Indian Queens and Indian Princesses: Allegorical Representations of America
From the 16th to the 19th century, European and American artists used the images of Native American women as allegorical representations of the American continent, the American colonies, and the United States of America. These dramatized images changed in form and substance during their several hundred of years of use. But the consistent goal of Europeans and Americans in creating and circulating these images was to dictate new narratives about indigenous peoples that suited their colonialist gaze.
First depicted as an “Indian queen” in printed engravings, tapestries, and sculptures, this representation of native women carried implements of war and postured near severed heads and exotic plants and animals. These images reflected European reactions to the “new world,” which they perceived as a foreign and hostile environment. As European exploration progressed, artists started depicting an opulent, heavyset Indian queen sitting or standing among the abundant natural resources of the Americas.
From 1755 to the War of Independence, an “Indian princess” replaced the queen as a symbol of America. The younger, thinner, less warlike representation became an allegory of the American colonies, distinct from Great Britain. A feathered headdress and skirt became customary dress and complexions became lighter. This new imagery could be found on political and non-political prints, serial publications, map cartouches, figurines, medals, and other objects. But it most frequently appeared in images pertaining to British-colonial relations, the American pursuit of liberty, and issues of commerce and trade.
Following the Revolutionary War, Columbia and neo-Classical female figures gradually replaced the Indian princess as the symbol of America. Columbia would in turn be overshadowed by Brother Jonathan and Uncle Sam in the antebellum United States.
The Indian Queen and the Early Americas
Abraham Ortelilus, Theatrvm Orbis Terrarvm. Antwerp: 1570.
In the 16th century the continents were represented by women of classical lineage. Ortelius’ atlas of 1570 depicts these representations on the engraved title page. Europe is at the top, holding a scepter and cross of Christianity; Asia on the left, with incense; and Africa on the right, with a sprig of balsam from Egypt.
At the bottom is America, represented by an Indian queen, with a bow and arrows. The bust over a flame represents Antarctica, of which only a part was known (hence the bust). The flame is the Tierra del Fuego, “land of fire,” at the tip of South America.
Johann Ludwig Gottfried, Historia Antipodum oder Newe Welt vnd Americanische Historien…. Frankfurt: 1631.
By the time Johann Ludwig Gottfried produced his Historia Antipodum the Indian queen was firmly established as the symbol for North and South America. She wears a feathered headdress and skirt, beads, has a pet parrot, and sits among the fruits, corn, and precious metals of Mexico and South America. The muscular figures appear to be based on Theodore De Bry’s engravings of John White’s watercolors made in the 1580s.
John Ogilby, America: Being the Latest, and Most Accurate Description of the New World…. London: 1671.
A South American version of the Indian queen was repeated in 1671 in the frontispiece to John Ogilby’s America. She is grasping a cornucopia and pouring out the riches of the New World before the conquistadors in the background. Her headdress looks more like a crude crown, and she carries weapons.
Henry Popple, A Map of the British Empire in America with the French and Spanish Settlements Adjacent Thereto. London: 1733.
Henry Popple’s Map of the British Empire in America shows an Indian queen, although younger, demonstrating the shift toward the Indian Princess allegory. She is still depicted as a barbaric figure, as shown by the severed head at her feet. Popple continued the parrot and alligator symbols used by Gottfried a century earlier.
The Indian Princess and the British Colonies in North America
British Resentment or the French Fairly Coopt at Louisbourg, etching. Published by T. Bowles, L. Boitard artist; J. June etcher. London: 1755.
One of the earliest known allegorical representations of the American colonies as distinct from Great Britain is in this print, which commemorates the Siege of Louisbourg, an important British victory during King George’s War.
The Indian princess, wearing the customary feathered headdress, is shown with a male companion, kneeling at the feet of Brittania. Several other symbols used in this print, such as the British lion, the Gallic cock, and mythological figures, continued to be used throughout the 18th and 19th centuries by artists of popular cartoons and caricatures.
Liberty Triumphant, or the Downfall of Oppression, engraving. London: 1774.
Liberty Triumphant is one of the most remarkable pro-American prints on the Intolerable Acts. The scene on the left depicts Lord North and the British ministry proposing a trade monopoly on the colonies. Britannia, above, laments the “conduct of those my degenerate Sons.”
On the right, the Indian princess, in a long gown, leads the Sons of Liberty, exhorting them to “Aid me, and prevent my being fetter’d.” Britannia above America commends the courage of these sons to Fame, who vows to “trumpet their noble Deeds from Pole to Pole.”
The Royal American Magazine, Boston: 1774-1775.
The Royal American Magazine, originally published by Isaiah Thomas, survived only two years (1774-1775), but in that time it carried many significant illustrations. The title page vignette, engraved by Paul Revere, shows the Indian princess offering a peace pipe to the Genius of Knowledge.
The Able Doctor, or America Swallowing the Bitter Draught, in London Magazine, vol. 43., engraving. London: May 1774.
The able Doctor is a British satirical print produced in the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party. America, personified as a native woman, is restrained and assaulted by British statesmen. Prime Minister Frederick North, with the Boston Port Bill stuffed into his coat pocket, forces America to drink “the bitter draught” of tea, which she spits back in his face. Other figures, representing France, Spain, and “military law,” look on while Britannia hides her face and weeps.
The print’s violent representation of the North ministry’s treatment of America was visceral and effective. Paul Revere reprinted the image the following month, in the Boston The Royal American Magazine.
The Commissioners, engraving, printed by Matthew Darly. London: 1778.
The Commissioners satirizes the Carlisle peace commission which attempted to negotiate peace with America in 1778. The Indian princess, wearing a drape instead of a feathered skirt, is enthroned on bales and barrels of tobacco, rice, and indigo for trade in continental ports. The suppliant commissioners beseech her to surrender with arguments such as “We have ravaged your Lands, burnt your Towns, and caus’d your captive Heroes to perish, by Cold, pestilence & famine.”
The Indian Princess and the United States
L’Amérique Indépendante, engraving by Borel. Paris: 1778.
Following the Continental Army’s victory at Saratoga in the fall of 1778, the French government officially recognized the independence of the American colonies and joined the war against Great Britain.
America, represented by the Indian princess, kneels at the feet of Liberty. Benjamin Franklin, in Roman costume, is protected by Minerva with her spear and shield. On the left, Agriculture and Commerce look on while Mars, with the Gallic cock (representing France) on his helmet, drives Britain (the naval power) and Neptune back into the sea.
Beginning in the 1780s, other allegories for America became prevalent in print culture. Having defeated the British in the war, the New Republic began to re-imagine its national identity. These changes meant that the Indian princess allegory no longer fit the United States’ vision of itself as an independent country.
As the Indian princess replaced the Indian queen, a figure who represented both the natural resources of the Americas and settler fears of indigenous peoples, the Revolutionary-themed Indian princess allegory would also be replaced by Columbia. Columbia embodied classical ideals that the United States turned to during its Greek Revival period, and represented a more powerful figure as the United States looked toward becoming a colonial power.
Consequently, the Indian princess allegory turned into a popular folk figure. In these representations, she often retained her trademark bow and arrows and feathered headdress and skirt. The Indian princess becomes Anglo-European in appearance, yet in keeping with contemporary American views of indigenous peoples, she is still portrayed as an exoticized woman. The following prints suggest the 19th century evolution of the Indian princess as an allegory of America.