M5932 | Medal and wampum

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Medal and wampum
Anonyme - Anonymous
Eastern Woodlands
1763-1789, 18th century
Silver, shell beads, plant fibre
7.8 cm
Purchased through Dr. W. D. Lighthall
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Medal (34)
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Keys to History

In the period following 1763, the British presented medals to Aboriginal chiefs and influential individuals for political purposes, primarily in the hope of gaining or maintaining an alliance. In order to cement peace with Aboriginal allies they gave them medals like this one, symbolizing allegiance to the ruler of England, King George III, whose portrait is engraved on one of the sides.

Both archaeological evidence and contact period European accounts indicate that Aboriginal people in the Northeast often wore large shell gorgets, which hung on their chest. These gifts of large silver medals continued this practice while allowing the Aboriginal recipients to gain status and importance through the conspicuous display of finery.

  • What

    This is a King George III silver medal that was made in England. The medal obverse bears the portrait of the King with the inscription GEORGIUS III DEI GRATIA. The reverse displays the Royal Arms of Britain. The medal is strung on a chain of white and purple wampum (tubular shell beads).

  • Where

    Medals were given by the British to Aboriginal allies across the entire Eastern Woodlands. As we do not have information on where this medal was collected, it is impossible to pinpoint a specific origin.

  • When

    This King George III medal likely dates to the period of 1763 to 1789. Medals were often kept as heirlooms, passed down within families and worn on special occasions.

  • Who

    The original owner of this medal is not known. The fact that it has a necklace made of wampum beads suggests that it was given to an Aboriginal person living in the Eastern Woodlands region, possibly an Iroquois.