Albino Beaver Skin; Indigenous Peoples, North America


This rare albino beaver skin was brought to Colonel De Peyster by an Ojibwa (Chippewa) man who had been ‘visited by’ the Beaver Spirit and was told to kill the Commander of the Regiment. When De Peyster retired, he moved to Scotland and the skin was displayed in a frame in his home. The Colonel wrote a personal account of how he came by the beaver skin. The original hand-written note is also in the King’s Regiment Collection, although it is now too delicate to be displayed. This is a transcript of the Colonel’s account: “In the year 1777. Mr Joseph Ainse. The Interpreter at Michilimakinack, informed Colonel De Peyster, then Major to the Kings Regiment and Commandant of that post, situated at the conference of the Lakes Huron, & Michigan; that a [man] had been seen standing for several days at the corner of the store house, who had just informed him, that he had been directed by a spirit in the form of an Amik-Wabuscaw *White Beaver (Whilst slumbering in the Great Beaver Island) - to take his stand there (in the camp) and kill the Commandant as he passed... but finding his heart, he failed to give the fatal blow, he begged to be sent out of that part of the Country…The Commandant refused, but ordered him to go to the Island and fetch him the White Beaver which the [he] accordingly did. And this is the Skin of it. * The only white one ever seen in that part of the country. At. De Peyster “ The story illustrates De Peyster’s awareness of local traditions and culture – if he had killed the potential assassin, he could have sparked a war with the local Tribes. However, he could not just let the man go free, as this would weaken his position in negotiations with Tribal leaders. To give the man an opportunity to show penance by bringing the rare albino spirit pelt, he found a way that they could both save face.