From Europe to the Atlantic coast of America & on to the Pacific coast during the 17C-19C, settlers moved West encountering a variety of Indigenous Peoples who had lived on the land for centuries.
Benjamin West (American artist, 1738-1820) The Treaty of Penn with the Indians. In 1771, Thomas Penn wanted a painting of his father meeting with the Native Americans. He commissioned Pennsylvania-born artist Benjamin West to capture the dramatic encounter on canvas.
William Penn & the Lenape Indians
William Penn (1644-1718) was an English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, early Quaker & founder of the English North American colony called the Province of Pennsylvania. He was an early advocate of democracy & religious freedom, especially noted for his good relations & successful treaties with the Lenape Native Americans. Reportedly William Penn addressed the Native Americans, uttering the following which will be admired throughout the ages: “We meet on the broad pathway of good faith and good-will; no advantage shall be taken on either side, but all shall be openness and love. We are the same as if one man’s body was to be divided into two parts; we are of one flesh and one blood.”
The reply of Tamanend, is equally noble: “We will live in love with William Penn and his children as long as the creeks and rivers run, and while the sun, moon, and stars endure.”
Since there in no written record of William Penn's Peace Treaty, some believe that it never took place. However, tradition reflects that since no land was being transferred, there was no reason to record a treaty. Most conservators of Penn’s Treaty with the Indians think that the event was more of a diplomatic mission, an “entente” of sorts, where Penn and the Indians met with mutual and complementary efforts on both sides, establishing a sense of compatible objectives, to come to foundation for a trusting relationship.
In August of 1683, about 10 months after Penn’s Treaty, William Penn wrote a long letter to the Free Society of Traders, in which he describes a council that he had with the Indians. The letter explains how a possible treaty with the Indians might have looked and been carried out:
"Their order is thus: The King sits in the middle of a half moon, and has his council, the old and wise on each hand. Behind them or at a little distance sit the younger fry in the same figure.
"Having consulated and resolved their business the King ordered one of them to speak to me. He stood up, came to me and in the name of his King saluted me, then took me by the hand and told me he was ordered by his King to speak to me, and that now it was not he, but the King who spoke, because what he should say was the King’s mind.
"Which done another made a speech to the Indians in the name of all the Sachamachers or Kings; first to tell what was done: next to charge and command them to love the Christians and particularly to live in peace with me and the people under my government; that they should never do mine or me any wrong. At every sentence of which they shouted, and in their way said, Amen.
"Great promises passed between us of kindness and good neighborhood, and that the English and Indians must live in love as long as the sun gave light.
The "Peace Treaty" between William Penn and the Native Americans was reported to have ended with these words of the Native Americans as quoted by Governor Gordon at the Council at Conestoga, May 26, 1728:
"We will be brethren, my people and your people, as the children of one father. All the paths shall be open to the Christian and the Indian. The doors of the Christian shall be open to the Indian and the wigwam of the Indian shall be open to the Christian.
"The Christian shall believe no false stories, the Indian shall believe no false stories, they shall first come together as brethren and inquire of each other; when they hear such false stories they shall bury them in the bottomless pit.
"The Christian hearing news that may hurt the Indian, or the Indian hearing news that may hurt the Christian, shall make it known the one to the other, as speedily as possible, as true friends and brethren.
"The Indian shall not harm the Christian, nor his friend; the Christian shall not harm the Indian, nor his friend; but they shall live together as brethren. As there are wicked people in all Nations; if the Indian or the Christian shall harm the one or the other, complaint shall be made by the sufferer, that right may be done; and when right is done, the wrong shall be forgotten, and buried in the bottomless pit.
"The Indian shall help the Christian, and the Christian shall help the Indian, against all evil men, who would molest them.
"We will transmit this League between us to our children. It shall be made stronger and stronger, and be kept bright and clean without rust or spot, between our children and our children’s children, while the creeks and rivers run, and while the sun, moon, and stars endure."
This League of peace and friendship has been passed down by the Native Americans to their children as witnessed repeatedly in the history of the Pennsylvania Council meetings between the years 1718 to 1735. In 1718 the Chief of the Conestoga Indians, amongst others, showed up at a Council in Philadelphia “to Renew the old League of friendship that had hitherto been between us and them,” and as late as 1734 John Penn, William Penn's son, stated at a Council meeting in Philadelphia: "I desire you to assure all the Indians, and particularly my good friends of the Six Nations, that it shall be my constant care to strengthen that firm League and Chain of Friendship which my Father first began, and has since been carefully preserved between the Indians and all the People within this Government."
American Artist Benjamin West
Benjamin West (1738-1820) was the 10th child of a rural innkeeper in Springfield, Pennsylvania, in October, 1738, & died exaulted in London, in March, 1820. Before his ascension to historical allegory painter for English royalty, he began learning his craft as a humble portraitist in Philadelphia. West told John Galt, his biographer, that when he was a child, Native Americans showed him how to make paint by mixing some clay from the river bank with bear grease in a pot.
During his years painting in the British American colonies, his portraits exhibit a modest attempt to emulate the baroque & rococo styles, which he probably observed in Philadelphia. His modest American portrait compositions also exhibit some knowledge of English mezzotint portraits reflecting the works of Peter Lely (1618–160) & Godfrey Kneller (1646–1723). West told a friend that a "Mr. Hide (Haidt), a German, gave him instruction. Johann Valentine Haidt (1700-1780), a Moravian evangelist & trained artist, painted not just portraits, but also history & religious paintings. Apparently, Benjamin West became determined to paint inspiring historical & religious compositions as well.
He later wrote, "Most undoubtedly had not (I) been settled in Philadelphia I should not have embraced painting as a profession." However, his early move away from Philadelphia to England was necessary for him to work in a country where artists were commissioned to paint inspiring depictions of history's real & imagined indispensable men & women who made extreme sacrifices & performed noble deeds. In the American colonies, the gentry paid for portraits, not inspiration.
Benjamin West became a painter of historical scenes, sometimes including Native Americans, around & after the time of the American War of Independence & the Seven Years' War. During his 22 years in America, he was a fairly typical provincial artist; but his choice to leave the colonies in 1760, for Europe & England led to his appointment as the official painter at the court of King George III & to his becoming co-founder of the Royal Academy in London, where 3 generations of fellow American students would return home from his tutelage to impact the art of the emerging republic.