March 3, 2009
CW acquires extremely rare Indian peace medal
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has purchased an extremely rare Virginia Indian peace medal produced by order of Gov. Thomas Jefferson in 1780. The medal will be exhibited in the introductory gallery of the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum beginning March 28.
Matchless in the history of relations between the independent Commonwealth of Virginia and the region’s native tribes, the “Happy While United” peace medal was cast in bronze by Robert Scot — later chief engraver at the U.S. Mint — in Williamsburg or Richmond while Jefferson was governor.
Commemorating an unidentified Revolutionary-era alliance between native tribes and the Commonwealth, silver medals were presented to important tribal members, while bronze versions were cast for non-native recipients. None of the twelve silver medals originally produced survive as they were likely traded in for later Presidential Indian peace medals or buried with the native recipients upon their deaths.
“The Virginia Indian Peace Medal is a priceless addition to the Colonial Williamsburg collection,” said Erik Goldstein, curator of numismatics and mechanical arts. “It is an integral part of Virginia history that acknowledges and honors the Native American allies of Virginia’s infant revolutionary government.”
At nearly three inches in diameter and more than two-and-one-half ounces in weight, the medal is based on designs by noted artist Pierre Eugene du Simitiere and New York silversmith Daniel Christian Feuter. A bronze medal, identical to the one acquired by Colonial Williamsburg, was recorded as a gift from Isaac Zane of the Marlboro Iron Works — a patriot munitions factory in Frederick County during the American Revolution — to du Simitiere prior to May 1781.
The medal uses one the earliest versions of the fledgling Commonwealth’s official seal – the goddess Virtue standing triumphant over a fallen tyrant — most certainly meant to represent King George III — surrounded by the inscription “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”
The reverse side of the medal incorporates a scene from an earlier medal made in New York during the 1760s and depicts a European-American and a Native American seated on a bench sharing a “peace pipe.” To the right is a tree, shading the two figures, and behind them is a waterfront scene with three vessels under sail. The over-arching inscription reads “Happy While United” with “1780” below the scene.
Colonial Williamsburg’s purchase of the Virginia Indian Peace medal was partially underwritten by the Lasser Family Fund of the Jewish Communal Fund.
A Colonial Williamsburg admissions ticket or Good Neighbor Card provides access to the exhibit.
Exhibitions at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum are supported by the DeWitt Wallace Endowment Fund.
Entrance to Colonial Williamsburg Art Museums is through the Public Hospital of 1773 at 326 W. Francis St. The museums will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. For information and reservations call (757) 220-7724.
Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Within the restored and reconstructed buildings, historic interpreters, attired as colonial men and women from slaves to shopkeepers to soldiers, relate stories of colonial Virginia society and culture – stories of our journey to become Americans – while historic trades people research, demonstrate and preserve the 18th-century world of work and industry. As Colonial Williamsburg interprets life in the time of the American Revolution guests interact with history through “Revolutionary City®” – a dramatic live street theater presentation.
Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at www.history.org.