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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersBecoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Theme: GrowthTheme: PeoplesTheme: EconomiesTheme: IdeasTheme: American
Theme: Peoples

Native American portraits by European artists
Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth Tow
Native Americans
- Indians and colonists view each other, selections from journals, letters, memoirs, and treaty negotiations, 1710-1760 (PDF)
- A Mohegan becomes a Christian minister, narrative of Samson Occom, 1768
Portraits by European artists
- Iroquois leaders, New York/Great Lakes, oils by John Verelst, 1710; overview from the Portrait Gallery of Canada
- Lenni Lenape leaders, Pennsylvania, oils by Gustavus Hesselius, 1735; overview by K. A. Lockridge, University of Montana
- Yuchi Indians, Georgia, watercolors by P. G. F. von Reck, 1736; overview from the Royal Library of Denmark

We are Indians, and don't wish to be transformed into white men.

Shickellamy, Oneida leader, to a Christian missionary, 17451

. . . you know I am not as you are. I am of a quite different Nature from you.

Saghughsuniunt, Oeida leader to a colonial official, 17622

In British America, there was no greater sense of Otherness than between Europeans and Native Americans. Indians and Africans both represented the "other" to white colonists, but the Indians held one card denied to the enslaved Africans—autonomy. As sovereign entities, Indian nations and European colonies (and countries) often dealt as peers; in trade, war, land deals, and treaty negotiations, Indians held power and used it. As late as 1755, an English trader asserted that "the prosperity of our Colonies on the Continent will stand or fall with our Interest and favour among them."3 Here we canvas the many descriptions of Indians by white colonists and Europeans, and sample the sparse but telling record of the Native American perspective on Europeans and their culture in pre-revolutionary eighteenth-century British America.
  • Indians and colonists view each other. From memoirs, letters, journals, and treaty negotiations come these statements of Native American and European perspectives on each other—but all come to us, of course, through the white man's eye, ear, and pen. Were it not for white missionaries, explorers, and frontier negotiators (the go-between's known as "wood's men"), we would have a much sparser record of the Indian response to colonists and their "civilizing" campaigns. How do Indians and colonists adapt to the insistent diversity imposed on each by the other? What decisions do they make in response?
    • - Commentary by F. D. Pastorius, F. L. Michel, John Lawson, Christoph von Graffenried, Rev. Samuel Stoddard, William Byrd, Tomachichi, P. G. F. von Reck, Rev. John Callender, Francis Cample, Gachradodow, Shickellamy, Rev. J. B. Bolzius, John Bartram, Atiwaneto, Edmond Aitken, Shingas, King Beaver, Delaware George, Pisquetumen, Minavavana, James Kenny, John Woolman, Saghughsuniunt, James Adair, and military accounts of Henry Bouquet’s 1764 Ohio expedition.

  • A Mohegan becomes a Christian minister. Samson Occom, a Mohegan born in Connecticut, was sixteen years old in 1739 when evangelical preachers led revivals in his region during the Great Awakening. Moved to become a Christian, he was later ordained a Presbyterian minister and became a teacher and missionary to the Indians of New England. In his mid forties he wrote a brief autobiography, describing his devotion to Christianity and his fellow Indians, as well as the discrimination he felt from the Presbyterian hierarchy: "I must Say, I believe it is because I am a poor Indian; I Can't help that God has made me. I did not make my self So."
    • - Samson (Samsom) Occom, A Short Narrative of My Life (1768; first published 1982), excerpt.

  • Portraits of Native Americans by Europeans. Everyone is familiar with the John White paintings of the Roanoke-area Algonquin in the 1580s, but few know the von Reck drawings of Yuchi Indians in Georgia—lost and unknown for over two hundred years, they were discovered in 1977 in the Royal Library of Denmark. What can we learn from such portraits, filtered through the European eye? Use the interpretive questions below to study three groups of portraits: (1) of the Iroquois delegation to England in 1710, by the court painter John Verelst; (2) of two Lenni Lenape (Delaware) leaders in 1735, by the Swedish-born colonist Gustavus Hesselius; and (3) the drawings of Yuchi Indians in Georgia in 1736 by a German settler, Philip Georg Friedrich von Reck. Be sure to compare these portraits with earlier depictions of Native Americans; see the toolbox American Beginnings: The European Presence in North America: 1492-1690, in themes CONTACT and EXPLORATION.
    • - See list of individual works above.

Combine this section with others on Indian-European relations— the taking of Indian lands (Theme I: GROWTH #7); the economics of Indian-European trade (Theme III: ECONOMIES #2); and the frontier conflicts with the Indians, French, and Spanish (Theme V: AMERICAN, #1). Also consult the Theme POWER in the toolbox American Beginnings: The European Presence in North America: 1492-1690. (19 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. Overall, what impressions do Native Americans and Europeans express about each other in the readings?
  2. What factors lead to trust, respect, curiosity, awe, suspicion, fear, contempt, and animosity between Indians and colonists?
  3. Describe the "perspective span" in these readings of colonists' opinions of Native Americans, from most positive to most negative.
  4. Is there a pattern in the colonists' views—by region, occupation, political role, contact with Indians, etc?
  5. Describe the "perspective span" in these readings of Native Americans' opinions of colonists, from most positive to most negative.
  6. Is there a pattern in the Indians' views—by region, tribal group, political role, contact with colonists, etc?
  7. How do Native Americans respond to the colonists' attempts to convert and "civilize" them?
  8. Why did some Native Americans convert to Christianity?
  9. Why did some colonists choose to live with Indians?
  10. What discrimination does Occom face as an Indian Christian minister? How does he interpret the discrimination?
  11. Where might one find more direct evidence of the Native American response to Europeans in this period?

Portrait questions
  1. Quickly jot your first impressions of the Native Americans depicted in the nine portraits. What adjectives describe their stance, demeanor, and facial expression? What nouns express their mood, self-image, and status?
  2. What impressions do you think the painters meant to convey?
  3. How realistic is each portrait? What criteria could you use to evaluate a portrait's accuracy?
  4. What does each portrait convey of the Indian's personal response to being sketched or painted?
  5. What do the objects in the painting reflect about the Indian and the painter? Why are they there?
  6. Which of the depictions are quick sketches? professional portraits? official documentation? How does this influence the final creation?
  7. How does each portraitist use color, light and dark, background content. placement of people and objects, the point of the subject's gaze, and other devices to convey an impression?
  8. To what extent do the portraits Europeanize the Indians?
  9. To what extent do they portray Indians as the "Other"?
  10. How do the portraits from the 1700s compare with those of the 1500s and 1600s?
  11. Create a chart of the European portraiture of Native Americans in this toolbox and in American Beginnings (see links above). What generalizations can you make based on your chart? (Chart as a Word doc.)

Framing Questions
  •  What varieties of personal experience did the circumstances of life in eighteenth-century British America make available to the people of the colonies—native-born or immigrant; free, bonded, or enslaved?
  •  How did they respond to the racial, ethnic, religious, and economic diversity in British America? How did they define tolerance, peers, rights, and opportunity?
  •  How did their responses to diversity shape colonial society as a whole?
  •  By 1763, what would "American" mean to the diverse peoples of North America?

Native American & European perspectives: 14
Samsom Occom:  5
View paintings online.    
TOTAL 19 pages
Supplemental Sites

"Samson Occom at the Mohegan Sun," by Joanna Brooks, University of Texas at Austin, in Common-Place: The Interactive Journal of Early American Life, 4:4 (July 2004), from the American Antiquarian Society

Four Indian Kings, slideshow of the Verelst oils and John Simon mezzotints of the Iroquois delegation to London in 1710, from the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Creek and Yuchi Indians of Georgia, other watercolors and sketches by Philip Georg Friedrich von Reck, 1736, from the Royal Library of Denmark "Overcoming Nausea: The Brothers Hesselius and the American Mystery," by Kenneth A. Lockridge, University of Montana, in Common-Place: The Interactive Journal of Early American Life, 4:2 (January 2004)

Encountering the First American West: The Ohio River Valley, 1750-1820, in online exhibition from the Library of Congress

Native American Religion in Early America, by Christine Heyrman, University of Delaware, in TeacherServe from the National Humanities Center

1 "Bishop A. G. Spangenberg's Journal of a Journey to Onandaga in 1745," in Moravian Journals Relating to Central New York, 1745-66, ed. Rev. Wm. M. Beauchamp, S. T. D., for the Onandaga Historical Association (Syracuse, NY: Dehler Press, 1916), p. 7; partially quoted in James Hart Merrell, Into the American Woods: Negotiators on the Pennsylvania Frontier (Norton, 1999), p. 104.

2 Colonial Records of Pennsylvania: Minutes of the Provincial Colony of Pennsylvania, Vol. 8, ed. Samuel Hazard, Pennsylvania Provincial Council (Fenn, 1852), p. 742; partially quoted in Merrell, Into the American Woods, p. 278.

3 William R. Jacobs, ed., The Appalachian Indian Frontier: The Edmond Aitkin Report and Plan of 1755 (University of Nebraska Press, 1967), pp. 3-4; quoted in Alan S. Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America (Viking Penguin, 2001), p. 424.

- Iroquois leader: Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth Tow (baptized Brant): King of the Maquas, oil on canvas, 1710, by John Verelst. Portrait Gallery of Canada / Library and Archives Canada, #·-092419. Permission pending.
- Yuchi leader: "The supreme commander of the Yuchi Indian nation, whose name is Kipahalgwa," watercolor (detail), 1736, by Philip Georg Friedrich von Reck. Reproduced by permission of the Royal Library of Denmark.
- Lenni Lenape leader: Lapowinsa, oil on canvas, 1735, by Gustavus Hesselius. Reproduced by permission of the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia.

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

1. Europeans I   2. Europeans II   3. Native Americans
4. African Americans   5. Women   6. Diversity

TOOLBOX: Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Growth | Peoples | Economies | Ideas | American

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