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Title: Wampum - A Paper Presented to the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society - of Philadelphia
Author: Woodward, Ashbel
Language: English
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            OF PHILADELPHIA.



           OF FRANKLIN, CONN.,


             ALBANY, N. Y.:
          J. MUNSELL, PRINTER.

 Entered according to act of Congress in the year 1878,
 in the Library of Congress.

At a Stated Meeting of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of
Philadelphia, held January 2, 1868, the following resolutions were
unanimously adopted:

_Resolved_, That the thanks of this Society are due and are hereby
tendered to Ashbel Woodward, M.D., of Franklin, Conn., for his very able
and interesting research upon "Wampum" this evening read before the

_Resolved_, That said paper be referred to the Publication Committee.

                                          HENRY PHILLIPS, JR.,
                                            _Corresponding Secretary._


The following pages constitute an Essay read before the Numismatic and
Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia in January 1868. It was intended for
publication in the second volume of the Transactions of the Society, but
as the appearance of this volume has been unexpectedly delayed, it has
been thought best to allow the Essay to appear separately.

_Franklin, Conn._, January, 1878.


When Columbus, on his second voyage to the New World, landed upon Cape
Cabron, Cuba, the cacique of the adjacent country meeting him upon the
shore offered him a string of beads made of the hard parts of shells as
an assurance of welcome. Similar gifts were often made to the great
discoverer, whenever the natives sought to win his favor or wished to
assure him of their own good will. These shell beads were afterwards
found to be in general use among the tribes of the Atlantic coast. At
the close of the sixteenth century the English colonists found them in
Virginia, as did the Dutch at the commencement of the following century
in New York, the English in New England and the French in Canada. The
pre-historic inhabitants of the Mississippi valley were also evidently
acquainted with their manufacture, as remains of shell beads have been
found in many of the mounds which survive as the only memorials of that
mysterious people.

These Indian beads were known under a variety of names among the early
colonists, and were called, _wampum_, _wampom-peage_, or _wampeage_,
frequently _peage_ or _peake_ only, and in some localities _sewan_ or
_zewand_. But generally sewan prevailed among the Dutch, and wampum
among the English. These names were applied without distinction to all
varieties of beads. This confusion arose naturally enough from the
scanty acquaintance of the whites with the Indian language. The word
wampum [wompam],[1] which has since become a general term, was
restricted by the Indians to the white beads. It was derived from
_wompi_, "white." The other or dark beads were called _suckáuhock_, a
name compounded of _súcki_, "dark colored," and _hock_, "shell." The
name _Mowhakes_, compounded of _mowi_, "black," and _hock_, "shell," was
also sometimes applied to the dark beads. It thus appears that the
Indians divided their beads into two general classes, the _wompam_, or
white beads, and _suckáuhock_, or dark beads. Both white and black
consisted of highly polished, testaceous cylinders, about one-eighth of
an inch in diameter and a quarter of an inch long, drilled length-wise
and strung upon fibres of hemp or the tendons of wild beasts.
_Suckáuhock_ was made from the stem of the _Venus mercenaria_, or common
round clam, popularly known as the quauhaug; _wampum_ from the column
and inner whorls of the _Pyrula carica_ and _Pyrula caniculata_[2]
[Lam.], species known as Winkles or Periwinkles among fishermen, and the
largest convoluted shells of our New England coast.[3] These shells
were found in great abundance along the sea shore, lying either upon the
mud, or just beneath the surface, and were wrought in the following
manner. The desirable portions of the shells were first broken out into
small pieces of the form of a parallelopiped; these were then drilled
and afterwards ground and polished. Possessing no better tools, the
Indians made shift to bore them with stone drills,[4] implements which
hardly correspond with the delicacy and exactness exhibited by the
specimens of original wampum that have come down to us. The process of
polishing and shaping was equally painful and laborious, for rubbing
with the hand over a smooth stony surface, was the only method which the
rudeness of the Aborigines could devise. Yet the finished beads, whether
attached in thick masses to garments, or strung in long flexible rows,
were very comely and without a trace of the tawdriness, which is so
characteristic of uncivilized peoples. The suckáuhock with its varying
shades of purple was particularly beautiful. Its value was double that
of the white and the darker its color, the more highly it was prized.
But the laborious method of production imparted no trivial value to both

It seems almost incredible that the Indian could produce so clever an
article with his rude implements. Some have conjectured that the
specimens produced before the natives obtained awl blades from the
colonists were very inferior to their later productions. One writer[5]
even goes so far as to suggest, that, before the advent of Europeans,
Indian beads consisted mostly of small pieces of wood, stained white or
black. The fact is, however, that the manufacture of wampum dates back
at least to the time of the mound builders, for quantities of beads
similar in form to the more modern article, and proved by chemical
tests and structural peculiarities to be similar in material, have been
exhumed from the ancient mounds of the west.[6]

Other species besides the wampum and suckáuhock crept into local use
among the different tribes. The Iroquois in their civil and religious
ceremonies employed a variety named _otekóa_, and made from spiral fresh
water shells of the genus _unio_. This as may be inferred from its uses
was held in the highest esteem, and no other could be employed in the
different stages of the ceremonial.[7] In New England and perhaps
elsewhere, an inferior kind made evidently from shells too small and
thin to be wrought into the cylindrical beads, circulated to a limited
extent. The separate pieces were round and flat, about an eighth of an
inch broad and a sixteenth of an inch thick, white and black were strung
alternately, but the strings, though arranged with considerable nicety,
lacked wholly the finish and flexibility of the regular article. In
Virginia _roenoke_ was current. This consisted of small rough fragments
of cockle shells, which were drilled and strung. The last two varieties
were only used to a limited extent, even in the region of their
manufacture. Here, as elsewhere, the cylindrical wampum was the
standard, and the dearest to the Indian of all his treasures. Indeed
such was the value set upon it, that attempts were often made to
counterfeit it, an unallowed shell being fraudulently used in the
manufacture of the white, while the black was imitated from a kind of
stone. Yet the habitual caution and keenness of the Indian made it
difficult to palm off the spurious article upon him.

As wampum was made from marine shells,[8] it was naturally manufactured
by the sea shore tribes, and in localities determined by the abundance
of raw material. Here the shells were stored up in some convenient spot
during summer, to be worked out in winter when the rigors of the season
should deter the men from their ordinary out door pursuits.[9] Probably
but little was produced north of the Narragansetts [Rhode Island], as
the necessary shells were scarce beyond Cape Cod. The Narragansetts were
themselves great producers, and tradition claimed for their tribe the
honor of the invention of wampum. But the Long Island Indians were by
far the greatest producers along our northern coast. Their sandy flats
and marshes teemed with sea life, and, when the Dutch first came to New
Amsterdam, their island went by the name of _sewan hacky_, or the "land
of the sewan shell," so numerous were the sewan manufactories upon it.
Without doubt production was stimulated beyond its natural limits by the
demand from powerful tribes from the main land, who found it easier to
exact wampum as tribute from their weak neighbors, than personally to
engage in its laborious coinage. Hazard, in his collection of state
papers, states, that the Narragansetts frequently compelled large
tributes in wampum from the Long Island Indians. The Pequots also for
many years prior to 1637, exacted large annual contributions from the
same tribes while they were still further subject to the levies of the
imperious Mohawks. Thus the mint of wealth at their very doors became to
its possessors the source of untold misery. Constant fear kept them
toiling at the mines, while the scanty proceeds of their labor only
quickened the greed of their savage masters. The number and extent of
the sewan manufactories upon Long Island may be inferred from the
frequent and immense shell heaps left by the Indians in all of which
scarcely a whole shell is to be found. Occasionally the whole shells
were carried over to the main land and there wrought. From Sewan-Hacky
down the Atlantic coast and along the gulf, the shaded covers and quiet
banks were doubtless dotted with wampum manufactories, for there was a
great demand constantly to be met.

The inland tribes were of course unable to produce their own wampum, and
depended for their supply upon the coast tribes. A brisk trade thus
arose between the coast and interior. Hides and furs were brought down
to clothe the denser population of the shore, and wampum carried back
in exchange.[10] Often, however, the inland tribes were able to pounce
down and wring this precious material from its carriers in the form of

Wampum is often spoken of as "Indian money." This expression if
referring to colonial times is perfectly proper, but must be received
with caution in the consideration of ante-colonial days. The barbarian,
dwelling in independent isolation, satisfies the majority of his wants
by direct effort and not by an interchange of services, nor till
civilization has considerably advanced can we look for any general
system of exchanges with the mutual dependence and mutual benefits which
such a system involves. So attractive an article as wampum was doubtless
eagerly sought in barter, and would readily procure for its possessor
whatever else he might desire. Indeed we know that it was the means of
an extensive trade between the coast and the interior, the inland
Indians bringing down hides and furs to be exchanged for the wampum of
the shore. All this, however, was in the way of barter, and we cannot
hence infer that the idea of a medium or money crept into the limited
circle of the redman's wants and satisfactions. His circumstances did
not demand and would not therefore suggest it. Wampum was the gold of
the aborigine. But he had yet to learn that the value of gold resides
not alone in its glitter. The ancient Peruvians dwelt amid mountains of
gold, but the idea of a circulating medium never dawned upon them. In
like manner, the Indian had never learned that use of his golden wampum
which was the first to suggest itself to the white man. He made and
valued it for other purposes.

A fondness for personal display and decoration are characteristic of
uncivilized life, and wampum was well adapted to satisfy this weakness
of the Indian. It was every where used for adornment of the person. The
humblest proudly wore his trifle, while the more favored ones were wont
to decorate themselves in countless gay and fantastic ways. It was
oftenest worn about the neck in strings of the length of a rosary, the
number of strings being determined by the means or social position of
the wearer.[11] Bracelets and necklaces were other forms in which it was
frequently displayed. With the females, head-dresses, consisting of
bands of wampum twined about the head and gathering up their abundant
tresses, were an especial delight. A border of beads greatly enhanced
the value of any garment, and outer clothing was usually thus
ornamented. Indeed the wealthy and powerful wore cloaks, as also aprons
and caps, thickly studded with wampum wrought into various fantastic
forms and figures. Says that old voyager, John Josselyn, "Prince
Phillip, a little before I came to England [1671], coming to Boston, had
on a coat and buskins thick set with these beads in pleasant wild
works." The moccasin was also, as at the present day, the recipient of
much taste and skill.

More of a luxury and confined mostly to sachems and sagamores was the
wampum belt, alternate white and purple strings attached in rows to a
deerskin base, and worn as a belt about the waist, or thrown over the
shoulders like a scarf. Ordinary belts consisted of twelve rows of one
hundred and eighty beads each, but they increased in length and breadth
with the social importance of the wearer. As many as ten thousand beads
are known to have been wrought into a single war belt four inches wide.
The regular alternation of white and purple rows was not always adopted,
but birds and beasts and such other rustic fantasies as suited the
owner's taste, were often interwoven with the different colors. One of
King Philip's belts surrendered by the Sagamore Annawon to Capt. Church,
was nine inches wide, of sufficient length when placed about Capt.
Church's shoulders to reach to his ancles, and curiously inwrought with
figures of birds, beasts and flowers. From another belt of no less
exquisite workmanship and designed to be worn about the head, two flags
fell in graceful folds upon the shoulders. A third and smaller one had a
star embroidered upon its end, and was to be worn upon the breast. The
haughty old chief was wont to adorn his person with these insignia when
he sat in state among his subjects. They symbolized, by striking
emblems, his might and prowess, and kindled in beholders feelings and
emotions that royal pomp and purple could not awake. The idea of
gaudiness is apt to associate itself in our minds with Indian trappings,
but we must confess that the simple grace and force of these rustic
adornments would put to shame many a glittering article of more modern

But wampum strings and belts subserved other equally important uses.
They were among the Indian race the universal bonds of nations and
individuals, the inviolable and sacred pledges of word and deed. No
promise was binding unless confirmed by gifts of wampum. The young
warrior declared his passion for his Indian maid, by presenting wampum
chains and belts, and her acceptance of the proffered present sealed the
marriage compact.[12] Like tokens accompanied every weighty message,
and little reliance was put upon the messenger who brought not with him
such assurances of good faith.[13] They cemented friendships, confirmed
alliances, sealed treaties, and effectually effaced the memory of
injuries.[14] A curious ceremonial had grown up in their presentation on
state occasions. When ambassadors set out for another nation, they bore
before them the calumet, or pipe of peace, in evidence of their pacific
purpose and to secure protection for their journey, and also belts of
wampum to be submitted in confirmation of their proposals, or, if their
people had been worsted in battle to atone for injuries and purchase
peace. In the great council assembled to receive them, the orator of the
embassy rose and unfolded the object of their visit, corroborating each
important statement and proposal at its close by laying down wampum
belts. If his words were pleasing, and the presents taken from the
ground in evidence thereof, similar presents were given in return, and
the contract sealed with the smoking of the calumet and the burial of
the hatchet in the midst. Among the Six Nations, whenever the council
failed to adjust the difficulty or when for any other reason peace was
to be interrupted, war was proclaimed by striking a tomahawk painted red
and ornamented with black wampum, into the war post in each village of
the league.[15]

To illustrate what we have said, we subjoin the following account of an
interview between Sir William Johnson, the noted Indian agent and the
Six Nations, among whom this ceremony survived even after their decline.
"At a meeting of the Six Nations and their allies at Fort Johnson, Feb.
18, 1756, Sir William Johnson said:

    _Brethren of the Six Nations_,

    I have heard with great concern that a war party of the Senecas, the
    most remote nation of the confederacy, have had a considerable
    misunderstanding with their brethren the English to the southward,
    which has been fatal to some of that nation. I am extremely unable
    to express my sorrow for that unhappy affair, and as the hatchet
    remains fixed in your heads, I do with the greatest tenderness and
    affection remove it thence.

                                                               A belt.


    With this belt I cleanse and purify the beds of those who fell in
    that unfortunate affair from the defilement they have contracted.

                                                               A belt.


    I am informed that on that occasion you lost three of your powerful
    warriors. I do with this belt cover their dead bodies that they may
    not offend our sight any more and bury the whole affair in oblivion.

                                                               A belt.


    _Brother Warraghiyagey_,

    We the sachems and warriors of the Seneca nation return to you our
    sincere thanks for your great affection in drying our tears and
    driving sorrow from our hearts, and we in return perform the same
    ceremony to you with the like hearty affection.

                                                   A string of wampum.

    _Brother Warraghiyagey_,

    We are sensible of your goodness expressed to us in removing the
    cause of our grief and tenderly taking the axe out of our heads.

                                                               A belt.

    After several more speeches and presentations by the Senecas, the
    other nations in turn presented belts. In 1748, the general had
    given them a large belt upon which was an emblem of the Six Nations
    joined hand in hand with the English. This the speaker then took and

    _Brother Warraghiyagey_,

    Look with all attention on this belt and remember the solemn and
    mutual engagements we entered into when you first took upon you the
    management of our affairs. Be assured we look upon them as sound and
    shall on our part punctually perform them as long as we remain a

                                              A prodigious large belt.

    Taking up another large belt formerly given them by the governor of
    New York, he said:

    _Brother Warraghiyagey_,

    We hope our brethren, the English, will seriously remember the
    promises made us by this belt and exactly perform them, and we
    promise to do the same though we have no record but our memories.

                                               A very large belt."[16]

The belts received at treaties, councils and other assemblies were
entrusted for presentation to the care of one individual, usually the
sachem, who was expected to keep in mind the occasion and purport of
each, which he could readily do by the aid of the devices emblematic of
the event it signalized that were traced upon each.[17] Thus a belt
presented to Sir Wm. Johnson by the Six Nations, had wrought upon it the
sun, the emblem of light, and symbols of the Six Nations. It signified
that their minds were now illumined by the clear bright light of truth
and their intention to abide in the light.[17] In a belt presented at
Easton, His Majesty King George was figured taking hold of the king of
the Six Nations with one hand, and the king of the Delawares with the
other. A belt presented by the Indians of Eastern Maine as a pledge of
their friendship and fidelity to the United States and the king of
France was explained as follows: The belt was thirteen rows wide to
represent the United States, and had upon it a cross indicating France,
and several white figures denoting the different Indian villages.[18]
The Indian like other young languages drew closer to nature than the
dusty abstractions of civilization. It was highly figurative and the
majority of its words referred directly to familiar external sights. The
tribes of each nation of the Iroquois were known respectively as the
Wolf, Bear, Beaver, Turtle, Deer, Snipe, Heron and Hawk. The significant
names of chiefs are known to all, and whoever is familiar with Indian
oratory will readily recollect its garb of bold and striking metaphors.
These features, while imparting energy to the language, at the same
time made it easy to convey its meaning by picture writing or
symbolism, the only mode of writing which the aborigine possessed.[19]
Thus, too, it was easy to put upon a belt a few significant characters
which by the principle of mental association should clearly depict the
salient features of an event or of a series of events. Such belts
carefully preserved served as the annals of a nation. They were the only
authentic history of the past, recalling the treaties, councils,
triumphs and domestic celebrations of former generations. At stated
times their custodian, the sachem, was accustomed to gather the younger
warriors about him, and unfolding to them the secrets locked up in
these mysterious records, instruct them in the history and engagements
of their tribe. The old soldier's breast glowed with honest pride, as he
recounted to his young braves the exploits of their sires, or exhibited
the proud tokens of submission forced from some ancient enemy, and most
of all when he came to dwell upon scenes conspicuous for his own valor
and reddened by his blood. And as the impetuous youths drank in the
glorious story of their father's might and valor on the war path, there
sprang up within them a patriotism "that grew by what it fed on." In the
extensive confederation of the Iroquois, Hono Wenato, an Onondaga
sachem, was the hereditary keeper of the wampum. Whenever the grand
council met to fill a vacancy in the sachemship of a tribe of any
nation, it was his duty publicly to repeat to the new sachem their
ancient laws and usages, and to unfold to him the structure and
principles of the league, as recorded in the belts committed to his

Wampum played an important part in religious as well as civil
ceremonies. On occasions of great public calamities, it formed the most
acceptable sacrifice that could be offered to the terrible Hobbamocko,
the author of evil, and it entered largely into the mystic rites of all
those weird assemblies that gathered under the shades of the forest.
When evil threatened or its farther progress was to be stayed, as also
after great triumphs and abundant harvests, the Indians gathered from
far and near to celebrate their mysteries. They danced for days, painted
and clad in hideous guise, about a great fire, the throne of the
divinity, and with wild and frantic yells cast from time to time into
the flames furs and weapons, and that choicest of their treasures the
costly wampum. Nay it was even whispered in the early time, that little
children gaily adorned with wampum were led into the midst and thrust
into the fiery embrace of the hissing god.[21] The practice of the
Iroquois was less fearful, among whom a string of white wampum was hung
around the neck of a white dog suspended to a pole and offered as a
sacrifice to the mighty Haweuneyn. The wampum was a pledge of their
sincerity, and white an emblem of purity and of faith. In the same
nation, previous to "giving thanks to the Maple," and their other stated
festivals, the people assembled for the mutual confession of their sins.
"The meeting was opened by one of the 'keepers of the faith,' with an
address upon the propriety and importance of acknowledging their evil
deeds to strengthen their minds against future temptations. He then took
a string of white wampum in his hand, and set the example by a
confession of his own faults, after which he handed the string to the
one nearest to him, who received it, made his confession in like manner,
and passed it to another. In this way the wampum went around from hand
to hand, and those who had confessions to make, stated wherein they had
done wrong, and promised to do better in the future. Old and young, men,
women and even children, all united in this public acknowledgment of
their faults, and joined in the common resolution of amendment. On some
occasions the string of wampum was placed in the centre of the room, and
each one advanced in turn to perform the duty as the inclination seized
him. A confession and promise without holding the wampum would be of no
avail. It was the wampum which recorded their words and gave their
pledge of sincerity. The object of the confession was future

Wampum was the tribute paid by the vanquished in war, as also the means
by which threatened wars were often averted. The Long Island Indians for
many years paid an annual tribute to the Pequots, a powerful tribe
dwelling in Eastern Connecticut.[23] It is commonly supposed that these
tribes were also tributary to the Six Nations. To the same great power
were subject the clans between the Hudson and the Connecticut, and every
year two aged but haughty Mohawks might be seen going from village to
village to collect the tribute that was their due. It is asserted that
as late as 1756, a small tribe near Sugar Loaf Mountain made an annual
payment to this nation of £20 in wampum. Individual as well as national
obligations were similarly satisfied. Like the early German, the Indian
set a marketable value on human life, and a suitable present of wampum
on the part of the murderer, if accepted, freed him from the vengeance
of the dead man's friends, for the wampum belt washed away all traces of
the bloody stain.[24] Perhaps desire for another's wampum sometimes
prompted him to such foul deeds, as it did the white man,[25] though
happily the Indian seldom stooped to theft.

Thus in the rude civilization of the aborigine wampum filled a space
accorded to no one article in our own. Through life it faithfully met
all his varied wants, and when he came to die, his friends placed it
about his dead body,[26] that it might befriend him on his journey to
the spirit land, and on his arrival there gain for him admission to the
realms of the god Kiehtan, the abode of the blessed.

The shrewd commercial instinct of the Dutch colonists was quick to
profit by wampum in their dealings with the aborigines. Happily its most
extensive producers dwelt at their very doors. They obtained from the
Long Island tribes in return for knives, scissors, hatchets and the
like, great quantities of this novel coinage, and then exchanged it with
the Indians of the mainland for hides and furs, often plunging far into
the interior and drawing thence products which gold could never have won
from their possessors. Did common trifles fail, wampum was the unfailing
reserve whose charms the savage was powerless to resist. With such an
adjutant trade became doubly flourishing and lucrative. Posts sprang up
along the Hudson, in the valley of the Connecticut and as far south as
the Schuylkill, through all of which ceaseless revenues poured into the
coffers of the Dutch West India Company. Connecticut, alone, annually
furnished to her traders ten thousand beaver skins.[27] In all this
traffic wampum played a leading part, so much so in fact that fur trade
and wampum trade became synonymous terms.

Toward the close of September, 1627, Isaac de Rasieres was dispatched
from New Amsterdam on an embassy to the English colony at New Plymouth.
Being of a trading turn, he carried with him in his vessel among other
merchandise about £50 in wampum which he managed to dispose of
there.[28] Wampum was as yet comparatively unknown in Massachusetts Bay,
and the colonists were ignorant of its uses. This purchase made with
great reluctance, they sent to their trading house at Kennebeck, where
"when the inland Indians came to know it, they could scarce procure
enough for many years together." Everywhere in New England, as in the
Dutch provinces, wampum soon became a leading article in the Indian
trade, and added greatly to its profits. Seven years after its
introduction to Kennebeck, Mr. Winslow carried thence into England about
twenty hogsheads of beaver, "the greater part whereof was traded for
wampampeage" during the year. By 1636 this trade had grown to such
proportions in Massachusetts colony that the standing colony were
authorized to farm it out for the increase of the public revenues, and
to establish the severest penalties for any infringement of the
privileges thus granted. The traders of New England were now ranging the
forests in all directions and often plunged into them for hundreds of
miles to the great alarm of the Dutch who feared that the English would
monopolize all the profits of the trade, and that "they should be
obliged to eat oats out of English hands."[29] From the north the French
descended in great numbers, eager to share in the gains of this traffic,
and often encroached upon the domains of other nations. The solitudes of
the wilderness thus resounded every where to the tread of the
adventurous white man, who, lured on by the hope of gain, thought not of
the dangers that beset his path. It doubtless afforded the Indian no
little satisfaction to welcome the haughty foreigner to his wigwam, and
while dictating his own terms, to receive in payment the honored
currency of his fathers. When he took his pay, he measured it off after
his own fashion, the unit being the distance from the elbow to the end
of the little finger. According to one authority it made no difference
whether a short or tall man measured it.[30] Adrian Van Tiedhoven, clerk
of the court at the South river, however tells a different story,
complaining bitterly "because the Indians always take the largest and
tallest among them to trade with us."

But hides and furs were not the only articles which wampum purchased
from the natives. It was a frequent consideration in early Indian deeds.
In the records of Windsor, Conn., is preserved a deed, which conveys
territory lying between the Podunk and Scantic rivers, and extending a
day's march into the country, the price paid for which was fifteen
fathoms of wampum and twenty cloth coats. Most of the present towns of
Warwick and Coventry in Rhode Island, were purchased of Miantinomi,
sachem of the Narragansetts, for one hundred and forty-four fathoms of

In New England the limits of the trade were considerably extended by the
quantities of wampum tribute which poured into the hands of the colonial
authorities. Wampum was the commodity in which tribute was universally
paid, and the stern justice of our fathers imposed this with no sparing
hand upon their weak and erring neighbors. In 1634, the Pequots were
fined 400 fathoms of wampum, and two years afterwards 600 fathoms
more.[32] After 1637, the Long Island Indians paid a large yearly
tribute to the united commissioners,[33] as did also the Block
Islanders. It is often difficult, as in the present case, to see the
justice of such exactions. These Indians had been guilty of no
unfriendly act, and the utmost urged in extenuation of the imposition
was the flimsy pretence that but for an alleged protection the same sums
would have gone in fealty to their red brethren. In 1644, the
Narragansetts were fined 2000 fathoms, and doomed to pay yearly
thereafter a fathom for every Pequot man, half a fathom for every youth
and a hand breadth for every child in the tribe. As late as 1658,[34]
the Pequots were fined ten fathoms a man, and one of their number
imprisoned for offering refuse wampum in part payment.[35] This tribe
had suffered so many and severe exactions that they were obliged to
search in all directions for the material out of which to manufacture
their wampum, and occasionally crossed over to Long Island for this
purpose. The Montauk sachem fearing that his shores would be exhausted
of their shelly wealth, opposed these visits, until the Pequots
succeeded in securing the interposition of the united commissioners in
their behalf.[36] In 1663, the assessment upon this tribe was fixed at
80 fathoms. Such are a few of the many instances to be found in the
records, showing the enormous amount of wampum paid as tribute by the
natives to the early authorities of New England.

The Dutch supply was augmented in a different manner. They soon found
the native manufactories inadequate to the demand and erected mints of
their own, and by introducing steel drills and polishing lathes won a
great advantage over the original wearisome hand processes. The French
sought a still greater advantage by substituting porcelain for shells,
but the Indians were not to be thus easily imposed upon, and the
manufacture of earthen money was soon given up.[37] It is sometimes
asserted that the English engaged in making wampum, though the statement
appeared to be without foundation. The Dutch, however, produced it in
large quantities, and were thereby enabled to enlarge the circle of
their own posts; and also to furnish liberal supplies to the traders,
north and south, who ranged over the entire Atlantic coast from the St.
Lawrence to the gulf. In Virginia, the Carolinas, and later in Georgia,
wampum was the chief medium employed in the fur trade.

The poverty of the early settlers, added to that short sighted and now
obsolete policy of Europe in the seventeenth century, which jealously
sought to keep all specie within her borders, produced a general dearth
of the precious metals in the currency of the New World, and all kinds
of shifts were made to eke out the scanty supply. Corn, wheat, oats,
peas, poultry and the like sufficed to satisfy any obligation. But then,
though answering well in cases of barter, where two mutual desires met,
were far too bulky and unwieldy for general use. Naturally then recourse
was had to an article in extensive use among the traders, and possessing
in a measure the portability of gold and silver, and _wampum_ became a
constituent part of the currency. In one feature at least, the old
civilization held its own beside the new. As early as 1637, wampum was
made a legal tender in Massachusetts for any sum under 12_d._, at the
rate of six beads for a penny.[38] The same year it became a legal
tender in Connecticut for any amount. The general court declaring it
receivable for taxes "at fousen (4) a penny."[39]

But coin grew scarcer in Massachusetts and shell money increased in
value, till in 1640, the authorities were compelled to adopt the
valuation of Connecticut, ordering that the white pass at four and the
"bleuse" at two a penny, "and not above 12_d._ at a time except the
receiver desire more."[40] The public needs soon required another
change, and the legality of shell currency rose to £10.[41] This novel
coinage, thus regulated from time to time, answered well for money
throughout the colonies, till after a while trouble arose from an
unexpected source. The enormous demand at length brought upon the market
beads of stone or unallowed shells, as also many rough, ill-strung
specimens of the genuine article. The disorder was aggravated, because
the Indians, who best understood the qualities of their wampum, would
take only the genuine from the traders, while the refuse was thrown back
into the circulation of the colonies. The commissioners of the United
Colonies being appealed to for a remedy recommended to the separate
governments to suppress this poor "peage" by law. Accordingly in 1648,
the general courte of Connecticut ordered "that no peage, white or
black, be paid or received, but what is strung and in some measure
strung suitably, and not small and great, uncomely and disorderly mixt,
as formerly it hath beene."[42] A similar order was passed in
Massachusetts, where it was further enacted to prepare this Indian money
for ready use, that it be "suitably strung in eight known parcells,
1_d._ 3_s._ 12_d._ 5_s._ in white; 2_d._ 6_s._ 6_d._ and 10_s._ in
blacke."[43] Another favorite length was the fathom, containing 360
beads and current at about 10_s._ Thus during these years shell money
was current throughout New-England, and constituted, doubtless, the best
and most convenient portion of the currency. The government received it
for taxes, the farmer for his produce, the merchant for his wares, and
the laborer for his hire. It formed a frequent item in the inventories
of deceased colonists, being often the only cash mentioned. It even
found its way into the coffers of Harvard college, for we read that the
lease of the wampum trade in Massachusetts was attended with the
obligation to take from the college the wampum which it might have on
hand from time to time.[44] In the forest, likewise, it now circulated
as money, for the Indian was quick to copy the white man's use of his

Toward the middle of the century wampum reached its highest value in
New-England. Thereafter the increasing prosperity of the colonies, the
domestic coinage of silver, and perhaps the too extensive manufacture of
the shell money, gradually diminishing its value, drove it from
circulation. In 1650, it was refused in payment of country rates in
Massachusetts.[45] This action of the government naturally created
distrust among the people, to counteract which it was ordered that
"peage" should still "remagne pawable from man to man, according to the
law in force." Close upon this followed another decree, limiting it as a
legal tender to 40 shillings.[46] These laws continued in force till
1661, when wampum was declared to be no longer a legal tender in
Massachusetts.[47] Rhode Island passed a similar decree the next
year[48] and Connecticut, probably, soon afterwards. But though wampum
now ceased to be legally current, it lingered among the people for years
and constituted in great part the small change of the community. As late
as 1704, it was a common mode of payment in country places.[49]

Shell money was used extensively and for a long time in the Dutch
colonies. Here for a while absolutely no coin was in circulation, and
wampum being the feasible substitute was universally adopted. So great
was the popular demand, that even the unstrung wampum, prohibited in the
eastern colonies, passed at but a trifling discount.[50] For many years
the easy-going government at New Amsterdam does not seem to have
regulated the currency by law, as did its more thorough neighbors, and
the amount of wampum requisite to make a stiver, was left to be
determined by the parties concerned. Such a course was fraught with
inconvenience to the public, and frequent petitions were made for the
establishment of some uniform rate.[51]

The rate, however, which obtained by common consent, was four of the
strung and six of the loose beads for a stiver.[52] But in 1641, there
came from foreign parts an inundation of "nasty, rough" sewan, which
drove the better sort out of circulation, "nay," so runs the record,
"threatened the ruin of the country," and legislation was imperatively
demanded. This inferior article was therefore condemned to pass five
for a stiver during the following month, and afterwards six, at which
rate the loose, unstringed wampum, which served the community as change,
subsequently circulated.[53] The importance of wampum during these years
is well illustrated by the fact that the opulent West India Company in
1664, sought to negotiate a loan of five or six thousand guilders in it,
wherewith to pay the laboring people, the obligation to be satisfied
with _good negroes_ or other goods.[54] The Dutch succumbed to superior
force, but wampum still held its own. It continued to be the chief
currency not only in New York, but in the many settlements to the west
and south, which were then under the control of the authorities at New
York. In 1672, the inhabitants of Hoanskill and New Castle on the
Delaware, having been plundered by Dutch privateers were permitted by
the government at New York to lay an impost of four guilders, in wampum,
upon each anker of strong rum imported or sold there.[55] A guilder,
which was about six pence currency or four pence sterling, consisted of
twenty stivers, and eight beads were reckoned equal to one stiver. As
heretofore there was little or no certain coin in circulation and wampum
passed for current payment in all cases. Indeed the country was so
drained of even this currency by the Indian trade, that there was
difficulty in obtaining a sufficiency. To remedy this state of affairs,
the governor and council of New York were in 1673 constrained to issue
their proclamation which was published at Albany, Esopus, Delaware, Long
Island and the adjacent parts, commanding that "instead of eight white
and four black (beads), six white and three black should pass for a
stiver; and three times so much the value of silver."[56]

The contributions in the churches were for many years made in wampum,
and the first church on the Jersey shore was built with funds
contributed in this way from Sabbath to Sabbath. As late as 1683, "the
schoolmaster in Flatbush was paid his salary in wheat, wampum value: He
was bound to provide a basin of water for the purpose of baptism, for
which he received from the parents or sponsors twelve stivers in
wampum."[57] Nor ten years later had the money of the aborigines become
wholly supplanted by gold and silver, for we learn that "in 1693, the
ferriage of each single person from New York to Brooklyn was eight
stivers in wampum, or a silver two-pence."[58] Further than this we are
unable to trace, though we have good reason to believe that it
circulated, to a limited extent, for some time thereafter.

Thus while the Indian declined in power his simple coinage passed from
hand to hand, among his conquerors, in the haunts where unnumbered
generations of his ancestors had trafficked it in rude barter, or
offered it with solemn ceremonial, their costliest offering, to their
country's gods. It was for about a quarter of a century a legal tender
in New England, while among the Dutch it was during half a century often
the only circulating medium, and among both Dutch and English it filled
a more or less important part in the currency for nearly an entire

When at length the increasing wealth of the people drove wampum out of
common use, it still remained an important article in commerce. It was
manufactured at New York until the commencement of the present century
to be used in traffic with the Indians, for whom it had lost none of its
charms, and to be carried by our whalers into the northern seas.

Treaties and compacts between the different tribes and the states, and
later the general government, continued to be ratified by the
interchange of wampum belts. The records of the eighteenth century
abound with instances of this character. The last occasion of the kind
is believed to have been at Prairie du Chien in 1825.[59]

Among the Indians of the present day wampum is unknown. The name still
remains, but the trifles to which it is applied bear no resemblance to
the ancient article. The glass beads now current as wampum and the
original wampum are not less unlike, than the squalid Blackfoot of our
western plains, and the proud and imperious Mohawk, beside his native


[1] Trumbull in his notes in the Narragansett Club Reprint of Roger
Williams's _Key_, says: "_Wom pam_ was the name of the white beads
collectively; when strung or wrought in girdles they constituted
_wanôm-peg_ [Roger Williams], the _wampon-peage_ of Wood and other early

_Peage_ or _peake_ signified simply "strung beads," and _wampom-peage_
accordingly signified "strings of white beads."

The English were doubtless led to consider _wampum_ a generic word,
because they heard it oftenest used, _wampum_ being much more abundant
than _suckáuhock_. Their error has however long since received the
sanction of usage. But as far as our own knowledge extends there was no
comprehensive word for all shell beads in use among the Indians. _Sewan_
had perhaps very nearly such a use in certain localities, but the real
meaning of the word _sewan_ appears from the following note in the
Narragansett Club Reprint of Roger Williams's _Key_:--"_Seahwhóog_,
'they are scattered' [Elliot]. From this word the Dutch traders gave the
name of _sewared_ or _zeewand_ [the participle, _seahwhóun_,
'scattered,' 'loose'], to _all_ shell money just as the English called
all _peage_, or string beads, by the name of the white or _wampom_."

[2] Sometimes from the _Buccinum undulatum_ [Möll], found from Nantucket
to Labrador, and occasionally perhaps from the _Natica heros_ [Say]
found from New York to Labrador, and the _Natica duplicata_ found from
Florida to Massachusetts Bay.

In this connection the writer would acknowledge his indebtedness to Hon.
J. Hammond Trumbull, a gentleman who has given much time and talent to
the investigation of matters of Indian history.

[3] Many writers have asserted that wampum was worked out of the inside
of the Great Conque shell. This view is evidently erroneous, as the
Great Conque, _Strombus gigas_ [Linn.], is not found on the Atlantic
coast, north of Florida and the West Indies, except in the fossil state.

The assertion that wampum is an Iroquois word, meaning a "muscle," is
doubtless equally unfounded.

Roger Williams [_Key_, chap. xxiv], who certainly had fine opportunities
for observation, and our other most trustworthy authorities, state that
the _Suckáuhock_ was made from the clam shell, and the _wampum_ from the
shells of the Periwinkle, and such was unquestionably the case.

[4] Roger Williams's _Key_, chap. xxiv.

[5] Gordon, _Hist. of Penn._, Appendix F.

[6] See Schoolcraft's report on the Grove Creek Mound in vol. I, of
_Transactions of the Am. Ethnological Soc._

[7] _League of the Iroquois_, p. 120.

[8] The otekóa of the Iroquois was the only exception of which we know.

[9] Roger Williams's _Key_, chap. xxiv.

[10] Roger Williams's _Key_, chap. xxiv.

[11] For an excellent illustration of the different modes of wearing
wampum, see the plates in that admirable work, _Harriot's Virginia_,
written in 1586, and published in 1590, in the first volume of De Bry's

[12] Trumbull's _Hist. of Connecticut_, I, p. 50.

[13] "It is obvious to all who are the least acquainted with Indian
affairs, that they regard no message or invitation, be it of what
consequence it will, unless attended or confirmed by strings or belts of
wampum, which they look upon as we our letters or rather
bonds."--_Letter of Sir Wm. Johnson_, 1753. _Doc. Hist. of N. Y._, vol.
II, p. 624.

[14] As late as 1720, a belt was brought into Connecticut from some
place at the south called Towattowan, and circulated very generally
among the Indians, to the alarm of the colony, "the assembly caused some
inquiries to be made into the mystery, and an Indian, named
Tapanranawko, testified that the belt was in token that at each place
where it was accepted, captive Indians would be received and sold. He
said that it would be sent back to Towattowan, which was a great way to
the south, and was inhabited by a large tribe of Indians. The assembly
resolved that the Indians should be directed to send it back whence it
came, and should be charged not to receive such presents in future
without giving notice to the magistrates."--DeForest's _Hist. of Indians
of Conn._, p. 349.

[15] _League of the Iroquois_, p. 339.

[16] Documents relating to the _Colonial History of New York_, vol. VII,
p. 44.

[17] _League of the Iroquois_, p. 120.

[18] _Eastern Maine and Nova Scotia in the Revolution_, Kidder, p. 286.

[19] It is interesting in this connection to notice the manner in which
the chiefs affixed their names to early deeds. In the deed of New Haven
given by the Quinnipiacs [see Appendix IV, DeForest's Indians of Conn.],
may be seen as autographs, an arrow, a bow, a drawn bow, a war club, a
tobacco pipe, a snake, a wolf (apparently), a wild fowl, etc., etc.

[20] _League of the Iroquois_, p. 119.

[21] President Stiles's _Itinerary_, unpublished.

[22] _League of the Iroquois_, page 188.

[23] Thomson's _Long Island_, p. 62.

[24] _League of the Iroquois_, p. 331.

[25] It is stated in _Winthrop's Journal_ [p. 147 and after], that four
servants of Plymouth were condemned and hung upon their own confession
of having murdered an Indian to obtain his wampum.

[26] In the tomb, apparently of a chief, in the Grove Creek Mound, 1700
beads were found around the remains of a skeleton, and such deposits are
frequently found in opening old graves.

[27] Winthrop, I, 113.

[28] Bradford's _Letters_, _Mass. Hist. Collections_, III, 54.

[29] _Doc. Rel. to Colonial History of New York_, I, 459.

[30] Lawson's _History of North Carolina_, ed. of 1714, page 315.

[31] Rhode Island _Colonial Records_, I, 130.

[32] _Winthrop_, pages 147, 149 and 192.

[33] Thompson's _Long Island_, page 62.

[34] _Hazard_, II, page 413.

[35] _Hazard_, III, page 44.

[36] _Hazard_, II, pages 387 and 388.

[37] Thompson's _Long Island_, page 60.

[38] _Records of Mass._, I, 238. Where only one rate is mentioned, as
here, we are probably to understand the white, and deduct one-half for
the black or blue.

[39] _Colonial Records of Conn._, I, 12.

[40] _Records of Mass._, I, p. 302.

[41] _Ibid._, p. 329.

[42] _Col. Records of Conn._, I, 179.

[43] _Records of Mass._, II, 261.

[44] _Records of Mass._, I, 323.

[45] _Records of Mass._, II, 279.

[46] _Ibid._, IV, p. 36.

[47] _Records of Mass._, IV, part 2, pages 4, 5.

[48] _R. Island Colonial Records_, I, page 474.

[49] Madam Knight's _Journal_, written in 1704, page 43.

[50] _Doc. Relating to the Colonial Hist. of New York_, I, 474.

[51] _Ibid._, p. 336.

[52] _Ibid._, p. 425.

[53] O'Callaghan's _New Netherland_, I, 230.

[54] _Doc. Col. Hist. of New York_, II, p. 371.

[55] Proud's _Hist. of Pennsylvania_, I, page 133.

[56] Hazzard's _Annals of Pennsylvania_.

[57] O'Callaghan's _New Netherland_, I, 61.

[58] O'Callaghan's _New Netherland_, I, _ibid._

[59] Schoolcraft's _Notes on the Iroquois_.

Transcriber's Note:

    Archaic spellings have been retained. Abbreviations have been
    normalised. Minor typographical errors have been corrected without
    note, whilst more significant amendments are listed below:

      P. 10, "Pyrula canicalata" to _Pyrula caniculata_.

      P. 11n, "Great Congue" to _Great Conque_, could be amended to
        _Great Conch_ however the former seems more in keeping with the
        original intent.

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