Sunday, December 3, 2017

Wampum vs. "Seawan"

Many early 17th Century primary sources use the term Sea-wan to mean trade beads that are strung (like beads on a necklace) or in bundles (multiple strings). This term is used while under Dutch New Netherland and during 17th Century British New York.

The New Netherland era for this blog includes the time of the first permanent trading post in 1614 Wiltwijk on the Hudson, through to the time the English received sovereign control in 1667 and unto 1674. There is an argument that can be made for this era to include up to when the Dutch took back the territory for 15 months and finally ceding control again to the English in 1674. This timing will be explore in a follow up post; however, one of the main reasons for this is that prior to 1674, the English did not enforce British Common Law. This had a significant effect on the population after 1674 because it meant that many people's liberties enjoyed under Dutch Civil and Canon law were stripped in this one year. The lack of enforcement of English Common law up to this point, allowed the colony to continued to use Dutch civil law to solve legal and court cases which had an effect on personal incomes, property ownership, economics, and even how to address a person.

Sea-wan was used in documents from early in the region's settlement by Europeans; and is adopted from the local indigenous language. Later, when the British governors introduced the term wampum (from the Algonquin word wampumpeag meaning white shell beads) into legal documents, it was not easily adopted by the general public. Did the introduction of the term wampum into this colony by the governor displace the term sea-wan which was used by local Indigenous people and colonist?

It is noted that the primary records do not hyphenate sea-wan. However, when I type the term without a hyphen the spellcheck auto corrects it, even after I have saved the page. So, it is hyphenated to preserve understanding otherwise this post would read very differently. Sea-wan which is commonly used from Brooklyn to Albany; also appears as "Zee-wan" in early documents and "Se-want" particularly in the South River  (Delaware River) documents.

In the Albany, Rensselaer and Schenectady court minutes for 1680-1685

Sample 1: Ordinary session held in New Albany, June 8, 1680, page 11 -12

Mr. Samual Winder, attorney for Capt. John Palmer, ... against Jan Ver Beek, defendant.

The plaintiff demands of the defendant the sum of 16 gl. [guilders] in beavers, showing by the journal and ledger of Mr John Winder, fol. 24, under date of October 5, 1665, that the defendant is indebted to that amount...

Idem, plaintiff, against Lambert van Valkenburg, defendant. The plaintiff demands of the defendant the sum of 28 gl. in sea-wan, showing by the books of Mr. Jan Winder, fol. 24,....

The hornoable court condemn the defendant to pay to the plaintiff or his order the sum of 28 gl. in sea-wan,...

Indem, plaintiff, against Jan Labatee, defendant.

The plaintiff demands of the defendant the sum of 21 gl. in sea-wan, showing by the books of Mr. John Winder, ....

(The terms Negro and Indian are copied from the primary sources and not my own.)

Sample 2: Extraordinary session held in Albany, July 24, 1682, page 274 - 277

Philip Schuyler complains to their honors [in court] in writing that on on the 20th of July last great harm was done to him... who in passing [by] left the gate open and called him names...  especially one called Naerenachteno, who threw a stone at his horse, wounding it above the eye, where upon his Negro, Jan, struck the said Indian.... [a fight followed].

The Indians answered:

1) That the mischief which occurred was not premeditated... They offer a belt, 7 [beads] high.

2) They are heartily sorry about the mischief... They offer a bundle of sea-wan.

3) They are very sorry that the Negro was wounded so badly... They offer two wampum belts, one 12 and the other 6 [ beads ] high.

4) They are ashamed of this mischief... They offer 1 belt of wampum.

5) It was very wrong of the Indian to abuse and scold Ph. Schuyler so... They offer 1 bundle of sea-wan.


12 They have finished, but they give 2 belts for medicines or salves [ medicine bags ] to be put on the wound.

N.B It is found that the sea-wan offered by the Indians consists of 12 wampum belts, large and small; 4 bundles of sea-wan and 2 small strings woven belt wise, and 1 thing that is carried on the breast.

In Albany, NY we can see partial transition in terminology after the 1674 enforcement, though some time after.What is interesting about this transition is that the citizens and the courts continue to use sea-wan for individual strings of beads and for bundles of strung beads whereas; wampum is specifically used for trade beads made into a belt form. It is unknown if the local indigenous population decided to adopt the English governor's use of wampum. Despite this, the term sea-wan is used significantly more often than wampum in 1680-85. This implies that both the Indigenous People and colonist continued to use sea-wan in their day-to-day communications.

Albany, Rensselaer and Schenectady records for British New York:

                             Sea-wan                   Wampum                 Wampum Belt

1668 - 1673:           261                             0                                 0
1675 - 1680:           462                             0                                 0
1680 - 1685:           438                             3                               13

Interestingly when Govoner Dogan writes to the magistrates of Albany, he uses the term wampum independently of "wampum belt", yet does not include the term sea-wan, strings of sea-wan or bundles of sea-wan in his address. He has yet to adopted to the terminology associated with the economy or currency. Here we can see a disconnect between the understood terminology used by the citizens and indigenous population and an imposed terminology introduced by the English governor. In 1684, the governor realizes that more than just trade beads are being used as money and includes "jewelry". However, the disconnect in terminology and language between the Governor and the colonist still remains.

Albany, Rensselaer and Schenectady 1680-1685 , Page 475.

By the Governor [Dongan], 1684

Forasmuch as ye Present magistrates of ye Toune of Albanie, have made there Complaint, that it is a great Inconvenience and Damage both to ye trade of this Governt, and this town in Particular, that any wampum, wampum Pipes, Indian Jewells or money should be Transported out of this Government off N: York and Dependencies, it is therefore ordered, that no wampum, wampum Pipes, Indian Juwels or any sort off money, be Transported or carried out of this Government, and that no traders, merchants or any "oyr" Persones whatsoever shall in Exchange or Traffique, give sell or any other ways dispose of money, wampum or Indian Juwells to any Person who shall Carry them out of this Government. ...

However, records such as property purchases are still using sea-wan as a currency; sea-wan is cited as  still in use as currency in 1684. For the Early Records of Albany, Notarial Papers the term sea-wan is cited 99 times and zero times for wampum for the years 1660 to 1696.

Example from the Early Records of Albany, Notarial Papers 1 and 2, 1660 - 1696, page 576, is below.  

Contract of sale between Cornelis Michielsen and Jurriaen "Teunissen" [van] Tappen of the the farm called the "Klinckenbergh" 

On this 5th day of August 1684... Michietlsz acknowledges that he has sold to said Jurriaen Tunis all his interest in the land... pay to the seller or his order the sum of fifty whole, merchantable beaver skins in silver money, wheat, or sea-wan at beaver's price, in two payments... 

When we travel south to the South or Delaware River to the former New Amstel and New Sweden region, we see what appears to be confusion in terminology. Sea-wan is used in the same way as in Albany during the post 1674 enforcement of English Common law which requires all documents to be kept in English, but the citizens are interchanging belts of wampum and belts of sea-wan. It is noted that se-want is the preferred term for sea-wan in this region.

Delaware Papers The English Era

                         Sea-wan                       Wampum                    Wampum Belt

1664 to 1682:  18 (incl. belts/bands)    2  [1670]                      3   (1675 wampam & wamp.)

In the Delaware Papers during the English period, we see General Carr using the term wampum to include strung or bundles of sea-wan, but doesn't use the local definition of sea-wan. Note: In the same document we see non-government officials and recorders using the term se-want to represent sea-wan but not wampum in 1670.

Delaware Papers, English Period: Page 12

Relation from the Whorekill Concering Jan de Caper's Sloop, 1670

On the 20th of December 1670 a sachem of Nassawam, who lives near Sachomok, came here to this place... We asked for an Indian with a canoe to take us there which the sachem agreed to for 1  1/2 fathoms of black se-want.... we offered them ten fathoms of se-want and a blanket,...

In the same document but several records later in October 6th of 1670, on page 18, we can see Marten Roseman, Edman Kantwel, Pieter Cock, Pieter Rambo, Israel Helm and Matheus de Ringh, (clerk)  in their report picks up on the use of the term wampum... but don't seem to know how it factors into the language or how to use it as a reference. The letter was signed by "Matheus de Ring", Clerk.

Report of a meeting with Indians on the Delaware about a murder, 1670 

"... presented us with a small bundle of white se-want about 3 or 4 fathoms", They then gave us another bundle of white wampum adding these words.... Whereupon they also give the Mincquasen a gift, namely, a belt of se-want with a bundle of white se-want, ... We answered them, when we accepted this money or se-want, saying that when we accept this money or se-want we accept it..."

In the Delaware records, from 1664 to 1682, the term wampum is not generally used, appearing only 5 times. For historic museums, villages and reenactors this may be an interesting topic as is shows that when there is a disconnect between the soveriegn government and the population they are ruling over; the imposing of new terms from a different language can take an exceedingly long time.

For Albany, we can see that from the time the English seized control in 1664 to 1680 there was zero acquisition of the term wampum, and the 438 times the term sea-wan is used compare to the 15 times wampum is used demonstrates the barrier intrinsic to language and tradition can impose, lest it cause confusion during an economic trade. The people of Albany took it further, and relegated the term wampum to only beads in the form of a belt. The people of the Delaware River region were just as slow to change. However, we can see the court in New Castle making adjustments to use wampum as a currency (or valuation) between colonist in the same way we sea-wan is used as the base currency in the rest of the colony.

In 1675, we see a case adopt the use of wampum as if sea-wan, in that he uses the wampum as a "value" or currency. Page 64.

Gabriela Manville Plt. Contra Capt. John Carr Deft., New Castle , 1675

The plt. declares that this deft. became indented unto him in the "Yeare" 1671 for "Linning" Should unto him at New Yorke the Summe of f.521: wampum "Vallue" to be paid in Small "Furres" upon demand...

While the single case above shows that the British generals are using wampum  it does not seem to trickle down to the citizens; sailors, trades people, small merchants or even large merchants according to wills, deeds, and other primary sources. In the end, we can see that for the 1614 to 1696 there is likely difficulty adopting to new terminology; when the existing terms were being used on a day to day basis, between both the colonist with the Indigenous population and the colonist to colonist. It is possible that the use of sea-wan continued until the currency became displaced with bills.

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