Deerskins & Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685-1815

Deerskins & Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685-1815

Deerskins & Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685-1815

Deerskins & Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685-1815

Excerpt

In 1784, Alexander McGillivray, the Great Beloved Man of the Creeks, wrote that "Indians will attach themselves to and Serve them best who Supply their Necessities." McGillivray's opinion was shared by everyone, Indian and white, who was involved in the complex business of politics and diplomacy in the eighteenth-century Southeast. Native leaders exchanged gifts to ritually cement agreements, and Europeans were expected to do the same. But on a grander scale, Indians and Europeans traded their products in marketplaces and trading posts planted throughout the region. The ritual significance of gift exchange remained, but the desire for profits and goods soon began to dominate the trade.

Europeans and Indians both prospered as they adapted to the styles and interests, as well as the valuables, of the other. Captives for the slave markets and deerskins for English tanners purchased tools, utensils, weapons, and clothing. Creek men and women valued these goods and incorporated them into their daily lives. As these products of English industry became ever more commonplace, they ceased to be luxuries and instead became "Necessities." Necessity, along with the pernicious qualities of rum, changed the trade in ways both subtle and profound. Never a simple economic affair, trade became political and jeopardized the autonomy of the Creek Nation. The challenge for McGillivray and other Creek leaders was to figure out a way to guarantee the flow of goods at the lowest political cost.

Scholars have long known what McGillivray knew, that trade defined peace, bound peoples together, and provided the foundation for political relationships. Through economic dependence, trade also threatened the political autonomy of Native American nations. It is surprising, therefore, that . . .

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