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Armbands associated with John Quinney (Stockbridge Mohican [Mahican], 1797–1855)
1793 or 1813
Brotherton, Wisconsin
5.5 x 8.5 cm
Presented by Dr. Frederick J. Dockstader

“It is curious, the history of my tribe, in its decline, during the last two centuries and a half. Nothing that deserved the name of purchase was ever made. From various causes, they were induced to abandon their territory at intervals, and retire further to the inland. Deeds were given, indifferently to the Government, or to individuals, for which little or no consideration was paid. The Indian was informed, in many instances, that he was selling one parcel, while the conveyance described other, and much larger limits. Should a particular band, for purposes of hunting or fishing, desert, for a time, its usual place of residence the land was said to be abandoned, and the Indian claim extinguished. To legalize and confirm titles thus acquired, laws and edicts were subsequently passed, and these laws. Were said then, and are now called, justice! Oh! What a mockery to confound justice with law. Will you look steadily at the intrigues, bargains, corruption and log-rolling of your present Legislatures, and see any trace of the divinity of justice? And by what test shall be tried the acts of the old Colonial Courts and Councils?”
—John W. Quinney, July 4th, 1854, speaking in Reidsville, New York

These armbands belonged to the Mohican sachem John W. Quinney, one of the leading political figures of the Stockbridge Nation from 1822 to 1855. Quinney represented his tribe at numerous treaty sessions and in lobbying state governments and the United States to ratify treaties and enact laws for the tribe’s benefit. Beginning in 1830, Quinney made at least nine diplomatic missions to Washington, ultimately spending more than five years away from home representing his tribe. Amazingly, in 1846 he convinced Congress to repeal the 1843 law that had dissolved the Stockbridge Nation.

In 1837 Quinney wrote the tribe’s first constitution, which provided for executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The constitution also required that elected leaders be Christians and males. This is not surprising, since missionaries had been living with the Stockbridge from 1736 onward in Massachusetts, upstate New York, and the Wisconsin Territory. Quinney’s constitution was controversial in several other ways, however, and was replaced in 1857.

A stamp in the silver of these armbands indicates that they were made in 1793 or 1813 by Crispin Fuller, an English silversmith. They may have been given to Quinney by an older Mohican leader who had received them from British officials. A stylized engraving of the Royal Coat of Arms strongly suggests that they were a diplomatic gift. England, France, Spain, and the United States distributed gifts as “sovereignty tokens.” These governments assumed that the Indian leaders who accepted gifts recognized the sovereignty of the donor country, as indeed tribal leaders expected their nations to be recognized as sovereign.

Robert J. Miller (Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma)

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