Wasconsca (Silhouette)

Artist/Maker: Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) or Moses Williams (active 1813-1820)

Created: 1806

Origin/Purchase: Philadelphia

Materials: paper

Dimensions: 7.6 x 3.8 (3 x 1 1/2 in.)

Location: Library (Book Room)

Owner: Thomas Jefferson Foundation

Historical Notes: The 1803-1806 Lewis and Clark Expedition was not only a journey of discovery but also a diplomatic mission from the United States government to the Native Americans who inhabited the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. Jefferson instructed Lewis and Clark to treat the Native Americans "in the most friendly and conciliatory manner."[1]

If a few of their influential chiefs, within practicable distance, wish to visit us, arrange such a visit with them, and furnish them with authority to call on our officers, on their entering the U.S. to have them conveyed to this place [Washington] at the public expence.[2]

The first delegation of Native Americans came from the Osage nation, and arrived in Washington in the summer of 1804.[3] The following fall, a second delegation from St. Louis departed for the capital. They arrived there two months later, on December 22, 1805.[4]

Sir Augustus John Foster, Secretary of the British Legation, witnessed their entry into the city:

They all rode on miserable little horses with saddles and bridles like our own. The interpreters and Americans who came with them went first, and the Orator went before the rest: he was in a great coat but his left eye was surrounded by a circle of green and white paint and the rest of his face was red.... Next followed two, naked to the waist and painted reddish yellow, their hair shaved as far as the crown where it was ornamented with feathers and formed into a tail behind inclosed in silver; they wore blankets about their middles and Mocassins and Pantalons of Deer's skin. They carried instruments in their hands made of hollow gourds with something to rattle in them, singing or rather bawling all the while as loud as they could.... Others of the savages wore quantities of feathers hanging from their hair behind and the rattles of the rattle-snake at the end of some of them. There was one very handsome young man with black hair and on his forehead was a broad streak of light green paint, highly rouged cheeks and green ears. He could not be more than 16 or 17 years old and wore a crest of red feathers on his head.[5]

Jefferson received this delegation at the President's House on New Year's Day, 1806, at the annual open house. Also present were Jefferson's daughter and grandchildren, and the full diplomatic corps, including Foster and British Minister Anthony Merry. Foster described Jefferson as

much attached to [the Native Americans] from Philanthropy and because they were Savages as if they were his own children, while he paid them infinitely more attention than he ever vouchsafed to shew a foreign Minister, a circumstance which annoyed not a little Mr. Merry.[6]

Merry and Foster left the reception after staying only five minutes because Jefferson "appeared wholly taken up with his natives."[7] Margaret Bayard Smith, a prominent member of the Washington social scene and wife of the founder of the National Intelligencer, Samuel Harrison Smith, responded to Foster's account.

On one occasion described by Sir A. Foster in his "Notices of the U.S." he seems to think the President failed in paying due respect to the gentlemen of the diplomatic corps.... It really may have been so, and not only the President but the whole assembled company may have participated in this neglect, so lively was the interest and the curiosity excited by the appearance of the Osage-Chiefs and their attendant squaws.[8]

Jefferson officially addressed the delegation on January 4, as "My friends and children, Chiefs of the Osages, Missouris, Kanzas, Ottos, Panis, Ayowas, and Sioux. I take you by the hand of friendship and give you a hearty welcome to the seat of the govmt. of the U.S."[9] In his speech, Jefferson also invited the Native Americans to visit other cities, such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, and offered to provide carriages for their journey.[10] Later in January, about a dozen Native Americans traveled to Philadelphia. There they visited Charles Willson Peale's Museum, and sometime before February 8, eleven had their silhouettes taken by Peale's physiognotrace.[11]

These silhouettes, which show the Native Americans in European dress, are among the earliest-known representations of many tribes west of the Mississippi. Peale sent his friend Jefferson a set of the silhouettes that included the two interpreters who accompanied the Native Americans.

Even as Peale sent the silhouettes to Jefferson, there was some doubt as to the identity of number 10, as Peale found that he had labeled two profiles with that number.[12] Identifying the subjects today is infinitely more difficult. Many Native Americans had more than one name, and there was no standard orthography for recording Native American words.[13]Although Jefferson's set of silhouettes is not located, eight of the original eleven profiles of the chiefs, and the profiles of the two interpreters, survive in a duplicate set at the Smithsonian Institution.[14]

- Text from Stein, Worlds, 212-14 

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