by Jeannie Swales
These exquisitely beaded moccasins look as though they could have been made yesterday, but are quite possibly over 150 years old.
Part of the Scarborough Collections, they’re accompanied by a printed card which tells us they are one of ‘two pairs of mocassins [sic] of the North American Indians, from the collection of William Barrowby Ainsley’.
Quite who William Barrowby Ainsley was is not made clear, although someone of the same name pops up as a 66-year-old ‘gentleman’ living in Romanby, near Northallerton, as a ‘participant’ in a legal case regarding ‘matrimony (restitution of conjugal rights)’ between 1853 and 1856.
The same name is also mentioned as a member of the 4th Regiment of the North York Regiment of Local Militia in 1813 – assuming it’s the same man, he would have been in his mid 20s then, which ties in with the previous record. Perhaps he collected ethnic artefacts as he travelled the world during army service?
The card carries on to describe, in somewhat simplistic terms, the makers of the moccasins: “The North American Indians are nomadic hunting tribes, who have copper-coloured skins, aquiline noses and straight black hair and live in wigwams. They are much reduced in numbers, and occupy reservations of territory in USA and Canada.”
Moccasins are softs shoes made from, often, a single piece of leather, intended to protect the wearer’s foot whilst also allowing him or her to feel the ground through them – although, understandably, harder-soled versions are found in areas where the ground is stony and has cacti.
Traditional versions of the moccasin shoe are found across the world, including in Australia, New Zealand and even in the UK – but we tend to think of them as North America, possibly because the word itself derives from the native languages of that area, with ‘makasin’, ‘mockasin’, ‘mahkusin’ and ‘makizin’ used by various different tribes for to describe their footwear.
The moccasins are part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork owned by the borough, and in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org or 01723 384510.