We Dined in a Hollow Cottonwood Tree

We Dined in a Hollow Cottonwood Tree

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Limited Edition Print

Size 28" x 18 1/4" 

$150 Signed and Numbered, Edition size 550

$195 Artist Proof, Edition size 125

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In the summer of 1749, Jesuit Father Joseph-Pierre de Bonnecamps [1707-1790] accompanied a military expedition from Montréal to the Ohio Country in order to assert the French Crown’s claims and authority in this strategic region. The expedition, led by Captain Pierre-Joseph Céloron de Blainville, included eight officers, twenty French soldiers, one hundred and eighty Canadian militiamen, and about thirty Iroquois and Abenaki Indians. Many men who would fight against the British in the coming conflict known as the Seven Years’ War first saw the waters of the Ohio or la Belle Riviere (the beautiful river) with Céloran. Bonnecamps, who accompanied the expedition as chaplain, kept a journal of the expedition and later produced a detailed map of the waterway that would soon become the scene of bloody war.

Most of Céloran’s men traveled in large birchbark canoes that were originally developed in Canada to carry trade goods and furs between the heartland of New France and the fur-rich Great Lakes region. By the middle of the eighteenth-century, such vessels were regularly used by traders and soldiers alike to traverse the vast waterways stretching from the St. Lawrence River to the Mississippi Valley. In order to repair these light, serviceable vessels, large rolls of bark were stowed among the baggage—a particular necessity when traveling far beyond the range of the birch tree.

Pausing near the site of present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on August 7, Bonnecamps encountered a remarkable tree, noting in his diary: "We dined in a hollow cotton wood tree, in which 29 men could be ranged side by side." Known today as the American sycamore, this tree was nicknamed "le cotonnier" or cotton wood by eighteenth-century French Canadians because of the silky fibers in its small round seed pods. The sycamore is still known for its large size and tendency to have a hollow trunk. Eighteenth-century Native Americans, Europeans, and colonists alike appreciated the shelter that such large hollow trees provided. Early travelers’ accounts note that settlers often took up residence in such giant trees while preparing homes, or used them to stable their cattle or horses.