Historical Society unveils Netawatwees portrait

Historical Society unveils Netawatwees portrait

Image Credit: Teri Stein

The Newcomerstown Historical Society recently hosted artist, author and jewelry maker Alan Fitzpatrick of Wheeling, West Virginia and sculptor Alan Cottrill of Zanesville to unveil a portrait of Chief Netawatwees, who also was known as King Newcomer. Netawatwees is the namesake of the village of Newcomerstown.

The challenges of creating an image of a historical figure in the 1700s of whom there are no drawings or photography had the two men working together to create the portrait, which will hang inside the entrance to the Olde Main Street Museum.

Through research Cottrill had figured out Netawatwees’ features for a sculpture, which will be placed shortly at Newcomerstown as the first of six sculptures of people from the same Lenape family to represent the displacement of Native Americans from their homeland. Cottrill is a descendant of Netawatwees.

“We’ve worked in collaboration. He already had the bust of Netawatwees done. He took some pictures of it and sent them to me. I studied it. He wanted Netawatwees when he was founding the village here. He was about 75-80, so he wanted an older man,” Fitzpatrick said. “I got a good start on the painting, and then I went and visited Alan in Zanesville, and we talked about the painting and sculpture and looked at it again and made some changes. He’s just a master sculptor. I’ve watched him work.”

Fitzpatrick then created a life-like oil painting of Chief Netawatwees in historical detail. The artist, who is originally from Canada, got interested in history more than 25 years ago when he decided to explore his own ancestors.

“My direct ancestor came as an indentured Irish boy to the Mohawk Valley. He served in the American Revolution as a loyalist, and that got me started,” Fitzpatrick said. “I wanted to know more about what happened in this area because I had been living in Wheeling, West Virginia, and there’s not a lot of history about that, other than specific to the white side of the story. So my research has been the British and native side here in what was called Ohio Country, which is now the state of Ohio.”

Fitzpatrick has written multiple nonfiction books on the history of the area including “Captives and Kin in the Ohio Country,” “Wilderness War on Ohio,” “In Their Own Words,” “Place of the Skull,” “The White Indians” and “The Untold Story of Isaac Zane – White Eagle of the Wyandots.” These books are now available at the Olde Main Street Museum gift shop.

Fitzpatrick based some of the books, which tell history from the Native American point of view, on research he did in Canada.

“There’s virtually nothing in the American history books about who the tribes were, what their culture was like, how they viewed what was happening to them because obviously, from their side of the story, their land was being taken,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick then told some of the most interesting stories he has uncovered in his research and spoke about the importance of context.

“How can you talk about knowing the history of this time period without knowing that there’s somebody on the other side?” Fitzpatrick said. “Let’s stand in the shoes of native people for the rest of this talk and see the world from their point of view because they were real people with families and real concerns.”

Fitzpatrick is concerned about portraying history accurately and by telling the entire story, but to do this, it’s important to include more context from native sources and others. He has been in contact with Historic Schoenbrunn Village volunteers such as Rena Dennison, who is of Native American descent; Seth and Debbie Angel, who have been doing their own research on the past; and others to add more context.

A quirk of fate led to Fitzpatrick getting a call from a woman in Oklahoma who was a descendant of Isaac Zane. He had never heard of Zane, who was a member of the family that founded Wheeling, West Virginia, and Zane was captured during Pontiac’s War (1763-64) at the age of 9. He was adopted by the Wyandot and trained as a warrior. He never returned to his family.

In earlier colonial history books, “There’s not one author that mentions that the cause of the wars that went on, off and on for 40 years, was colonial people taking native land. There’s not one word about it,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s a hard thing to talk about. People don’t want to talk about that.”

Fitzpatrick also spoke of the differences between the colonial culture and the Native American culture.

In Native American cultures, “Women are running everything. They’re picking the village chief. They give you your name. They have a big say in who you marry and a bigger say if there’s divorce because the man has to leave. He goes back to his parents. And he’s allowed to take what’s on his back and maybe his tools, and how terrible the divorce is measured by how far her mother throws his things,” Fitzpatrick said.

Later, Cottrill and project manager Rob Guienter gave an update on the status of the Lenape Diaspora Memorial Project, and a print of Netawatwees was auctioned to raise funds.