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Wampum was a string or belt of beads prized by early Indians and used as a trading currency. The beads were made by rounding small pieces of the shells of mussels then piercing them with a hole before stringing them. With stone tools the process was labor intensive and the shells were only available to coastal tribes. These factors increased its scarcity and consequent value. Wampum had enough importance to coastal and nearby interior tribes that it is featured in the Coat of Arms of New Brunswick for the Canadian Province.

The beads also became an issue in New England of the 1630s. The Dutch traders had discovered the value placed on wampum, both accepting and distributing it as a curency at their trading stations. The Pequots used their dominance of tribes around Long Island Sound to gain control of the sources of the beads, at least until the English in Massachusetts also learned of its value. Settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony began to manufacture wampum, and the use of rasps and steel drills greatly reduced the labor needed. The resulting decrease in wampum's trade value became one of the issues that led to the Pequot War.