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“Worthy to be Gifts”: A Microhistory of Haudenosaunee Moccasins at the Historic Northampton Museum


Though they are common objects in private and museum collections, moccasins frequently lack substantial provenances, which can lead to errors in basic descriptive elements such as attribution or date. Over time, misleading or inaccurate information can be propagated if a museum’s interpretation serves as a reference for the visual identification of artifacts in other collections. This thesis focuses on a pair of alleged seventeenth-century moccasins from the Connecticut River Valley in the collection of the Historic Northampton Museum in Northampton, Massachusetts, investigating the validity of that claim and proposing a probable point of origin. Ostensibly belonging to an ancestor of the donor, I examine the moccasins in the context of New England’s cultural landscape during the seventeenth through early nineteenth centuries, focusing on Anglo-Indigenous interactions, the role of clothing in identity formation, and the conditions in which Indigenous objects like moccasins would be collected. Archival documents and published accounts relating to the donor’s family were used to reconstruct the family’s history and establish the most likely period for the moccasins’ acquisition. This thesis shows that despite the considerable contact between colonists and the Indigenous inhabitants of the Connecticut River Valley during the late seventeenth century, the moccasins are unlikely to date from either that time or place, but instead are of Haudenosaunee origin, likely purchased as souvenirs in western New York in the early nineteenth century.

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