Course:HIST104/Hudsons Bay Blanket

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Traditional Hudson's Bay point blanket

Contents

Pre-History of the Hudson's Bay Blanket

Prehistory of the Hudson's Bay Company(HBC) blanket stems from France; where this style of blanket originated. [1] The HBC blanket was designed on a point system hence the name “point blanket”.[2] The point system was used to distinguish the size of each blanket, the size being identified by the point markings.[3] Point markings were also used as a price tag; each point represented the amount of beaver fur to be traded for each blanket.[4] The point system ranged from 1-6, this being an indication of size and price.[5] The blanket was a combination of wool from New Zealand and Britain.[6] [7] This was done to attain the best quality blankets.[8] HBC blankets were originally manufactured in Witney, Oxfordshire and Yorkshire.[9]

The blanket’s journey to North America began in 1779 when M.Germainn Maugenest put forward the idea to the HBC to use the blanket as a trading commodity; in December of that year 500 blankets were produced.[10] The introduction of the blanket into trade during that time set up and pseudo monopoly in the region, due to their introduction of a high commodity item.[11] The blanket established an HBC foothold in the fur trading business with the trading of blankets [12]. HBC blankets were then sent to Fort Albany in 1780 and by this time blankets were arriving at Fort Albany at a steady rate.[13] The purpose of the blankets being in North America was to use them in the fur trade as a commodity to trade with the First Nations people.[14] Each blanket was traded on the basis of the point system every point would indicate one beaver pelt.[15] This was the standard for trading at that time.[16] Blankets also had first nations ceremonial influence as well.[17] The blankets were used in potlatches as gifts to other first nations people.[18] The interesting aspect of this is, that regular blankets were given to anyone but, the HBC blankets were only given to significant members of the First Nations communities.[19] Showing the importance of the blanket to the First Nations people and the ultimate influence it had on their culture.[20]

HBC Point Blanket With Relation To Smallpox

A controversy supported by documented scientific evidence and so widely believed by Canadian Aboriginal inhabitants, that some British administrators actually supported the handing out of blankets contaminated with small pox to the native people of Fort Pitt[21]This was in an attempt to wipe out their populations thus using them as a biological weapon[22],The Hudson Bay Company was the main health agency across Canada between the late eighteenth and the nineteenth century[23]It had the main aim of having to deal with the smallpox epidemics that was threatening and greatly affected the people of the region at the time[24]William Tomison of HBC described the devastating small pox epidemic of 1781 and 1782 since he understood clearly contagion, practiced isolation and dis infection and provided the statistics during the epidemic[25] The employees of the company turned to quarantine so that the spread of the disease would be limited in the summer of the year 1782[26]This however was not fruitful, as was not clearly thought out[27]The company later turned to the then newly discovered vaccine that was quite successful in fighting the disease[28]Eventually the company, covering western London, was able to have a successful vaccination campaign in the late 1830’s[29]During this time, Hudson Bay Company was convinced to engage in the fur trade[30] This trade dealt with the selling and acquiring of fur coats along the coast of the Hudson River[31]It would eventually come out that the blankets made during this period and led to the spread of the smallpox[32]To protect their interests as company they involved themselves with the vaccination and creation for a cure for smallpox[33]They then introduced a new way of trading between the Indians with fur and business flourished[34]The use of small pox blankets to orchestrate the Indian genocide has been a raging debate for many years[35]Sellers, military leaders and some states especially those of Georgia and California(presently) had plans to exterminate all Indians and among their strategies was use of blankets infected with small pox[36]However apart from activists’ word-of-mouth, there is little evidence to substantiate the claims[37]When forty years later there was another smallpox outbreak, Mathew Cocking turned due to the fact that earlier, they had not acted in the correct way as a company[38]Albert (119-214) identifies the evidence of a letter from the commander of forces at Fort Pitt to Commander Chief Pontiac of the Indian forces before the siege on May 1763[39]This letter read: Out of our regard for them (two Indian chiefs), we gave them two blankets and a handkerchief out of the smallpox hospital which will have the desired effect[40]This letter had a lot of questions unanswered[41] In the middle of all the controversy, Hudson’s Bay Company dismissed the reports as propaganda saying that soldiers took used blankets from their bodies and sold them to the natives not with the intension to kill but eyeing quick money[42]From all these conflicting reports, it would be safe to conclude that HBC point blankets had a role to play in the spread of the small pox epidemic in the western plains during the late eighteenth century to the native communities[43] However, stones remain unturned as to whether the spread of small pox was to serve as a biological weapon to wipe out the natives especially Indians or it was accidental![44]

Manufacturing Process

Each Hudson’s Bay Company point blanket was woven in England using both English and New Zealander variety wool specifically because of its ability to repel water and maintain its size, softness, and warmth.[45] Up until the mid nineteenth century, the blankets were woven by hand. But, with the rise of industrialization, blankets made by machine were becoming increasingly common.[46]

To increase the warmth and durability of a point blanket, wooden mallets were hammered onto the fabric, consequently making them thicker.[47] This process also made the fabric resistant to winter frost.[48]. Nevertheless, this method did reduce its size.[49]

2010 Winter Olympics commemorative HBC point blanket

While blankets were the most popular item used in Canadian trade, other items such as coats, were also manufactured.[50] Scrap fabric was also used to create smaller items such as mittens, hats, and lining.[51]

Despite the centuries old history of a Hudson’s Bay Company point blanket, the colors used have remained relatively standard. Traditional colours are white, red, yellow, green, and indigo.[52] Popularity wise, white blankets with coloured stripes were plentiful as they offered some camouflage against the white snow in northern Canadian regions.[53] But, with the advent of chemical dyes, colours became much more bright and vibrant.[54]

Nevertheless, many non-traditional colours and patterns became available in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. For example, from 1930 to 1970, pastel coloured point blankets in pink, mauve, and pale green were released.[55] Also, a commemorative white, blue, and green blanket was released for the 2010 Winter Olympics.[56] These are just a few among many new colour schemes for point blankets and are a result of the increased popularity of interior design.[57]

The HBC Point Blanket Today

The popularity of the iconic HBC point blanket endured through the 20th century, and has continued on into the 21st.[58] Today, the blankets are no longer used for trade between European settlers and First Nations; instead they are marketed to consumers as a bed covering and comforter.[59] They are still sold primarily at The Bay, a Canadian department store owned and operated by the same Hudson’s Bay Company that produced the blankets over 200 years ago.

The present-day HBC point blanket maintains the 100% wool construction and green, red, yellow and indigo design of the original.[60] The blankets are still produced in England;[61] and though they are most widely available in Canada, they are exported to countries worldwide (notably the United States).[62] Due to their cultural significance and iconic status, new point blankets retail between three to four hundred dollars in stores.[63] Earlier examples of the blanket are considered collectable, and specimens in good condition may fetch hundreds of dollars at auction.[64]

The HBC blanket is truly a remarkable example of the enduring power of a strong brand. Despite being viewed by some as a symbol of abuse suffered by North America’s First Nations at the hands of European settlers,[65] the blanket remains a beloved icon of Canadian heritage, and the quintessential symbol of one of the world’s oldest companies.

[66] [67]

References

  1. The Hudson's Bay Company, Our History: The HBC point blanket, http://www2.hbc.com/hbcheritage/history/blanket/history/, (2001)
  2. The Hudson's Bay Company, Our History: The HBC point blanket, http://www2.hbc.com/hbcheritage/history/blanket/history/, (2001)
  3. The Hudson's Bay Company, Our History: The HBC point blanket, http://www2.hbc.com/hbcheritage/history/blanket/history/, (2001)
  4. Dietland Mullher-Shwarze, Lixing Sun, “The beaver: natural history of wetlands engineer,” Cornell university press, (2003)
  5. Dietland Mullher-Shwarze, Lixing Sun, “The beaver: natural history of wetlands engineer,” Cornell university press, (2003)
  6. The Hudson's Bay Company, Our History: The HBC point blanket, http://www2.hbc.com/hbcheritage/history/blanket/history/, (2001)
  7. Dietland Mullher-Shwarze, Lixing Sun, “The beaver: natural history of wetlands engineer,” Cornell university press, (2003)
  8. The Hudsons Bay Company, Our History: The HBC point blanket, http://www2.hbc.com/hbcheritage/history/blanket/history/, (2001)
  9. The Hudsons Bay Company, Our History: The HBC point blanket, http://www2.hbc.com/hbcheritage/history/blanket/history/, (2001)
  10. The Hudsons Bay Company, Our History: The HBC point blanket, http://www2.hbc.com/hbcheritage/history/blanket/history/, (2001)
  11. Chantal Nadeua, “Fur nation: from beaver to Brigitte Bardot,” Routledge, (2001)
  12. Dietland Mullher-Shwarze, Lixing Sun, “The beaver: natural history of wetlands engineer,” Cornell university press, (2003)
  13. The Hudsons Bay Company, Our History: The HBC point blanket, http://www2.hbc.com/hbcheritage/history/blanket/history/, (2001)
  14. The Hudsons Bay Company, Our History: The HBC point blanket, http://www2.hbc.com/hbcheritage/history/blanket/history/, (2001)
  15. The Hudsons Bay Company, Our History: The HBC point blanket, http://www2.hbc.com/hbcheritage/history/blanket/history/, (2001)
  16. The Hudsons Bay Company, Our History: The HBC point blanket, http://www2.hbc.com/hbcheritage/history/blanket/history/, (2001)
  17. William E. Simeone, “Rifles Blankets and Beads Identity, History, and the Northern Athapaskan Potlach,” University of Oklahoma press, (1995)
  18. William E. Simeone, “Rifles Blankets and Beads Identity, History, and the Northern Athapaskan Potlach,” University of Oklahoma press, (1995)
  19. William E. Simeone, “Rifles Blankets and Beads Identity, History, and the Northern Athapaskan Potlach,” University of Oklahoma press, (1995)
  20. William E. Simeone, “Rifles Blankets and Beads Identity, History, and the Northern Athapaskan Potlach,” University of Oklahoma press, (1995)
  21. Albert W. Crosby, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993)
  22. Albert W. Crosby, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993
  23. Albert W. Crosby, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993
  24. Albert W. Crosby, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993
  25. Albert W. Crosby, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993)
  26. Albert W. Crosby, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993
  27. Albert W. Crosby, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993
  28. Albert W. Crosby, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993
  29. William Cronon, “Changes in the land: Indians, Colonists and the ecology of New England”New York: Hill and Wang (1983,2003)
  30. William Cronon, “Changes in the land: Indians, Colonists and the ecology of New England”New York: Hill and Wang (1983,2003)
  31. William Cronon, “Changes in the land: Indians, Colonists and the ecology of New England”New York: Hill and Wang (1983,2003)
  32. Albert W. Crosby, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993)
  33. Albert W. Crosby, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993)
  34. William Cronon, “Changes in the land: Indians, Colonists and the ecology of New England”New York: Hill and Wang (1983,2003)
  35. Albert W. Crosby, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993)
  36. Albert W. Crosby, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993)
  37. Albert W. Crosby, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993)
  38. William Cronon, “Changes in the land: Indians, Colonists and the ecology of New England”New York: Hill and Wang (1983,2003)
  39. Albert W. Crosby, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993
  40. Albert W. Crosby, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993
  41. Albert W. Crosby, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993
  42. Albert W. Crosby, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993
  43. “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993)
  44. William Cronon, “Changes in the land: Indians, Colonists and the ecology of New England”New York: Hill and Wang (1983,2003)
  45. The Hudsons Bay Company, Our History: The HBC point blanket, http://www2.hbc.com/hbcheritage/history/blanket/history/, (2001)
  46. Cultural Treasures, http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/ab/rockymountain/natcul/natcul2/07.aspx, (2010)
  47. Cultural Treasures, http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/ab/rockymountain/natcul/natcul2/07.aspx, (2010)
  48. The Hudsons Bay Company, Our History: The HBC point blanket, http://www2.hbc.com/hbcheritage/history/blanket/history/, (2001)
  49. Cultural Treasures, http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/ab/rockymountain/natcul/natcul2/07.aspx, (2010)
  50. Cultural Treasures, http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/ab/rockymountain/natcul/natcul2/07.aspx, (2010)
  51. Cultural Treasures, http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/ab/rockymountain/natcul/natcul2/07.aspx, (2010)
  52. Cultural Treasures, http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/ab/rockymountain/natcul/natcul2/07.aspx, (2010)
  53. Cultural Treasures, http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/ab/rockymountain/natcul/natcul2/07.aspx, (2010)
  54. Cultural Treasures, http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/ab/rockymountain/natcul/natcul2/07.aspx, (2010)
  55. The Point Blanket Site, http://www.pointblankets.com/pages/pb004.htm
  56. The Point Blanket Site, http://www.pointblankets.com/pages/pb004.htm
  57. The Hudsons Bay Company, Our History: The HBC point blanket, http://www2.hbc.com/hbcheritage/history/blanket/history/, (2001)
  58. "Hbc Heritage - Our History - The HBC Point Blanket - FAQs." Hbc.com. Hudson's Bay Company, (November 23, 2011), http://www2.hbc.com/hbcheritage/history/blanket/pointblanketfaq/.
  59. "Multistripe Point Blanket." The Bay. Hudson's Bay Company, (November 23, 2011), http://www.thebay.com/eng/hbccollections-blankets-Multistripe_Point_Blanket-thebay/156989.
  60. "Multistripe Point Blanket." The Bay. Hudson's Bay Company, (November 23, 2011), http://www.thebay.com/eng/hbccollections-blankets-Multistripe_Point_Blanket-thebay/156989.
  61. "Hbc Heritage - Our History - The HBC Point Blanket - FAQs." Hbc.com. Hudson's Bay Company, (November 23, 2011), http://www2.hbc.com/hbcheritage/history/blanket/pointblanketfaq/.
  62. "Hudson Bay Blanket - Original Point Blankets - FREE SHIPPING." Carhartt Clothing, Muck Boots, Acorn Slippers, & Carolina Boots. Hanks Clothing, Inc., (November 23, 2011), http://www.hanksclothing.com/hudson_bay_blankets.html.
  63. "Multistripe Point Blanket." The Bay. Hudson's Bay Company, (November 23, 2011), http://www.thebay.com/eng/hbccollections-blankets-Multistripe_Point_Blanket-thebay/156989.
  64. Trathen1966. "EBay Guides - Hudson Bay Company Point Blanket." EBay Reviews & Guides. EBay Inc., (November 23, 2011), http://reviews.ebay.com/Hudson-Bay-Company-Point-Blanket?ugid=10000000000939116.
  65. "The Beginning of the Hudson's Bay Company in Canada." First Peoples of Canada Before Contact Menu. Goldi Productions Ltd., (November 23, 2011), http://firstpeoplesofcanada.com/fp_furtrade/fp_furtrade3.html.
  66. Albert W. Crosby, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological expansion of Europe 900-1900” New York Cambridge University Press (1993)
  67. William Cronon, “Changes in the land: Indians, Colonists and the ecology of New England” New York: Hill and Wang (1983, 2003)
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