Colonel Guy Johnson and  Karonghyontye - 1776

By Benjamin West  ( 1738 - 1820 )


The British superintendent of northeastern America's six Indian nations, Guy Johnson commissioned this impressive portrait in 1776 while in London to secure that royal appointment.  Sailing from Canada, Johnson must have been accompanied by his close friend Karonghyontye, a Mohawk chief who also went by the English name of David Hill.  The alliance between British forces and several Indian tribes seriously threatened the rebel colonists' chances of victory during the Revolutionary War.

For this likeness, Benjamin West devised a complex allegory.  To signify Johnson's role as ambassador to the Indians, his red-coated uniform is equipped with moccasins, wampum belt, Indian blanket, and Mohawk cap.  Karonghyontye points to a peace pipe, while Johnson grasps a musket.  This suggests that harmony between Europeans and Indians will be maintained at all costs.  The concept of cooperation extends to the background, where an Indian family gathers peacefully before a British military tent.

West claimed that Pennsylvania Indians had taught him to mix paints from berries and clays when he was a child.  A notably diplomatic man, he served George III as a court painter while urging the king to grant independence to the colonists!