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Wôbanaki Woman's Clothing from 1800

By 1800, quite a few Wôbanaki people were living in a manner very similar to that of those Americans of European descent. They often wore the same style of clothes, lived in the same kinds of houses, had many of the same types of possessions, and by outward appearance, did not appear to be dramatically different. Most Native people, however, kept some elements of tradition, by wearing moccasins and leggings, decorating their clothing with silver ornaments, or keeping their hair long. Some chose to keep traditional ways of life, and acquire just a few European items. Such is the case for the woman described here, who wears a few items of clothing from the French Canadian people.

Wôbanaki people did not have special clothing for sleeping. They slept in what seemed most suited for the season. In the winter this would mean wearing several layers to bed and in the hot weather one might sleep without clothing.

Wôbanaki people believed it was a good idea to protect sensitive areas of the body, such as joints, the neck, ears and face, with jewelry, garters, and tattoos. By these means, they believed that dangerous energy or spirits could not enter their bodies. Jewelry with complicated patterns, reflective surfaces, and dangling and jangling pieces such as bells or metal cones, all helped to confuse harmful forces. Porcupine quill embroidery, beading, fringe, and ribbons might be added to the edges of clothing, both to offer protection and to encourage connections with desirable plants and animals.. For instance, the hem of a skirt might be decorated with ribbon, or the flaps on a pair of moccasins might be decorated with beads or porcupine quill embroidery.

Among the numerous items available through trade in the 1800s were wool, linen, silk, and cotton cloth, ready-made shirts, knitted wool hats and mittens, glass beads, silver jewelry and metal axe heads and knife blades. Native American people in New England would trade with European people in either Canada or the United States. Items they received might come from England, France, Holland, or as far away as India and China.

Navigate to each layer of this activity by clicking on the "Next" and "Previous" buttons. Using your cursor, roll over each image to learn about the unfamiliar clothing.

Non-interactive, printable version of this activity

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