Lewis and Clark Used “Peace and Friendship” Medals to Establish Relationships With Native Tribes

Thomas Jefferson peace medal

In the early 19th Century, Lewis and Clark would embark on an expedition funded by the United States government. Their mission, amongst others, was to explore and record the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase and while doing so, establish a peaceful rapport with its inhabitants.

Knowing they would eventually need to replenish supplies along their journey and possessing the knowledge of Native trading customs, Lewis and Clark’s benefactors knew they would need something of significance to bring to the table. Before setting out on their appointed excursion, the crew was given a plethora of coins, or “Peace Medals”, to use as a means to acquire necessities during their time away.

Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Indian Peace Medals in the latter 18th Century to be tangible symbols of peace and friendship between the United States and Native Americans. Lewis and Clark would be sent off with over 60 coins which consisted of 3 large, 13 medium and 16 small coins, along with an additional 55 “season medals”. All but one would be traded or given as gifts during the 3,700 mile adventure up the Mississippi River and into the Pacific Northwest.

The medal obverse features a bust of President Thomas Jefferson himself with the inscription “TH. JEFFERSON PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.A. D 1801”. On the reverse, a handshake between two parties, one to represent the US government and the other Native Americans, along with a peace pipe and tomahawk crossed above with an inscription, “PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP”.

After the better part of two and a half years, the duo along with their team would encounter, trade, and develop relationships with over fifty-five Native American nations and these tokens would end up playing a vital role in the success of one of the greatest American journeys.

If you like this article, then you might enjoy other articles in our archives, such as Lewis and Clark Expedition Returns to the Northwest.

Liberty Coin & Currency specializes in rare coins and currency. We are a family-owned business located in Portland and Vancouver. We are also gold, silver, diamond, currency and jewelry buyers. Visit us first for a free evaluation.

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Images via MyNorthwest.com

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