War in the Peaceable Kingdom
Oil on Canvas
48 x 66 inches
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War in the Peaceable Kingdom
This painting dramatically visualizes the ambiguities and contradictions of European and American Indian relations in southeastern Pennsylvania during Humphry Marshall’s lifetime.
A country lane surrounded by lush forest under a cloudless sky serves as the bucolic backdrop for the chaos in the foreground. A small group of American Indians emerge from the dense smoke. Are they attacking a white settlement or returning to their own destroyed village after a hunting trip? The five warriors depicted here could be in conflict with the Iroquois, the English, the French, or other European settlers. Tragically, at different times, they could have been fighting all of the above.
One warrior holding a wooden war club has a French trade knife hanging from his neck. They all wear traditional leather moccasins and leggings with European-style shirts and waistcoats of cotton, linen or wool. Most are armed with Pennsylvania rifles – Indian marksmanship was legendary. After almost two hundred years of European contact, the Indians who lived along the eastern seaboard became a hybrid culture that, at times, operated in an accommodating holding pattern with settlers. Often, however, they fought a rearguard action.
The burning beam on the far right, the leaning trees in the distance, and the barely discernible tree trunk in the dark forest to the left, create parallel diagonals. This compositional device works as a visual metaphor for the implacable force moving the warriors forward. The wind is blowing in the opposite direction carrying the roiling smoke that will engulf these men and they, like their culture, tribe, and homeland, will soon disappear.
Lenape and Quaker Relations
In 1681, William Penn received a royal charter for Pennsylvania from King Charles II. Penn, a Quaker, envisioned for his colony the peaceful integration of European settlers and local native tribes. Much of Penn’s land was “held” by the Lenapes (Delawares). Penn wanted to maintain his business interests and live up to his religious principles, so he offered what he saw as fair and reasonable terms for the land and treated the Lenapes with respect. At first, it seemed as though the two cultures could form a mutually beneficial relationship, although that relationship was based on Penn’s assumption that he rightfully had sovereign rule over the land.
For centuries, the way of life for people of the Delaware Valley was stable. Although violence was endemic with most tribes, their culture included hunting, fishing, and agriculture, while moving seasonally among various camp sites. The arrival of the Europeans changed that. Smallpox, and other diseases as well as the introduction of European technology such as steel knives, guns and gunpowder proved devastating to American Indians. By the late 1600s, the Delawares are estimated to have lost over two thirds of their numbers to disease, famine and war. Indians also faced the overwhelming advance of settlers hungry for their land.
When William Penn arrived in America in 1682, there were likely less than 1,000 European settlers in Pennsylvania. Forty years later there were over 37,000 and by 1750 that number had reached 175,000. By the mid-1800s, the majority of Lenapes had been driven west to the Ohio River Valley. They, along with the remnants of other tribes, settled in what became western Pennsylvania. They were not alone. The French/Canadians from the north, the British from the east and the south and the Iroquois all wanted the right to sell, settle in, or control access to this land. With so many conflicting interests, violence was inevitable.
The French and Indian War, begun in 1755, was partly a continuation of a struggle for world dominance between the British and French, but for the Lenapes and Quakers in Pennsylvania it was their moment of truth. The Lenapes joined forces with the French in order to drive out the British. In the ensuing years, atrocities were committed by both Indian and white frontiersman. In 1756, the Royal Governor of Pennsylvania declared war on the Delawares and set the first of several generous bounties for Indian scalps. Although there were only eight recorded payments for these scalps, the bounties were an effective political expedient condoning genocide. Pennsylvania Quakers withdrew from a government they could no longer endorse.
The Revolutionary War completed the estrangement of Quakers from positions in government and resulted in the violent removal of almost all indigenous people from Pennsylvania. Today one can see that despite the best of intentions and their progressive approach, the Quaker mission was based on their belief in the cultural superiority of whites. And that in spite of European objectives that were benevolent or violent, the long term consequences for American Indians in the east were the same, total disenfranchisement from their homeland forever.