In addition to beads, glass buttons were popular colonial trade products amongst the New World Indians. Examples were frequently used less as garment fasteners than as clothes’ ornamentation.
The “Tortugas” assemblage includes nine small opaque black buttons with two small holes for iron wire eye attachment. Glass buttons are largely intimately associated with Dutch merchant trade with the Native Americans of North America; they are an anomaly within the pattern of Spanish control and exploitation of European beads in the Americas. The Dutch seem to have dominated the trade in these wares, exchanging them as gifts with Indian tribes since the late 16th century. They occur in the Northeast on Dutch-contact sites occupied by the Onondaga Iroquois, and are associated with Dutch colonial trade objects in western New York State on Seneca sites of the first half of the 17th century. Few wire eye buttons have been recovered in 16th and 17th-century Spanish contexts and none from pre-1550 Florida or the Caribbean. Their rarity opens up the possibility that they served as fastenings for clothing belonging to a passenger onboard the “Tortugas” ship.