Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
September 2004

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Medals, Coins and Indians



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North American Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]



Medals. From time immemorial loyalty has been rewarded by the conferring of land and titles of nobility, by the personal thanks of the sovereign, the presentation of medals, and the bestowal of knightly orders, the insignia of which were hung on the breast of the recipient. With the Indian chief it was the same. At first he was supplied with copies of his own weapons, and then with the white man's implements of war when he had become accustomed to their use. Brass tomahawks especially were presented to the Indians. Tecumseh carried such a tomahawk in his belt when he was killed at the battle of the Thames, in S. W. Ontario, and his chief warrior, John Naudee, removed it and the silver belt buckle from the body. There were also presented to the Indian chiefs silver hat-bands, chased and engraved with the royal arms; silver gorgets to be worn suspended from the neck and having the royal arms and emblems of peace engraved upon them; and silver belt buckles, many of which exceeded 3 in. in diameter. The potency of the medal was soon appreciated as a means of retaining the Indian's allegiance, in which it played a most important part. While gratifying the vanity of the recipient, it appealed to him as an emblem of fealty or of chieftainship, and in time had a place in the legends of the tribe.


The earlier medals issued for presentation to the Indians of North America have become extremely rare from various causes, chief among which was the change of government under which the Indian may have been living, as each government was extremely zealous in searching out all medals conferred by a previous one and substituting medals of its own. Another cause has been that within recent years Indians took their medals to the nearest silversmith to have them converted into gorgets and amulets. After the Revolution the United States replaced the English medals with its own, which led to the establishment of a regular series of Indian peace medals. Many of the medals presented to the North American Indians were not dated, and in many instances were struck for other purposes.




The earliest record of peace medals in connection with the Canadian Indians is found in Canada Correspondence General, vol. IV, in which mention is made of "a Caughnawaga chief, November 27, 1670, who holds preciously a medal presented to him by the king." Leroux (p. 14) includes a medal caused to be struck by Cardinal Richelieu in 1631 for presentation to Canadian Indians. A large medal was issued in France in commemoration of the reigning family; this example proved so acceptable to the Indians that a series of six, varying slightly in design and in size from 1 3/16 to 3 1/16 in., was issued for presentation to them. Very few of the originals are now known to exist, but many restrikes have been made from the dies in the Musée Monétaire at Paris .


1693. Obverse, head of the king to right, laureated; legend, Ludovicus Magnus Rex Christianissimus. Reverse, four busts in field; legend, Felicitas Domus Augustae. Seren Dolph, Lud. D, Burg. Phid D. Card. D. Bilur. M.D.C.X.C.III.


After the death of the Dauphin, in 1712, the reverse type was changed, two figures replacing the four busts of Louis, the Dauphin, and his two sons. Of this medal only restrikes are now known.


171. [sic] Obverse, bust of king to right; legend, Ludovicus XIV, D. G. FR. NAV. REX. Reverse, two Roman warriors; legend, HONOR ET VIRTUS. Silver; bronze, size, 2 1/4 in.


In the succeeding reign a smaller medal of similar design was issued, bearing on the obverse the head of the king to the right, draped and laureated; legend, Louis XV Rex Christianissimus . A copy of this medal has been found with the legend erased and George III stamped in its place (McLachlan, p. 9). Silver; bronze; size, 2 in.


The General de Lévis medal of 1658 [it is likely that the date is 1758], and that of the first Intendant-General of Canada, Jean Varin, of 1683 [This date should be 1663], though included by Leroux (p. 15) among the peace medals, are excluded by Betts and other writers. Leroux (p. 17) figures the French Oswego medal of 1758 as belonging to the peace medal series. "As medals were freely distributed about this time, some of them may have been placed in Indian hands" (Beauchamp, p. 64.).


1758. Obverse, head of king to left, nude and hair flowing; legend, Ludovicus XV Orbis Imperator; in exergue, 1758. Reverse, in field four forts; legend, Wesel, Oswego, Port Mahon; in exergue, Expung. Sri Davidis Arce et Solo Equata. Silver; brass; size, 1 1/4 in.




The earliest medals presented to American Indians by the English colonists are those known as the Pamunkey series. By Act 38, Laws of Virginia, in the 14th year of King Charles II, March, 1661 (see Hening's Statutes, II, 185), there were caused to be made, possibly in the colony, "silver and plated plaques to be worn by the Indians when visiting the English settlements." They were plain on the reverse, in order to permit the engraving of the names of the chiefs of the Indian towns.


On the capture of Montreal by Sir Jeffrey Amherst, Sept. 8, 1760, an interesting series of medals, known as the conquest medals, was issued. McLachlan says they "were evidently made in America , and printed to the Iroquois and Onondagas, and other chiefs who assisted in the campaign." To each of the 23 chiefs, though they did but little fighting, was presented a medal by Sir William Johnson, who, in his diary, under date of July 21, 1761, says: "I then delivered the medals sent me by the General for those who went with us to Canada last year, being twenty-three in number." Beauchamp (p. 81) says: "In 1761 Johnson had similar medals for the Oneidas , but none of them have been found."


1760. Obverse, view of a town, with bastions, on a river front, five church spires, island in river; in foreground, to left, a bastion with flag of St. George; in exergue, in an incused oval, D. C. F.; this side is cast and chased. Reverse, in field engraved, Montreal, remainder plain for insertion of name and tribe of the recipient. Silver; size, 1 13/14 in. Pewter; size, 1 7/8 in.


Beauchamp (p. 66) says: "Two medals, relating to the capture of Montreal and conquest of Canada , seem more likely to have been given by Johnson to the Indians in 1761. As the two medals have Indian symbols, and one Amherst 's name, and that of Montreal , they seem to suit every way Johnson's lavish distribution of medals at Oswego , when sent by his leader."


1761. Obverse, a laureated nude figure, typifying the St. Lawrence, to right, reclining, right arm resting on the prow of a galley, paddle in left hand, a beaver climbing up his left leg; in background a standard inscribed Amherst within a wreath of laurel, surmounted by a lion. In exergue, a shield with fleur-de-lis; above, a tomahawk, bow, and quiver; legend, Conquest of Canada. Reverse, a female figure, to right seated beneath a pine tree; an eagle with extended wings standing on a rock; before the female a shield of France, with club and tomahawk; legend, Montreal Taken, MDCCLX; in exergue, Soc. Promoting Arts and Commerce. Silver; size, 1 ½ in.


1761. Obverse, head of King George, to right, nude, with flowing hair, laureated; legend, George II. King. Reverse, female figure seated beneath a pine tree, to left, weeping, typical of Canada; behind her a beaver climbing up a bank; legend, Canada Subdued; in exergue, MDCCLX ., below, S. P. A. C. Silver; bronze; vise; 1 ½ in.


To commemorate the marriage of George III and Queen Charlotte a small special medal was struck, in 1761, for general distribution to insure the allegiance of the savages in the newly acquired province (McLachlan, p. 13).


1781. Obverse, bust of king and queen facing each other; above, a curtain with cords and tassels falling midway between the heads. Reverse, the royal arms, with ribbon of the Garter, and motto on ribbon below, Dieu et Mon Droit . Silver; size, 1 ½   in., pierced for suspension.


The following series of medals is supposed to have been struck for presentation to Indian chiefs in Canada at the close of the French and Indian wars. There were five in the series, differing in size and varying slightly in design; they were formed of two shells joined together; one of lead and others of pewter, with tracings of gilding, have been found.


1782. Obverse, youthful bust of king, to right, in armour, wearing ribbon of the Garter, hair in double curl over ear; legend, Dei Gratia. Reverse, the royal arms encircled by the ribbon of the Garter, surmounted by a crown, supported by the lion and the unicorn; legend. Honi Soit qui Mal y Pense; on a ribbon below the motto, Dieu et Mon Droit. Silver; size, 1 ½ by 3 ½ in.


In 1763 Pontiac rebelled against British rule, and the Government entered into treaty with the remaining friendly chiefs. A council was held at Niagara in 1764, at which time the series of three medals known as the " Pontiac conspiracy medals" was presented to the chiefs and principal warriors.


1764. Obverse, bust of king, to left, in armour and in very high relief, long hair tied with ribbon, laureated; legend, Georgius III. D.A.M. BRl. FRA. ET HIB. REX. F.D. Reverse, an officer and an Indian seated on a rustic bench in foreground; on the banks of a river, to right, three houses on a rocky point; at junction of river with ocean, two ships under full sail. The Indian holds in his left hand a calumet, with his right grasps the hand of the officer; at left of Indian, in the background, a tree, at right a mountain range; legend, Happy While United; in exergue, 1764 . In field, stamped in two small incused circles, D.C.F. and N. York. Silver; size, 3 9/16 by 3 1/8 in.; loop, a calumet and an eagle's wing.


In 1765 a treaty was made with the British and Pontiac, and his chiefs were presented by Sir William Johnson, at Oswego, with the medals known as "the lion and wolf medals." A large number of these were distributed, and two reverse dies have been found. The design represents the expulsion of France from Canada (see Parkman, Pontiac Conspiracy , chap. XXXI; Betts, p. 238; Leroux, p. 156; McLachlan, p. 13).


1765. Obverse, bust of king to right, in armour, wearing the ribbon of the Garter; legend, Georgius III Dei Gratia. Reverse, to left, the British lion reposing under a tree; to right, a snarling wolf; behind lion, a church and two houses; behind wolf, trees and bushes. Silver; size, 2 3/8 in.


A large body of Indians assembled in general council at Montreal, Aug.17, 1778, representing the Sioux, Sauk, Foxes, Menominee, Winnebago, Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Chippewa. It is generally supposed that at this time the presentation of the medals took place, in consideration of the assistance rendered the British in the campaigns of Kentucky and Illinois and during the War of the Revolution. Gen. Haldimand, commander in chief of the British forces in Canada, also gave a certificate with each medal (see Hoffman in 14th Rep. B. A. E., 1896; Betts, p. 284-286).


1778. Obverse, bust of king to right, wearing ribbon of the Garter. Reverse, the royal arms, surrounded by ribbon of the Garter and motto, surmounted by a crown, supported by the lion and the unicorn; at bottom ribbon, with motto, Dieu et Mon Droit; shield of pretense crowned. Silver; size, 2 3/8 in., with loop for suspension.


The following medals were presented, until about the time of the war of 1812, to Indian chiefs for meritorious service, and continued in use possibly until replaced by those of 1814 (Leroux, p. 157):


1775. Obverse, bust of the king, to left, with hair curled, wearing ribbon of the Garter; legend, Georgius III Dei Gratia. Reverse, the royal arms with supporters; surmounted by crown and ribbon of the Garter; below, ribbon with motto, Dieu et Mon Droit . Silver; size, 2 ¼ in., with loop for suspension.


1794. Obverse, bust of king to right, in armour, wearing ribbon of the Garter, hair long, cloak over shoulders; two laurel branches from bottom of medal to height of shoulders of bust; legend, Georgius III Dei Gratia; in exergue, 1794; Reverse, on plain field, the royal arms with supporters, surmounted by helmet and crest, encircled by ribbon of the Garter, and below ribbon and motto. Silver; rise, 1 ¼ in.


At the close of the war of 1812, the Government, desirous of marking its appreciation of the services rendered by its Indian allies, besides making other presents and grants of land, caused the following medal, in three sizes, to be struck in silver for presentation to the chiefs and principal warriors (Leroux, p. 158):


1814. Obverse, bust with older head of king to right laureated, draped in an ermine mantle, secured in front with a large bow of ribbon, wearing the collar and jewel of St. George; legend, Georgius III Dei Gratia Britanniarum Rex F. D .; under bust, T. Wyon, Jun. S. Reverse, the royal arms of Great Britain with shield of pretense of Hanover, surmounted by a crown and crested helmet, all encircled by ribbon of the Garter and supporters, below a ribbon with motto, Dieu et Mon Droit; above ribbon, a rose, thistle, and shamrock; behind helmet on both sides, a display of acanthus leaves; in exergue, 1814 . Silver; size, 2 3/8 to 4 11/16 in.


The following medal, in three sizes, was struck in 1840 for participants in the early treaties of the Queen's reign. It is possible that it may have been presented also to the Indians of Lower Canada who took no part in the abortive uprising of 1837 (McLachlan, p. 36; Leroux, p. 161):


1840. Obverse, bust of Queen, to right, crowned; legend, Victoria Dei Gratia Britanniarum Regina F. D.; under neck W. Wyon, R. A. Reverse, arms of Great Britain, surmounted by crown and crested helmet, encircled by ribbon of the Garter, supported by the lion, and the unicorn; below, ribbon with motto, Dieu et Mon Droit, the rose and thistle; in exergue, 1840 . Silver; sizes, 2 3/8 to 4 11/16 in.


The medal known as the Ashburton Treaty medal was given through Lord Ashburton, in 1842, to the Micmac and other eastern Indians for services as guards and hunters, and assistance in laying out the boundary between the United States and Canada.


1842. Obverse, bust of queen in an inner dentilated circle, garland of roses around psyche knot; under bust, B. Wyon; no legend. Reverse, arms of Great Britain in an inner circle, surmounted by a crowned and treated helmet, encircled by the ribbon of the Garter; legend, Victoria Dei Gratia Britanniarum Regina Fid. Def. Ribbon in lower field backed by the rose and thistle (Betts, p. 159). Silver; size, 2 9/16 in.


In 1848 the Peninsular War medal was issued, to be given to any officer, non-commissioned officer, or soldier who had participated in any battle or siege from 1793 to 1814. In general orders, dated Horse Guards, June 1, 1847, were included the battles of Chateaugay, Oct. 26, 1813, and of Cryslers Farm, Nov. 11, 1813, covering the invasion of Canada by the American army in 1813. "The medal was also conferred upon the Indians, the names of the battles engraved on clasps, and the name of the recipient on the edge of the medal, with title of warrior" (Leroux, p. 177).


1848. Obverse, bust of the queen to right, crowned; legend, Victoria Regina; below bust, 1848 , and W. Wyon, R. A. Reverse, figure of the queen in royal robes, standing on a dais, crowning with a wreath of laurel the Duke of Wellington, who is kneeling before her; by side of dais a crouching lion; in exergue, 1703-1814. Silver; size, 2 ¼ in., with loop for suspension.


The Prince of Wales on his visit to Canada in 1860 was received by Indians in full ceremonial dress. Each chief was presented with a large silver medal, while the warriors received smaller medals. This medal is known as the Prince of Wales medal.


1860. Obverse, head of queen to right, undraped and crowned; legend, Victoria D. G; Regina F. D. In lower right-hand field, the three feathers and motto; lower left-hand field, 1860 . Reverse, the royal arms surmounted by a helmet, crown, and lion, with ribbon of the Garter, and on the ribbon below, Dieu et Mon Droit; at back, roses, shamrock, and thistle; in exergue, 1860 . Silver; size, 2 in., with loop for suspension.


In 1860, when the Government had acquired the lands of the Hudson's Bay Company's territory and after the extinction of the Indian land titles, the following medal was presented to the Indians under Treaty No. 1. In the Report of the Commissioners it is stated: "In addition each Indian chief received a dress, a flag, and a medal as marks of distinction." These medals at first were not struck for this occasion.


1860. Obverse. head of the queen to right, crowned; legend, Victoria Regina ; under bust, J. S. and B. Wyon, S. C . Reverse, two branches of oak, centre field plain for the engraving of name and tribe of recipient, Silver; size, 3 3/16. in.                                           


[ Note from C. Bélanger:   the chronology presented in the two paragraphs above is incorrect. The government of Canada did not acquire the Hudson Bay territory until 1869-70. Treaty No 1 was signed in 1871. If the medals were issued in pursuance of the Treaty, they must have been distributed in 1871, not in 1860.]


The very large Confederation medal of 1867, with an extra rim soldered on it, was used in 1872 for Treaty No. 2. It was presented to the Indians subsequent to the acquisition of the Hudson's Bay Company's territory, at which time the Indian title to a large area was extinguished. "Twenty-five were prepared, but found so cumbersome no more were used" (Leroux, p. 219).


1872. Obverse, bust of queen to right, within an inner circle having milled edge ground, with veil and necklace; legend, Dominion of Canada; below. Chiefs Medal, 1872; below bust, S. Wyon. Reverse, in inner circle Britannia seated with lion and four female figures, representing the four original provinces of the Canadian confederation; legend, Juvenatus et Patrius Vigor Canada Instaurata, 1867; in outer circle, Indians of the North West Territories. Silver; bronze; size, 3 3/4 in.


The following medal was struck especially to replace the large and inartistic medal last described, and was intended for presentation at future treaties:


1873. Obverse, head of queen to right, crowned with veil and necklace. draped; legend, Victoria D. G. Britt. REG. F. D.; below bust. J. S. Wyon. Reverse, a general officer in full uniform, to right, grasping the hand of an Indian chief who wears a feather headdress and leggings; pipe of peace at feet of figures; in background, at back of Indian. several wigwams; back of officer, a half sun above horizon; legend, Indian Treaty No.-, on lower edge, 187-. Silver; size, 3 in., with loop for suspension.


A series of three medals was struck by the Hudson's Bay Company for presentation to the Indians of the great Northwest for faithful services. These were engraved by G. H. Kuchler of the Birmingham mint, 1790 to 1805.


1793. Obverse, bust of king to left, long hair and draped; legend, Georgius III D. G. Britanniarum Rex Fidei. Def.; under bust, G. H. K. Reverse, arms of the Hudson's Bay Company; argent, a cross gules, four beavers proper, to the left, surmounted by a helmet and crest, a fox supported by two stags; motto on ribbon, Pro Pelle Cutem (Leroux, p. 59). Silver; sizes, 1 13/16 in. by 3 in.


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada, Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, Ottawa, 1913, 632p., pp. 281-284.




© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College