Published: July 7, 2015
ALBANY, N.Y. — The New York State Museum is displaying a recently conserved Nineteenth Century presentation flag reportedly given to the Six Nations Iroquois by the United States government around 1813. On display for six months in Native Peoples of New York Hall, the flag was conserved by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Measuring 60 by 118 inches, the flag is one of many presentation flags commissioned by the United States government given as tokens of peace to Native American leaders in the early Nineteenth Century. Differing from the more common “stars and stripes” design, presentation flags often depict an eagle in the canton (upper corner). The eagle on this flag is nearly identical to others painted by William Berrett, an artist who sometimes painted flags sewn by Elizabeth Claypoole, better known as Betsy Ross.
Prior to conservation, the flag was in fragile condition and could not be unfolded, studied or displayed without causing significant damage. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation prepared and conserved the flag so that it may be properly stored and displayed.
The New York State Museum acquired the flag from the Minnesota Historical Society in 1962. According to the society’s records, it was donated to them in 1889 by Clay McCauley, a minister who also worked for the Bureau of American Ethnology. McCauley attributed the flag to Eleazer Williams, a controversial missionary of Mohawk and European descent who preached among the Oneida and Mohawk Nations in the first half of the Nineteenth Century.
It is not known how Williams acquired the flag, but he served in the US Army from about 1812 to 1814. Envisioning one great Iroquois empire in the west, Williams worked with the Ogden Land Company to convince Native Americans in New York to move to Wisconsin in the 1820s, thus opening their lands for Euro-American settlement. Most Nations refused the move to Wisconsin with the exception of the Stockbridge Munsee and some members of the Oneida Nation, where they still have reservations today.
The museum is at 260 Madison Avenue. For further information, 518-474-5877 or www.nysm.nysed.gov.
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