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Indian Peace Medals

Reverse side of an Indian Peace Medal (1793). Reverse side of another Indian Peace Medal (1793).

During George Washington's presidency, several styles of these medals were created and given to Indian leaders. The Great Seal was on the reverse side. The front showed Washington and an Indian sharing a peace pipe.

The most celebrated medal was the large silver one presented to Seneca Chief Red Jacket in 1792 by President Washington in Philadelphia. A descendent of Red Jacket said in 1851, the medal was evidence of "the bond of perpetual peace and friendship established and entered into between the people of the United States and the Six Nations of Indians at the time of its presentation."

It became the prototype of the large Washington oval medals engraved on plates of silver for the years 1792 to 1795. The largest medals were nearly 5x7 inches and the smallest about 4x5 inches.

Seneca Chief Red Jacket wearing an Indian Peace Medal dated 1792. Front side of an Indian Peace Medal (1793).

Giving such medals "has been an ancient custom from time immemorial. The medals are considered as complimentary things, as marks of friendship to those who come to see us, or who do us good offices, conciliatory of their good will towards us... They confer no power, and seem to have taken their origin in the European practice of giving medals... to the negotiators of treaties." – Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State (1793)

These are some of the most accurate realizations ever created of the Great Seal of the United States, because the rays of light (glory) are "breaking through the cloud," as specified in the official description. Also, the constellation of 13 stars is in a random pattern (as it should be), and the bundle of arrows is relatively tight (as sketched by Charles Thomson).

Reverse side of an Indian Peace Medal (1792). Reverse side of another Indian Peace Medal (1795).

The 1795 medal (above right) has 15 stars instead of 13, because Vermont and Kentucky had become states.

Reference: Prucha FP, Indian Peace Medals in American History, 1971

Historical content is based on the official history of the Great Seal.
Author and webwright: John D. MacArthur