Published on September 1, 2012 by Amy
There are few references for Native American mittens before the 1800′s. However, a few early historic sources indicate that in extreme the climates it was necessary to protect hands and arms against the cold. During the winters in southern New England, mittens or gloves were worn by Native Americans for fortification against the weather. In 1672, John Josselyn (1972) mentions the hide of the Soile (seal) or Sea Calf,
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“The Hair upon the young ones is white, and as Ÿoft as Ÿilk; their Skins, with the Hair on, are good to make Gloves for the Winter.”
Between 1638 and 1663, Josselyn (in Lindholdt 1988) also remarked on gloves made from otter fur being the best protection for the hands in wet weather.
As there is scant evidence that mittens and gloves were commonplace, it is likely that men and women kept their hands tucked into their clothing, perhaps covered up by arm protectors which have been mentioned in other early historic documents from the northeast.
Some furs, especially that of wild cat (perhaps bobcat, puma or eastern mountain lion) were worn as arm guards to protect against wind and cold, while traveling or hunting. In 1634, William Wood (1865) observed that in winter Native American men wore these cat-fur arm protectors:
“MoŸt of them in the Winter having his deepe furr’d Cat skinne, like a long large muŸŸe, which hee Ÿhifts to that arme which lieth moŸt expoŸed to the winde; thus clad, hee buŸles better through a world of cold in a froŸt-paved wilderneŸŸe, than the furred Citizen in his warmer Stoave.”
In 1524 Verrazzano saw women wearing embroidered deer skin mantles, while some women also wore “rich lynx skins on their arms” (in Wroth 1970). In 1622 Mourt (in Heath 1986), noted that only the Native American leader of a group of men had a fur arm guard: “they had every man a deer’s skin on him and the principal of them had a wild cat’s skin, or such like on the one arm”, which may reflect the man’s unique status.
There are many references to and examples of mittens and gloves made by Native Americans during the 1800′s, a tradition which is continued today with several styles of ‘chopper mittens’ (Schneider 1972), as well as gauntlet gloves which were popularized in the 1800′s by the U.S. calvery.