Tecumseh Court sits in front of Bancroft Hall, and in that court stands the statue of Tecumseh, watching over the dorm of the Brigade of Midshipmen. Did you know that it’s not really Tecumseh? The bust is of Tamanend, a chief of the Lenni Lenape. He was known to want peace and friendship, and he is the reason that Pennsylvania exists today, as he signed a treaty with William Penn.
The Tecumseh Statue has been located in several places at the Academy. The statue was initially on a brick pedestal with a plaque simply stating Figurehead, USS Delaware, 1817. In 1930, it was finally placed in Tecumseh Court. The figurehead is mounted on a pedestal of Vermont marble with the Naval Academy Seal.
So how did the statue end up at the Naval Academy?
Originally, it was the figurehead for the USS Delaware in 1820. The sculptor of the figurehead was William Luke. The ship was set afire in Norfolk soon after the Civil War broke out in order to ensure that the vessel would not fall into Confederate hands. It’s still unknown just how the figurehead survived, but it was found in 1862 and sent to the Academy in 1866.
The Midshipmen of the time did not like Tamanend’s peaceful nature. They named it Powhatan, Metacomet, and King Phillip. In 1890, the Midshipmen settled on Tecumseh, the Shawnee leader. They chose him because he was considered a great warrior. However, not everyone was happy that Tamanend had been renamed Tecumseh. A historian named Neil Campbell asked the Academy to rename Tecumseh back to Tamanend. The Academy declined. In 1998, Vice President Biden, then a senator, also requested that the bust be renamed Tamanend. Again, the Academy rejected the request.
These days, Tecumseh is given left-handed salute and pennies are thrown to him. This is because Tecumseh is the God of 2.0. Midshipmen need to maintain a 2.0 GPA, and the pennies and salutes to Tecumseh help them with their grades. Midshipmen pass Tecumseh several times during the day. Tecumseh is special to the Midshipmen for other reasons as well.
Tecumseh is adorned with war-paint by the Midshipmen of the 9th Company several times a year: Parent’s Weekend, Homecoming, during Army-Navy events, and Commissioning Week. Seeing Tecumseh’s war paint is an extraordinary sight. It’s definitely a site to see!
Some of you may be wondering why the bust of Tecumseh is bronze when ship figureheads are typically wood. The original bust was indeed wood - but forty years of sun and rain took its toll on the original figurehead. Putty, cement, and paint were used to fix the bust several times. But ultimately, mother nature won. Fortunately, alumni are generous to their Alma Mater - the class of 1891 provided the funds to create a bronze bust of Tecumseh. The Midshipmen were worried that the new Tecumseh would lose his potent power, so the wooden brain and heart were transferred into the bronze statue. This current bust was created at the U.S. Naval Gun Factory in Washington, D.C.
Did you know the original wooden figurehead of Tamanend still exists? As you know, the Naval Academy is currently closed to the public for safety reasons, but once it reopens, be sure to come visit and see the statue and the original figurehead.