Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tecumseh, Tenskwatawa, a solar eclipse, and an 1806 O-118A Draped Bust Half Dollar

1806 O-118A Draped Bust half dollar obverse

1806 O-118A Draped Bust half dollar reverse

This is a Draped Bust half dollar from 1806; the Overton variety O-118A, which is R3 in rarity.   There is a really cool prominent die crack on the reverse that runs from the bottom dentils at about 7 o'clock through the talon, all the way up through the O in "OF".    As a result of the reverse die beginning to break up and part of the die beginning to sink in, the reverse of the coin shows some major strike weakness on the left wing, eagle's head, etc. Another less prominent die crack arcs through the top of most of "UNITED STATES". 

1806 was a banner year for American history, with the Lewis and Clark Expedition gradually making its way back to St. Louis during the first 9 months of the year.  I'm not exactly sure what was happening in the Great Black Swamp of Ohio, but the extreme western frontier of the USA was at the edge of what is now Ohio and Indiana. This land was inhabited by the Shawnee tribe.  Ohio joined the U.S. as a brand new state in 1803 and with the exception of a few cities on the Ohio River (Cincinnati, Marietta, etc.), was largely a dense wilderness. President Jefferson had appointed William Henry Harrison (a veteran of the Battle of Fallen Timbers) as governor of the Indiana territory and the basic greed of rapid growth and expansion of the western frontiers was the strategic initiative of the day.  Campaigns were waged during the summers as militia recruits and full time soldiers would march into the Indian lands and ravage crops and towns, and settlers would illegally cross the boundaries defined by government treaties and set up households as squatters on disputed or Indian-held lands.  In retribution the Indians harassed many towns and settlers.  

At first, the Indians in western Ohio ranging through north-central Indiana were a loosely formed federation of tribes unaccustomed to prolonged warfare or a war of attrition -- as a result the settlers were gaining ground rapidly.  Eventually, however, two brothers of the Shawnee nation stepped up to lead. One was a war chief, Tecumseh, who was charismatic, well respected, intelligent, fluent in multiple languages, and a gifted warrior and hunter.  Tecumseh's younger brother, Tenskwatawa (Open Door), more commonly known as "The Prophet", according to contemporary accounts was slightly deformed, was missing an eye due to a childhood hunting accident, and was one of a rare set of triplets. As a result he never reached the hunting and warrior status of his brothers, and apparently turned to drinking.
Tenskwatawa, 'The Prophet'
According to one account, Tenskwatawa claimed to have an  epiphany from the Great Spirit that his drunkenness was wrong and began to preach abstinence to the others in his tribe, while building his reputation as a charismatic shaman and clairvoyant and developing a devoted following.  Moreover, he realized that in order to resist the onslaught of expanding white settlers and soldiers taking the land in Manifest Destiny, he and Tecumseh would need to forge a large confederation of tribes, which they did with a principal town on the Wabash River in Indiana territory at Tippecanoe.  

In order to discredit the brothers in the eyes of their peers, Governor Harrison wrote an open letter to the Indians gathered at Tippecanoe. In it, he put forth the challenge to the Shawnee Prophet, "If he is really a prophet, ask him to cause the Sun to stand still or the Moon to alter its course, the rivers to cease to flow or the dead to rise from their graves."   The Prophet's response was that he had consulted with the Great Spirit, who was unhappy with Harrison's request and agreed to give a sign... "Fifty days from this day there will be no cloud in the sky. Yet, when the Sun has reached its highest point, at that moment will the Great Spirit take it into her hand and hide it from us. The darkness of night will thereupon cover us and the stars will shine round about us. The birds will roost and the night creatures will awaken and stir."

At around noon on Tenskwatawa's predicted day, June 16th 1806, a total solar eclipse crossed the region, encompassing most of the lands inhabited by Tenskwatawa's followers.  In Greenville, Ohio, where Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh waited for the event, nearly a thousand Indians had gathered to see the Prophet's sign, and they were not disappointed.  It is unclear how the Prophet and/or Tecumseh knew about the eclipse (interaction with white settlers or even astronomers/scientists in the region, access to a Farmer's Almanac, astronomic knowledge amongst the Shawnees or other confederated tribes, clairvoyant abilities in Tenskwatawa), but this legend is apparently true.   More importantly in history, this event further consolidated the confederacy under Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa and foreshadowed the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, which I will feature a bit later. 



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