September 17, 2012
Jefferson Peace Medal
The donor's grandfather traded goods from his general store in Aitkin, Minnesota, to the Chief of the Mille Lacs Chippewa tribe for the medal about 1900. The Chief claimed the medal had been given to his tribe during the Jefferson administration, which is probably accurate. The medal itself is unusual in that the original Jefferson medals were hollow rather than solid, the only peace medals of their kind ever issued. They were constructed in three parts, the obverse and the reverse being thin sheets of silver then united by a band or collar with a small air space between. A ring for suspension was placed at the top. There were many Jefferson medals made due to the fact that no Madison medals were minted during the first six years of his presidency. Madison medals were minted staring in 1814. Original Jefferson medals were given out between 1801 and 1814.
It is possible that this medal was given to a Chippewa chief as a result of actions taken not by Lewis and Clark, but by contemporary explorer Zebulon Pike, who was in the Chippewa homeland during the winter of 1805-1806. Although Pike had no peace medals with him, he promised that American peace medals would be issued to the chiefs, from whom he confiscated British medals and flags. Katawabeda, the most important chief of the Chippewa tribe in 1805-1806, met with Pike twice, and U.S. Indian agents may have presented him with a Jefferson medal by 1811. History is a puzzle and many aspects of it may never be known.What we do know is that artifact JEFF 6229 is an original large Jefferson peace medal, only issued to the highest of chiefs. It is a fascinating piece of the past.