About: Despite its evocative title, Indian Captives, Massachusetts, 1650, has not been connected to a specific historical event. The date of 1650 situates it squarely within an era of unrest in New England between English, French, and Dutch settlers and Native American tribes. During armed conflicts at this time, hundreds of Indians were taken captive and sold into slavery. In addition, Anglo-European settlers were abducted, and tales of captivity were widely published. The body language in this painting may indicate a negotiation in progress between the standing figure and the seated, but armed, man.
The Delaware Art Museum's painting is one of two versions of this composition painted by Weir. The first canvas, The Unredeemed Captive--exhibited at the National Academy of Design 1839 and now in the collection of Harvard’s Peabody Museum--earned the painter such acclaim that he executed this smaller duplicate the following year. The title of the Peabody painting may indicate that the scene depicts an English captive that never returned to their settlement. A very famous "unredeemed captive" was Eunice Williams, who was taken in a raid of Deerfield, Massachusetts, and transported to Canada at age seven in 1704. She was raised by her Native American captors and married a Caughnawaga brave. When her father came to Canada to plead for her return to New England in 1714, she refused to leave.
Robert Walter Weir was one of four artists commissioned by Congress to supply paintings for the rotunda of the United States Capitol Building. Commissioned in 1836 and completed in 1843, Weir's Capitol painting, Embarkation of the Pilgrims at Delft Haven, Holland, includes a depiction of Myles Standish in the same red and gold ensemble as the soldier pictured here. We do not know the identity of the man in red and gold in our painting, but it probably was not meant to be Standish, who was 66 years old and retired in 1650. However, the costume and pose are so similar that this composition may have served as a partial study for the Capitol painting.