It seems that cloth called Calcut, Callico, Callicoe, Calicoe, or Calico, as we now know the word, was traded to native people in the southeast on a regular basis as both fabric and as clothing. As early as 1716, reference is made to garments made of it for women:
From Journals of the Commissioners of the Indian Trade, South Carolina (click the link for the full trade list)
“An Account of the Prices of Goods, settled between Col. James Moore and the Conjuror, the 30th Day of April, 1716, as they are allways to be sold to his People, viz.,
“A calico Petticoat . . . . . 14 [skins]”
Even later, the yard good was being traded:
From the Mississippi Provincial Archives, 1763-1766, English Dominion, Volume I, by Dunbar Rowland, Brandon Printing Co., Nashville, 1911, page 215.
Price of Trade Goods in the Southeast [1763-1766] (click the link for the full trade list)
2 yds of Strouds–8 lbs. leather
1 Blanket–8 do
1 do Shag end– 6 ”
1 Snaffle Bridle– 4 ditto
1 White Shirt– 3 ”
1 Check do– 4 ”
1 Fringed Housing– 10 ”
1 Laced ditto– 6 ”
1 Pr Gartering– 4 ”
1 do Dutch pretties– 2 ”
3 yds Quality binding– 1 ”
2 do Silk ferret– 1 ”
1 do Indian Callico– 4 ”
1 Trading Gun– 16 ”
In 1778 John Stuart, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, deemed it necessary to have 30 Indian Callicoe shirts for the Choctaw congress (link)
And in 1786 the cloth by the yard shows up in several trader’s inventories:
Account [of] the State of Georgia with the Commissioners of Indian Affairs, 1786 / [endorsed by] John Habersham (click the link for the full trade list) shows that John King , Indian trader, received 1 pc of 14 Yds. of “Callico”
John Galphin received 29 yards of calico in Nov. 1786 (link)
Daniel McMurphy received 36-3/4 yards in Nov. 1786. (link)
Information on the fabric itself:
The “bible” on historical textiles is: Montgomery, Florence M. Textiles in America, 1650-1870 : a dictionary based on original documents : prints and paintings, commercial records, American merchants’ papers, shopkeepers’ advertisements, and pattern books with original swatches of cloth. New York : Norton, 1984. ISBN: 0393017036
Another image that may be helpful is available in the article: All the Rage: Cotton in Europe in the17th & 18th Centuries. by Sona Hairabedian. Her discussion of the use of cotton in clothing is interesting in and of itself.
So what was 18th century calico? It was a lightweight cotton fabric, often solid white, a single color, or a simple block-print fabric. The print was done with a dye, not an ink, so was usually much simpler than those available today.
The more I research this cloth, the more I find it being traded to native people in rather large amounts. However, it seems was traded as fabric, and we don’t know if it was the solid white Calico fabric or a print. We have very little evidence of what women were making with the calico they were obtaining. Not much help, am I?
So…should we wear it? I think it may be a good idea for a few petticoats (possibly as an outer garment) for women — certainly would be cooler than a wool wrap. A woman’s shirt/chemise made from it would be similarly comfortable and a likely answer to the “what” – this would also be a good choice for young girls’ clothing too, as it’s cool and washable. A few — and I mean very few–could fit in as a man’s shirt, but should be overwhelmingly outnumbered by white and checked linen shirts here in the south.
Women’s garments that are made of it can be white, solid colored, or a carefully researched pattern. In years of looking, I accidentally ran across a few ‘document reproductions’ that seemto match period examples, but in general, places like eBay are probably the best source if you can’t find it from a trusted cloth merchant who specializes in 18th century fabric. A few people are starting do do their own block printing, and you can occasionally find some on Etsy.