ARENT VAN CURLER & THE FLATTS

History, Archaeology & Art Illuminate a Life on the Hudson

Fur Trade Artifacts

Artifacts from the Flatts except where noted.

Heart of the Fur Trade

 

"I am in receipt of your letters of the 18th and the 26th of August, hastily written from the manhatans, to which I can not properly reply on account of my annoyance that last year you did not send me any accounts or books ... You would also make me pass away my life without knowing once, in all the years that you have been there, how you have administered my property."

- Kiliaen van Rensselaer to Arent van Curler, March 16, 1643 

The patroon opened his March, 1643, letter with yet another tirade about Arent sending him nothing on the finances of his Colonie.  He had shipped 36,000 guilders in trade goods to further his goal of getting the fur trade into his hands.  Yet for five years he did not know what had happened on his behalf.

Van Rensselaer's prophecy of his death came true with no sign of the accounts he demanded.  He need not have worried.  Arent established the Flatts as the heart of the fur trade.  He proved himself an innovator who understood his customers and mastered his business.

The stock items unearthed in the cellar drove the fur trade – kettles, axes, knives, awls, cloth and glass beads.  Yet Arent understood that securing the trade required giving the customers more.  The beads are an early sign of how he introduced new designs to his market.  Originally traders offered the Indians round turquoise beads.  By the mid-1640s, traders like Van Curler replaced them with dark blue tubes.  These sharp-edged sections were cut from the production tubes rounded into traditional beads.  They were cheaper to buy and ship and less prone to breakage.  Ten percent of the beads recovered from the Flatts were this style.

By the early 1640s, clay pipes were a key item in a trader's inventory.  About the time Arent returned from the Netherlands in 1648, pipes made by Edward Bird, marked EB, grew common.  By the 1650s they dominated the trade.  A new style emerged in New Netherland.  The bowl was funnel-shaped, a rarity in the Netherlands and unknown on Dutch-related sites outside North America.  Bird apparently made the style specifically for New Netherland.  He likely modeled it after Native American specimens.  The largest sample of EB pipes yet excavated comes from the Flatts, where over 125 examples were recovered.  This cache and the timing of the pipes' appearance suggest that Van Curler contracted with Bird during his visit to the Netherlands.

Native Americans valued firearms above all other trade goods.  Gun parts recovered from the Flatts show Van Curler delivered first-class snaphaunce and flintlock muskets.  Some were designed specifically for the New Netherland trade.  He likely imported locks and barrels, then assembled the guns at the Flatts.  Gun stock furniture from the cellars – brass and iron butt plates and ramrod thimbles – were probably made on site.  Recovered files and hammers match the weight and size for gun smithing.  Signs of brazing on gun parts indicate customers delivered their weapons for repair.

Van Curler apparently imported a variety of other products specifically for the trade.  Excavations of Iroquois sites show that Jew's harps, thimbles and pewter spoons appeared about 1650.  These items are found in substantial quantities at the Flatts.  Partially completed objects and trimmings indicate many were fabricated there.

 


About the New Netherland Institute

For over three decades, 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

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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. More

 

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