History Archive > The Aboriginal Port Folio (1836)

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The Aboriginal Port Folio or a collection of portraits of the most celebrated Chiefs of the North American Indians


Date: 1836



The Aboriginal Port Folio - Title Page
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Lewis, James Otto. The Aboriginal Port Folio. Philadelphia: Published by J.O. Lewis. 1836.


Lewis, James Otto (1836) The Aboriginal Port Folio. Philadelphia: Published by J.O. Lewis.


Lewis, James Otto, The Aboriginal Port Folio. Philadelphia: Published by J.O. Lewis. 1836.


James O. Lewis was born in Philadelphia in 1799, moved west as a teenager, and had become an engraver and painter by the time he was living in St. Louis in 1820. In 1823 he moved to Detroit, and painted the first of his Indian portraits at the request of Gov. Lewis Cass of Michigan. He accompanied Cass on four Indian treaty expeditions in the Great Lakes region in 1825-27.

Lewis, under commission from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, attended Native American treaty ceremonies between 1825 and 1828 and drew pictures of the tribal chiefs attending those ceremonies. Lewis also made a journey to Fond du Lac in the summer of 1846 and made drawings there. Virtually all of the originals of the images published here were executed by Lewis in this period. Subsequently, many of the Lewis portraits were copied by Charles Bird King, and some appeared in the King versions in the McKenney and Hall portfolio. All of the Lewis originals were destroyed in the Smithsonian fire of 1865.

One of the rarest 19th-century American color-plate books and the first major American color-plate book on American Indians. Scarcer than McKenney and Hall's 'History of the Indian Tribes', Prince Maximilian's 'Reise in das Innere von Nord-America' or Catlin's 'North American Indian Portfolio', Lewis' work records the dress of the Potawatomi, Winnebago, Shawnee, Sioux, Miami, Fox, Iowa and other tribes at treaties of Prairie du Chien, Fort Wayne, Fond du Lac and Green Bay.

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The majority of drawings were from following treaty ceremonies: [1] The First Treaty of Prairie du Chien, signed in August 1825 in Prairie du Chien, [Wisconsin]; [2] Treaty with the Potawatomi, signed October 16, 1826 in Mississinewa, Indiana (see Treaty of Mississinewa); [3] Treaty with the Miami, signed October 23, 1826 in Fort Wayne, Indiana [4] Treaty with the Chippewa, etc., signed 1827 in Butte des Morts, Wisconsin.

In addition to drawings of tribal chiefs, scenes of the Prairie du Chien and Butte des Morts treaty grounds were drawn, as well as a drawing of a Chippewa pipe dance and tomahawk dance.

The earliest painting included is dated 1823, and the latest 1833. None of the original paintings survive. Most paintings were sketched on location and finished in Detroit between 1827 and 1833. Lithography was done by Lehman and Duval in Philadelphia; color was washed in by hand. Some portraits are signed J. Barincou; this is the likely lithographer.

The Aboriginal Port Folio was published in Philadelphia by lithographers George Lehman and Peter S. Duval. It was issued in ten parts, with each part containing eight plates. Given the size of the undertaking the first nine parts were issued remarkably quickly, and appeared monthly between May 1835 and January 1836. The reason for this haste is probably that Lewis was aware that the imminent appearance of the first part of McKenney and Hall's History of the Indian Tribes of North America would adversely affect his subscriber-numbers.

The evidence of the surviving copies suggests that his fears were well-founded as there are a number of sets made up from eight parts (with 64 plates), but very few with nine parts (72 plates) and ten-part sets with the full complement of a frontispiece/title-leaf and eighty plates are virtually never found: only the Siebert copy is listed as having sold at auction in the past twenty-five years, and there are only about a half dozen or so other recorded sets (the Siebert set, and one other, are the only two examples to include the title page).

72 hand-colored lithographic plates.

Folio. (17 5/8 x 11 1/4 inches)


McDermott, John F. (Spring 1952). Minnesota History. 33 (1): 20-22.; Bennett, p.68; Eberstadt 131:418; Field 936; Howes l315; Sabin 40812; Reese Stamped with a National Character 23; Reese James Otto Lewis and his Aboriginal Portfolio, New Haven: 2008.

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Publication Information

Publisher: Philadelphia: Published by J.O. Lewis



Pages: 0


New York Public Library

ISBN-10: N/A

Date Added: 2019-06-17

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