Penn’s Treaty with the Indians


Benjamin West.  “William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians, when he founded the Province of Pensylvania in North America 1681.”   London: John Boydell, [1775].  17 1/2 x 23 3/4.  Engraving by John Hall.   An early strike on laid paper.  Full hand color.  Very good condition.  Framed.  Snyder: 238; Fowble: 130.


Legend has it that William Penn signed a treaty with the Indians for his lands in 1681 under the Treaty Elm, located in what is now Kensington.  Though the scene is apocryphal, Benjamin West’s famous painting of the event is one of the most copied of all pictures of Philadelphia.  The painting was commissioned by William Penn, and it was finished in 1771.  This is an example of the first print made from that painting, published by John Boydell in London in 1775.  West’s depiction was accepted throughout Europe and America as an accurate portrayal of this legendary event, and it has become one of the most influential images in Pennsylvania iconography.

The print shows an honest looking William Penn trading goods for the rights to the land.  The Indians and Europeans all appear very civilized.  The idealized figures of the Indians were modeled from statues in the Vatican, which West sketched when studying in Rome.  While completely fictitious, the several large buildings shown under construction in the background were intended to imply the prosperity of Pennsylvania, the same intent of the many ships seen riding in the Delaware off in the distance.  An influential and fascinating eighteenth century image.