ordered me to place this pipe and these wampum strings in your hands to bear witness to our delight at being admitted to Your Majesty’ presence.
(
ibid.)

22The gifts were sent to the Musée de la Marine at the Louvre. The wampum strings are not in the 1856 catalog by the curator Morel-Fatio, but the pipe is listed as no 2835, “terracotta pipe from the Ioway [sic.] Indians” (MQB-JC, D004862, 1856: fol. 63R). The peace pipe was lost for a while, but has now been identified at the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac (71.1909.19.20 Am D). The pipestone bowl has sadly been lost, but the white wampum strings presented to Louis-Philippe to symbolize peace and friendship between the Iowa nation and France are affixed to the stem.

Conclusion

23The wampum belts, strings, and ornaments in French collections form a unique historical record. Most of the objects whose sources are known reflect alliances and friendships between Native American nations and French kings or Catholic orders, in a context of mutual sovereignty and acceptance. They bear witness to a period stretching from 1678 to 1845, when wampum played a leading role in trade agreements and international diplomacy. Several of the objects can be connected to specific Indigenous nations now less commonly associated with the practice, such as the Abenaki, Huron-Wendat, Nipissing, Illinois, and Iowa. Above and beyond diplomatic exchanges, wampum reached France in the form of cuffs, neck adornments, and ornamental necklaces. These were collected rather than exchanged and were therefore private purchases, not official gifts.

24Wampum belts recording international or religious agreements were kept in royal and ecclesiastical cabinets, while objects that changed hands privately ended up in cabinets of curiosities belonging to collectors and were later sold on. The former, presented to the Crown, maintained a presence in the historical record they themselves formed part of; the latter proved harder to track in the archives. The corpus of wampum artifacts studied in this article reflect one aspect of France’s presence in North America from the latter half of the seventeenth century to the fall of New France in 1760, then again during the American War of Independence, when the French crown stepped in to support the Thirteen Colonies.

Warm thanks to Fabienne Audebrand, Philippe Bihouée, Julien Cosnuau, Christine Duvauchelle, Cécile Figliuzzi, Catherine Hofmann, Anne Leblay-Kinoshita, Isabelle Maurin-Joffre, Carine Peltier-Caroff, Lise Puyo, Julien Olivier, Olivier Renaudeau, Nathalie Rollet-Bricklin, Catherine Tran-Bourdonneau, David Verhulst and Olivier Wagner, for their generous support for this research project.

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Bibliographie

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Notes

1 The Powhatan Algonquin term roanoke refers to disc- shaped shell beads, four of which “will scarcely make one length of wampum”, as John Lawson wrote in the early 18th century (Lawson 1714: 194; Holmes 1883: 239).

2 Glass tube beads the same shape as shell beads were also used from the 17th century on for belts and strings (see Laurier Turgeon in this issue).

3 For an example of this practice, see the “Speeches by the Iroquois Savages addressed to M. le Marquis de Beauharnois when they saw him for the first time and wept for the death of the late M. le Marquis de Vaudreuil in 1726 in Montreal” (see the Archival Sources appendix in this issue).

4 The belt also contains a few red glass beads.

5 See ADEL, RES 60/15 and 60/16, 1678 ; Anonymous 1700 ; Hérisson 1816 ; Doublet de Boisthibault 1857 ; Merlet 1858 ; Chaumonot 1885 ; Farabee 1922 ; Langlois 1922 ; Clair 2005 ; Olivares 2007 ; Dekoninck 2018.

6 One 1719 source records an order from the Conseil de marine to stop sending diplomatic belts to the French court (BNF, C11A 40: f. 182, quoted in Lainey 2004: 79; see also Gilles Havard in this issue).

7 Italics in the original.

8 Three belts, strings, and a series of decorative items (one to be worn on the neck, a pair of cuffs, and a necklace with pendants). Their respective references at the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac are 71.1878.32.57, 71.1878.32.61, 71.1878.32.155, 71.1878.32.58, 71.1878.32.56, 71.1878.32.60 and 71.1881.17.1.

9 Objects 71.1934.33.494 D, 71.1878.32.267 (in enameled terracotta) and 71.1909.19.20 Am D.

10 These collections are now recorded at the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac with the reference numbers 71.1878.32, 71.1881. 17, 71.1917.3 and 71.1934.33.

11 European imports were available for trade prior to 1760 but were clearly less widely used in clothing and adornments. When such materials became available, Indigenous women began to adapt them for use in clothing and adornments. As early as the latter half of the 18th century, it became hard to obtain North American products that did not make use of European imports, as recorded by Reverend Eleazer Wheelock, the founder of Dartmouth College for the Education of Native Americans in Hanover, New Hampshire (1769), in a 1768 letter to the Earl of Dartmouth (M’Clure and Parish 1811: 36).

12 Musée des Beaux-arts et d’Archéologie, Besançon, belts 853.50.74 and 853.50.75, strings 2013.0.2072.

13 Musée d’Histoire naturelle, Lille, belts 990.2.3316 (attached to a bag) and 990.2.3342, pair of cuffs 990.2.3331.1 and 990.2. 3331.2. The belt 990.2.3316 was attached to a bag after acquisition. Whoever did so was unfamiliar with Indigenous practice as it was incorrectly sewn to the center back of the bag, while straps were usually attached to the edges.

14 Feest 2007: 132; Núñez-Regueiro and Stolle 2021: 103.

15 See for example Alexandre de Batz’s drawings, dating from the 1730s (Gagnon 1975).

16 Term used by the British, still current today. Ancien Régime France used the term «Agniers».

17 Respectively, the former missions of Sault-Saint-Louis and Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes, Jeune-Lorette, and Bécancour and Saint-François.

18 From the latter half of the 17th century on, the British and French tried their hands at producing wampum. The British set up shops along the North American Atlantic coast and back in Britain itself, producing white beads from the columella of local shells and other parts of various other species. The mass-produced beads did not have the characteristic groove of Indigenous-produced beads and were of a more standard size and shape (Willoughby 1905: 508). The French did not have ready access to the raw materials needed for wampum; they explored various options for producing their own, but research has not yet revealed the success or otherwise of their experiments. On the relative chronology of the size and characteristics of wampum beads, see Ceci 1989.

19 Some scholars explain this development by the rise in demand for wampum in the latter half of the 18th century, leading to a shortage of the mature clam shells that were deep purple in color, and increasing use of paler immature specimens in bead production.

20 The sole exception is votive belts, mostly spelling out words in purple lettering on a white background. This difference is doubtless due to white’s symbolic values of purity, sacrifice, and virtue (Lainey 2004: 67 ff.). Only two known votive belts have a purple background, both sent to Chartres by the Abenaki who produced their own purple and white beads and who therefore had ready access to both colors. The Abenaki later became middlemen in the bead trade.

21 The objects in this plate bear a strong resemblance to those that survive to this day, with some differences in terms of scale but a close eye for shape and ornamentation, suggesting the belt was also a relatively faithful depiction. This would mean it had a number of differences with other specimens held in France, including reversed colors (purple figures on a white background), perhaps indicating it was produced outside New France. This is the oldest attested wampum featuring human figures.

22 The illustration shows a wampum of thirteen rows, each with seventy beads. The depiction may be a true representation of the wampum’s size, as is the case in some other illustrations (Feest 2007: 132 ff.; Stolle and Núñez-Regueiro 2021: 103 ff., 110).

23 For instance, the governor- general of New France, Rolland- Michel Barrin, comte de La Galissionière (1747-1749), sent natural specimens and curious objects to the Jardin royal des plantes in Paris. Alongside the belts sent to France via official channels were a handful of objects that ended up in private collections, later broken up or sold on. One such belonged to the collector Pedro Dávila. The wampum belt and string listed in the sales catalog for his collection (Dávila 1767, vol. I: 114; 1767, vol. III: 4) do not feature in a 1759 description of his cabinet and must have been acquired between the two dates.

24 Virgini Immaculatæ Hurones dono dederunt, i.e. Gift from the Huron to the Immaculate Virgin.

25 See the Lexicon of Historic Terms in this issue. Bastons were tubular beads several centimeters in length.

26 For an image of the pendant, see Fig. 7 in Gilles Havard’s article in this issue; for an image of the wampum strings, see Fig. 4 in Laurier Turgeon’s article.

27 Joseph François Latau, a Jesuit who lived with the Mohawk at the Sault-Saint-Louis mission from 1711 to 1717, likewise published a drawing of this style of pendant: «necklace worn by savages, with a large piece of porcelain attached” (1724, vol. III: 25; 28, pl. 2, no 6). He recorded that the Mohawk “also wore on their chests a hollow porcelain plaque the length of a hand which has the same effect as the Roman bulla (ibid.: 55).

28 Bacqueville de La Potherie was a key witness at the 1701 Great Peace of Montreal, on which he wrote a report for the Académie des sciences (Delavaud and Dangibeaud 1930: 137).

29 The Kaskaskia nation belonged to the Illinois Confederacy. In 1694, Father Jacques Gravier recorded the existence of four Illinois villages (Rogers 2009: 41).

30 Human figures are generally presented horizontally. The sole known exceptions are a small group of Algonquin belts with glass beads with human figures presented vertically. In all cases, the figures are white on a purple background (Stolle 2016: 298, pl. 31).

31 Algonquin Christian converts wove Christian crosses into ther belts to represent themselves with the same vertical presentation (Stolle 2016: 169).

32 See Fig.1 in Gilles Havard’s article in this issue.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1. Ball-headed war club inlaid with white and purple wampum. Northeastern North America, c. 1680-1720. Maplewood, traces of black pigment, hide, quahog shell (Mercenaria mercenaria), whelk shell, stamped label, length 60 cm. Paris, Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, 71.1917.3.14 D. Formerly in the collection of the Cabinet des médailles [Coin Cabinet], Bibliothèque nationale de France, transferred to the Musée de l’Artillerie in 1861.
Crédits © musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, photo Patrick Gries, Benoît Jeanneton.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6229/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 468k
Titre Fig. 2. Michel Berthaud, “Wampums des Hurons. Canada, xviie siècle” [Huron Wampum. Canada. 17th century] (View of the wampum presentation case at the Musée d’Ethnographie, Palais du Trocadéro), in Galerie américaine du musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro. Choix de pièces archéologiques et ethnographiques décrites et publiées par le Dr E.-T. Hamy.
Crédits Paris. E. Leroux, 1897, pl. 1. Paris, BnF, département Réserve des livres rares, GR FOL-P-1010.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6229/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Titre Fig. 3. François Ertinger, 1688-1689. View of the Molinet Cabinet at the Sainte-Geneviève Library. Paris, chez A. Dezallier 1692, pl. 4. Engraving.
Crédits Paris, BnF, département Philosophie, histoire, sciences de l’homme, J-1575.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6229/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,8M
Titre Fig. 4. Anonymous, N° 1 Painted skin from North America, n° 2 wampum belt: objects from the Versailles natural history cabinet, c. 1800, no publisher. Engraving, length 34 cm.
Crédits Paris, BnF, Est. Of 4b, vol. 1, États-Unis, costumes et mœurs, xvie -xixe siècles [United States, costumes and customs, 16th-19th centuries].
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6229/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,3M
Titre Fig. 5. Wampum belts. Nipissing (attributed), Northeastern North America, before 1720. Quahog shell (Mercenaria mercenaria), whelk shell, plant fibers, length 85 and 94 cm.
Légende These are thought to be the two diplomatic belts presented to the kings of France in 1714 and 1720 by the Nipissing nation, an Algonquin ally of the French near Montreal.
Crédits © Besançon, musée des Beaux-arts et d’Archéologie, 853.50.74 and 853.50.75. Photo E. Châtelain.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6229/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 352k
Titre Fig. 6. Pair of cuffs. Northeastern North America, c. 1770-1790. Glass beads, hide, plant fibers, 14 × 14.5 cm. Lille, Musée d’Histoire naturelle, 990.2.3331.1 and 990.2.3331.2.
Crédits Photo Philip Bernard.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6229/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 704k
Titre Fig. 7. Calumet or peace pipe. Iowa, central Plains of North America, before 1845. Ash wood, shell beads, hide, horsehair, loon skin, porcupine quills, plant fibers, pigments, length 96 cm. Paris, Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, 71.1909.19.20 D. Formerly in the Musée d’Archéologie nationale
Crédits © musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, photo Pauline Guyon.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6229/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 262k
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Paz Núñez-Regueiro et Nikolaus Stolle, « A History of Indigenous North American Wampum Objects in France, 1678-1845 »Gradhiva, 33 | 2022, 78-97.

Référence électronique

Paz Núñez-Regueiro et Nikolaus Stolle, « A History of Indigenous North American Wampum Objects in France, 1678-1845 »Gradhiva [En ligne], 33 | 2022, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2022, consulté le 26 juin 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/6229 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/gradhiva.6229

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Paz Núñez-Regueiro

Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac
Paz.NUNEZ-REGUEIRO[at]quaibranly.fr

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Nikolaus Stolle

Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac
Nikolaus.STOLLE[at]quaibranly.fr

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