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George III peace medal with "Happy While United" type / European

Essay/Description

King George III silver medal. The inscription on the front reads, “Georgius III D. G. M. Bri. Fra. et Hib. Rex. F. D.” and has a bust of the king. The back has a scene with a Native American figure and an Englishman sitting together with the inscription “Happy While United” above them.

The “Happy While United” medals of George III were struck in 1764 & 1766 as a result of the Ottawa chief Pontiac’s Revolt of 1763. “Happy While United” medals were a turning point in British thinking about Indian warriors. Earlier, British commanders did not believe Indians could defeat British army troops. When proven wrong, the British actively recruited Indian allies to combat French and American armies.

Silver peace medals were given to influential Native Americans as a symbol of friendship and allegiance with the United States government or foreign power. Medals were given on important occasions, like the signing of a treaty, and then only to very influential members of the tribe. The medals held even greater importance than normal during times of war or tension, particularly between the US and Great Britain. The countries would compete for the loyalty and friendship of the tribes, and a chief trading in British medal for a US one signified a change in loyalty (Prucha 2000, xiv). Gradually, the medals original meaning diminished, and they were given as rewards for good behavior. The practice was discontinued in the late 1800s.

Native Americans placed great significance on the peace medals and viewed them not only as a sign of friendship, but of power. A suggested reason for this is the connection they saw between these medals and the shell gorgets worn and decorated to represent power. The gorgets, which typically only chiefs and the elite would wear, held a supernatural power source. Images on a gorget gave the wearer the power of what the image represented. Similarly, to the Native Americans, the image displayed on the medal, the head of the president or king, gave the wearer the leader’s power (Reilly III 2011).

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Title(s): 
George III peace medal with "Happy While United" type
Culture: 
European
Date: 
1764 - 1766
Period: 
American Colonial
Place: 
England
Materials/Techniques: 
silver
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
65.16
Department: 
On View

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