Thomas Jefferson and Native America

EXHIBIT: Gathering Voices: Thomas Jefferson and Native America, April 15 – December 30, 2016

This exhibition is the last in a series of three exhibitions on Thomas Jefferson at the American Philosophical Society (APS) Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Titian Ramsay Peale, American Buffaloe, lithograph in “The Cabinet of Natural History and American Rural Sports”. Vol. 1. Philadelphia: J&T Doughty, 1830. American Philosophical Society

Jefferson had an abiding interest in Native American culture and language, while, at the same time, supporting national policies that ultimately threatened the survival of indigenous peoples.  (Editor’s note: that statement is putting it mildly… we will be writing about this history in future posts.)

Jefferson believed that study of indigenous languages would reveal historical connections among Native American tribes, and he commissioned the collection of Native American vocabularies, many of which are housed in the APS library.  In addition to these vocabularies, the exhibition will include Native American artifacts sent to Jefferson by Lewis and Clark.

Today, the APS Library continues to expand upon Jefferson’s legacy of research into Native American linguistics and history by digitizing wire, wax cylinder, and fragile reel-to-reel audio recordings.  The exhibition will juxtapose Jefferson’s 18th-century written vocabularies with these 21st-century, newly digitized recordings of songs, stories, and conversations with tribal elders.  The APS actively supports research in Native American linguistics and history in an effort to preserve and sustain this vital heritage.


Thomas Jefferson, Unquachog Vocabulary List,, overall & detail, manuscript, APS

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2 thoughts on “Thomas Jefferson and Native America

    • Lara/Trace April 13, 2016 / 12:29 pm

      It’s hard for me to begin to understand what Jefferson was thinking but it wasn’t good for any Indians.

      Liked by 1 person

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