The main reason I visited the Museum of Natural History was to view this exhibit.
The Emissaries of Peace exhibit brings 1762 Cherokee and British societies to life with a wealth of items that comprised daily life – weapons, peace pipes, eyeglasses, uniforms, clothing, tableware, jewelry – even a pocket watch like the one Timberlake ruined by leaping from a canoe to wade ashore in unexpectedly deep water. Documents and pictures help tell the story, too ... excerpts from Timberlake’s Memoirs, published accounts of the Cherokees’ travels through Britain (they were most taken by mime performances at Sadler’s Wells, where the absence of an interpreter was, for once, not a problem), and drawings and paintings depicting luminaries and commoners alike – from King George III and Cherokee leaders, to unnamed foot soldiers and warriors contending in battles of the day.
Contrasts between the two societies become sharp indeed when articulate observers from both realms speak to the same subject. Consider Timberlake and the Cherokee, Corn Tassel, speaking on how their respective societies put food on the table:
Timberlake: “Were the Cherokees contracted into a fortified settlement, governed by laws, and remoter from the English, they might become formidable but who would seek to live by labour, who can live by amusement. The sole occupations of an Indian life, are hunting, and warring abroad, and lazying at home. Want is said to be the mother of industry, but their wants are supplied at an easier rate.”
Corn Tassel: “You say: Why do not the Indians till the ground and live as we do? May we not with equal propriety ask, Why the white people do not hunt and live as we do. The great God of nature has placed us in different situations. He has, indeed, given you an advantage in this, that your cattle are tame and domestic while ours are wild and demand not only a larger space for range, but art to hunt and kill them.”
From the council houses of the Cherokees to the pleasure gardens of London, “Emissaries” lets us see 18th-century Cherokee and British life with the fresh sense of discovery we might have if time travel made our visit possible. Nothing is assumed; everything is novel, and this viewpoint blows the dust off history and makes it pulse with passion.
Nothing makes history come so alive as a first-person viewpoint. By this measure, the exhibit “Emissaries of Peace” is doubly compelling. It presents two vivid, mirror images – Cherokee society in 1762, as seen by a British lieutenant and diarist, Henry Timberlake; and British society of the same period, seen through the eyes of three Cherokee leaders who convinced Timberlake to bring them to Britain to meet King George III.
Timberlake entered Cherokee country as a lone, British emissary accompanying 400 returning Cherokee warriors to cement a fragile, British-Cherokee peace. His notes from this three-month sojourn became the basis of his Memoirs – the best and fullest account of 18th-century Cherokee life. Now, in “Emissaries of Peace,” Memoirs provides the narrative flow that organizes and animates this exhibit’s amazing collection of artifacts.
The Winter Trade
The gorgeous feather cape of the Beloved Woman. Traditionally an elder warrior woman who cannot fight any longer but is revered.
Cherokee male clothing.
Ostanaco and Timberlake