At Colonial Williamsburg, we use primary resources, such as these two portraits,
every day. By using images, music, and other artifacts from past, we are able
to bring history to life. Primary resources are excellent learning tools for
your students, especially for teaching the history of America's first peoples.
Journals and other materials created by European transplants to the New World
are often the only written information about Native Americans that survive from
the time period. These accounts are useful to historians even though they frequently
offer impressions of Native Americans shaded by a lack of familiarity with Native
Examining the engravings "A Weroan or great Lorde of Virginia" and "Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth Tow, King of the Maquas" can help students understand how contact with Europeans and the trade goods they brought with them altered Native American culture. The differences between the two portraits are significant.
The engraving on the left was engraved by Thomas de Bry in 1590 and was based on a drawing by John Smith in 1588. Titled "A Werowan or Great Lord of Virginia," the portrait shows a Powhatan Indian holding a bow and arrow used for hunting and protection. His clothing and accessories are typical of pre-European contact Native American culture.
The engraving on the right, titled "Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth Tow, King of the Maquas," is one four portraits engraved by John Verelst in 1710. The series commemorated four Iroquois Chiefs who traveled to London, England, for an audience with Queen Anne. His posture is the same as in the the earlier engraving, but his clothing and accessories are very different. He is wearing a European-style linen shirt and wool trade blanketgoods received through trade with Europeans. His Indian moccasins are adorned with decorative beads that were likely procured in the same manner.
In little over a century, European trade goods become mainstream articles in the culture of America's first people.
This article was written by Jami Sullivan Dionisio, Production
Associate, Department of Education Outreach, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.