Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Analysis of Early-Nineteenth-Century Muscogee Creek Fur Trade at a United States Factory Store

Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Analysis of Early-Nineteenth-Century Muscogee Creek Fur Trade at a United States Factory Store

Article excerpt

The interactions of peoples from the New and Old Worlds have been a subject of interest to a variety of fields, including colonial studies, epidemiology, physical anthropology, world systems theory, Native American studies, and economic anthropology. While there were certainly profound contacts between foreign cultures elsewhere in the world, the contact between Europeans and Native Americans is one of the most dramatic and useful for studies of culture change partly because of the length of time the two groups were isolated from one another before contact. Researchers studying this culture change in the Americas have focused on the impact of economic transactions and trade of prestige and subsistence items. In fact, trade between Native Americans and Europeans has been called the "single greatest force for change among the Indian cultures of southeastern North America during the eighteenth century" (Waselkov 1998:193).

This paper is an analysis of trading transactions between European Americans and Muscogee Creek people over a 34-month period in the early nineteenth century. Specifically, we focus on transactions conducted at Fort Wilkinson, a U.S. factory store in Georgia, between February 4,1804, and November 29,1806. The analysis will describe the fur items that were brought into the stores and the items that were exchanged in return for the value of the furs over the aforementioned 34-month period. Analysis of the records permits an unusually detailed view of the economic decisions of the Muscogee people during a period of transition in their livelihood. There have been many studies of fur trade among Native Americans, but these data reveal behavioral variation during the annual economic and ceremonial cycles. The analysis serves as a baseline from which to compare to the archaeological record in order to identify possible preservation biases. We understand that the various Native American cultures responded differently to the European trading relationships. This study reflects the actions of the Muscogee Creek people and may not necessarily be generalized to all Native American cultures in the Southeast. Because the economic patterns that are identified with this analysis are largely the result of cultural transitions of the Muscogee people, we begin with a historical context.

Historical Context

The Muscogee Creek (Mvskoke, Creek) people are a Native American people who have lived in the southeastern United States from at least the midsixteenth century until the present. According to oral history (Foster 2003; Swanton 1922, 1928), written accounts from the late eighteenth century (Foster 2003; Mereness 1961), the accounts of Spanish missionaries from the seventeenth century (Hann 2006), and archaeological investigations (Foster 2007; Knight 1994a, 1994b), the Muskogee-speaking people migrated into what is now central Georgia and Alabama at least by the mid-seventeenth century. Some of the population movement during the seventeenth century may have been a response to slave raiding (Ethridge 2009; Worth 2009; Wright 1999:126-150). The Creek communities were a collection of autonomous tribes organized at the town level of political organization called a "talwa."

Recent research has documented the effects of the deerskin trade on the culture of the Muscogee people during the late seventeenth to early nineteenth century. Archaeologists have shown that before this trade, the prehistoric Southeastern native people had used animal products for thousands of years (Reitz and Wing 2008). Trading the animal products for European products changed that aspect of their economy. Kathryn Braund's (1986, 1993) dissertation and subsequent book quantitatively documented the importance that trade goods grew to have during the eighteenth century at a level that was not known previously. Her research demonstrated that some Muscogee began to trade deer and other animal hides for cloth, metal tools, personal adornment items, and many other items (Braund 1993:121-138). …

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