BEAVERS, BUSINESSMEN, FASHION, NATIVE AMERICANS AND THE PILGRIMS
What do they have in common? Read on... here's a piece of the story you might not have heard before.
Many people may not realize that Pilgrims were on the cutting edge of a great economic change. Their voyage was not just an adventure, it was an investment. The Pilgrims were true economic pioneers for the system we know today as capitalism.
Most of the Pilgrims were not wealthy. They knew they would need a lot of money if their new colony in America were to be a success: money to rent a ship and crew, money for supplies for the voyage, money to support the colony until it could become self sufficient. So, the Pilgrims asked some London merchants to invest in the colony. After much negotiation 70 merchants formed a joint stock company with the Pilgrims. Because this was a risky venture, they were known as "merchant adventurers."
The Pilgrims had a rough start. Instead of sending back goods, they had to ask the merchants for even more money, again and again and again. It took a while but one of the ways they were successful in making the money to repay their debt was the fur trade.
Beavers are very large rodents, weighing as much as 60pounds. They cut down trees to build dams, creating ponds around their lodges. Female beavers have "kits" only once a year and there are usually 3 or 4 in a litter. Beaver meat is said to be tasty and the beaver pelt, beautiful, thick, durable, warm and water repellent. It is hightly prized. In 1634 William Wood wrote:
"... the English seldom or never kill any of them, being not patient to lay a long siege or to be so often deceived by their cunning evasions, so that all the beaver which the English have, comes first from the Indians whose time and experience fits them for that employment."
The driving force behind the fur trade was, of all the unlikely things, the fashion in HATS. The craze for high crowned felt hats began in Europe about 1550. Quality hats demanded the best felting material available. Beaver fur is an excellent raw material. It is beautiful and holds it shape very well under rough wear and successive wettings. Hatters were skilled craftsmen who took this raw product and turned it into a luxury commodity.
This wonderful beaver hat is attributed to Constance Hopkins and is on display at the Pilgrim Hall Museum. It's existence indicates that the hats, once produced, were often sent back across the Atlantic to grace the heads of the Pilgrims. That's a full circle journey.
To read all the details of this fascinating story click on this link to pilgrimhall.org
The process from pelt to felt is lengthy and requires real skill. Clink on this link to read all about it.