- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2007

he recently opened exhibit “Emissaries of Peace: The 1762 Cherokee and British Delegations” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History showcases interactions between the British and the Cherokees — in particular those between British lieutenant and diarist Henry Timberlake and three Cherokee leaders — during the mid- to late 1700s.

Seems like a narrow chapter to cover? Perhaps, but it’s representative of a broader political, social and economic landscape in 18th-century North America, says William Merrill, the museum’s curator of anthropology.

“The colonial powers — France, Spain and England — needed Indian allies to have any sort of control of North American territories,” Mr. Merrill says.

The American Indians, too, needed allies, such as the colonial powers, in their territorial disputes with other tribes, he says. In the case of the Southern Appalachian Cherokees, enemies included Creeks and Catawbas.

“It’s important to remember that this was not just a time of conquest from a British standpoint,” Mr. Merrill says. “It was a nuanced process. There were negotiations and trade.”

The exhibit was produced by the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, N.C., and based in large part on memoirs by Timberlake. It runs through Nov. 25. It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to tour and is accessible to all ages, Mr. Merrill says.

Some of the exhibit cases — for example, those with “storybooks” — are just a couple of feet off the floor, providing easy viewing for children. The storybook cases feature whimsical pop-up pictures and easy-to-read text to describe everything from Cherokee children learning to hunt to the British signing a peace treaty.

The exhibit gives perspectives on politics and culture from British and Cherokee points of view. It includes historic maps and diary entries from Timberlake; Cherokee artifacts such as trade beads and arrow points from archaeological digs; and reproduction clothing.

“For history buffs, this is a dream exhibit,” Mr. Merrill says. “You’ve got the artifacts from the University of Tennessee excavation, and you have the Cherokees giving their account of what happened. This exhibit gives them their own voice, which I think is very important.”

One of the exhibit sections on Cherokee life — complete with a fabric tree canopy — describes how the tribe used maple trees to make war clubs and pines to build canoes. They also used plants for medicinal purposes and as food. They had a clear division of labor: Men hunted, and women farmed, growing peas, beans, potatoes and cabbage.

Although the Cherokee were largely self-sufficient, their trade with the Europeans increased, and they found themselves more and more dependent on items such as metal tools and guns. It was to ensure that this trade continued without interruption that three Cherokee leaders — Ostenaco, Cunne Shote and Woyi — insisted that Timberlake take them to England to meet King George III.

The last sections of the exhibit deal with the visit to England, during which Timberlake took the Cherokee leaders sightseeing. They thought the statue of a naked Roman Hercules at Wilton House was appalling and were not impressed with Exeter Cathedral, either. However, they did like pantomime theater.

On meeting King George III, Ostenaco and the other leaders were impressed with the young king. They wanted to offer a friendship pipe and a handshake. Timberlake advised against it. It would not be appropriate, and Ostenaco didn’t insist.

Ostenaco returned to what’s now Tennessee and remained faithful to the British until he died in 1780.

Timberlake? He died at 29 after serving a sentence in debtors prison, where he wrote his memoirs to pay off debt.

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