Friday, November 20, 2015

New Perspectives on an Old Subject: Trade and Native American Relations at Fort Hunter

Although the subject of Fort Hunter has been covered a number of times in the TWIPA blog, research conducted over the past year indicates that there was more going on in the area of Fort Hunter than was previously known. Prior to becoming the French and Indian War post of Fort Hunter, this area was known as “Chambers’ Mill” or “Chambers at Paxtang”, named for its early occupants, brothers Robert, Joseph, James, and Benjamin Chambers.  Eventually, the brothers moved across the Susquehanna River except Joseph who operated a grist mill as well as possibly a gunsmith/blacksmith shop on the property.
1755 Evans Map Showing the Location of Chambers’ Mill North of the Kittatinny Mountain

Chambers’ Mill appears to have become a widely-known location utilized as a gathering place starting soon after the Chambers’ initial settlement. In 1744, the murder of several white men, including the trader John Armstrong, by the Indians occasioned a meeting of John Harris and other locals “at the House of Joseph Chambers in Paxton” who “there Consulted to go to Samokin [Shamokin], To Consult with the Delaware King & Secalima [Shikellamy] & their Council”. 
Again in 1744, a council for the Lancaster Treaty brought a large number of the Six Nations natives to the area to consult with the governments of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. Conrad Weiser met these Indians and brought them through Paxtang on their way to Lancaster City. On June 16th, 19th, and 20th he purchased supplies at Chambers’ and from Simon Girty, Sr., an unlicensed trader who is known to have traded at Chamber’s Mill. Weiser’s journal indicated that he purchased “three hundredweight of flour from Joseph Chambers and five Shillings worth of Bread and Milk of Simon girty” as well as a steer, rum, and tobacco to feed and entertain the Indians.
In the summer of 1747, Weiser, passing through the area on his way north, “found Shickelimy at the house of Joseph Chambers, in Paxton, with two of his sons and a man of note from the Canickquon Country.” Weiser “stayed two days and two nights at Joseph Chambers with the said Indians, discoursed with them, and I entertained in the best manner I could”.  Other noted visitors to Chambers’ Mill in the 1740s included the Indian missionaries David Brainerd, Anton Schmidt, and Bishop John Christopher Frederick Cammerhoff.
Other than foodstuffs, alcohol, and tobacco, it is unclear what was being traded at Chambers’ Mill but it is likely that Joseph and his son James were also conducting trade. Following James’ death in 1763, an inventory of his belongings listed tomahawks, brass kettles, cloth and thread, matchcoats, Indian shirts, handkerchiefs, “2 Silver Hair plates” and “2400 Black Wompum” indicating the likelihood that he was engaging in trading activities with the natives. In 1764, a letter written from Fort Hunter to James Burd references Dennis McCormick’s desire to “dispose of all ye Hyds” that McCormick has at the fort. This indicates that animal skins were possibly being traded for goods here. 
A number of other trade locations were available in the vicinity of Chambers during this period. John Harris at Harris’ Ferry (later Harrisburg) and John Carson were located just to the south, while the Armstrong’s and Thomas McKee had trade posts to the north along the river. Whether it was to trade, to bring grain to the mill, to attend a council, or to visit the smithy for gun repairs, it is clear that something was drawing the natives to visit Chambers’ Mill. On his 1748 trip to Shamokin, Bishop Cammerhoff notes that he and his companion overtook two Indians in the woods “who lived fifty miles above Shamokin” who were “returning from Chamber’s Mill”, indicating the distances that some went to get to the mill location.                                             
It is likely that Samuel Hunter, for whom the fort was known, was also trading with Indians at the property. A trade license was issued to Hunter for the year 1766 that gave him “Licence to trade with the Nations or Tribes of Indians, with whom his Majefty is connected, and who live under his protection…” A licensed trader was required to give bond of £100 at a quarter session of county court, allowing him to set up a legal trade at government forts or posts. Although 1766 was the only year a license is known to exist for Hunter it is possible he was trading with Indians at Fort Hunter during the war.
1766 Trade License for Samuel Hunter (PHMC Archives) 

 Although no definitive account of the types of goods being traded at Chambers’ Mill has yet been discovered, a number of artifacts recovered from the site indicate the possibility of a link to native visitations. Eighteenth century glass trade beads and cut scrap brass, prized by the Indians for ornamentation, have been found during excavations. In 2015, four glass trade beads were recovered from newly-opened test units on the east side of the back porch, as were fragments of brass and brass ornaments.  
Trade Beads Recovered from 2015 Excavations at Fort Hunter (Photo: PHMC Collections)

Glass Beads and Scrap Brass from Fort Hunter Excavations (Photo: PHMC Collections)

Gun parts recovered from the site could be associated with military activities at the fort but may also reflect pre-war use of the smithy and could represent native weapons brought in for repair. This could be one reason that Indians were traveling long distances to visit the site, as the Moravian smithy at Fort Augusta was not constructed until the winter of 1747-48. Other items that have been found at the Fort Hunter excavations, such as knives, combs, scissors, buttons, straight pins, and mirrors could represent trade goods as easily as objects associated with the military occupation or even household goods of the Chambers or Hunter families.

More documentary research and comparison of the collection will need to be undertaken in order to detail the nature of the objects recovered from Fort Hunter. A more careful inspection of the entire collection may reveal that objects thought to have been associated with the fort occupation are possibly instead related to trade activities. Through such work it is hoped that a better understanding of the early trade and Indian relations at this site will emerge.

 Cammerhoff, Bishop John Christopher Frederick and John W. Jordan                                        1905    “Bishop J.C.F. Cammerhoff’s Narrative of a Journey to Shamokin, Penna., in the Winter of 1748”. The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 160-179. 
Evans, Lewis
1755    A General Map of the Middle British Colonies in America. Evans: London.

Fort Hunter Archives
2015    Private collection of photos and documents at Fort Hunter Park.

McCormick, Dennis
1764    Letter Dennis McCormick to James Burd, Fort Hunter 28th Nov. 1764. American Philosophical Society, Burd-Shippen Collection, I-Correspondence, Box 4

Shirai, Yoko
1985    The Indian Trade in Colonial Pennsylvania, 1730-1768. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania. UMI Dissertation Services.

Runk, J.M. & Company
1896    Commemorative Biographical Encyclopedia of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Chambersburg: J.M. Runk & Company.

Rupp, I. Daniel
1846    The History and Topography of Dauphin, Cumberland, Franklin, Bedford, Adams, and Perry Counties.  Lancaster: Gilbert Hills.

Wallace, Paul A.
1996    Conrad Weiser, 1696-1760, Friend of Colonist and Mohawk. Lewisburg: Wennawoods Publishing.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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