The Fur Trade

Contact and Commerce Between Indians and Dutch Settlers


Known as wampum or sewant, these tubular shell beads came to serve as a medium of exchange among Europeans and Indians in colonial North America. Rather than silver coins, the Dutch typically used wampum to purchase not only beaver pelts from Indians but also real property and goods from other settlers.

Writer, artist, and re-enactor, Arthur Kirmss makes wampum using 17th century tools and techniques. 

Teachers might use this video of Mr. Kirmss in conjunction with the lesson on the Fur Trade.


Acquiring furs—particularly beaver pelts—was the driving force behind the early decades of Dutch colonization of North America. Due to overhunting, beavers were almost extinct in Europe by 1621, when the Dutch West India Company was founded. But European demand for felt hats was high, and North American beavers served, for a time, to fill the gap in supply.

Traders who settled in New Netherland (a territory that spread across New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and parts of Connecticut and Pennsylvania) purchased pelts from Indians in exchange for wampum and/or goods manufactured in Europe. Wampum was a type of shell bead that came to circulate among Indians and Dutch settlers as money. Trade goods included duffels (a type of coarse woolen cloth), glass beads, metal tools (such as axes, awls, and knives), firearms, gunpowder, and lead for making musket balls.

This fourth grade lesson focuses on the essential question: “How did trade between American Indians and Dutch settlers affect both parties?” It was designed by educators who participated in the New Netherland Institute’s and New York State Museum’s 2012 summer institute: Sita Fey, Ellen Clark-Cruz, Anne Killian-Russo, and Debra Schaffer. 

You can view the lesson by section (Lesson, Artifacts and Readings) or download the full lesson as a PDF.

About the New Netherland Institute

For a quarter century NNI has helped cast light on America's Dutch roots. In 2010, it partnered with the New York State Office of Cultural Education to establish the New Netherland Research Center, with matching funds from the State of the Netherlands. NNI is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. More

The New Netherland Research Center

Housed in the New York State Library, the NNRC offers students, educators, scholars and researchers a vast collection of early documents and reference works on America's Dutch era. Directed by Dr. Charles Gehring. More


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