Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State

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Web Property of the U.S. Department of State

Object Details

Joseph Richardson, Jr. (1752-1831; working alone 1790-ca. 1801), James Smither, Jr. (Engraver, ca.1795-1802) (possible)
United States: Pennsylvania: Philadelphia
North American
metal; silver
Overall: 6 1/4 in x 4 15/16 in; 15.875 cm x 12.54125 cm
Ex-collection Mark Bortman
In block letters on the obverse, "GEORGE WASHINGTON/ PRESIDENT 1793;" and in block letters engraved in a banner on the reverse, "E.PLURIBUS/ UNUM." Marks: In block letters within a square reserve struck at the lower end of the obverse, "JR."
Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Mark Bortman in memory of her husband
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number

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Object Essay

A number of early American silversmiths made quantities of silver tokens for distribution to various Indian tribes.1For a general treatment of Indian trade silver and silver made by Indians from reused trade objects, see Fredrickson and Gibb. Most were simple ornaments designed for trade, as emblems of friendship, or even as enticements to promote conversion to Christianity. The grandest were pledges of peace or tangible evidence of treaties between the American government and Indian tribes or nations. Few examples have survived, as most were either buried with their Native American owners or melted down when their original significance was lost. 

This presentation medal, roughly the size of a man’s hand, is believed to have marked a treaty between the fledgling United States and an Indian nation. The symbolic depiction of an Indian chief and George Washington exchanging a peace pipe in the foreground, with a man and an ox plowing a field in the background, appears on other extant medals. Contemporaries asked why Washington retains his sword while the chief has discarded his tomahawk.2See Prucha, 73–88; Philadelphia: Three Centuries, 163–64. The reverse is engraved with the arms of the United States as they appeared on official seals for treaties. The plaque is encircled with a simple molded band, each end of which protrudes at the top and is pierced to form a suspension loop. An imprint of fabric, probably made during the casting process, appears on one side of the medal. Charles Bird King’s Portrait of Sagoyewatha (known as Red Jacket, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York) shows the Seneca chief dressed in European-style clothes with a remarkably similar medal tied high at his throat.3The portrait is reproduced in Warren et al., 105.

Joseph Richardson, Jr., employed James Smither, Jr., as an engraver from at least 1795 until as late as 1802. It is possible, therefore, that Smither is responsible for the stiff but competent work on this medal.4Fales Joseph Richardson and Family, 159.

Although Joseph Richardson, Jr., and his brother Nathaniel are listed in the Philadelphia County militia records at the time of the Revolutionary War, they were staunch Quakers. Perhaps the first peace medals presented on behalf of an American organization were the medals, struck in 1757, commissioned by the Friendly Association of Regaining and Preserving Peace with the Indians by Pacific Measures. Joseph Richardson, Sr., was the maker of a large number of them and a member of the association, a group primarily of Philadelphia Quakers. A note, apparently written two years after this medal was made, was found tucked into Joseph, Jr.’s surviving letter book. It refers to an order for 50 pairs of armbands, 42 pairs of wristbands, and “12 Medals 2 Size Engraved as heretofore/ 9 do [ditto] 3 do the Year 1795.”5Ibid., 140–41, 159–62, 297, 306–307.

Jennifer F. Goldsborough and Barbara McLean Ward

Excerpted from Jonathan L. Fairbanks. Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State. New York: Rizzoli, 2003.