Resource

Frontier Diplomacy

This engraving illustrates George Washington’s meeting with Seneca leader Queen Aliquippa, an important ally of the British during the French and Indian War.

1856 engraving of the 1754 meeting in an Indigenous encampment between Washington and a colonial companion and female Seneca leader, Aliquippa.
Washington and Gist visit Queen Aliquippa

John McNevin, “Washington and Gist visit Queen Aliquippa,” 1856. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library.

Background

As the colonial settlements of North America grew, rivalry over land rights and use increased dramatically. Matters were particularly heated along the border of the French and English colonies. French colonists, English colonists, and Native people all struggled for dominance in the area. In 1754, this struggle boiled over into the French and Indian War.

About the Image

This image, made over 100 years after the events it portrays, demonstrates the power wielded by Native communities in the years leading up to the French and Indian War. In 1753, George Washington was commissioned as a major in the Virginia militia. He was sent as an ambassador to the French and Native communities in western Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley. On his way through the area, he passed through the territory of Seneca leader Queen Aliquippa without paying his respects. Aliquippa was a well-respected leader in western Pennsylvania, and the insult put the British alliances in the area in danger. On his return journey, Washington went out of his way to give her gifts. The episode demonstrates that the British believed Native communities were critical allies in their settlement endeavors, and they were willing to do what it took to keep their allies happy.

Vocabulary

  • ambassador: An official representative of a government who meets with foreign leaders.
  • commissioned: To be given a job or duty.
  • French and Indian War: A colonial war that was fought from 1754 to 1763 between the British and the French. Native communities fought with both sides to maintain their own sovereign interests. Part of the larger global conflict known as the Seven Years War. The British triumphed, and greatly expanded their territory in North America.
  • major: An army officer above captain and below lieutenant colonel.
  • militia: A volunteer military force.
  • Seneca: One of the original tribes of the Haudenosaunee confederacy. They inhabited the region of western New York at the time of the American Revolution, although some groups had moved into other territories to escape the pressures of colonial settlement. Most Seneca settlements are still in New York, but there are also some in Oklahoma and Canada.

Discussion Questions

  • What does this scene reveal about the British attitude toward Native communities along their colonial borders?
  • Who is the figure of power in this image? How has the artist conveyed the power dynamics of this scene?
  • What are the drawbacks of using nineteenth-century images of Native history?

Suggested Activities

  • Include this image in lessons about the French and Indian War.
  • Include this image in lessons about Native sovereignty in the colonial era.
  • Invite students to write dialog for the scene. What is Washington saying? How is Queen Aliquippa responding?
  • The French and Indian was the last in a long series of wars fought between the English, French, and Native communities in North America. Read the life story of Mother Esther Marie-Joseph Wheelwright de l’Enfant to learn more about this ongoing conflict and its effects on the communities of the North American colonies.
  • Nineteenth-century images of colonial history do not accurately represent the Native communities they portrayed. Ask students to research the clothing, homes, and traditions of Seneca Nation, and then redraw a more accurate version of this scene.
  • Teach this image together with any of the following resources for a lesson about how Native leaders across North America strove to assert their sovereignty in the face of colonization and settlement: Life Story: Quashawam, Life Story: Weetamoo, Life Story: Nanyehi Nancy Ward, and Life Story: Toypurina.
  • Native people across North and South America had a variety of responses to the arrival of European colonizers. Combine this painted robe with any of the resources below for a larger consideration of way Native communities responded to colonization: Life Story: Weetamoo, Life Story: Malitzen (La Malinche), Life Story: The Gateras of Quito, Life Story: Kateri Tekakwitha, Life Story: Quashawam, Revolution in Art, Life Story: Marguerite Faffart, Life Story: Toypurina, Selling Staten Island, Quapaw Masterpiece,