Native American Technology and Art

Introduction and Use of Glass Beads

European Sources of Glass Beads in the Northeast

Da Ah De A -- A Seneca
in the Clothing of the Iroquois
[Morgan: 1993]

By 1550 there were four kinds of glass beads being made in Europe: drawn, wound, blown and 'frit-cored'; the latter being quite rare in the Northeast, and new varieties and colors were continually developed, some expressly for trade (Monture: 1991).

In the 16th century, there are a few square tubular glass beads of Spanish origin found among Natives in the Northeast, but the Spanish seemed generally occupied with commercial endeavors south of New England. During the late 1500's and early 1600's, European prospecting in New England escalated, especially by the French. Giovanni Verrazano was sent by France to define the coastline in 1524, he recorded the trade of 'blue crystals and other trinkets' with Natives (Wroth: 1970).

While the French concentrated on acquiring northern territories, the Dutch were more interested in areas to the south. By 1621 the Dutch West India Company was established and focused settlement and trade on the Hudson River, and capitalized on the by-now, well established wampum industry by going into production. Dutch beads traded in the northeast were tubular and larger round necklace beads, with few of the smaller 'seed' beads associated with contemporary Native beadwork. Back in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities a great number of beads were manufactured that made their way into the northeast in throughout the 1600's.

References to strings of beads exchanged between Europeans and Native Americans to be worn as necklaces are provided by Juet in 1610 in the 'New Netherlands' (Juet: 1967) in 1610, and also in 1624 by van Wassenaer (1967), as well as in 'New England' in 1622 by Mourt (Heath: 1986) and by Roger Williams (1973) speaking of the Narragansett in 1643. Though the English arrived relatively late on the scene, in the early 1600's, they soon overshadowed the landscape of southern New England. Glass beads did not seem to be a significant part of the English trade inventory, though by the end of the 1600's and 1700's, glass beads did become English trade merchandise. In contrast to earlier trade beads used for necklaces, by the early 1700's tiny glass seed beads grew in popularity as trade items, and these beads were used to ornament clothing, moccasins and other accessories. By the mid 1700's necklace beads became very scarce while seed beads were everywhere; by the end of the 1700's and into the 1800's, tubular glass imitation wampum beads became popular (Wray: 1983).

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