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Barnegat Bay History



Wampum is a small and short tubular shell bead. The beads were strung into strings or woven into belts.  Wampum are traditional, sacred shell beads of Eastern Woodlands tribes.


The word "Wampum" comes from the Narragansett word (short for wampumpeag) meaning 'white shell beads'. 


Before contact with European settlers, Wampum was  primarily used for ceremonial purposes or for gift exchanges, (Prehistoric Wampum) hence, this was not "Indian Money". 

These shell beads were larger and relatively uncommon because drilling the material was difficult with stone drill bits.

Shell beads were either disk shaped, or barrel shaped, usually made from the whelk's spiraling inner whorl (columella.)


In the early 17th century wampum came to be used as money in trade.

The early Dutch settlers recognized the value of the beads to the natives. They introduced contemporary technology into its production and manufactured Wampum themselves.

The exchange of Wampum became an important part of diplomatic protocol whenever Indians and whites concluded a treaty or assembled for other councils.


Wampum beads are made in two colors:



White ("Wòmpi") beads ("Wompam")  were made from the inner whorl of the Whelk shell ("Meteaûhock")


Purple-black ("Súki") beads ("Suckáuhock") from the growth rings of the Northern Quahog (Hard Clam) shell   ("Suckauanaûsuck").


The quahog shell used to produce purple wampum and other shell pendants is exclusively the species with the Latin name mercenaria mercenaria.



Fun Facts

The Latin name Mercenaria mercenaria is derived from a word that means wages.  

 (merces mercedis : pay, reward, recompense, compensation)

The name "quahog" comes from the Indian name "poquauhock," meaning horse fish

Delaware River

The Europeans first named the river in honor of Sir Thomas West, Lord de la Warr and governor of Virginia (not after the Native American tribe)


Wampum Images

The picture to the left shows Purple-black ("Súki") beads and the shell of a quahog with some purple on the inside of the shell.  

Also pictured are White ("Wòmpi") beads and a partial shell of a whelk and an inner whorl of a whelk

<click here> to see the larger image

This image shows quahog shells and loose beads along with necklaces and belts

<click here> to see the larger image








Used with permission from Tara Prindle,

 Clam, whelk and wampum image by Stephen Lang Photography