Gateway to the Classics: Stephen of Philadelphia by James Otis
Stephen of Philadelphia by  James Otis

What the Savages Wore

So to set down what they wore that whosoever reads may picture it in his mind is far beyond me, and yet they had little of clothing, even though there was a chill of frost in the air.

At first glance it seemed as if they were decked out with nothing save feathers. Some had many bright-colored plumes in their hair; others wore a kind of headdress in which the feathers stood up straight, like unto a crown, while not a few had, in addition to the crown, a long train of feathers sweeping downward from their heads.


All wore soft, odd-looking shoes, much ornamented with what appeared to be beads and straws, which last I afterward learned were quills of the porcupine stained in gay colors. Not a few of them had on half-breeches of tanned deer hide, my father said, and these also were decked fancifully with beads and quills.

One would have said they were a party of merry-makers, who had put on all these feathers as a sort of disguise, save that there were no signs of mirth on their faces.

Some had bows in their hands, with arrows in a quiver slung over the left shoulder; but I was surprised to see three who carried guns which had much the look of English make.

My father afterward explained this by saying that these savages had, most like, traded with the people of New York and the English in Connecticut, or with the Swedes who were settled round about us, and in such way been able to buy firearms. He declared, however, that it was more the behavior of madmen, than of people who counted to live in this land, to put into the hands of the Indians weapons with which they could easily kill those who had thus supplied them.

Before the winter was passed I came to be so accustomed to the sight of these brown, feather-decked men as to give little or no heed when they came among us.

It was much as if they counted on being friendly, for scores and scores came with furs, wild fowl, or deer meat to sell, and I never saw any of them give way to anger, even when the women and girls gathered about them, through idle curiosity, in such numbers that the savages could do no more than stand still until the press gave way.

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