Primary Source of the Month
“Happy While United” Indian peace medal, by Robert Scot, Richmond or Williamsburg, Virginia, 1780. From the collections of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
This extremely rare Virginia Indian peace medal was produced by order of Governor Thomas Jefferson in 1780. Matchless in the history of relations between the independent Commonwealth of Virginia and the region’s native tribes, the “Happy While United” peace medal was cast in bronze by Robert Scot—later chief engraver at the U.S. Mint— in Williamsburg or Richmond while Jefferson was governor.
Commemorating an unidentified Revolutionary-era alliance between native tribes and the Commonwealth, silver medals were presented to important tribal members, while bronze versions were cast for non-native recipients. None of the twelve silver medals originally produced survive as they were likely traded in for later Presidential Indian peace medals or buried with the native recipients upon their deaths.
At nearly three inches in diameter and more than 2.5 ounces in weight, the medal is based on designs by noted artist Pierre Eugene du Simitiere and New York silversmith Daniel Christian Feuter. A bronze medal, identical to the one acquired by Colonial Williamsburg, was recorded as a gift from Isaac Zane of the Marlboro Iron Works—a patriot munitions factory in Frederick County during the American Revolution—to du Simitiere prior to May 1781.
The medal uses one the earliest versions of the fledgling Commonwealth’s official seal depicting the goddess Virtue standing triumphant over a fallen tyrant—most certainly meant to represent King George III—surrounded by the inscription “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”
The reverse side of the medal incorporates a scene from an earlier medal made in New York during the 1760s and depicts a European-American and a Native American seated on a bench sharing a “peace pipe.” To the right is a tree, shading the two figures, and behind them is a waterfront scene with three vessels under sail. The over-arching inscription reads “Happy While United” with “1780” below the scene.
Colonial Williamsburg’s purchase of the Virginia Indian Peace medal was partially underwritten by the Lasser Family Fund of the Jewish Communal Fund.
This article was written by Jim Bradley, Public Affairs Manager, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.