A Flag of The Fathers
Before it went on display at the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, Ontario last month, this British flag from our museum's collection had never been seen by the public before. Though it appears rather tattered, the flag is in remarkable shape considering its age: it turned almost exactly 200-years-old this year.
The flag is special not only for its venerable age and exceptional condition, but also because of its previous owner: the famous Shawnee warrior Tecumseh. As legend has it, Tecumseh received the flag from British Major General Sir Isaac Brock as a symbol of their alliance against the U.S. during the War of 1812. Tecumseh and his army of Native American warriors had joined forces with the British to halt American expansion into the “Old Northwest,” a region now comprised of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin that Tecumseh had hoped would someday become an independent pan-Indian nation.
Brock’s gift was hardly an unusual one. At the time it was customary for British commanders to present flags, medals or uniforms to Indian chiefs as symbols of political allegiance. But Tecumseh’s military and leadership savvy so impressed Brock that he bestowed something else to Tecumseh along with the flag: the title of Brigadier General in Great Britain’s army.
Made of wool bunting and hand-stitched with linen thread, the flag –known as the Union Jack – is believed to have been carried by fellow Shawnee warrior Yellow Hawk (Othaawaapeelethee) during the Battle of the Thames in 1813, the same battle during which Tecumseh was killed. The flag was passed down through Yellow Hawk’s family as an heirloom until 1942, when it was purchased by Milford G. Chandler, an automotive engineer and enthusiastic collector of Native American arts and antiquities. In 1961, it became part of the museum’s collection.
Before delivery to the Woodland Cultural Centre, a First-Nations' managed museum, a team from the National Museum of the American Indian, led by textile and flag conservator Gwen Spicer, worked to conserve and mount the flag. Staff textile conservator Susan Heald and Mellon Felllows Sarah Owens and Rebecca Summerour also participated.
The flag is now on view as part of the Woodland Cultural Centre’s exhibition War Clubs & Wampum Belts: Haudenosaunee Experiences of the War of 1812, presenting the largely unknown story of the Iroquois civil war within the international war. The exhibit runs through Dec. 24, 2012.