April Meeting, 1949

    A STATED Meeting of the Society was held, at the invitation of Mr. Augustus Peabody Loring, Jr., at No. 2 Gloucester Street, Boston, on Thursday, 28 April 1949, at a quarter before nine o’clock in the evening, the President, Augustus Peabody Loring, Jr., in the chair.

    The records of the last Stated Meeting were read and approved.

    The President reported the death on 4 March 1949 of James Rowland Angell, a Corresponding Member.

    The President, on behalf of the Corresponding Secretary, reported the receipt of a letter from Edward Ely Curtis accepting election to Resident Membership in the Society.

    Mr. John Otis Brew of Cambridge was elected a Resident Member and Mr. Mark Bortman of Newton was elected an Associate Member of the Society.

    The President reported the recommendation of the Council for the adoption of new By-Laws and stated that printed copies were to be sent to all members.

    The chair appointed the following committees in anticipation of the Annual Meeting:

    To nominate candidates for the several offices,—Messrs. Elliott Perkins and Fred Norris Robinson.

    To examine the Treasurer’s accounts,—Messrs. Willard Goodrich Cogswell and Arthur Stanwood Pier.

    To arrange for the Annual Dinner,—Messrs. Augustus Peabody Loring, Jr., Samuel Eliot Morison and Walter Muir Whitehill.

    Mr. Frederick Scouller Allis, Jr., read a paper entitled “The Bingham-Baring Lands,” in which he presented material that has since appeared in Volumes 36 and 37 of the Society’s Publications.

    Mr. Ernest S. Dodge presented by title the following paper:

    A Seventeenth-Century Pennacook Quilled Pouch

    MOST of the exceptionally early and important examples of New England material culture, other than archaeological artifacts, are well known to students of the area, and have been published. It is only rarely, nowadays, that a specimen turns up that is so old and so remarkable that it deserves a paper to itself. Such a one has recently appeared.

    This antique, a small quill bag or pouch, was in a collection acquired a few years ago by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, with the estate at Indian Hill, West Newbury.1 This property had been the home of the Poore family for nearly two hundred and fifty years before it was given to the Society.

    Historical Background

    The quill bag first attracted the attention of Dr. Frank G. Speck when he visited the Poore house at Indian Hill. At that time it was in a little frame screwed to the wall of a small back entry. Also inside the frame was a label, handprinted in faded ink on orange cardboard, which label reads:


    Made on Indian Hill and given to John Poore


    After negotiating with Mr. William Sumner Appleton of the S. P. N. E. A. the pouch, with certain other ethnological specimens, was deposited with the Peabody Museum of Salem. I removed it from the frame and found inside another, much earlier, label. This label is written in black ink on heavy white paper. The condition of the paper and the character of the handwriting indicates considerable age—how much, is the question. The text of this second label reads:

    This purse was manufactured by the Indians and purchased of them by my Grandfather who paid them with articles valued at one dollar. The hide the purse is made of was dressed by them & the quills worked in are said to be those of the Porcupine—Benjamin Poore.

    On seeing such a label one’s first reaction is that the problem is easily resolved. All that is necessary is to run back the Poore family line to Benjamin and thence to his grandfather. Alas, there is an imp that plagues the wishful thinker. The Poore family was prolific as well as ancient, and the tribe of Benjamin was a considerable portion thereof. Persistent genealogical research, however, narrowed the problem of identification of the label signer down to one of two Benjamins.

    Before discussing the possibilities of these two candidates, let us return for a moment to the last male Poore to dwell at Indian Hill and to the first label quoted. Ben: Perley Poore was born in 1820 and died 30 May 1887. He was a descendant of Samuel Poore who settled in Newbury in 1638. This Samuel was the first Poore owner of Indian Hill where he built a house about 1650. From him the direct line to Ben:Perley runs: Samuel, born 1653, died 1727; Samuel, born 1673, died 1759; Benjamin, born 1723, died 1817; Dr. Daniel Noyes Poore, born 1758, died 1837; Daniel’s son, Col. Benjamin, born in 1797 and lost in the China Sea in 1853, was Ben:Perley’s father.2 The early Benjamin in this line is one possibility. However, Ben:Perley was also descended, through other families, from John Poore, brother of the first Samuel, who settled on the Parker River in 1635 and in 1650 was granted some land in the vicinity of Indian Hill. In one of the histories of Essex County, under the biographical sketch of Ben:Perley, it is stated that “In 1650 John Poore purchased Indian Hill and the land surrounding it from the Indians.”3 This is not true as the circumstances are described in other works. Samuel, the immigrant, bought the land.4

    It is my belief that at one time Ben:Perley thought that John was the man from whom the Poore name descended to him, and that the statement given above was true. In his later life he was an active member of the Poor-Poore Family Association and encouraged the writing and publishing of the Poore genealogies. At that time he must have known the correct history of Indian Hill. It is a pity that his own manuscript on the history of the Poore family, together with the original Indian deed to Indian Hill, were destroyed in Washington after his death.5

    Ben:Perley was a widely travelled, wealthy newspaperman and a great collector. The curios of all sorts which embellish the walls of the rambling house at Indian Hill were mostly placed there at his direction or by his own hand. It seems reasonable to suppose that he wrote the first label quoted from memory and family tradition, assuming that the Benjamin who signed the old label was the grandson of John.

    Now to return to the problem of solving the identity of the Benjamin who wrote and signed the second label. As just mentioned, from the statement on the first label it might be supposed that John’s grandson, Benjamin, was the author. It may be, but unfortunately the signature on the label in no way resembles the signature of this Benjamin reproduced from his will.

    To be sure the signature on his will was written in extreme old age and would no doubt be different from his writing earlier in life. The difference, in my opinion, however, is too great even for this possibility and the two, to my mind, must be ascribed to different men.

    The Benjamin (1723–1817), the great-grandson of the first, is next considered. A trip to the Courthouse in Salem brought to light a will signed by him. The writing more nearly resembles that on the label, but here again was the age problem. Judging by the date, the document was signed by a very old, sick man but a few hours, I believe, before his death. If the label was written by him, as seems a distinct possibility at present, and granting the truth of the information on the label, the pouch was collected by Samuel (1653–1727), son of the immigrant.

    This would date it about twenty-five to forty years later than the first label states; but, nevertheless, still a very early piece, probably made in the last quarter of the seventeenth century.

    Currier’s History of Newbury states that Indians were still living in the vicinity of Indian Hill in 1681 so the pouch could have readily been collected by the Samuel to whom the evidence points.

    As the extent of the Pennacook Confederacy has been worked out by Johnson, it is safe to assume that these Indians were politically associated with the Pennacook and the pouch is representative of their material culture.6

    Technical Description

    This well preserved little pouch, made of dark tanned deerskin ornamented with porcupine quills, is a delight to the eye of any admirer of aboriginal art. The lower part of the bag is flat and made of two pieces of leather, 8.5 cm. square, sewed together along either side and the bottom. This is the part of the bag that is highly decorated. To the upper edge of the bottom section there are sewn two more flexible pieces of similar leather. These are sewn together along either side and deepen the bag about 6 cm. All seam sewing is apparently done with sinew.

    Approximately 4 mm. from the upper edge there are, on both sides, six slashes each about 12 mm. long. Through these holes run two drawstrings. The drawstrings enter from opposite sides, circle the bag, and are lashed to themselves some 2.5 cm. from the edges of the bag. Beyond the lashing the ends extend about 14 cm. These ends, two on either side, are wrapped with quills for about 8 cm. of their length. On each side of the pouch, at the junction of the side seams and the seams between the upper and lower parts, there are attached two leather thongs wrapped with quills. Along the bottom edge of the bag there are a dozen dangles spaced about 5 mm. apart. These are apparently of some kind of cord, whether native or trade I could not determine, wrapped with quills for the distance of 1 cm. The ends of all the dangles, as well as the quillwrapped drawstrings and decorative thongs, all terminate in tin cones each holding a bunch of hair. Two distinct kinds of hair were used. One kind is rather soft and brown, probably deerhair; the other is stiff and grayish and may be pig or horsehair, and looks as though it was once dyed blue. The two varieties of hair are paired on the ends of the drawstrings and decorative thongs so that each pair of strings has a bunch of hair of each kind.

    The final, and perhaps the most striking, structural feature of this bag are two tabs of leather shaped like beaver tails, 6.7 cm. and 7 cm. long respectively and 2.5 cm. wide, sewed to the top at the seam on each side. Each tab is perforated with seven lozenge-shaped holes. The center hole, which is 5 x 10 mm., is flanked by three smaller holes above and below which average 4 x 5 cm. These tabs serve no obvious utilitarian purpose and, together with the thongs and drawstrings, must be considered ornamental. They do, nevertheless, indicate a significance which will be discussed later.

    Seventeenth century Indian pouch in the Peabody Museum of Salem.

    Side showing designs similar to those on wampum belts.

    Seventeenth century Indian pouch in the Peabody Museum of Salem.

    Side showing linear decoration and simplified double curve.


    The quill wrapping on the drawstrings, decorative thongs, and dangles, has already been mentioned. The quills of this wrapping are white, orange, black, and light blue and are applied with a technique not figured or described in Orchard.7 It is difficult to discover, however, exactly the technique used without unwrapping a section, which I am reluctant to do.

    Along each seam of the lower part of the pouch is a row of rather squarish white porcelain beads which average about 2 mm. in length. These are the only beads on the specimen.

    The principal decoration on each face of the lower section of the bag consists of the quill work. These quills also are colored black, orange, light blue, and white. Undoubtedly all the colors showing, and there may have been others, are faded and mellowed by time.

    All of the quills are attached to the leather by one of two techniques. Most of the quills are flattened and put on by stitching them through the leather and folding them back on themselves and stitching again. This gives a series of triangles so that the technique superficially resembles the rather common method of folding back and forth over two pieces of sinew thread described by Orchard.8 Most of the quills attached by this means are in rows about 2 mm. wide but for filling in a few places the width increases to 6 mm. The other technique used is the method described by Orchard wherein the quills are twisted and sewn through the leather between each twist.9 This technique produces a fine hair-like line and is used for borders.

    The designs on this specimen are of especial interest to the student of aboriginal art in northeastern North America. One face of the bag is outlined with a border of quill work which bulges slightly toward the middle of each side. Within the border two wide bands extend diagonally from corner to corner across the bag forming a large St. Andrews Cross. The figures within the bands are geometrical and are somewhat reminiscent of some to be found in wampum belts. On opposite sides of each arm of the cross are hook figures bent back towards the corners. These figures are commonly found, either singly or in pairs, in Iroquois and early Chippewa art, and very commonly in the Wabanaki area.

    The other face of the bag is covered with parallel rows of straight, wavy, zigzag, and curved lines so familiar in the bead and quill work from the Iroquois east and north as far as Indians live; and most recently used by the Naskapi in their painted work on caribou skin. Beginning at each outside edge the borders are identical and meet in the middle with two rows of double curves.

    The presence of this true double curve is particularly significant as, so far as I know, this is its earliest ethnological representation. The double-curve on the pouch is in its most simple and unelaborated form. It corresponds exactly to the simplest form illustrated by Speck in “The Double-Curve Motive in Northeastern Algonkian Art.”10 In the same work identical forms are shown in examples from the Malecite11 and the Micmac.12 Specimens of Naskapi material examined also show this simple form occurring frequently. Most of the Penobscot and Micmac double-curve designs are featured by more complex treatment, but in Penobscot Man13 Speck shows a Penobscot pouch decorated with quite similar elemental double-curves in moosehair embroidery. Barbeau has conclusively shown the relationship between the elaborate double-curve designs and French leather and embroidery patterns,14 but as French influence on the lower Merrimac, in the last half of the seventeenth century, was probably slight, the presence of the double-curve motif on this bag lends some weight to the evidence which indicates that the motif in its most simple form may possibly be an indigenous aboriginal origin as Speck argued for many years.15


    In conclusion this pouch, in general form and decorative embellishment, is surprisingly similar to comparable bags made about two hundred years later by other tribes to the north and east of the Merrimac. The Penobscot bag figured by Speck and mentioned previously is very similar in form as well as decoration. A Micmac pouch in the Peabody Museum of Salem is in the same tradition; and Montagnais and Naskapi pouches are even closer in form. There is an almost identical bag in the Museum of the American Indian. attributed by Skinner to the Iroquois.16 This Iroquois bag is much larger than our Pennacook specimen, lacks the four groups of thongs at the sides, but has the beaver tail shaped ornaments and also is decorated with the same type of opaque white glass beads, metal jinglers, and dyed deer hair. One of the most striking features of similarity with the Naskapi is the presence of the four groups of decorative thongs. These are attached to some of the pouches as well as the beaded neck charms worn by the Indian hunters of Labrador. In his Naskapi Speck devotes several pages to the symbolism and magical significance of this form.17 The attachments symbolize the legs of animals and the entire pouch or charm is a representation of the animal form to insure good luck in hunting. This same feature of symbolical legs is found among both the Penobscot and Micmac but with no explanation, so far as I know, as to the reason for such attachments. On the basis of the presence of the thongs one could also speculate interestingly on the purpose of the beaver tail shaped ornaments, but there is not sufficient evidence from other tribes to justify doing so.

    The interesting fact brought out by this specimen is that it is so typical of, and shows strong association with, the nomadic hunters of the Northeast rather than with the agricultural peoples of southern New England. The discovery of this pouch also encourages us to seek further in our old houses for early Indian material which has managed to survive the handling of a dozen generations, the avariciousness of insects, and that unhappy New England virtue—the spring house cleaning.