May 25, 2009

Quahogs, wampum, and Family Guy

Hard clamThe hard clam has many alternative common names. It is also known as the Northern quahog, round clam, or chowder clam.

Of all these names, the most distinctive is quahog (pronounced /ˈkwɔːhɒɡ/ "KWAW-hog", /ˈkoʊhɒɡ/ "KOH-hog", or /kwəˈhɒɡ/ "kwə-HOG"). This name comes from the Narragansett word "poquauhock" (the word is similar in Wampanoag and some other Algonquian languages), and is first attested in North American English in 1794. As New England Indians made valuable beads called wampum from the shells (especially the purple color), the species name mercenaria is related to the Latin word for "money."
The significance of wampum to seventeenth century Indians in New England

By Lois ScozzariFur bearing animals were hunted out of the forests in the north, and customary lifestyles were abandoned in favor of wampum manufacture along the coast, causing native dependence on European goods and food, items which were no longer being produced by the natives for themselves. The Indians of New England and New York had become entangled in a world trade network with expanding needs, the satisfaction of which required an accelerated trade effort by native people for which they received in return a constantly diminishing portion.

In the 1630s, a large migration of English Puritans to Massachusetts Bay presented another complication. The colony interposed itself into the trade network creating increased competition, rivalry, and agitation. For the period between 1630 and 1660, wampum was a prized commodity in New England spurred on by the fur trade that compelled the struggle. What followed in the next several decades leading up to King Philip's War (1675-1676) was a complicated series of initiatives from the Bay Colony, whose ultimate goal was to control the region and resources. Ruth Thomas of the Mashantucket Pequot put it simply, "They wanted to cut out the middleman," and so they did, isolating, then devastating first the powerful Pequot, then the dynamic Narragansett, and then appropriating both the land and control of the wampum trade. The Bay Colony, having found small beads more portable than corn for trade and saving coin for European markets, declared wampum legal tender in 1637 valued at six beads a penny.

By 1660, wampum had decreased in value for the English and was discontinued as legal tender in Massachusetts with Connecticut and Rhode Island following a year later. However it remained in the native economy and in rural colonial areas until the Revolutionary War. As late as 1693, one could ride the Brooklyn, Connecticut ferry for 8 stevers of wampum or a silver 9-pence.
Comment:  These excerpts hint at the complex interactions between New England's Indians and the European colonists. We could sum up the role of quahogs like this:

Quahogs => wampum => fur trade => economic dependence => land acquisition and theft

But the Family Guy episode on the founding of the fictional town of Quahog doesn't even mention Indians. I guess the town's name just popped into Griffin Peterson's mind by magic.

So a good example of how Indians influenced American history and culture is ignored--omitted from the record. Instead we get a good example of how Indians are rendered invisible in the mainstream media.

For more on the subject, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.

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