Weaving Detroit History Together

A beaded belt among goods used to seal the deal for Detroit’s Belle Isle


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The British government purchased what was then called Hog Island from Ojibwa, Chippewa, and Ottawa tribe leaders in 1769.  It  was obtained by Lt. George McDougall, an officer for what was then British Detroit, for his negotiations with and subsequent capture by Chief Pontiac during the violent siege of Detroit in 1763. 

The deed, dated May 5, bears McDougall’s signature and the pictorial “totem” signatures of three chiefs. 

Valued at about $950, the items used to solidify the ownership of the island included eight barrels of rum, three rolls of tobacco, 6 pounds of vermillion paint pigment, and a 37-inch-long wampum belt. 

The belt, featuring white shell beads, tanned deer hide strips, fine cording, and linen threads, is believed to have taken a French woman nearly 150 hours to create. It is perhaps the most elaborate piece traded during the deal. 

It wasn’t uncommon for Detroit’s early settlers to use beaded wampum belts in trades with Native American tribes and today, the piece is a physical reminder of how Native American, French, and British history is woven together. 

Today, the island is known as Belle Isle.


Artifacts are part of the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library; 5201 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-481-1300; detroitpubliclibrary.org
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