Major Ridge (d.1839)
By 1835 Major and John Ridge were convinced that the Cherokee Nation’s only hope for survival was migration. They were among the signers of the Treaty of New Echota which exchanged Cherokee land for land in Oklahoma. In 1837 the Ridge family left Georgia for their new home. In 1838 the United States Government forced the remaining Cherokee from their lands. Thousands died along the Trail of Tears west. In 1839 angry survivors of the forced migration to Oklahoma murdered Major and John Ridge.
This print is based on a painting of Major Ridge done in Washington, D.C. During the nineteenth century native tribes routinely sent delegations to Washington, D.C., to negotiate with the American government. In 1816 Thomas Lorraine McKenney (1785-1859) was appointed the Superintendent of Indian Affairs. McKenney was eager to record the delegations and their distinctive dress for posterity. He engaged artists such as Charles Bird King (1785-1862), James Otto Lewis (1799-1858), and George Cooke (1793-1849) to paint portraits of these visitors to Washington.
President Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) was critical of McKenney and his sympathetic treatment of America’s native peoples. In 1830 he removed McKenney from office. Following his dismissal McKenney arranged to have the portraits secretly copied by the artist Henry Inman (1801-1846) and taken to Philadelphia for engraving. McKenney partnered with the author James Hall (1793-1868) and the first volume of “History of the Indian Tribes of North America” was published in 1836. Two more folio-sized volumes would follow.
Eventually the original portraits by King, Lewis, and Cooke, were be deposited in the Smithsonian Institution. A fire at the Smithsonian in 1865 destroyed the vast majority of the original works on which McKenney and Hall’s prints were based.
RELATED OBJECTS: The MESDA collection also contains three additional prints from this book: Major Ridge’s son, John Ridge (5507.4); and Creek Chief Yoholo-Micco (5507.2) and his son Mistippee (5507.1); MESDA also has the original portrait of Mistippee by Charles Bird King (3543). This is one of the few paintings commissioned by McKenney to survive.
DESCRIPTION: Hand colored lithograph on paper of Major Ridge; Major Ridge wears a navy coat, taupe waistcoat, white shirt and black cravat. His face is dark with slight tinting of cheeks in pink; his eyebrows are gray, and his hair is gray and short with waves. He has a very stern facial expression and his eyes are cut sharply to the left.