A Native American pipe tomahawk gifted to Seneca leader Cornplanter by George Washington in 1792, and stolen from the State Museum, has been reacquired through a donation and returned to the collections.
The artifact is on exhibit in the State Museum’s main lobby through December 30. The pipe tomahawk was stolen from the State Museum between 1947 and 1950.
Paul Grondhal, in the Albany Times Union, reported that an elderly couple downsizing their private collection donated it to the State Museum in June, along with documents showing seven owners of the stolen artifact. Grondhal also raised some questions about who stole it. You can read about that here.
Tomahawks were significant objects of intercultural exchange in the 18th century; smoking was a common ceremonial practice between parties after reaching an agreement. The meetings between Washington and Cornplanter, also known as Gy-ant-waka, in the 1790s eventually led to the Treaty of Canandaigua (1794), which established peace between the sovereign nations of the U.S. and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy.
According to an announcement sent to the press by the State Museum, the pipe tomahawk entered the State Museum’s collection in 1850 courtesy of Seneca diplomat Ely Parker (later the first Native American Commissioner of Indian Affairs), who purchased it from the widow of a Seneca named Small Berry.
On one side of the blade is Cornplanter’s name, Gy-ant-waka, and on the other side of the blade is the name “John Andrus.” Parker replaced the haft with one made of curly maple wood and silver inlay to reflect what the original haft may have looked like, based on descriptions from Small Berry’s widow, as the original haft had long since been replaced. Parker also added a brass plate engraved with his name on the bore end of the tomahawk.
Photo of Cornplanter’s Tomahawk courtesy New York State Museum.