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“Penn’s Treaty with the Indians” by Benjamin West

Penn's Treaty with the Indians Benjamin West

“Penn’s Treaty with the Indians” by Benjamin West

“Penn’s Treaty with the Indians” by Benjamin West depicts Native Americans, Quakers, and merchants in the act of settlement. The Treaty of Shackamaxon, also called Penn’s Treaty, was between William Penn and Tamanend of the Lenape signed in 1682. 

William Penn, the Quaker leader and Tamanend, and Chief of the Turtle Clan of the Lenni-Lenape nation in the Delaware Valley agreed that their people would live in a state of perpetual peace.

The painting is based on the story from 1682, in which Penn met with the Lenni Lenape and Delaware peoples under an elm tree at Shackamaxon and traded gifts for land.

Pitt had already been granted the rights to the land by King Charles II of England. Still, as a Quaker, he is shown choosing to negotiate peacefully to compensate the Native Americans for their land in what the colonists called Pennsylvania Colony.

Shackamaxon was a historic meeting place along the Delaware River used by the Lenape Indians. It was located within what are now the borders of the city of Philadelphia.

William Penn (1644 – 1718) was the founder of the English North American colony in the Province of Pennsylvania. He was notable for his good relations and successful treaties with the Lenape Native Americans. 

Purportedly, in late 1682, William Penn made a treaty with the Lenni Lenape under an ancient elm tree. “Shackamaxon” derives from the local native language meaning “to make a chief.” 

The peace between the Lenape Turtle Clan and Penn’s successors would endure for over 70 years until the Penn’s Creek Massacre of 1755.

The painting was commissioned by Thomas Penn, William Penn’s son, and completed in 1772. The painting was meant to bolster Penn’s son Thomas’s reputation, who was not popular in the colony.

Benjamin West was a local artist who was born and grew up in Pennsylvania into a Quaker family. For the image of William Penn, West copied a relief portrait made several years after Penn’s death.

West had no models for the Indian subjects, so used sketches of sculptures, adding Indian artifacts, such as beaded moccasins, armbands, bags, and clay pipes.

The crowd is gathered around a white cloth at the center of the composition. The painting presents an idealized picture of the Indians and the Europeans’ interaction, symbolizing Penn’s wish for peace.

The muscular Indians are dressed and decorated in red, white, and green with feather headdresses, partly shaved heads, beaded armbands and headbands, and earrings. They lean forward to see what they are being offered. 

The Europeans are shown in clothing typical of the 1770s, and Penn stands out with his white neckcloth. The crowd includes West’s own father and his half brother Thomas West. West also included brick-built buildings from his own Pennsylvania memories, even though they had not been built by 1682.

Although the scene is allegorical rather than historical, the image has become an icon of American history.

William Penn

William Penn (1644 – 1718) was a writer, early member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and founder of the English North American colony in the Province of Pennsylvania.

He was an early advocate of democracy and religious freedom, notable for his good relations with the Lenape Native Americans.

Under his direction, the city of Philadelphia was planned and developed. The streets are named with numbers and tree names. 

In 1681, King Charles II handed over a large piece of his North American land holdings along the North Atlantic Ocean coast to Penn to pay the king’s debts to Penn’s father. This land included the present-day states of Pennsylvania and Delaware. 

Tamanend

Tamanend (c. 1625–c. 1701) was the Chief of Chiefs and Chief of the Turtle Clan of the Lenni-Lenape nation in the Delaware Valley. Tamanend is best known as a lover of peace and friendship.

Tamanend took part in a meeting between the leaders of the Lenni-Lenape nation and the leaders of the Pennsylvania colony in the early 1680s.

William Penn and Tamanend continued to sign documents assuring each other, and their peoples, of peaceable understanding after the initial one in 1683.

Tamanend is purported to have stated that the Lenni-Lenape and the English colonists would

“live in peace as long as the waters run in the rivers and creeks and as long as the stars and moon endure.” 

Over time, many folk legends surrounded Tamanend, and his fame assumed mythical proportions among the people of Philadelphia. The people of Philadelphia organized a Tammany society and an annual Tammany festival.

Because of Philadelphia’s prominence during the American Revolution, Tammany soon became a national symbol throughout much of the newly formed country.

Benjamin West, Penn’s Treaty with the Indians

Penn’s Treaty with the Indians

  • Title:                        Penn’s Treaty with the Indians
  • Also:                        Penn’s Treaty with the Indians at Shackamaxon
  • Artist:                      Benjamin West
  • Year:                        1772
  • Medium:                 oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:            Height: 190 cm (74.8 in); Width: 274 cm (107.8 in)
  • Category:                American
  • Museum:                State Museum of Pennsylvania

Benjamin West

Benjamin West (1738 – 1820) was a British North American artist who painted famous historical scenes. West was born in Springfield, Pennsylvania, as the tenth child of an innkeeper and his wife.

He was entirely self-taught and went on to gain valuable patronage in the American Colonies. Later he toured Europe, eventually settling in London.

West became known for his history paintings, which used expressive figures, colors, and compositional schemes to help the spectator to identify with the scene represented.

He impressed King George III and was mostly responsible for the Royal Academy’s launch, of which he became the second president after Sir Joshua Reynolds.

He was appointed historical painter to the court and Surveyor of the King’s Pictures.

Benjamin West

The Pennsylvania Colony

American Artists You Should Know

William Penn’s “Holy Experiment”

~~~

“To recognize great talent, we must encourage dreamers.”
– Benjamin West

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Photo Credit: Benjamin West [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; 

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