- Museum number
An Indian 'werowance', or chief, painted for a great solemn gathering: with three feathers, a bow and quiver
Watercolour and graphite, touched with bodycolour, white (altered) and gold
- Production date
Height: 263 millimetres
Width: 150 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- For an introduction to this group of drawings by John White and a list of abbreviations used in the Literature at the end, see curatorial comment for 1906,0509.1.1, the title page inscription to the album.
The following text is taken from K. Sloan, 'A New World: England's First View of America' (London, BM Publications, 2006), no. 13, pp. 120-21:
[NB. If you use any of the text or information below, please acknowledge the source]:
For over four hundred years, since this figure of a North Carolina Algonquian was painted by John White, it has been an iconic image, sometimes used to symbolize all North American Indians as they were at the point of contact with Europeans. For the first of those centuries it was known only through the engraving by de Bry, which became the source for countless variations in print and paint, which in turn were copied by others. The version in Sir Hans Sloane’s volumeand the copy he had made after it (see below) were known only to those who used his library, such as Catesby and other natural philosophers. But now, from the early twentieth century when the watercolours in Prints and Drawings began to be published, the watercolour itself has been reproduced countless times, and now is omnipresent on the World Wide Web. Used to represent not only the North Carolina tribes’ near neighbours, the Virginia Powhatans, variations have appeared in books on various tribes, and the reality of what this man represents has become increasingly difficult to separate from the fiction.
He is a mature man, although the painted red lines on his face (forehead, cheeks, chin and around his eyes) look like wrinkles and make him appear to be much older. His body is painted with white and red circles and lines, but the version in the Sloane volume is not, and the painting on the calves in the engraving has additional circles. The engraving is reversed and also shows him from the rear; it is possible that the rear view has been deduced by the engraver and was not provided by White, as it does not show the back markings that are evident on similar figures in the festival scene. Harriot’s caption for the engraving indicates that the skin apron is connected with the tail that hangs down the back and also holds the quiver. The tail appears to be puma but the apron does not seem to be of puma fur but of dressed, fringed deer skin. Harriot also described his hair, cut with a central crest (or roach) and shaved on the right side so it does not get caught in his bow, the other side grown long and tied up, adorned with feathers. In his ears he wears what may be a metal disk (or pearls, or ‘whatever they fancied’, including birds’ claws mentioned by Harriot), and strings of copper or pearl beads around the neck and wrist, and an archer’s wrist-guard of skin. The caption mentions that they also tattooed their skin but the watercolour appears to show only paint.
There are additional small pale circles under the breast and around his belly which Harriot indicates are scars, stating that it was their practice to bleed themselves for medicinal purposes; certainly sucking or cupping blood was known among other tribes. The bow is long and plain and probably of maple or witch-hazel and the quiver is made of reeds or rushes, also recorded amongst New England Algonquians but unlike the skin quivers found amongst the Florida Indians and elsewhere.
The background of the engraving shows several identical men all hunting deer – again from the engraver’s imagination, as it is doubtful whether they would all have puma tails and the same number and placing of feathers in their hair. His posture is probably borrowed from European portraits as this pose was conventionally used to convey power and authority and was reserved for aristocrats and military commanders and others who could command respect. The man depicted here is described by Harriot as a ‘weroan’, ‘great Lorde’ or ‘prince’ and it is likely that the puma tail and feathers, his jewellery and painting all helped to distinguish his high social rank from the other members of his tribe. It is possible that, although he is intended to represent a generic type of a ‘Prince of Virginia’ dressed for a ceremony, this drawing may actually be a portrait of the werowance or chief of the Secotan, as it is grouped in engravings with other figures from that tribe. The festive dance is located in Secotan and the men in the larger image of the feast are similarly attired to the figure here. In addition, in the engraving of the feast, only one of the men, the central figure at the top, is shown with a puma tail. Secotan was the chief’s town of a tribe which included three or four nearby villages on the Pamlico River named on White’s map. Some of the early accounts indicated that Wingina, ‘King of Wingandacoa’ (which included Roanoke, Dasemunkepeuc and several villages on the mainland as well) ruled over Secotan as well; others indicate that the Secotan were a separate tribe with their own leader, whose name was not recorded but who was often at war with Pomeiooc and its leader Piemacum (Barlowe’s account of the first voyage of 1584 in Quinn, pp. 111–13).
Engraved by Theodor De Bry in ‘America’, pt I, pl. III
There is another version of this figure in the Sloane album (SL,5270.6v) and an 18th century copy in the British Library (Add MS 5253,15)
Lit.: LB 1(13); Quinn, pp. 440–41; ECM 1960 48; PH&DBQ 52(a); PH 48; Kupperman 1980, pp. 50–51; Miller, pp. 263–7; Kupperman 2000, pp. 63–4
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1952 Jul-Sep, BM, King's Lib, Raleigh/Hakluyt Quatercentenary, no.121
1965 Jan 30-Feb 22, NGC, Washington, John White, no.69
1965 26 Feb-14 Mar, NC Mus of Art, Raleigh, John White, no. 69
1965 17 Mar-5 Apr, NY, Pierpont Morgan Libr, John White, no. 69
1984 May 1-Dec 31, BL, Raleigh & Roanoke, no.70
1985 Mar-Jun, Raleigh, NC Mus of History, Raleigh & Roanoke, no. 72
1985 Jun-Aug, New York, Public Library, Raleigh & Roanoke, no. 72
2003 May-Sep, London, National Maritime Museum, 'Elizabeth 1'
2007 Mar-Jun, BM, 'A New World:...', no.13
2007/8 Oct-Jan, Raleigh, North Caroline Mus of History, 'A New World:...'
2008 Mar-Jun, New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, 'A New World:...'
2008 Jul-Oct, Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement, 'A New World:...'
- Associated titles
Associated Title: America
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- The provenance given above refers to the moment when the album of drawings connected with John White was purchased by the Department of Manuscripts in what is now the British Library. The album was transferred to the Department of Prints and Drawings in 1906, where it was assigned new register numbers.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number