Was this figurehead from the ship called the William Penn ??

Home Forums Nautical Research: Prehistory & Middle Ages Was this figurehead from the ship called the William Penn ??

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    Mitch C

    In 1791 the packet ship called the William Penn was built in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was captained by James Josiah and it sailed from 1791 until about 1803. On the head was a figurehead of an Indian with his dog. The Indian is believed to be the great war chief Piominko (sometimes spelled Piomingo) of the Chickasaw Nation. A Native American tribe from what is today the state of Mississippi. The figurehead was carved by the famous American carver William Rush who was one of the founding members of the Pennsylvania Academy of Arts. The image I have attached is a confirmed Rush figurehead, however, Rush carved other figures of Indians with their dogs. I am attempting to confirm that this figurehead you see here is the figurehead from the William Penn.
    The quote below can be found in Watson’s Annals of Philadelphia, 1830, vol. I, pp. 575-576.
    “The figure of the “Indian Trader” to the ship William Penn (the Trader was dressed in Indian habiliments) excited great observation in London. The carvers there would come in boats and lay near the ship, and sketch designs from it. They even came to take casts, of plaster of Paris, from the head. This was directly after the Revolution, when she was commanded by Captain Josiah”

    Here is one quote from a London paper the Public Advertiser or the Political and Literary Diary Jan. 24, 1794.
    “The William Penn, now lying at Iron-gate Stairs, is allowed to be the finest American vessel that ever appeared in the River; She is built entirely of cedar, and carries 300 tons. The figure of the Indian and his dog on her head, is said to be an exact representation of Piamingo, Chief of the Chickasaws, now living. As she was the first vessel that ever he saw, he attended the building of her from the moment her keel was laid, till she was launched; and the moment he saw her descend to the waves set up the most dismal howl, which was immediately succeeded by the most immoderate transports of joy, when he saw that she did not sink.”

    No doubt sketches existed in England of the figurehead in the 1790’s but no known images of the William Penn (1791-1803) has been found to my knowledge.
    My questions are, has anyone seen a sketch or painting of the William Penn or does anyone recall seeing the figurehead in the attached photo on any other 18th century ship’s painting or sketch?
    Any information or suggestion would be appreciated.
    Mitch Caver

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