McKenney and Hall Portrait Gallery
On November 25th, 1825, President John Quincy Adams welcomed a delegation of Creek Indian headmen to the White House. Adams noted “they are almost all good-looking men, dressing not, as the Cherokees, entirely in our costume, but somewhat fantastically.” Their “countenances,” he observed, “were remarkable by a dark and settled gloom.” That “dark and settled gloom” was the result of tumultuous events in what are now the states of Georgia and Alabama, for Tustunnuggee Hutkee (William McIntosh), a leading warrior and chief of Coweta, had signed away nearly five million acres of Creek lands to Georgia and in the process enriched himself and his followers. This unauthorized action by McIntosh and a number of other minor chiefs was deemed treason under Creek law and the Creek Nation Council immediately repudiated the spurious treaty and sent “law menders” under Chief Menawa to execute McIntosh. McIntosh’s cousin, Governor George Troup of Georgia, demanded that the United States enforce the terms of the treaty, while the Creek National Council appointed a delegation of leading men to travel to Washington to secure peace with the United States and regain title to their land. Opothle Yoholo of Tuckabatchee was the designated speaker for the group, which included representatives from both Upper and Lower Creek towns. John Ridge, the Cherokee who served as advisor to the Creek delegates in 1825 noted that “this delegation is composed of the choice men of their Nation & as patriots are second to none in the world.”
Negotiations would drag on for months and, in the end, the Creek delegation was not successful in regaining control of their Georgia lands, but did regain land claimed by Alabama with a new Treaty of Washington, ratified in 1826. Thus, the infamous McIntosh treaty of Indian Springs was repudiated and stands as the first and only Indian treaty ratified by the United States Senate that was later set aside and renegotiated.
During their stay in Washington, the Creeks lodged at the Indian Queen Hotel, the most popular hotel in the city. Their chief contact with the Adams administration was the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Thomas McKenney, who fell under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of War. The presence of the distinguished Creek delegation provided and unparalleled opportunity for McKenney, who, since 1821, had been developing an “archive” of Indian memorabilia and portraits of Indians who visited the federal city. The “Indian Gallery,” as McKenney’s collection of portraits came to be known, was largely the work of the famous portrait artist Charles Bird King (American, 1785- 1862). The Creeks visited King’s studio to have their portraits rendered, and each sitter was also given a small version of the completed portrait as a souvenir. McKenney’s famous Indian Gallery eventually came to include nearly 150 portraits, the property of the American government.
When President Andrew Jackson replaced Adams in 1828, he soon fired most of those associated with Adam’s administration, including McKenney. Thus, when McKenney wished to use the portraits from the Indian Gallery to illustrate his forthcoming history of the Indians of America, he did not have easy access. The solution that McKenney and his partner devised proved to be providential for posterity, for they hired Henry Inman, a highly regarded portrait artist, to make faithful copies of the original Charles Bird King portraits. From Inman’s oil copies, the publisher used a new method of print reproduction, lithography, to produce stunning color prints to illustrate McKenney’s now famous three-volume History of the Tribes of North America. The work, coauthored by James Hall, represented a triumph of American art and technology and established American lithography as equal in quality to the finest European productions.
There is no doubt that the lithographs—and Henry Inman’s oil portraits—were faithful likenesses. In a letter to the Secretary of War, McKenney praised the first lithograph produced for the book, and noted that “I consider the above copy, perfect; a perfect likeness of the man, who is known to me—and an exact copy of the original drawing by King, now in the office of Indian affairs.” Indeed, the first public exhibition of McKenney’s History was accompanied by Inman ‘s oil paintings, so the public could appreciate the high quality achieved by the lithographic process.
The collection of lithographs presented in the Caroline Draughon Center for Arts & Humanities includes William McIntosh, who originally signed the Treaty of Indian Springs, as well as the majority of the 1825 Creek delegates, plus the young son of one of the delegates.
Last Updated: July 18, 2017