Critical Reaction

Jocelyn Harvey
3 min readFeb 18, 2021


What challenges do we face when trying to study colonial commerce using primary source evidence?

With this case study, we studied colonial commerce through primary source evidence using SCIM-C from two perspectives; colonial slavery and colonial accounting. SCIM-C is a strategy used to interpret historical primary sources. The steps include summarizing, contextualizing, inferring, monitoring, corroborating, and interpretation. Each step allows us to ask new questions about the sources being analyzed to provide a deeper understanding.

First, you must establish what type of historical document you are analyzing by looking for any explicit evidence. I was not able to access the waste and accounting links provided, but I did come across a Pittsburgh waste book with a simple google search. This book is a waste book that belonged to an Indian trader named George Allen. The book seems to account for details of specific transactions at a Pittsburgh trading post named Fort Pitt. It includes names, dates, names and quantities of goods, and also the names of the people who traded. The transactions in the book are between Native American tribes and Indian agents. It is clear that these people were trading goods such as animal skins, needles, ribbon, knives, and much more. The purpose of a waste book is to temporarily write down daily trades until all of the information can be put into a daybook or account ledger.

From the third page of the book, I was able to see the date this book was presumably started, June 21st, 1759. Pittsburgh is written along the top along with the date. During this time, Fort Pitt had just become one of the first trading posts in Pittsburgh it was also extensively used because it was located at the meeting of three rivers. Battles were also being fought here at this time between the Native Americans and Colonial troops.

This historical source of evidence clearly shows us that goods were being heavily traded amongst Native Americans and colonial soldiers at Fort Pitt. At first, I was a bit confused about what the received and delivered terms meant by each transaction, but my guess is that the received items are what was traded for the items delivered. We are able to see what items were being traded but, we can only infer what they might have been used for. What were people using their traded animal skins for in this area? What type of clothing was being made with textiles, ribbons, and needles? What type of things were made in the kettles? Lastly, it seems as if some fairly valuable items were being traded. Animal skins and pelts today are still valuable and expensive when made into clothing.

There are some questions left unanswered after analyzing this source. I am still wondering why the author recorded the names of tribes and individuals who were trading, what purpose did this serve? Was it important to make note of this in case the transaction needed to be revisited? Secondly, I feel in order for me to fully understand this document, I would need to know more about the information experts have extracted. Lastly, I am no expert at reading this type of document so I am still a bit confused about how to properly read this. I would have to say these are a few of the challenges faced when studying colonial commerce through primary source evidence like this, especially for me as I am no expert. There are pieces of information not explicitly present in waste or account books, like how people went about deciding what was worth trading for something else, or what the traded items were going to be used for, or what purpose they served in everyday life in that area. Also, what was the population in this area at the time? Were there certain types of people who did not take part in trading posts, or was it common for everyone to trade here? Further investigating outside of this source would need to be done to get answers.

My interpretation of this historical source is that trading was a lifeblood in the sense of people needed to trade these things for important purposes. Specifically, because of the battles going on, gun powder and gun flints were being traded most likely to and from soldiers. Textiles and needles could have been used to create or repair uniforms. Animal pelts and skins could have been made into clothing or blankets. All of these items are recorded over and over in this book, they must have been common objects of this time.


Pittsburgh Waste Book and Fort Pitt Trading Post Papers, 1757–1765, DAR.1925.03, Darlington Collection, Archives & Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh Library System