4.75" by 6.75"
John and Juliette Kinzie; Fashion; 19th Century Communication
Mrs. Grant Fitch, 1935
Today’s Ambassador from the past is a fashion plate which was originally featured in an 1829 periodical showcasing contemporary German and French clothing. Fashion plates were incorporated into popular cultural periodicals—often published bi-yearly—which would bring the latest European styles to America. Their eager reception and use was prevalent among the high society of the East. The extent of their influence is attested to by the many bemoanings of the social reformers of the time who were fighting against the frivolities of such a passionate pursuit of vanity.
While fashion plates represent a limited component of the cross-Atlantic information exchange of the day, this type of printed, regular information flow stood in stark contrast to the methods used in the West. With the postal service still in its infancy, the quickest form of communication was often a system of personal relay. Word of mouth delivery by passing travelers frequently took the place of the printed media represented by our Artifact Ambassador. Travelers in the West relayed news from whence they came to eager audiences along their route.
Although these means of communication may strike us as odd in today’s world where communication is fluid and accessible, word of mouth relay was one of the few modes available at the time. If the information was important, an “express canoe” might be dispatched with a special messenger. News of disasters and Indian unrest could have easily reached concerned officials through word of mouth before the arrival of anything in writing. For example, War Department official Thomas McKenney first heard of Red Bird’s attack on Prairie Du Chien from panicked travelers who hailed his boat as it navigated Lake Michigan on unrelated business.
In her book, Wau-Bun, Juliette Kinzie describes this custom which recurred often on their journey up the Fox River to Fort Winnebago. Juliette’s first day among Green Bay society found her pressed to describe in detail to her hosts “all the particulars of life and manners…[and] the fashions” popular in the East. Such cultural news was highly prized by “persons so situated” on the isolated frontier. Juliette spoke of the excited anticipation exhibited by those they met on the river and thought the custom important enough to elucidate through anecdotes of others, as well, who had made the same journey as she and John.
This Ambassador thus represents to us a time in which there was a disparity between modes of disseminating information in the East versus the West—among concentrated populations versus among those in secluded areas. The inherently slow and personal mode of communicating information in the West may have even played an influential role in determining the course of historical events. Although we will never know the full extent of the effect of this communication style, we do know that it made quite an impression on Juliette Kinzie, a newcomer to the frontier.