Chevron Trade Beads

Trade Bead Migration into North America

By Robert Jirka, Independent Researcher

Trade Bead History

1. Seven Layer Chevron Bead. Late 1400s   2. Seven Layer Chevron Bead. Late 1400s   3. A Speo Bead. Late 1600s   4. French Ambassador Bead 1850s   5. Baule Face Bead. Late 1800s   6. Black Decorated Bead. Late 1800s   7. Cornaline D’Aleppo Bead. Late 1700s   8. Tabular Bead. Late 1800s   9. Large Chevron Bead. Late 1800s   10. Square Edge Floral Bead Late 1800s   11. Yellow Black Swirl Bird. Late 1800s   12. Millefiori Bead. Late 1800s
Click image to enlarge

The first record of European glass beads coming into the Americas is in Columbus’ own log where he describes how e presented the natives with “red caps and some strings of (green) glass beads”, (Orchard, 1975) and “in this simple manner was begun the acculturation process that led ultimately to the disintegration of aboriginal American culture” (Quimby, 1966). The holds of the ships of those who followed contained a variety of trade goods: trinkets, iron knives, guns, kettles, hatchets, broadcloth and beads, beads, beads.

As space permits, we will give a general description of trade bead migration chronologically by geographic region, sectioning North America into ten regions. Records of the period are scarce, so we have to rely largely on archeological site reports for our information. We will cover the time period from 1492 to 1850 during which the beads entered the continent with explorers, fur trade companies and immigrants establishing settlements for the purpose of making or breaking ties with their mother countries. We will start in the North Central region and work our way to Eastern Canada, then south through New England and the Central Atlantic region to the Southeastern region; at which point we will travel west to the Mississippi Delta and into the Great Lakes region. Next we will go to the South Central region moving west into the Southwest, and finally north to the Pacific Northwest (see Figure 1).

North Central Region

With the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company in May of 1670 and the construction of York Factory in 1682, the North Central region was opened to major fur trading and the introduction of trade beads. York Factory was located on a small peninsula where the Nelson and Hayes Rivers meet at Hudson’s Bay and was considered the most important post on the Bay (Ray, 1974). By using either of these rivers, the Indians and Hudson’s Bay personnel were able to travel to Lake Winnipeg which acted as a hub to the following places: Athabasca country, via the Sturgeon-Weir River; the Rocky Mountains, via the Saskatchewan River; the western prairies, via Assiniboine and Qu Appelle Rivers; Missouri country, via the Assiniboine and Souris Rivers; Lake Superior, via the Winnipeg River; and a very important Mississippi River via the Red River (Morse, 1969).

Because of fierce competition between the French and English around Hudson’s Bay, York Factory was lost by the Hudson’s Bay Company to the French in 1695, and was not regained until the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The actual records of the have been lost for the years of the French occupation of York Factory. No records on beads are available until 1719 at which time York Factory traded approximately 290 pounds of beads. From 1720 to 1774, the Hudson’s Bay Company at York Factory traded 6,934 pounds of beads, which averages 128 pounds a year (Ray, 1974). Some of the different types of beads traded during this period were: long and small white, all colors and sizes of round, and barley corn beads (Ray, 1974).

Trade Bead Migration to America Map

Fort George, located in northeastern Alberta, was in operation during 1792-1800. One of the larger western outposts for the Hudson’s Bay Company, it yielded 20,699 beads during excavation. Colors included black, yellow, translucent blue, red, and the well-known Cornaline d’Aleppo. Styles include tubes 4-6mm long, round with stripes 4-6mm in size, eye beads 6-10mm in diameter, and decorative wire wound beads over 10 mm in length or diameter (Davis, 1973).

The Rocky Mountain House, located in western Alberta, circa 1799-1834, revealed 10,832 beads in excavation. The styles and colors are almost the same as Fort George (Davis, 1973).

In North Dakota, Fort Union was established by the American Fur Company and had 300 free trappers working for it by 1831. In June of 1831, the Fort had an inventory of 654 pounds of blue and white pound beads and 190 bunches of barley corn, white and white round, and blue necklace beads (Davis, 1973).

Eastern Canada Region

Moose Factory, built in 1685, served the same purpose as York Factory, but was located on the Moose River in the southern tip of James Bay. It never reached the prominence that York Factory did. Even though it had a reasonable harbor, Moose Factory never had the volume of trade, which was needed to make it thrive. The French had been in this region longer than the English and maintained a strong foothold in the fur trade, so the area was mainly French fur trade and French missions.

Jacques Cartier sailed from St. Malo in 1535, found the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence River, and sailed to the present site of Quebec (Davis, 1969). In 1581, a group of St. Malo’s merchants sent a single ship to feel out the trade. It was so successful that in 1585 ten ships were sent.

Excavation of the French mission, Sainte Marie I, and the Ossossane ossuary, both located in Ontario, revealed the usual colors of blue, red and white. The shapes were round, tubular and twisted square tubular of turquoise color. This latter shape is referred to a Nueva Cadiz bead and will also be discussed in the Southeastern region. Sainte Marie I is located on the Wye River near Georgia Bay and the Ossossane ossuary is inland on the northern part of Lake Erie, both were occupied at basically the same time period, the former from 1639-1649, and the latter from 1624-1636 (Quimby, 1966).

Four other sites in Ontario, circa 1650, have also been good sources of beads. Over 40% of the bead samples from Daniels, Sealy and Dwyer sites were Cornaline d’Aleppo. The Sealy, Dwyer and Hamilton sites were 20% red tubular beads. Other well known beads found in some of these sites were the striped beads, gooseberry beads and the famed Chevron (Kenyon & Kenyon, 1983).

The Eastern Canada region was under constant competition from the Dutch, English and Spanish during the 17th and 18th centuries, as each country was looking for the Northwest Passage.

New England Region

This region has the influence of the Dutch, French, English and Spanish. John Witthoft, and archaeologist for the Pennsylvania State Museum, contends that the earliest fur trade in the region could be as early as 1400. He bases this theory on the European goods found in the graves of Indians, which are not the normal trade goods, but more reflect the ways of the seafarer, such as whalers and fisherman (Witthoft, 1966).

There are several Western Seneca villages in northwest New York inland from Lake Ontario and several Eastern Seneca villages, which have produced many beads. These villages date from 1590-1670, averaging an occupation span of 10-25 years each (Wray, 1983). The colors of beads, which were, recovered from these sites black, red, white, dark green, blue and yellow. The sizes range from seed beads to necklace size. The styles are Roman (two white parallel wavy lines on a black matrix), eye beads of the flush type, corn kernel-shaped, gooseberry beads, Cornaline d’Aleppo, Barley corn beads and the Chevron. Wray states that the Seneca wore mostly necklace size beads (over 10mm in length and/or diameter) until 1710 when their preference changed to the tiny seed beads.

The Oneida Iroquois contacts with Europeans show a different selection of beads. Eight representative sites in central New York border the eastern and western Seneca territories on the southern side and date from1595 50 1685. Twenty percent of the beads found at the Wilson site (1595-1625) were opaque black with fine pinkish lines; another 20% were translucent blue with a white middle layer followed by an inner core of bright blue and were round in shape. The Thurston Site (1625-1637) reveals 11% opaque blue with three opaque white lines and 5% Chevrons. The Quarry site (1640-1650) produced 75% of the following tubular opaque and translucent dark blue, tubular opaque red and tubular opaque black. The Upper Hogan site (1677-1685) has these as the most common: Cornaline d’Aleppo, 14%; round opaque red, 24%; round opaque black, 13% (Bennett, 1983).

The French and Dutch traded around the area of Massachusetts Bay and Nauset Bay in the early 1600’s, trading goods, which included beads. The Dutch had Fort Nassau on the Hudson River, built in 1614, and Fort Orange constructed in 1624, also on the Hudson River. With these forts, the Dutch were able to trade into the hinterland to the north. Beads found at St. Croix Island and Penaquid, Maine and Plymouth, Massachusetts, are all basically the same in color and style: round white, tubular white, round blue only two Chevrons (Bradley, 1983).

This region alone could generate a ream of research data. We haven’t even touched the Susquehanna Indian sites, which are located throughout Pennsylvania and have yielded many beads of different varieties. Because of the limited space at present, we will close this region and forge into the next, hoping at a later date to fill in the large gaps existing in this and other regions.

Central Atlantic Region

This region was settled by John Smith and company in the early 1600’s. In fact, John Smith convinced two Indian Chiefs that the blue beads, which he had, were of the highest quality and only Chiefs should wear them. He traded four pounds of blue beads for 600 bushels of corn (Miller, Pogue & Smolek – 1983).

Three major rivers of the Chesapeake Bay have been a rich source of beads: the Potomac, The Rappahannock and the James. The Potomac River has nine sites which have produced of standard colors and styles mentioned in the previous regions, ie., round white, blue and green, and six four-layer Chevrons. The Mt. Airy site on the Rappahannock River revealed over 2,000 of one bead type. This bead has two layers of glass. The exterior layer is Opaque white with a transparent light grey core and is decorated with six redwood stripes. They range from two to four millimeters in length. This site also produced 12 five-layer Chevrons. The James River has eight bead yielding sites. Again, like the others, these sites produced the red, blue and white beads in round and tubular shapes.

Southeastern Region

Within this region, the names of Ponce de Leon (1513,1521), Hernando de Soto (1539-1543), and Coronado (1540-1542) are well known and suggest a strong Spanish influence. On the shores of Lake Marion in Polk County, Florida, is the Philip Mound site, circa 1600-1700. This site produced many striped beads, gooseberry beads, eye beads, Cornaline d’Aleppo’s, Nueva Cadiz beads and the popular six-layer Chevrons (Benson- 1967, Karklins-1974).

In John Penman’s unpublished work on glass beads in the Spanish Mission period within Florida, which dated from 1633-1704, we find 35 types or styles from five sites. These resemble some of those found at Philip Mound, along with two other unique types: The Tallahasseehatchee decahedral and the Seven Oaks Guilded.

The Nueva Cadiz bead has been found in 18 sites in the Southeastern region (Smith & Good – 1982). This is a tubular bead consisting of three different layers of glass. The exterior is turquoise blue, the middle layer is a thin white, and the inner core may either be navy blue, which appears black and is te most common type, or a transparent light blue which is less frequent. These beads can have stripes, spiral stripes or stripes just at the edges. The Nueva Cadiz can be twisted, straight and /or faceted. It is a bead with strong ties to the Spanish as they were found and named for an archeological site on the coast of Venezuela, which was a Spanish seaport city from about 1498 to 1545.

Mississippi Delta Region

A French post located at Natchchitoches, Louisiana, in 1714 opened the territory west of the Mississippi River for trade with the Indians. From the six sites in the Natchitoches parish, there were over 42,000 glass beads recovered. The simple opaque white beads of various sizes and shapes were found on all sites, along with the simple blue beads. The gooseberry, raspberry and Cornaline d’Aleppo were also present, as were seed and pony beads. The beads from these sites compare with those found at the Bayou Goula and Angola sites also located in Louisiana.

The Childersburg site in Alabama was an Indian village dating from 1600 – 1825. The beads found there were gooseberry, raspberry and Cornaline d’Aleppo. This and the Louisiana sites also had their share of striped and faceted beads. The colors were black, blue, red, green, amber and white (Quimby-1942; Gregory & Webb-1965).

Great Lakes Region

To counter act the intrusion of the Hudson’s Bay Company into their territory around the Great Lakes, the French established Fort Michilimackinac in 1715. Upon excavations of this fort, the following beads types were found: white opaque ovals, Roman, spiral stripped beads, tubular of various colors, mulberry (raspberry) and the Man in the Moon bead. A great majority of the beads recovered at this site are comparable to the French sites in Louisiana and Ontario. The date assigned to a vast majority of the beads at Fort Michilimackinac is 1700-1760. A few date from 1600-1700 (Stone-1974).

The Guebert site (1719-1833), located in Southern Illinois, is a Kaskaskia Indian village, which traded on a regular basis with the French. This site produced 174 types of beads. Among the better known are the Mulberry, Roman, Cornaline d’Aleppo of both types, (green and white cores), Padre beads, spiral blue striped, gooseberry and Russian blues (fire polished). Other styles and colors are white round, blue round and tubular, red tubular, red tubular and green transparent oval and round (Good -1972).

South Central Region

The Kinsloe Focus, which consists of seven sites circa 1690-1733, is in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana border area. This area was predominately Spanish during this period and it gives us a different look into bead preferences. Fourteen types of beads were found on six of the seven sites. One sites did not yield any beads. The Estufa Blue bead, an elongated round light blue bead associated with Spanish sites, was located at four of the sites, and the Cornaline d’Aleppo was found at three. Other beads found were round white, black and green (Jones-1968).

R.K. and Inus Harris wrote about 22 sites located in northeast Texas and southeast Oklahoma. The dates range from 1700-1850, and more than 100,000 beads were found in this area. The most prevalent shapes were the donut, round, tubular and faceted. The colors at most sites were blue, white, green and yellow, but in twelve sites, called the Norteno Focus, no yellow beads were found. The Indian tribes associated with this focus are the Tawakoni, Yscanis, Kichi, Taovaya and Waco, or Wichita.

The Pearson Site (1740-1765), which is located in Rains County, Texas, produced white tubular beads with blue spiral lines, tubular Cornaline d’Aleppo with white stripes, green and clear donut shapes and white oval beads. The beads from this site formed a large percentage of its artifacts (Duffield & Jelks-1961).

Located on the property of Fort Sill, Oklahoma, are two burial sites, which produced 4,000 glass beads during excavation. These are 33 different types of beads of which 11 are exactly like those found by Harris and Harris in their study previously mentioned in this region. Another nine beads match those catalogued by Kenneth and Martha Kidd which deal mainly with the Eastern Canada Region. No date has been assigned to these sites yet. The styles found were round, donut, barrel shaped and tubular. The colors were white, blue, redwood and emerald green (Pearson-1974).

Southwestern Region

This area of North America has little or no references to glass trade beads, with the exception of California. Beads have been found in Nevada, Arizona and Utah, but not in the same quantity or regularity as the other regions.

As yet we do not have any research material dealing with this area. We have chosen to leave this region until last in our research because of the scarcity of documented material. Since the libraries of the Washington universities have none, it will have to wait until we can take the time to visit California universities and hibernate in their libraries for a few weeks.

Pacific Northwest Region

Our own region has a rich history involving names with which many of us are familiar. Sir Francis Drake supposedly reached Vancouver Island around 1579 on board the Golden Hind before bad weather forced it back to San Francisco to be refitted for its return voyage to Europe. Captain Cook sailed the Resolution into Nootka Sound in 1778. Captain Vancouver, in charge of the Chatham and Discovery, sailed into Nootka Sound and San Juan Island in 1792. The Russian American Company, chartered in 1799, conducted trade with the Eskimos, and Lewis and Clark spent time in the Pacific Northwest during1805-1806. The lesser-known history includes contacts from China and possibly Japan during the same period.
Upon Captain Cook’s arrival at Prince William Sound in 1778, he found that the natives were in possession of sky blue glass beads the size of a large pea. They used these beads for ornaments in their hats, hanging from their ears, and even as lip ornaments. Earlier, Captain Berring left 20 strands of beads with the Chugach (de Laguna-1956).

A Tikchik village in southwestern Alaska, circa 1829-1866 (not firmly assigned), produced over 400 glass beads of five different types. Over 50% were white, another 25% were blue, and the remaining 25% were red, pink, yellow and clear. The famed Hudson’s Bay bead, the Cornaline d’Aleppo, was also found, but it had a white core instead of green (Vanstone-1968).

Nushagak, an historic trading center in Alaska (no date assigned), yielded 465 glass beads, 458 of which were the seed bead class in red and black, the other seven beads were red and yellow, almost 2 mm in diameter, a pony bead size (Vanstone-1968).

Akulivikchuk, an Eskimo village circa (1800-1860 (not firmly assigned) produced 547 glass beads during excavation. White beads were in command of the majority with 360, 145 were blue, 16 black and the others in assorted colors. Of the total, 75 seed beads. Both types of Cornaline d’Aleppo were found (green and white cores) and the Russian Blue (fire polish) (Vanstone-1970).

Fort Umpqua, circa 1836-1852, located near modern day Elkton, Oregon, was Hudson’s Bay Company fort, as was Fort Astoria, Sauvies Island and Champaeg. Fort Umpqua yielded 150 glass beads during excavations, which began in the summer of 1973. There were 104 white tubular beads, 24 translucent yellowish-green and the rest were an assortment of different colors (Schlesser-1975).

Fort Nisqually was a Hudson’s Bay Company fort from 1833-1843 and the property of the Puget Sound Company from 1843-1867. It was supplied by Fort Vancouver from 1833-1843. During the years of 1833-1839, Fort Nisqually inventoried 98 pounds of beads for trade with Indians. The Fort Vancouver records of 1824-25 show that they had two basic types of beads in stock, the sky blue enameled and the transparent Canton. John McLoughlin, administrator of Fort Vancouver, wrote in 1827 to the Hudson’s Bay Company headquarters requesting the blue beads made in China for his inventory (wwodward-1965). But in 1838, the Fort Nisqually records show that they inventoried the following beads: sky blue and common white beads, 3 pounds; cut glass beads, sizes 4 and 6, 22 bunches (Steele-1979), implying perhaps a change in preference by the Indians.

Fort Vancouver, circa 1821-1860, has been a project of on-going research with each new excavation. One site report discusses 646 beads recovered, which include light blue Canton spheres, Prosser beads, Cornaline d’Aleppo with white cores and two different types of Russian Blues. A Prosser bead is made with kiln-hardened glass placed in a two-part mold. The bead is named after Richard Prosser who in 1841 patented this method to make ceramic buttons. The two different types of Russian Blue beads are the popular “fire polish” and the lighter blue with a white or light blue core (Chance & Chance-1976).

The Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806 recorded many interesting statements about glass beads in this region. At Fort Clatsop, Captain Clark wrote on November 23, 1805, that the Clatsop Indians refused red beads and demanded the chief beads “Ti-a-co-mo-shack” which were the most common blue ones. On January 9, 1806, Captain Lewis wrote that the Clatsop were extremely fond of the most common cheap blue and white beads (DeVoto-1956).

A letter from them President Thomas Jefferson to General Henry Dearborne in February of 1807 conveyed to the General that since the blue beads of coarse and cheap manufacture from China were considered and most valued and highly prized item by the Indians, future explores such as Colonel Freeman ought to take these beads with them. He even suggested that a quantity equal to ½ or 2/3 of their stores be included (Davis-1973).

Throughout this region, Canton or Chinese beads have been referred to extensively. During the years 1774-1794, no less then 130 vessels visited the Northwest Coast, a period which China had a thriving fur trade. European ships loaded with supplies for their trading companies in Canton would sail for China. Upon arrival, they would offload their supplies and pick up trade goods for the Pacific Northwest. After trading for furs in the Northwest, they returned to China, traded the furs for Chinese goods, ie. Silks and spices, and returned to Europe.

Thee are volumes of information on glass beads found in sites in this and other regions which include hundreds of thousands of beads, and which we had no space to mention. But we have tried to bring together in a general fashion the most common beads with the dates and countries involved in bringing them to North America. We hope that this information will give a better insight into the different types of beads, which were used in the fur trade era. Our next article will deal with types of bead manufacture.


Bennett, Monte 1983 “Central New York Glass Trade Beads”, Research Records, No. 16, pp. 51-58: Rochester

Benson, Carl A. 1967 “The Philip Mound: A Historic Site”, Florida Anthropologist, Vol. 20, Nos. 3-4, pp. 118-132: Gainesville

Bradley, James W. 1983 “Blue Crystals and Other Trinkets”, Research Records, No. 16, pp.29-39: Rochester

Chance, David H. and Jennifer V. Chance 1976 “Kanaka Village/Vancouver Barracks”, Reports in Highway Archeology, No. 3: Seattle

Davis, Caleb W. 1969 “Cartier, Jacque”, Colliers Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 494-495

Davis, Wayne L. 1973 “Time and Space Consideration for Diagnostic Northern Plains Glass Trade Beads Types”, Historical Archeology in Northwestern North America: Calgary

DeVoto, Bernard 1956 “The Journals of Lewis and Clark”, Boston

Duffield, Lathel F. and Edward B Jelks 1961 “The Pearson Site”, Archeology Series No. 4: Austin

Good, Mary Elizabeth 1972 “Guebert Site: An 18th Century Historic Kaskaskia Indian Village in Randolph County, Illinois”, Memoir II, Central States Archeological Society: Wood River

Gregory, Hiram H. and Clarence H. Webb 1965 “European Trade Beads from Six Sites in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana”, Florida Anthropologist, Vol. 18, No. 3 Pt.2, pp. 15-44: Gainesville

Harris, R. K. and Innus M. Harris 1967 “Trade Beads, Projectile Points and Knives”, A Pilot Study of Wichita Indian Archeology and Ethnohistory, pp. 129-158: Dallas

Jones, Buddy Calvin 1968 “The Kinsloe Focus: A Study of Seven Historic Caddoan Sites in Northwest Texas”, Unpublished Manuscript, Department of Anthropology, University of Oklahoma: Norman

Karklins, Karlis 1974 “Additional Notes on the Philip Mound, Polk County, Florida”, Florida Anthropologist, Vol.27, No. 1, pp. 108: Gainesville

Kenyon, Ian T. and Thomas Kenyon 1983 “Comments on the 17th Century Glass Beads from Ontario”, Research Records No. 16, pp. 59-74: Rochester

De Laguna, Frederica 1956 “Chugach Prehistory”: Seattle

Miller, Henry M., Dennis J. Pogue and Michael A. Smolek 1983 “Beads from the Seventeenth Century Chesapeake”, Research Records, No. 16 pp. 127-144; Rochester

Morse, Eric W. 1969 “Fur Trade Canoe Routes of Canada – Then and Now”; Ottawa

Orchard, William C. 1975 “Beads and Beadwork of the American Indians”; New York

Pearson, Charles E. 1974 “Glass Trade Beads from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Unpublished Manuscript, Fort Sill Museum; Fort Sill

Penmen, John T. 1972 “European Glass Trade Beads of the Spanish Mission Period, Florida”, Unpublished Manuscript, Division of Archives, History and Records Mgmt, Bureau of Historic Sites; Tallahassee

Quimby, George Irving 1942 “Indian Trade Objects in Michigan and Louisiana”, Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters, Vol. 27, pp. 543-551; Ann Arbor

1966 “Indian Culture and European Trade Goods”; Madison

Ray, Arthur J. 1974 “Indians in the Fur Trade: Their Role as Hunters, Trappers and Middlemen in the Lands Southwest of Hudson Bay 1660-1870”; Toronto

Schlesser, Norman D. 1975 “Hudson’s Bay Company Fort Umpqua 1836-1852”, Northwest Anthropological Research Notes, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp 70-86; Moscow

Smith, Marvin T. and Mary Elizabeth Good 1982 “”Early Sixteenth Century Glass Beads in the Spanish Colonial Trade”; Greenwood

Steele, Harvey W. 1979 “The Stock of the European Sale Shop at Fort Vancouver 1829-1860”, Northwest Anthropological Research Notes, Vol. 13, No.2, pp. 215-230; Moscow

Stone, Lyle M. 1974 “Fort Michilimackinac 1715-1781”; Mackinac Island

Vanstone, James W. 1968 “Tikchik Village: A nineteenth Century Riverine Community in Southwestern Alaska”, Fieldiana Anthropology, Vol. 56 No. 3; Chicago

1970 “Akulivikchuk: A Nineteenth Century Eskimo Community on the Nushagak River, Alaska” Fieldiana Anthropology, Vol. 60; Chicago

1972 “Nushagak: An Historic Trading Center in Southwestern Alaska”, Fieldiana Anthropology, Vol. 62; Chicago

Witthoft, John 1966 “Archeology As A Key to the Colonial Fur Trade”, Minnesota History, Vol. 40, No. 4, pp. 203-209; St. Paul

Woodward, Arthur 1965 “Indian Trade Goods”, Oregon Archeological Society; Portland

Wray, Charles F. 1983 “Seneca Glass Trade Beads C.A.D. 1550-1820”; Research Records, No. 16, pp. 41-47; Rochester