Sketches of a Tour to the Lakes


Date: 1826 | Size: 3 volume(s)


The Sketches of a Tour of the Lakes, of the character & customs of the Chippeway Indians & of incidents connected with the treaty of Fond du Lac... to which is super added a vocabulary of the Algic, or Chippeway language... is a record of a journey undertaken by Thomas L. McKenney and Lewis Cass, from Washington, D.C., to Fond du Lac, Wisc., to negotiate a treaty with the Chippewa and other Indians. McKenney, the Superindenant of Indian Affairs, includes an account of travel on the Great Lakes, and more memorably, a description of the "character" and customs of the Chippewa Indians, an account of the treaty of Fond du Lac, and a vocabulary of the Algic or Chippewa language. The manuscript, a fair copy of the original sent to a London publisher, is illustrated throughout with watercolor sketches of scenes and persons. It was originally published in Baltimore in 1827.

Background note

The son of devout Quakers from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Thomas Loraine McKenney was appointed by James Madison as Superintendent of the Indian Trade in 1816. A strident opponent of the emerging Jacksonian Democracy, McKenney's years in office were marked by partisan strife and improfitability. His zealous support for John C. Calhoun's bid for the presidency in 1824 earned him the wrath of Congress, and a special investigation of his Office. McKenney was fully exonerated, and after Calhoun removed himself from the race in return for the vice presidency, McKenney was rewarded for his loyalty with an appointment as the nation's first Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

In both his Superintendencies, McKenney allied himself with the policies of his predecessors in the Washington and Adams administrations, aiming to "civilize" the Indians rather than merely exterminate them. He was the prime supporter of the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, which provided funds for Indian education, but he was also supported the Removal Act of 1830 with its devastating consequences for the Indians of the eastern states. McKenney later justified his support for the act by arguing that removal was more humane than the alternative. Regardless of his intentions, shortly after the act went into effect in the fall of 1830 he was dismissed from office by Andrew Jackson. Although he remained active in anti-Democratic politics, he was never again appointed to office, and spent the last decade of his life in obscurity, living in Brooklyn. He died on February 20, 1859.

Kenney's long-term reputation is based in large part, as he predicted it would, on the Office (later Bureau) of Indian Affairs that he helped establish, but above all on his two major proto-ethnographic works: Sketches of a Tour of the Lakes (1827) and the History of the Indian Tribes of North America (1844). His later Memoirs, Official and Personal (1846) were written in defensive mode, justifying his actions while in office against his many detractors.

The Sketches is an engaging account of a treaty negotiation in 1826 between the federal government and the Cippewa, Menominee, and Winnebago Indians, all vital elements in the fur trade in the upper Midwest. Part travel narrative, part ethnography, the Sketches includes a detailed description of the trip across the Great Lakes undertaken by McKenney and Lewis Cass, later governor of Michigan Territory. The bulk of the volume, however, is devoted to a description of the "character," language, and beliefs of the Chippewa Indians and of the treaty negotiations held at the American Fur Company headquarters at Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. The artist James Otto Lewis accompanied the party, and his illustrations formed the basis for the 29 lithographic plates that appeared in the Sketches.

McKenney's efforts to establish a reference collection on the American Indian in the War Department (home of the Office of Indian Affairs) resulted in his collaboration with the artist Charles Bird King, among others, to accumulate portraits of prominent Native Americans. After leaving office, he collaborated with the writer, James Hall, conceiving a plan to publish these as a massive color plate book, adding biographies to accompany the portraits. Although he abandoned the project before completion, the McKenney and Hall History of the Indian Tribes of North America remains an important work both in the history of printing and the history of American ethnography.

Scope and content

The manuscript of Thomas McKenney's Sketches of a Tour of the Lakes is a fair copy of the original intended for use by an English publisher. The manuscript is bound in half leather over plain boards in three volumes with chaotic pagination.

The manuscript contains a copy of the Chippewa (Ojibwa, Anishinabe) vocabulary using the Schoolcraft-Gallatin orthography, but it lacks the appendices that accompany the Lewis edition. Interspersed throughout the volumes are 29 watercolor illustrations that differ in detail from those in the Fielding Lewis edition of 1827, with somewhat stronger color. These include depictions of scenery along the Great Lakes, particularly the rock formations in Lake Superior, the American Fur Company headquarters, the council, a Chippewa dance, and portraits of Chippewa men and women.

Native American Images Note : Twenty-nine watercolor illustrations by artist James Otto Lewis, companion images to Thomas Loraine McKenney's three volume journal. Vividly colored, the sketches display landscapes, customs and portraits of the Chippewa in 1826. Of particular note, a portrait of O-Shee-Gwun, one of the signers of the Fond du Lac treaty at Lake Superior. See also the APS Photograph Collection for photographs of some sketches.

Digital objects note

This collection contains digital materials that are available in the APS Digital Library. Links to these materials are provided with context in the inventory of this finding aid. A general listing of digital objects may also be found here.

Collection Information

Physical description

3 vols.; 0.5 linear feet

3 vols.; 0.5 linear feet


Gift of Thomas L. McKenney, 1831.

Preferred citation

Cite as: Thomas McKenney, Sketches of a Tour of the Lakes, American Philosophical Society.

Processing information

Recatalogued by rsc, 2002.

Other finding aids

Indexed in the online Daythal Kendall Guide to Native American Collections at the American Philosophical Society.


Viola, Herman, Thomas L. McKenney : architect of America's early Indian policy, 1816-1830 (Chicago: Sage, 1974) Call no.: B M196v

McKenney, Thomas Loraine, History of the Indian tribes of North America : With biographical sketches and anecdotes of the principal chiefs [broadside] (Philadelphia: Bradford, 1830). Call no.: 973 C683 no.399

McKenney, Thomas Loraine, History of the Indian tribes of North America : With biographical sketches and anecdotes of the principal chiefs, 3 vols. (Philadelphia : E. C. Biddle [etc.], 1836-1844)Call no.: 970.1 M19

McKenney, Thomas Loraine, A Catalogue of One Hundred and Seventeen Indian Portraits Representing Eighteen Different Tribes, Accompanied by a Few Brief Remarks on the Character &c. of Most of Them (Philadelphia: s.n., 1836). Call no.: 970.6 M193c

McKenney, Thomas Loraine, Sketches of a Tour to the Lakes, of the Character and Customs of the Chippeway Indians, and of Incidents Connected with the Treaty of Fond du Lac (Baltimore: Fielding Lucas, 1827). Call no.: 970.1 M191

McKenney, Thomas Loraine, Memoirs, Official and Personal : with Sketches of Travels Among the Northern and Southern Indians; Embracing a War Excursion, and Descriptions of Scenes Along the Western Borders, 2 vols. (N.Y.: New York : Paine and Burgess, 1846). Call no.: 970.1 M19m

Early American History Note

This is a manuscript copy of Thomas McKenney's Sketches of a Tour of the Lakes, which was a chronicle of his tour of the Great Lakes region when he served as Superintendent of Indian Affairs. His journal was eventually published in Baltimore in 1827. The original journal not only records his observations and interactions, but, as the federal official in charge of Indian policy, reflects his thinking on federal Indian policy. His observations also reflect, to some extent, his interpretation of Indian history. A color image of O Shau Gus Coday Way Gua (Mrs. Johnson) in included in the volume. This image graces the cover of the book in black and white. There are other watercolor sketches as well.

Indexing Terms


  • Art
  • Landscapes
  • Official Government Documents and Records
  • Portraits
  • Sketchbooks
  • Travel Narratives and Journals
  • Watercolors

Geographic Name(s)

  • Great Lakes -- Description and travel
  • Michigan -- Description and travel
  • Wisconsin -- Description and travel

Personal Name(s)

  • Cass, Lewis, 1782-1866
  • Lewis, James Otto, 1799-1858
  • McKenney, Thomas Loraine, 1785-1859


  • Government Affairs
  • Indians of North America -- Great Lakes (North America)
  • Indians of North America -- Treaties
  • Native America
  • Ojibwa Indians
  • Ojibwa language -- Dictionaries -- English

Detailed Inventory

 List of Illustrations
 North River steam boat and safety barge, Lady Clinton
  volume 1
 O-Shau-Gus-Coday-Way-Gua, now Mrs. Johnson
  volume 2
 White fish of the Lakes
  volume 2
 Indian dog train
  volume 2
 Indian snow shoe
  volume 2
 Indian canoe
  volume 2
 Front view American Fur Company's buildings, Fond du Lac
  volume 3
 Indian discovery dance
  volume 3
 Chippeway lodge of poles
  volume 3
 O-Shee-Gwun (a squaw)
  volume 3
 Chippeway widow
  volume 3
 Indian child's grave
  volume 3
 Indian council
  volume 3
 O-Car-Gee-Wack (a squaw)
  volume 3
 Female Chippeway of distinction
  volume 3
  volume 3
 Chippeway Chief with his calumet and pouch
  volume 3
 Back view American Fur Company's buildings, Fond du Lac
  volume 3
  volume 3
 Skeleton of a Chippeway lodge
  volume 3
 The Vase -- Lake Superior
  volume 3
 Oblique view of the Doric Rock, Lake Superior
  volume 3
 Castle Rock, Lake Superior
  volume 3
 Cave Rock -- Lake Superior
  volume 3
 The Urn -- Lake Superior
  volume 3
 Chippeway nursing mother
  volume 3
 View of Michilimackinac
  volume 3
 Indian solitary
  volume 3
 Indian woman carrying a child on a Journey
  volume 3