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George Washington peace medal with "Animal Husbandry" scene / United States


This scene depicts a cow licking a newly born calf while a shepherd stands near a sheep and lamb. The man is bare to the waist and wears a kilt-like lower garment. He also wears a necklace. Of the three Seasons medals, The Shepherd is the only one that depicts an Indian rather than a Euro-American. An ironic choice since large animal husbandry was more foreign to North American Indians than either spinning or farming.

The Washington Seasons medals depict scenes of agricultural life that the Americans wanted the Indians to adopt. Ordered by James McHenry, Secretary of War in 1797, the medals were struck in England in 1798. These medals were designed by John Trumbull, a well-respected early American artist and Colonel in the Revolutionary War.
Although the reverse legend on the medals is SECOND PRESIDENCY OF GEO. WASHINGTON MDCCXCVI, these medals were not distributed until after President Washington died. Lewis & Clark may have taken some of them on their cross country travels.

The Seasons medals were disregarded by chiefs because of their small size and lack of a portrait of a king or president. Very likely, there was a third reason for the lack of respect for these medals. Spinning, taking care of children and farming were women’s work. Chiefs and warriors would lose respect and status if they adopted women’s roles.

Silver peace medals were given to influential Native Americans as a symbol of friendship and allegiance with the United States government. 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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George Washington peace medal with "Animal Husbandry" scene
United States
circa 1798
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
Previous Number(s): 
6526.43; 65.43
Not On View

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