Published: July 17, 2018
ALBANY, N.Y. – The New York State Museum has announced that an Eighteenth Century Native American pipe tomahawk gifted in 1792 to Seneca leader Cornplanter by President George Washington has been returned to the Museum’s collections and will be on exhibit in the State Museum’s main lobby through December 30.
Pipe tomahawks were significant objects of intercultural exchange in the Eighteenth Century and could be used as smoking pipes; smoking was a common ceremonial practice between parties after reaching an agreement. The meetings between Washington and Cornplanter, also known as Gy-ant-waka, in the 1790s eventually led to the Treaty of Canandaigua (1794), which established peace between the sovereign nations of the US and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. For nearly 70 years, this tomahawk was in the hands of private collectors after being stolen from the Museum between 1947 and 1950. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous collector, the pipe tomahawk was returned to the State Museum’s collections in June.
“The tomahawk is a key artifact in our Native American ethnography collection, and we’re pleased it has been returned to the State Museum,” said State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. “I encourage teachers to bring their students to the Museum to explore the history of the Native Peoples of New York and learn about the fascinating story of Cornplanter’s tomahawk.”
The pipe tomahawk entered the State Museum’s collection in 1850, courtesy of Seneca diplomat Ely Parker, who purchased it from the widow of a Seneca named Small Berry. On one side of the blade is Cornplanter’s name, Gy-ant-waka, and on the other side of the blade is the name “John Andrus,” possibly the manufacturer. Parker replaced the haft with one made of curly maple wood and silver inlay to reflect what the original haft may have looked like based on descriptions from Small Berry’s widow, as the original haft had long since been replaced. Parker also added a brass plate engraved with his name on the bore end of the tomahawk.
The New York State Museum is at 222 Madison Avenue. For information, 518-474-5877 or www.nysm.nysed.gov.
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