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print study / drawing

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    A festive dance; around circle of posts Watercolour over graphite, touched with white, on a folded sheet with offsetting

  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1585-1593
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 274 millimetres
    • Width: 358 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Content

        Inscribed in graphite: "10"
  • 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. 11, pp. 116-17:
    [NB. If you use any of the text or information below, please acknowledge the source]:

    In July John White painted Secotan (see 1906,0509.1.7), where this same religious ceremony, most likely a Green Corn Festival, is shown in the village context. They probably did not rotate crops as has sometimes mistakenly been suggested (originally in Barlowe’s 1584 account), by planting early, harvesting and then planting again. Instead, as is clear in White’s view of Secotan, the corn was planted in successive fields through the spring, a few weeks apart, so that it ripened through the summer and into the fall.
    Harriot records that the special feast recorded here was attended by people from neighbouring towns, ‘euery man attyred in the most strange fashion they can deuise hauinge certayne marks on the backs to declare of what place they bee’. They danced and sang, shaking gourds or small pumpkin rattles and arrows and using the strangest gestures they could devise with three ‘fair virgins’ in the centre. The offsetting here on this sheet that was folded down the centre creates a rather confusing effect, but many of the figures are shown wearing or carrying branches with leaves, which actually resemble tobacco or branches from trees more than corn, and several have pouches at their belts, containing tobacco and personal items. Women joined the men in the dancing, which must have been strenuous, as they went out of the circle when tired and rested before coming in again, as is seen clearly in the town scene (Secotan). Englishmen would have been familiar with Maypole dancing and mummers, so would not have found this quite as strange as we might assume. The virgins in the centre were not necessarily connected with fertility or with the ‘three sisters’ ritual recorded amongst Iroquoian tribes who used the term for corn, beans and squash. The veiled heads carved on the poles were not explained by Harriot but they presumably had a religious symbolism connected with their deities. Similar poles were described in later accounts of other tribes in various locations throughout the east.
    In the following century, Englishmen at Jamestown on the Chesapeake recorded dancing nearly every evening amongst the Powhatan Indians, who danced to celebrate harvest or victories, greet guests or simply because they enjoyed it. The latter was probably a mistaken assumption, as most dances were largely religious in nature. It was a useful way to promote community spirit and cohesion within a tribe and to use up excess energy which might otherwise be channelled into aggression.

    Engraved by De Bry in 'America' Pt I, pl. XVIII, with following caption: ‘Their danses which they use att their hyghe feastes’.
    Lit.: LB 1(9); Quinn, pp. 427–8; ECM 39; PH&DBQ 42(a); PH 39; see also Feest 1978, pp. 278–9; Kupperman 1980, pp. 53–4; Rountree 1989, pp. 98–9


  • Bibliography

    • Binyon 1898-1907 1(9) bibliographic details
    • Sloan 2007 11 bibliographic details
    • Croft-Murray 1960 39 bibliographic details
    • Hulton & Quinn 1964 42(a) bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (British Roy PI)

  • Exhibition history

    1934 BM, Exhibition of English Art, no.396 1952 Jul-Sep, BM, King's Lib, Raleigh/Hakluyt Quatercentenary, no.115
    1965 Jan 30-Feb 22, NGC, Washington, John White, no.50
    1965 26 Feb-14 Mar, NC Mus of Art, Raleigh, John White, no. 50
    1965 17 Mar-5 Apr, NY, Pierpont Morgan Libr, John White, no. 50
    1984 May 1- Dec 31, BL, Raleigh & Roanoke, no.63
    1985 Mar-Jun, Raleigh, NC Mus of History, Raleigh & Roanoke, no. 63
    1985 Jun-Aug, New York, Public Library, Raleigh & Roanoke, no. 63
    2007 Jun-Mar, BM, 'A New World:...', no.11
    2007/8 Oct-Jan, Raleigh, North Carolina 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:...'

  • Subjects

  • Associated titles

    • Associated Title: America
  • Acquisition name

  • 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.

  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


An Indian festive dance; around circle of posts Watercolour over graphite, touched with white

An Indian festive dance; around circle of posts Watercolour over graphite, touched with white

Image description



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Object reference number: PDB57

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