George Washington Season Medal
Courtesy Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
The first American presidential peace medals were created for President George Washington during his first term in office. Since the young nation did not have the craftsmen nor the tools to produce medals from dies, they were individually engraved in solid silver. Oval in shape, some were as large as 5-1/4" high by 7-1/4" wide (132 by 180 millimeters).
During Washington's second term a special set of three medals was designed by John Trumbull (1756-1843), one of the leading American artists of the Revolutionary Era. They came to be called "Season" medals, even though their subjects were not the seasons per se.
One of Trumbull's designs, sometimes called the "Wheat" or "Sower" medal, is pictured above. At left is the front, or obverse side. In the foreground, at right of center, a man sows grain on land labeled—beneath the soil's surface—"U.S.A." In the background, too faint to be discerned in this photograph, another man is plowing near a small house, which is surrounded by a fence.Trumbull's aim was to "characterize the first steps in agriculture." On the reverse face the words "Second Presidency of Geo: Washington MDCCXCVI " are wreathed by an olive branch (left) representing peace and prosperity, and another of oak leaves (right), standing for strength and loyalty. A ribbon—ideally a yellow one—binds the two branches together.
Two other medals in the "Season" series depicted animal husbandry and domestic occupations (spinning, weaving, child-rearing) to convey the idea of rural domestic tranquility and occupation. All three were calculated to encourage Indian recipients to adopt a "civilized" American life-style. However, Indians generally preferred medals featuring the image of a king or president.
Still lacking wherewithal in this country, the government had the Season medals struck in Birmingham, England. A total of 700 medals, each 45 mm in diameter, were ordered, but the only shipment of record, containing just 326 medals, arrived in July of 1798, seven months into John Adams's administration. That there was still an ample supply of them available in 1803 is suggested by the fact that Lewis requisitioned fifty-five of them from the Secretary of War to supplement his supply of Jefferson peace medals.
Lewis and Clark distributed a total of 55 Season medals among the Indian leaders they met.
—This page made possible with generous assistance from Bob Moore, historian, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.
Francis Paul Prucha, Indian Peace Medals in American History (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971).
Paul Russell Cutright, "Lewis and Clark Indian Peace Medals," Missouri Historical Society Bulletin, XXIV (January, 1968), 160-67.
These pages funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service, Challenge Cost Share Program