M10942 | Kettle

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Anonyme - Anonymous
Eastern Woodlands
1610-1620, 17th century
9.3 x 18.4 cm
Transfered from the Redpath Museum
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Kettle (7)
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Keys to History

In the 16th and 17th centuries copper and brass kettles, like the ones illustrated, were among the most important items of barter in the trade network established between Europeans and Aboriginal people. This utilitarian object came in all shapes and sizes, and quickly replaced Aboriginal clay pots, which were fragile and difficult to transport. Moreover, Aboriginal people frequently re-worked fragments from worn out or damaged kettles: they shaped the pieces into a range of both useful and symbolically charged new forms, such as arrowheads, pendants, beads, rings and "tinkle" cones that could be attached to fringes on garments.

Kettles were also employed by Aboriginal diplomats, who were talented orators and masters in the use of metaphor, which involved the application of words describing familiar objects and relations to the field of politics. For example, when opening a treaty negotiation, a diplomat might speak of the path being "full of brambles", the need to "dispel the clouds" and the hope that everyone would ultimately "eat out of the same kettle".

  • What

    These are brass kettles that were made in Europe. Copper and brass kettles were in great demand as a trade item because they were less fragile and lighter than the clay pots Aboriginal people made and used for cooking.

  • Where

    The original centres of brass and copper kettle production were Germany and South Netherlands, particularly Amsterdam. From there, these kettles were transported along with other trade goods in the hold of ships sailing to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. These brass kettles were found on an archaeological site in the Pembroke region, along the Ottawa River in Ontario. They were probably traded to Iroquois people living in this region.

  • When

    Brass kettles are very difficult to date unless they are tested to determine their chemical composition, which can sometimes indicate a place and general date of manufacture. These brass kettles may date from anytime in the 17th or 18th centuries.

  • Who

    Copper and brass kettles were indispensible kitchen utensils in 18th century Europe, and kettles of all shapes and sizes played an important part in trade with Aboriginal people across North America. In fact, cut scraps of brass and copper are one of the earliest signs of European contact found on archaeological sites throughout eastern Canada.