Last updated: April 10, 2015
Jefferson Peace Medal
This large, silver Thomas Jefferson peace medal was donated to Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in 1964. According to the donors, the medal was believed to have been given to a Chippewa Native American chief in the Dakotas by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. However, that story is not likely for several reasons. Lewis and Clark took only three of the large Jefferson medals on their journey. They were never in the vicinity of the Chippewa homeland. Their daily journals described only one instance of giving out one of the large medals, to a chief of the Yankton Sioux. It is not known to whom they gave the second of the three medals, but it was probably a Mandan chief; the third was never given to a chief and returned with the explorers to St. Louis in 1806.
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.