Patriots, Promoter, Prophets
Pioneers on "The Purchase"
Hail to the Chiefs
The White Woman
The Publick Universal Friend
Charles The Magnificent
The Wadsworths of Big Tree
"Mr. Holland Purchase"
"The Baron of Belvidere" |
"The Chain Bearer"
Very Important Politicos
The Mormon Prophet
The Martyr and the Masons
Patriots, Promoters, Prophets
This is the story of a frontier and of some of the people who left their imprint upon it.
The frontier was that old Indian country in York State West of the Seneca Lake, a land that in the pioneering time was known as the Genesee Country.
The cast of characters is a motley one. It includes a trailblazing Yankee general whose troops ravaged the Seneca homeland during the Revolution. His conquest opened up a new land and touched off an orgy of speculation in rural real estate. Then on the stage stalked the land barons, their powerful agents, their hardy surveyors, men who were to found cities and family dynasties.
In the cast also are the Indian chiefs who gallantly strove to keep a few remnants of their ancient empire; picturesque backwoods characters, mystics and prophets who spawned new religions; politicians who performed in the national arena-not to mention one of the strangest martyrs in history and a crusader whose lance was never still.
All these diverse personalities had one common trait. They were stout of heart. They had to be. Conquering a wilderness and building a civilization is no task for weaklings, lounge lizards or Caspar Milquetoasts.
The characters in this book were chosen from the mote significant figures among the pioneers, from those whose names went into the history books.
But for every grandee, every statesman, every prophet, every celebrity of the Genesee Country, there were hundreds of other pioneers who lived, wrought, suffered and died on the frontier, unsung.
Pioneer Profiles covers the exciting era that began with the Revolution and the opening of the frontier to the coming of the railroads which spelled a new way of life and banished the oxcart, the stage coach and eventually the canal packet boat.
In gathering the material for this book, I received generous help from many persons. Particularly I would like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance given by Miss Emma B. Swift, head of the Local History Division of the Rochester Public Library and her staff.
Others to whom I am grateful include Niagara County Historian Clarence O. Lewis, Orleans County Historian Joseph B. Achilles, Mrs. Marie Preston, Livingston County Historian, and her assistant, Miss Ann Patchett; Mrs. William H. Coon and Genesee County Historian Charlotte Reed of Batavia, Roy W. Nagle of Buffalo, Jay Barnes of Penn Yan and Mr. and Mrs. J. E. Florance of Hornell, who live in The Friend's House near Penn Yan.
I do not wish to bore the reader with bibliography but I assure you the list of sources would be a lengthy one.
The name of General John Sullivan is a familiar one to tourists in Upstate New York and Northern Pennsylvania-at least to those who notice historical markers.
There are scores of Sullivan Expedition markers along the hill-girt rivers on both sides of the state border, beside the slim, blue Finger Lakes and in the rolling valley of the Genesee.
Major General Sullivan never lived in these parts. He paid them a whirlwind visit in 1779 during the Revolution-as head of an army that laid waste the heartland of the Iroquois and routed the Indians and their British allies. Then he went back to New Hampshire, where he was born and where he died.
Nevertheless this self-made New England lawyer-politician turned soldier was perhaps the most significant figure in the early history of Western New York. In a symbolic sense he was "the father of the Genesee Country."
For his invasion opened a vast wilderness to post-war settlement. And many of the first settlers in the new land were veterans of his army. They remembered the richness of the country they had raided, the fields of Indian corn and beans, the tall grass on the river bottoms, the orchards, the wealth of virgin timber, the rushing streams that would turn mill wheels. After a decade they came back over the old trail, not to the roll of drums, but to the rumble of oxcarts and covered wagons.
An old engraving pictures General Sullivan as a dashing figure in his dress uniform, sash, sword and lance. The tri-corn hat above a strong, rather imperious, youthful face hides the retreating hairline shown in other pictures. Although he was a veteran of many campaigns, he was only 39 when he led an army into the wild Indian domain in 1779.
He was born and raised in New England but there was nothing of the Puritan about him. Every drop of blood in his veins was Irish. His father had won his bride on the ship which brought them, emigrants from Erin and indentured servants, to Yankeeland.
John Sullivan was warm-hearted, aggressive, fearless. Also he was plain spoken, sensitive and short tempered. Above all he was a dedicated patriot. Among George Washington's generals were some ambitious schemers, some incompetents, a few cravens and at least one traitor. Washington could trust John Sullivan. The New Hampshire Irishman might be difficult at times but there was no question of his courage, his zeal or his loyalty to the cause and to his commander-in-chief.
He was born in Somersworth, N. H., on Feb. 18. 1740. His father, a man of some education, taught school and owned a farm. John, third of five sons, was tutored by his father and worked on the farm.
After studying law in the office of a Portsmouth judge, he hung out his shingle in nearby Durham. He married and built for his bride a graceful white house which still stands beside the Oyster River. They had four children, three sons and a daughter.
Sullivan rose in the law, he profited from investments in mills and was regarded by the substantial, Tory-minded head men of Durham as a comer.
The promising young lawyer did not bask for long in the favor of the solid men of Durham. A spirit of revolt against the oppressive acts of the British government swept through the colonies and John Sullivan fervently espoused the rebel cause. Soon he was considered one of the key patriots in New Hampshire.
His military career began in 1772 when as a major of the colonial militia, he began drilling townsfolk and farmers on fields outside Portsmouth.
In 1774 he was elected a member of the colony's Provincial Assembly and one of New Hampshire's two delegates to the historic first Continental Congress. On Sept. 5 of that year 56 delegates assembled in the east room of the State House in Philadelphia that was to become a national shrine as Independence Hall. Out of that conclave was to come a momentous declaration of colonial rights.
First order of business was for a representative of each colony to state the instructions given his delegation. First to speak was John Sullivan, for New Hampshire. He told of the New Hampshire resolutions "to secure and perpetuate their rights and to restore that peace, harmony and mutual confidence which once subsisted between the parent country and her colonies."
When the question arose whether votes should be allocated on the basis of wealth and population or equal representation be given each colony, John Sullivan again was on his feet, booming out in his courtroom voice:
"A little colony has its stake as well as a big one."
Each colony was granted one vote, regardless of size.
That first Continental Congress adopted a series of "resolves," denouncing British measures, setting forth the rights of the colonies and declaring some acts of Parliament illegal. It also set up an association to prevent imports from England and selected a commissioner for each political subdivision. All of which added up to bold and unprecedented defiance of the Crown.
It was at that Congress that Sullivan for the first time met a tall, dignified, quiet-spoken planter from Virginia who also was a delegate. George Washington was to become the younger man's idol, as well as his commander for five war years.
Meanwhile the colonies prepared for the rebellion. Sullivan drilled his militiamen and kept in close touch with the Committee of Safety in Boston, hotbed of revolt, where British soldiers and colonial militia were assembling.
One December afternoon in 1774, a rider reined in at the white house at Durham. He was young Paul Revere, a silversmith who was courier for the Boston Committee. He brought word to Sullivan that the British commander in Boston, General Gage, was sending two boatloads of infantry to reinforce Fort William and Mary in Portsmouth harbor. That fort held a small garrison and some military supplies.
Gage was dismayed a few days later to hear that a handful of rebels had overpowered the garrison, dismantled the fort and carted off 15 cannon and 100 barrels of powder-which came in handy later at Bunker Hill. Some of those stores were hidden under the pulpit of a Durham church.
John Sullivan had acted swiftly. He and John Langdon had led the little band of rebels that raided Fort William and Mary.
That attack, although a minor affair, was the first hostile act by a military force against Britain in the colonies. There had been riots but this was the first organized blow struck in the war for independence. It came four months before Lexington and Concord and "the shot heard 'round the world."
May of 1775 found Sullivan again in Philadelphia, a delegate to the second Continental Congress. He was not a silent one. Stormily he fought every move toward appeasement of King George III.
That Congress named Washington commander of the army, such as it was, that had gathered at Cambridge, Mass. On June 22 Sullivan was commissioned a brigadier general in that rabble and became an aide on Washington's staff.
He distinguished himself in withdrawing to the safety of Crown Point the remaining troops and supplies of the ill-starred Montgomery-Arnold expedition against Quebec. Characteristically he fumed over the inadequate hospital service.
During the siege of Boston, when the Connecticut militiamen went home at the expiration of their terms, Sullivan recruited 2,000 New Hampshire men to take their places.
Promoted to major general, he commanded a wing of the army in the debacle that was the battle of Long Island, was captured in the rout of the American troops but was released in a few days through an exchange of prisoners. He led part of the retreating army into Westchester after the British Howe inexplicably had failed to crush it.
Sullivan commanded a brigade at the historic crossing of the Delaware on the stormy Christmas night of 1776. After his men had crossed the river on the boats of the Marblehead mariners, he led them along the snow-muffled Jersey roads to surprise the drunken Hessians in their camp at Trenton. When on the way his men complained that the wet snow had made their muskets useless, Sullivan snapped: "Then give them the bayonet."
He was at Monmouth and heard a white-faced Washington roundly curse the haughty know-it-all, Charles Lee, for retreating in the face of victory. He commanded a wing at Brandywine and there his horse was shot from under him. He spent that bitter winter with Washington at Valley Forge.
His always uncertain temper exploded in 1777 over a proposal to make the French Count de Coudray chief of American artillery, displacing the fat and able Henry Knox. Sullivan submitted his resignation effective the day the Frenchman took over. Conveniently de Coudray died and Sullivan stayed on.
In the Spring of 1778 he was given command of the forces in Rhode Island. Plans were made for a joint attack on Newport island by the land troops under Sullivan and a French fleet under Count D'Estaing. Nothing went right. The French ships engaged the British fleet and a storm scattered both navies. Sullivan, left to face a strengthened enemy land force without naval support, failed in his attack and at nightfall ferried his troops to the mainland in an orderly withdrawal.
John Sullivan was in command in Rhode Island when in the Spring of 1779, General Washington called upon him to lead a new campaign-into the Indian country of New York.
* * *
Urgent appeals had come to Washington and the Congress from the Mohawk Valley and Northern Pennsylvania frontiers to stop the raids on unprotected settlements by combined Indian-Tory bands. White Rangers under the Loyalist leaders of the Mohawk Valley, the Johnsons and Butlers, had joined the Indians under the able Mohawk chief, Joseph Brant, in butcheries of settlers at Wyoming, Pa., and Cherry Valley, N. Y
Washington also was disturbed by the flow of supplies from the rich granary of the Iroquois to the enemy, not to the American armies.
He determined to end this frontier menace by large scale invasion. He stated his plan to Congress: "It is proposed to carry the war to the heart of the Six Nations, to cut off their settlements, destroy the next year's crop and do every other mischief that time and circumstances will permit."
After General Horatio Gates had declined the command of this "Indian Expedition," because of his age, Washington turned to the sometimes temperamental but ever dependable John Sullivan.
A three-pronged invasion was planned. The main army of some 3,600 men under Sullivan was to mobilize at Easton, Pa. and move along the Susquehanna to Tioga Point (Athens, Pa.), there to join the New York Brigade of 1,600 men under General James Clinton, coming down from the Mohawk via Otsego Lake. A third division of 600 under Colonel Broadhead was to march from Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh) to join the Sullivan-Clinton forces in the Genesee Valley. Then the whole army would storm Fort Niagara, the British bastion of the frontier.
The units never reached their planned strength but still the total force numbered some 5,000 seasoned troops. And Sullivan was given such experienced aides as Generals Dearborn (later to be secretary of war), Hand, Poor and "Scotch Willie" Maxwell.
Sullivan's army began gathering at Easton in early May but it did move until mid June. Two regiments had to go ahead and hack down trees to widen the narrow Indian trail to Wyoming. Pennsylvania did not come through with the promised men and supplies.
Once in motion, the army marched in martial style, with colors flying, drums beating and fifes shrilling. Each day opened and closed with cannon fire. Sullivan later was criticized for this display. He defended it on the grounds that it raised the morale of his troops and impressed the Indians.
During the campaign, many officers and men of the expedition wrote down an any scrap of paper handy and by the light of flickering camp fires the events of each day. A century later these accounts, with other data, were collected into a thick volume titled "General Sullivan's Indian Expedition." Some entries shed light on the character of the commander. One reveals his flair for the dramatic.
At Easton Chaplain William Rogers noted that two Jersey soldiers had been sentenced to die on the gallows for enticing some of their comrades to desert to the enemy. Chaplain Rogers and the Rev. Samuel Kirkland, famed frontier missionary, asked the general to spare the life of one of the doomed men, Lawrence Miller. They said he sincerely repented his crime and had a previous good record, as well as a large family, The other, Michael Rosebury, was described as sullen and anything but contrite.
After Rosebury had been hanged, in the "Danny Deever" manner before his comrades, and while Miller was standing by, waiting his turn on the gallows, he received a reprieve from the commander. It was good theater but a little rough on poor Miller.
When after six days the expedition reached Wyoming, scene of massacre in 1778, the meat was found to be spoiled. Other supplies were slow in arriving and on July 21 Sullivan noted that a third of his "men did not have shirts on their backs." He dispatched a wrathful protest to Congress. He was to send several during the campaign.
After more than a month of gathering supplies, the army moved again. The heavy supplies went by boat up the Susquehanna and the troops and 1,200 packhorses by land. The Indians, watching from the woods, called the marching columns "The Long Blue Snake." Tioga Point was reached on August 17. Sullivan had been ill during part of the trip.
Meanwhile the New Yorkers were on their way from the Mohawk Valley. Their commander, James Clinton, a brother of one New York governor, George Clinton, and father of another, the canal builder, De Witt, was a veteran of the French and Indian war.
Clinton was an engineer and surveyor. He evolved the ingenious scheme of damming the outlet of Otsego Lake to raise the level of the Susquehanna to make the river navigable for his brigade. On August 22 the Clinton and Sullivan forces joined at Tioga Point. One phase of the campaign had been carried out according to plan. But Broadhead never joined Clinton and Sullivan. After destroying some Indian towns along the Allegheny, his men ran out of shoes and other supplies at about the present site of Salamanca and turned back to Fort Pitt.
The enemy chose to make its stand against Sullivan at a bend of the Chemung River at the Indian village of Newtown, southeast of the present Elmira. There were a few British regulars in the army of 1,250 but the bulk of the forces were made up of Tories under Col. John Butler and Indians under Brant.
They prepared an ambuscade but the trap was discovered and Sullivan ordered attacks on the enemy flank and rear. The battle was short but fierce and it ended when heavy artillery fire routed the Indians, who had little taste for that sort of warfare, After that the allies were in full retreat and the battle of Newtown, fought on Sunday, Aug. 29, 1779, was the only real engagement of the campaign.
The victorious Americans were woefully short of rations after Newtown. The next evening, while the army was on the march to French Catherine's Town (Montour Falls), Sullivan displayed his ability in handling men.
He could have summarily ordered the troops put on half rations. Instead he addressed the whole army, asking the ranks to vote on the cut in rations, "while in a country which abounds in corn and vegetables." He reminded his men that the enemy had gotten along "with corn only, without salt, meat and flour" and declared, "you, I am sure, will not be outdone." He lambasted "the inattention of those whose business it was to make the necessary provision," and called for a vote by show of hands, Without a dissenting voice, Sullivan's army voluntarily went on half rations.
"The Long Blue Snake" wound around the lovely Finger Lakes, dragging the cannon through marshes and over rough hills, living off the land. Sullivan burned every Seneca village in his path-and most of them were substantial towns of well-built log houses. He hacked down and girdled the fruit trees, rich with their ripening burden. He destroyed the fields of standing crops and those harvested and stored.
As the haze of autumn settled over the land of lakes, the eating Indians saw in the sky the smoke of their burning villages-French Catherine's Town, Kendaia (now the site of a government munitions depot), Kanadesaga (Geneva), Kanandaque (Canandaigua). Honeoye, Conesus and finally Genesee Castle (Cuylerville). Side expeditions laid waste the Indian town of Skoiyase (Waterloo) and settlements along Cayuga Lake.
After the war, some members of Congress criticized Sullivan's "unmilitary vandalism." The bluff general did not deign to reply. George Washington's orders had been "to cut off their settlements, destroy . . . the crops and do every other mischief. . . ." John Sullivan, a soldier, was merely carrying out the orders of his commanding officer.
When in camp near Conesus, Sullivan sent out a scouting party under young Lieutenant Thomas Boyd to reconnoiter Genesee Castle, the stronghold of Chief Little Beard. The party of 26 men was ambushed at Groveland Hill by an Indian-Tory band of 600. Only four Americans escaped. Boyd and Sergeant Michael Parker were captured and tortured to death at Little Beard's town.
In his official report of the tragic affair, Sullivan did not spare the dead lieutenant. He pointed out that Boyd "took 26 men, a much larger number than I thought of sending and by no means so likely to answer the purpose."
When the army reached Genesee Castle, the big town had been abandoned. Every vestige of it was destroyed. Then Sullivan again addressed his assembled troops. He told his "brave and resolute army" that "the immediate results of this expedition are accomplished-total ruin of the Indian settlements and destruction of their crops" and announced that "the army will this day commence its march for Tioga."
In his official report of the campaign, Sullivan said he would have paid Fort Niagara a visit had he been supplied with 15 more days' rations.
So the army went back the way it had come. Fort Niagara still stood, a haven for the beaten Indians who were a drain on British supplies. The raids on frontier settlements became fewer although the British paid the savages a bounty for every white scalp they brought to Niagara.
The power of the Six Nations had been crushed forever, the confidence of the Indians in their allies was shaken and above all, a vast rich territory had been opened for eventual settlement.
At Fort Reed near Elmira on the return march, word was received of Spain's meaningless declaration of war on England and, what was more vital to the men, news that their pay had been raised by Congress. Sullivan ordered a celebration and sent an ox and eight gallons of rum to each brigade.
In his journal Lieutenant William Barton of Maxwell's brigade wrote this account of that day's festivities:
"In the forenoon the army all discharged their muskets with orders to parade in the afternoon, each man given one blank cartridge. According to orders the whole paraded in a line to fire a feu de joie when 13 rounds of cannon were fired. Then began a running fire of muskets from the right . . . this not being performed to the general's liking, he ordered the whole to again charge; after this was done he ordered not a man to fire until he should come opposite him. Then he put his horse at full speed and rode from right to left with whip and spur, the men all firing according to orders which . . . caused the general to say 'it went like a hallelujah.'"
Even on a day of relaxed jubilation at the fag end of a campaign, General Sullivan would tolerate no sloppiness in his army.
Back at Easton, the starting point, the army hastened to in Washington's forces in New Jersey. The rebel cause was looking up. French aid was coming and all hands were needed for the finale.
John Sullivan did not accompany his men. "The Indian Expedition" was his last campaign. He resigned his command in November. Five years of rigorous campaigning had undermined his health. Nothing ever broke his stout spirit.
Back at Durham, in the white house with his Lydia and among his old neighbors, he was not idle. His crowded postwar years were devoted to the public service.
In 1780 and 1781 he was a delegate to the Continental Congress, as he had been to that first one which defied the Crown. He served four years as attorney general of his state, a term as Speaker of its House of Representatives and two years as chief magistrate of New Hampshire. He was president of the state convention that ratified the constitution of the United States. New Hampshire's approval, as the ninth state to ratify, was necessary for adoption.
Sullivan was a Presidential elector in 1789 and cast his vote for his old commander as first President of the new Republic. Later that year Washington named him federal judge for the New Hampshire district. He was holding that office when he died on Jan. 23, 1795 in his 55th year. Those war years had shortened a useful life.
A monument honoring him stands in his home town of Durham. Nor is the trail-blazing general forgotten in the land he opened to settlement. Part of the way over which his ragged, hungry soldiers marched is called the Sullivan Trail. Scores of markers line the route of Sullivan's army. In New York, which is loyal to its own son, James Clinton, the markers read "Sullivan-Clinton Expedition." But it's "the Sullivan Expedition" in the history books. After all John Sullivan was the supreme commander.
Counties and communities have been named for him. On a hill, where the tide of battle at Newtown turned in 1779, a tall granite shaft overlooks the old battlefield, now a state reservation. Whatever its official name, people call it "the Sullivan Monument."
That monument has stood on the high hill only since 1912. It replaced an earlier one, farther down the slope, which was dedicated on the 100th anniversary of the battle, The first memorial crumbled away.
At the dedication of the first one, it was fitting that the principal speaker was the Union general, William Tecumseh Sherman, Eighty five years after Sullivan blazed a trail of desolation across the heartland of the Six Nations, Sherman duplicated that march-on a far grander scale-through the Deep South.
Sherman, too, had "cut off the enemy settlements, destroyed the crops and did every other mischief that time and circumstances would permit."
Pioneers on "The Purchase"
It was nearly a decade after the conquering sweep of Sullivan's troops through the old Indian hunting grounds that the first pioneer's axe broke the silence of the Western New York forest.
The treaty of peace with Britain was not signed until 1783. After that settlement of the wilderness had to await the adjustment of the rival claims of two powerful states.
By virtue of off-hand grants made by two English kings, both the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the State of New York claimed the land between Lakes Seneca and Erie.
Massachusetts based her claim on a grant by Charles I in 1629 to the Massachusetts Bay Colony of a strip of land extending to the Pacific Ocean. New York claimed the territory by reason of a grant made by Charles II to his brother the Duke of York in 1664.
As the present Western boundary of the state was recognized by both parties, the area in dispute was that West of Seneca Lake, known in early times as the Genesee Country.
Not until 1786, six years after Cornwallis' surrender, was the controversy settled. Commissioners of both states met at Hartford, Conn. and reached an agreement whereby New York was to govern the disputed territory and Massachusetts was given the right of pre-emption (the right of first purchase from the Indians.)
This compact tossed into the lap of the Bay State legislature the disposal of the wilderness empire which had so enchanted Sullivan's troopers.
A post-war boom in wild lands was sweeping the young republic. The Hartford agreement was the signal for a scramble for Western New York among New England capitalists. They visualized a fortune in buying the pre-emptive rights of Massachusetts, obtaining releases from the Indians and then selling the lands, at a profit, to other speculators and to settlers.
One of those Yankees who had the golden dream was a self-made Bay State merchant, then only 37 years old. His name was Oliver Phelps, a name indelibly written on the Genesee Country.
He was a native of Windsor, Conn. His father died when he was three months old. He lost his mother when he was 16. At the age of seven he had begun clerking in a store.
Opening of the Revolution found him a successful merchant in Granville, Mass. He was with the embattled farmers at Lexington and then became a commissary general in the colonial forces. After the war he settled in Suffield, Mass., and served as a member of the state Assembly, as a state senator and a member of the governor's council.
Through his commissary duties, he had become acquainted with Robert Morris of Philadelphia, the financier of the Revolution, destined to become the biggest land speculator of his time and to play an important part in the settlement of the Genesee Country. Morris and Phelps heard glowing accounts of the Western wilderness from veterans of the Sullivan campaign.
Possibly spurred on by his friend Morris, Phelps organized A syndicate of Massachusetts men to buy the Western New York lands. He found that another enterprising Bay Stater, Nathaniel Gorham of Charlestown, had the same idea. To Avoid an unprofitable rivalry, Phelps and Gorham joined forces in the venture.
The syndicate agreed to buy from Massachusetts the entire territory covered by the Hartford covenant, six million acres, for one million dollars in the depreciated currency of the Bay state. Payment was to be made in three annual installments. The Phelps and Gorham offer was accepted in April and the purchasers authorized to proceed with extinguishing the Indian title, the first step before settlement.
No time was lost in developing the domain. Oliver Phelps set out in the late Spring of 1788 for the Purchase to deal with the Indian chiefs. Nathaniel Gorham went to Albany to negotiate with New York state authorities. He never set foot on the Purchase but sent his young son, Nathaniel, Jr., as his representative in 1789. The younger Gorham lived the rest of his years in Western New York.
Phelps and Gorham are names written large in Genesee Country history and tradition. Ancient deeds bear their names and many a landholder will tell you proudly his property "goes back to Phelps and Gorham." Everything between Lakes Seneca and Erie was in their names once-for a while. The names of Phelps and Gorham also live in two Ontario County communities.
It was Oliver Phelps who played a major, direct role in the development of this frontier. He lived for many years on the Purchase and deserves a place in American history for establishing at Canandaigua in 1789 the first office for the sale of land directly to settlers in the New World.
He was to know reverses but he never lost heart until almost the end of his career. His sanguine spirit inspired confidence in the hard, early years. Pictures of the pioneer land owner reveal a full-faced man with bright eyes and a merry mouth, wearing a wig, ruffles at his wrists and a high stock about his neck.
On his first trip to the Genesee Country, Phelps arrived by the waterways at the foot of Seneca Lake, the site of the big Indian village of Kanadesaga, which Sullivan had destroyed, along with the British barracks and stockade built before the Revolution by Sir William Johnson. Kanadesaga, which was to be renamed Geneva, was an important place in the Senecas' domain, Their hereditary "king" had lived there before the war.
In 1788 there was a tiny settlement along the lake, the only one on the frontier save for the religious colony of Jemima Wilkinson near Dresden. There were a few cabins of traders and trappers, a log tavern and a trading post where the distinctive city of Geneva stands today.
Phelps was pleased at the setting and the air of bustle at Kanadesaga and in a letter home wrote "at the foot of Seneca Lake we propose to build the city." He would make Geneva the seat of his Purchase. But that was not to be, as we shall see.
At the onset Phelps ran into a barrier in negotiating with the Indians. A group of powerful land speculators, organized into the New York Genesee Land Company and led by John Livingston and Peter Schuyler of the Hudson River gentry, had beaten him to the draw.
These speculators had met the chiefs in council at Geneva and obtained a 999-year lease to all the Indian lands in Western New York, this circumventing a law which forbade purchase of land from the tribesmen Knowing that their lease would not be upheld in Massachusetts or New York courts, the Lessees conspired to set up a separate state in the wilderness. The doughty New York Governor, George Clinton, fought the move, the Legislature voided the "Long Lease" and the movement for a new state died on the vine.
But in that Summer of 1788, "the Long Lease" presented a distinct threat to the Phelps and Gorham interests. The New York speculators had the ear of the Indians. Phelps saw that his pre-emption claim was of little value if the rival land company could block a sale of land titles.
Yankee Phelps decided to compromise with "the Yorkers," as he called them. He offered the New York Genesee Company and its Canadian affiliate shares in his enterprise. Whereupon the Lessees persuaded the Indians to bargain with Phelps. It is worthy of note that one of the leaders in the Canadian land company was John Butler, the Tory Ranger so hated by the settlers.
Phelps failed in an attempt to convene a treaty council at Geneva but after conferring with "Indian" Allen, the lone resident along the lower Genesee, he got the chiefs to meet with him at Buffalo Creek on July 4. At that council fire the Rev. Samuel Kirkland, the missionary so trusted by the Indians, represented Massachusetts. The Senecas sent their foremost chiefs-Cornplanter, Red Jacket, Farmer's Brother, Hot Bread and Big Tree among them.
After long palavering the Indians consented to part with 2,600,000 acres. In general it was the area between Seneca Lake and the Genesee. The Indians believed the Great Spirit had fixed the Genesee as the boundary between the white men and the redmen. They were induced to part with a strip 12 miles wide West of the Genesee between Charlotte and Canawaugus. That "mill site" includes much of Rochester today. For $5,000 down and a perpetual annuity of $500 Phelps and Gorham obtained a veritable wilderness empire.
After the treaty had been signed, Phelps immediately put surveyors under Col. Hugh Maxwell, a Revolutionary veteran, to work fixing the boundaries of his domain. That first survey erroneously put Geneva east of the Purchase preemption line. So Phelps revised his plans. He picked "ye outlet of the Kennaradaque Lake" as the headquarters of his enterprise. Thus Canandaigua, which in the Indian tongue means "the Chosen Spot," and not Geneva, became the capital of the frontier.
In 1792 a new and correct survey showed Geneva well within the limits of the Purchase.
Along with the surveyors there came from Massachusetts in the year 1788 Gen. Israel Chapin, a close associate of Phelps and a shareholder in the Genesee land venture, and William Walker, land agent for the company. They had roads cut through the woods from Geneva to Canandaigua and to the Genesee. They built a log storehouse at the foot of the lake. It was the first white man's structure in their "capital." But no white man stayed on the Purchase that Winter of l788-89.
Early in May of 1789, General Chapin returned and built a log house near the Outlet. Then Walker built a combination land office-dwelling on the west side of Main Street south of the Public Square. William Walker deserves a footnote in history because he sold the first lands in America directly to settlers. There was a movement to name the village Walkersburgh but happily Canandaigua kept its sonorous old Indian name.
That Spring of 1789 Joseph Smith moved his family from Geneva and occupied the log storehouse. Later he built a block house and a tavern, first on the Purchase. He brought his liquor from Niagara Falls, Ont., in a canoe to the mouth of the Oak Orchard Creek, thence to Canandaigua by pack horse.
Settlement had begun at "the Chosen Spot," which became the shire town of a huge new county, Ontario, set up in January, 1789, when there was only a handful of settlers on the six million wild acres west of Seneca Lake and only one crude building in Canandaigua.
Phelps and Gorham soon found themselves on the financial reefs. Land sales did not meet expectations. The Massachusetts paper securities in which they were to pay for their lands had doubled in value since the purchase and they had to default on their payment. Although they were granted an extension, they still could not meet their obligations and in 1790 they turned back to Massachusetts the approximate two thirds of their purchase which had not been cleared of Indian claims.
They sold to Robert Morris the remaining lands in their tract, some one and one quarter million acres, at less than 12 cents an acre. That was in August, 1790. Phelps and Gorham reserved two townships for themselves. Out of that transaction they emerged with good sized estates.
One suspects that Morris, who had a passion for speculation in wild lands, had been waiting in the wings all the time. He sent his son, Thomas, a personable, well-set up youth of 21, schooled in France and England, to the frontier as his representative.
Hardly had the young man arrived in Canandaigua than the newly acquired tract, except for a half million acre reserve, was sold to a British syndicate headed by Sir William Pulteney. Robert Morris had made a quick profit of some $160,000 on the deal.
That whetted the appetite of the greatest land speculator of his day. In 1791 Morris acquired from Massachusetts that part of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase, still encumbered by Indian claims, which they had been forced to relinquish. Out of that grew the Holland Land Company purchase, which is another story to be told in a later chapter.
Another difficulty arose that first year of settlement to plague the sorely buffeted Oliver Phelps. The Seneca chiefs charged that the price agreed upon for their land at the Buffalo Creek council was $10,000 rather than the $5,000 they received. In effect they declared that Phelps and his associates had cheated them.
At the Tioga Point Council of 1790 Red Jacket and other chiefs aired these serious charges before Timothy Pickering, Washington's "trouble shooter" in Indian affairs. Phelps also addressed the council in these words:
"Brothers, you remember we sat up all night (at the Buffalo Creek council.) It was almost morning before we agreed on our boundaries. After breakfast we returned to agree on the price you should have. After some consideration you agreed to the terms proposed but insisted that I must add some cattle and some rum to which I agreed. Brothers, you know there were a great many people there. . . . They all tell one story.
"Brothers, I do not want to contend with you. I am an honest man. If you go to New England and inquire about my character, you will not find me such a rogue as you represent me to be. I mean to fulfill my engagement to you. I now owe you $1,000 for two years' rent which I am willing to pay at any time you wish."
The Indians were not mollified and took the issue directly to George Washington at Philadelphia. Phelps also communicated with the president, defending himself against charges of deception and duress.
Eventually the dispute was resolved, largely through the good offices of the Rev. Mr. Kirkland and concessions granted the Indians by the Federal government. It may well have been that the misunderstanding arose because the Senecas, used to trading with Canada, thought of the price offered them in terms of the Canadian market rather than of the depredated currency of New York, In New York the pound was valued at only $2.50, as compared with the sterling exchange rate of $4.49 in Canada.
Those who knew Oliver Phelps were quick to assert that while he might drive a hard Yankee bargain, he was not one deliberately to cheat untutored Indians. Besides the presence of the missionary Kirkland at the council would assure fair treatment and no double dealing.
Until he made Canandaigua his family residence in 1802, Phelps spent considerable time on the Purchase, alternating between the Genesee Country and New England. He was named the first judge of Ontario County in 1789 and held the first court in an unfinished room of Moses Atwater's log house.
In the earliest years of settlement, the balance wheel of the frontier, other than Oliver Phelps, who was often absent, was Israel Chapin, While Nathaniel Gorham, Jr. and Thomas, son of Robert Morris, were living on the Purchase, they were very young men and on the stalwart shoulders of General Chapin rested heavy responsibilities.
He was 49 years old when he came to the Genesee Country. A native of Hatfield, Mass., of Welsh ancestry, he had been a brigadier general in the Revolution and had served in the ill-starred Quebec campaign. He became a subcontractor for army commissary Oliver Phelps and recalled that he was once asked to obtain "a fine yoke of oxen for George Washington's table."
After the war he had invested in Vermont lands and eagerly joined Phelps and Gorham in their Western New York venture. He explored the Purchase.
His principal service was as a liaison man with the Indians on the frontier. Named by War Secretary Knox as deputy superintendent of the Six Nations, his job was to keep peace with the Indians. He did that task magnificently.
A calm and patient man, he won the confidence and respect of the red men. They came to the door of his house in Canandaigua. He fed them and advised them. He acted as arbitrator in their disputes. He traveled to far councils, ever pouring oil on troubled waters. He handled the proud and jealous chiefs with skill.
During the uprising of the Western Indians which ended with Anthony Wayne's victory at Fallen Timbers in 1794, General Chapin foiled efforts of British agents to stir up the Western New York Indians.
He suggested the conference with the Indians which resulted in the important treaty signed at Canandaigua in 1794. He was the spearhead of that powwow. He sent out runners to summon the chiefs. He sat beside Timothy Pickering, Washington's representative, at the council fire. His home was open alike to white statesmen and red sachems. He dispensed the government largess to the tribes-blankets, geegaws and a modicum of rum.
Gen. Israel Chapin died in Canandaigua in March of 1795. The grieving Senecas asked that his son, Israel, Jr., succeed his father as ambassador to their nation.
The orator Red Jacket paid tribute to his friend in this appeal:
"Brothers of the Fifteen Fires, listen. The man appointed as our advisor has departed. He was to us as if the United States stood by us. If we had a message, he took it with care to the great council fire. Now we are troubled as to how to keep our friendship. . . . We have learned to know his son and find his mind good. We think he would be like his father. . . . "
"The Fifteen Fires" (the states of the Union) named Israel Chapin. Jr. to the post. He served ably.
The General Chapin house, built in the 1790s, still stands, the hidden back part of a store on Canandaigua's Coy Street.
* * *
Another tower of strength in dealing with the tribesmen was Jasper Parrish, who had been a prisoner of the Indians for six years. His story is a strange one.
Born in Connecticut in 1766, he was very young when his parents moved into Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. When he was 11 years old, during a time of border warfare, he was taken prisoner by Munsees. With his father he was helping a family move nearer the settlement when the Indians attacked.
The father was taken to Fort Niagara where he was a captive for two years. The boy was protected by a war chief who took him to the Seneca town of Chemung. When Jasper rode into the village, he was scourged with whips, pulled off his horse and beaten by tomahawk handles in the hands of young Indians. The chief rescued him and later sold him to a family of Delawares.
The boy suffered through the Winter of 1778 for lack of warm clothing and food. To inure him to the cold, the Indians made him strip daily and plunge into the icy Delaware River. Generally he was well treated and the Indians took him on their hunting and fishing trips.
He was a captive at Newtown when Sullivan's avenging army came. The retreating Indians took him to Niagara. He well remembered that Winter when most of the Six Nations were encamped at the fort and ate the scanty, salted provisions doled out by the British. Many died and others went back to their old villages.
At Niagara, Parrish overheard one drunken brave say to another, "Let's kill the young Yankee and sell his scalp at the fort for rum." One of the Indians took a burning brand from the fire and hurled it at Jasper's head. The youth dodged and escaped in the darkness.
In 1780 he was sold for $20 to Capt. David Hill, a Mohawk kinsman of Joseph Brant. He lived with the captain in his tent and was formally adopted as his son. He stayed with Hill until 1784 when he was released with other prisoners.
Jasper was 17 then. During six years of captivity he had learned the Indian language and virtually forgotten his own. He went to school and picked up the education of which he had been deprived. With the Indians he had learned self reliance and the craft of the forest.
In 1790 he was made a government interpreter and served Pickering at treaty councils with the Indians. In 1792 he was appointed to the Indian department and as interpreter, he assisted General Chapin in difficult negotiations with the Six Nations. He settled in Canandaigua in 1792 and lived there until his death in 1836.
He rode far over the trails as a bearer of messages and an intermediary to Philadelphia, to Buffalo Creek, to the Genesee villages, to the lands of the Oneidas and the Onondagas.
Indians liked and trusted him. Because he had known only kindness at their hands, Parrish had a sympathetic attitude toward the tribesmen. He mastered every tongue of the Nations save one and served as an Indian agent until Jackson's second term as president. Not only did he help keep the peace between the whites and the Indians but he was a good influence with the Iroquois in introducing Christianity, education and modern farming methods among them.
* * *
Shortly after his family came to Canandaigua to live in the fine frame house he had built on the Square, Oliver Phelps was elected to Congress. He served from 1803 to 1805. He was a disciple of Jefferson and ran for lieutenant governor on a ticket that was headed by Aaron Burr. He was active in all community affairs. He gave 3,000 acres of county land to benefit Canandaigua Academy. He was regarded as the first citizen of the Genesee Country.
He also was considered the wealthiest. Some thought he was worth a million dollars. But his fortune was all in undeveloped lands, mostly in the South and West. He had been caught up in the vortex of unbridled land speculation revolving about that prince of plungers, Robert Morris.
The bubble burst. The Georgia Land Company, in which Phelps was heavily involved, crashed and Phelps faced financial ruin and the prospect of debtor's prison, the fate his friend, Robert Morris.
Gamely the aging Yankee struggled to meet his obligation. He mortgaged his remaining Genesee lands. Some settlers' titles became involved and Phelps felt the sting of public resentment, fortune's unkindest jab at a high-principled albeit unfortunate man.
The fortunes of Thomas Morris sank at the same time. The young man had been a useful, as well as an ornamental figure on the frontier. He had served in the State Legislature and in Congress. He had handled himself admirably (from a land baron's viewpoint) as his father's representative at the Big Tree council which won a vast territory from the Indians. Morris, who became an accomplished woodsman, owned considerable land, including the site of Mount Morris.
In 1792 he built an elegant frame house in Canandaigua on the west side of Main Street. There Morris kept bachelor's hall until he brought his bride, Sally Kane, to the settlement in 1799. The Morris house, which lingered on the scene until 1900, was the center of gracious hospitality on the frontier. There Louis Philippe, a future king of France, was entertained. Charles Williamson, the gay Scottish land agent of the Pulteney interests, was a frequent guest. The Morrises maintained a French cook and a gardener who cared for the extensive grounds.
But in 1804 young Morris found himself in the same predicament as his father, Oliver Phelps and other over-extended land speculators. He left Canandaigua to practice law in New York. He lived to a good age but never recouped his fortune, serving at one time as a clerk in the New York Customs office.
In Canandaigua Phelps struggled on, managing the remnants of his once great estate. His buoyant spirits were gone. His health declined and in 1809 he died at the age of 60 in the big house on the Square. His descendants lived there until the mansion burned during the 184Os.
Phelps' principal creditor was the state of Connecticut. Gideon Granger of that state, a longtime postmaster general and a friend of Phelps, was given the task of settling the estate. It was no easy job, for as Jesse Hawley, a Granger aid wrote:
"The estate is involved in complexity, perplexity and confusion."
On the top of the old-fashioned box-like tomb of Oliver Phelps in the Pioneer Cemetery in the heart of Canandaigua are these words:
Enterprise, Industry and Temperance Can Not Always Assure Success
On the adjacent stone, marking the last resting place of his wife Mary, who died in 1826, aged 74, is this inscription:
She Was Alike Unaffected in Prosperity and Adversity
Despair engulfed Oliver Phelps in his last years. He died thinking himself a failure. True his finances were in tangled ruins. But he had been one of the principal architects of this frontier. He came to the Purchase when it was virgin wilderness. He lived to see the Genesee Country full of settlers, with new towns springing up and many wagons on the roads. He had done much in bringing about that transformation. For he was the pioneer of the pioneers.
Hail to the Chiefs
When in the wake of the Revolution the white men, hungry for the rich Indian lands, gathered with the Seneca chiefs around the council fire, they found that the toughest of the Indian negotiators was the silver-tongued Red Jacket.
He was the outstanding orator of his Nation, one of the greatest of his race. He marshalled his eloquence against every white encroachment on the Indian domain. Sometimes he had to fight alone. Some powerful chiefs were his enemies, But to his dying day he kept warning his people that they were parting with an empire for a pittance, that they were being cheated by the greedy whites.
Just as consistently he resisted every inroad of the white man's culture on the Indian way of life. He was the leader of the pagan party and he opposed the spread of Christianity among the tribes. He wanted his people to keep the old ways, as well as the old hunting grounds.
He was not a warrior. He did not believe in war and warned that if the Indians joined the British in the Revolution, the Iroquois Nations were doomed. He was a soldier in that war-and was accused by a fellow thief of cowardice during the flight of the Indian-Tory army after Sullivan's victory at Newtown. Yet in the War of 1812, despite his years, he took up arms on the American side and served well.
The erect Seneca with the flashing eye and the pendulous lip of the orator was a shrewd and logical debater who could hold is own with any paleface at the council fire or in the court room. He never learned to read or write English and pretended not to be able to speak it. But he knew most of the words. He spoke in his own tongue and nothing was lost in the translations by imaginative interpreters. They put some pretty high flown language into the mouth of an unlettered redskin. Unquestionably Red Jacket's diction and delivery were superb.
The white men gave him the name Red Jacket because of the richly embroidered scarlet coat he always wore. A British officer gave him his first one, as a reward for his youthful fleetness as a messenger. When that one wore out, he got another and he was never without the red jacket as long as he lived. And night and day he wore around his neck the silver medal George Washington had given him.
His first Indian name, bestowed upon him when he was 10, was Otetiana, which means "always ready." When he attained manhood, he was given the name Sa-go-ye-wat-hah, "he keeps them awake." Both names fitted him because no one slept when Red Jacket spoke and he was always ready to advocate his people's cause.
He was no paragon. He was exceedingly vain. His ambitious, pushing ways as a youth incurred the lasting enmity of the influential half white chief, Cornplanter, and his half brother, Handsome Lake, the Prophet. Red Jacket's late years were marred by increasing intemperance and his fondness for firewater impaired his usefulness to his people.
He was born at Canoga near Cayuga Lake around 1750. His father was a Cayuga, his mother a Seneca and Red Jacket became a Seneca and a member of the Wolf clan through the maternal line according to the tribal law.
Part of his boyhood was spent along Keuka Lake near Branchport. When a lad he attended a tribal council on the Shenandoah and there he heard the great Indian orator Logan. His oratory enthralled young Red Jacket and he was fired with the ambition to become another Logan.
Back home, when his mother would miss him from the cabin and asked where he had been, he would reply: "Out in the woods playing Logan." The birds and the woods animals along "the Crooked Lake" first heard the golden voice that was to resound at a hundred council fires.
The youth won renown as a runner and the British used him as a courier between their outposts. He fought under Brant against Sullivan and during the retreat, when the Seneca chief, Farmer's Brother, wanted to make a stand at Canandaigua, Red Jacket counseled further flight and Farmer's Brother bitterly accused him of cowardice.
After the Revolution the voice of Red Jacket as a Seneca sachem was raised at every treaty council save the one at Fort Stanwix which ceded large tracts to the whites. Red Jacket stayed away from that treaty making and then denounced Cornplanter for easy capitulation.
At a gathering of tribesmen two years later, he made the inflammatory statement that: "Though Great Britain has withdrawn from the contest, the Indians as original owners of the land ought to make common cause and carry on the contest until the Americans recognize our rights." He was a potent agitator as well as a spellbinder.
He went with other chiefs to Philadelphia to confer with George Washington and replying to the General's friendly Speech, complained that the interests of the Indian had been ignored in the peace making between the British and the colonies. It was at that meeting that Washington gave the orator the medal he wore the rest of his years.
At first he opposed the land deal with Phelps and Gorham, finally signed the treaty and then in 1790 at a council at Tioga Point, at which Timothy Pickering represented the Great White Father, he stirred up trouble by charging the Indians never received the full sum agreed upon for their lands.
He liked to match wits with the tall Pickering whom he tried to goad into some unguarded statement and sometimes he succeeded. When told that Pickering, Washington's "trouble shooter" with the Indians, had been made secretary of war, he mused:
"We began our public careers about the same time. He knew how to read and write. I did not. So he got ahead of me. If I had known how to read and write I would have got ahead of him."
Red Jacket faced Pickering again at the Canandaigua treaty making in 1794, when he argued against any pact that ignored the restoration of lands taken from the Indians by what he called sharp bargaining. As was so often the case, the calmer counsels of Cornplanter and other conservatives prevailed, and Red Jacket eventually signed the Canandaigua compact which settled all Seneca claims.
It was during the Canandaigua meeting that the fanatical Jemima Wilkinson, founder of a Quakerish cult in the Finger Lakes country, called upon the Indians "to repent." Red Jacket's retort was: "You have as much need of repentance. Repent yourselves and wrong us no more."
At the Big Tree Treaty he vehemently opposed sale of the lands West of the Genesee to Robert Morris. He and other like-minded Indian leaders were outvoted by the women who placed the war chiefs, not the sachems, in authority. Robert Morris's son, the suave Thomas, had won over the women by promising them, "You will never know want again."
Red Jacket was a continual thorn in the flesh of the white negotiators at Big Tree and once extinguished the council fire although he had no right to do so. He was obdurate in his opposition to granting a tract to Mary Jemison, the white captive who had spent her life with the Indians, but he was overruled.
The final agreement at Big Tree found Red Jacket in a drunken stupor. He later signed the treaty and with the other chiefs took his life annuity. But he was never happy about it.
More colorful tales, many of them legendary, cling to Red Jacket than to any other Western New York Indian.
One tale is that when in 1795 the French Duke de Liancourt was touring the frontier, he expressed a desire to see the noted orator of the Senecas. He was told he already had seen Red Jacket but did not recognize the Indian with a medal around his neck asleep in a ditch along the trail near Avon as the tribal Demosthenes, ditched by too much firewater.
He was wont to use graphic examples at councils to drive home his points. At the Canandaigna treaty making, he filled two benches, one with nine Indians and a lone white man at the end; the other with nine white men and a single Indian, to illustrate the change in the status of the two peoples since the Revolution.
This sample of his oratory, reputedly made at the same council, has been handed down through the years:
"We stand as a small island in the midst of great waters. The wild spirit rides upon the blast and the waters are disturbed. They rise and they press upon us. And the waves are settled over us. . . . and we disappear forever."
There is a tale, probably apocryphal-because it has been told with others as principals-that Red Jacket once bade John Ellicott, the Holland Land Company surveyor-agent, sit on a log with him. Red Jacket kept moving over and Ellicott politely gave way with each shove. Finally Ellicott said: "I can't move any more or I'll be off the log." Red Jacket replied: "Just so white man keep shoving Indian. Pretty soon Indian have no place to go."
More likely is this story: A white man and an Indian were tried at the same term of court in Batavia. The paleface was convicted of stealing a horse and was sentenced to two years imprisonment. The Indian was found guilty of burglarizing Joseph Ellicott's house and drew a life sentence.
Red Jacket assisted in the defense of his fellow tribesman, arguing that the court had no jurisdiction because the Senecas had their own court for such matters. He was overruled. On the way from the court room to the nearest tavern in company with a white lawyer, he passed a newspaper office where Red Jacket noted a sign displaying figures symbolic of Liberty and Justice. Pointing to the former, the Indian asked: "What that called?" The lawyer replied, "Liberty." Pointing to the other symbol, Red Jacket asked: "What that called?" The lawyer told him: "Justice." Then the Seneca Orator shot back: "Where he live now?"
Another tale has Red Jacket, full of firewater, pitting his magnificent voice against the thunder of Sheququa Falls which splash down almost into the principal street of Montour Falls. The account does not tell the winner of the contest.
When his friend, Judge Augustus Porter, the founder of the city of Niagara Falls, was having a bridge built to Goat Island in the Niagara, Red Jacket watched the operations for a while, then stamped away. Sadly he realized that his people could never cope with the superior ingenuity and enterprise of the whites and he uttered two words that years later were echoed by thousands in war-ravaged Dixie: "Damn Yankees!"
Once a "Black Coat," as he called the Christian missionaries, sought to convert Red Jacket by telling him the story of the Crucifixion. The Seneca listened quietly, then observed:
"Brother, if you white people murdered the Saviour, make it up yourselves. We Indians had nothing to do with it."
Reflecting on the clashing doctrines of the many Christian denominations, he asked: "Why don't they agree since they all have the same book?"
He never faltered in his opposition to his people accepting any religion other than the ancient one of his fathers. He never sanctioned the codes preached by Handsome Lake and claimed the Peace Prophet altered the old Indian religion.
When he found that his third wife, Wysaoh, "the talkative one," had been attending Christian services secretly, he left their home on the Buffalo Creek Reservation in anger and humiliation. He wandered around for weeks before returning to the log house in the present South Buffalo near Seneca Street and Indian Church Road.
His first wife died of tuberculosis, His second, a beauty, left him because of his long silences-and possibly because of his drinking. In his old age Red Jacket embarrassed his third wife no end by sitting mornings in front of their house in his night clothes.
Red Jacket did not object to his people using the new farming methods and implements introduced by the whites. He stood against their acceptance of the white man's beliefs. He trusted few palefaces, except the Quakers who helped the Indians in their struggle to retain their lands.
The orator was an old man, bald, crippled by rheumatism and worn out by dissipation and his life-long battle against white speculators and Indian rivals when he made his last great campaign for his people.
He was fighting an attempt by a group of land speculators to take over five Indian reservations. Stockholders in this Ogden Land Company included such notables as Peter B. Porter, one time secretary of war, and James Wadsworth, the Genesee Valley land baron.
This powerful group proposed to relocate the deposed Indians on Western lands near Green Bay. Some chiefs went along with the deal but Red Jacket threw all his influence and oratorical powers against it. But at an irregular council meeting in a Buffalo tavern in 1838, bribery, threats and the liberal use of liquor garnered the marks of enough chiefs to approve the treaty, which was ratified by the United States Senate-but not in Red Jacket's lifetime.
In the end the Senecas lost the rich Buffalo Creek Reservation and the Tonawanda Indians recovered only about one tenth of their former holdings and they had to pay $20 an acre to get that much back. The Allegany and Cattaraugus Reservations were saved under an amended treaty in 1842. By then Red Jacket had been in his grave 14 years. He died in the belief his last campaign had been a complete victory.
Ambitious enemies of Red Jacket who resented his activities in the Ogden controversy succeeded in 1827 in deposing him from his tribal office. In 1802 when he had faced trial for witchcraft in an Indian court, he had pleaded his own case and won. This time he lost. But the next year saw him restored to his old office as head sachem of the Wolf Clan. Within eighteen months the greatest orator of the nation was dead, at the age of 80.
Here is Red Jacket's valedictory, delivered at the last of the many council meetings that had been stirred by his matchless oratory:
"When I am gone, my warnings shall no longer be heard and the craft and the avarice of the white man will prevail. Many Winters have I breasted the storm. I am an aged tree and can stand no longer. . . . Think not, my people, that I mourn for myself. I go to join the spirits of my fathers, where age cannot wither; but my heart fails me when I think of my people who are soon to be scattered and forgotten."
Red Jacket was buried with tribal ceremony on the Buffalo Creek Reservation in late January of 1830. Later when the city of Buffalo spread out over the old Indian stamping ground, his bones were taken to the Cattaraugus Reservation. In 1884 he was reinterred in Buffalo's vast Forest Lawn Cemetery where a line monument marks the grave of the silver-tongued Seneca of the scarlet coat and the silver medal. On his monument is graven: "The Protector of His People."
* * *
Cornplanter, son of a forest romance between a white trader and a Seneca maiden, was but little inferior to Red Jacket as an orator, was far greater on the war path and over the years more influential at the treaty fires.
Often he chose the path of compromise. Often his counsels saved his people from too hasty or warlike action. A practical realist, without Red Jacket's fanaticism, he always tried to make the best bargain possible in dealing with the white men. The government representatives and the land barons felt that "they could do business with Cornplanter." After all he was half white.
He was born around 1730 at the Seneca town of Canawaugus near Avon on the Genesee. His father, John O'Bail or Abeel, an Albany trader had returned to his home in the East before the son was born and the young mother reared the boy in the Indian fashion without any help from his white father.
The child, fairer of skin than his playmates, was given the name, Ga-yant-hawah-geh, meaning "at the planted field." Under the name of Cornplanter, the youth served in the French and Indian War under the British flag and was at Braddock's famous defeat in Pennsylvania, along with a young Virginia officer he was to know well in later years. The Virginian was George Washington. During the Revolution, Cornplanter was a staunch ally of the British and was highly regarded as a warrior.
He was instrumental in negotiating the Fort Stanwix treaty of 1784 by which the whites obtained most of the Indian domain in Eastern New York. He defended his stand against charges of appeasement, saying that a beaten nation has to accept the best terms it can obtain from its conqueror.
Six years later he went with other chiefs to Philadelphia to tell President Washington of their discontent with the Fort Stanwix compact. One grievance was that many acres of Indian land had been given to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in violation of the boundaries drawn at the council.
Later Pennsylvania, anxious to mollify a powerful chief, gave Cornplanter "and his descendants forever" two square miles of land along the Allegheny River in Warren County. A handful of the old chieftain's descendants still live on what is known locally as "The Cornplanter Kingdom."
At the Philadelphia pow-wow, Cornplanter in his stately fashion, made this moving appeal to George Washington:
"When your army entered the country of the Six Nations, we called you town destroyer and to this day when that name is mentioned, our women look behind them and turn pale and our children cling close to the necks of their mothers, Our councillors and warriors are men and need not be afraid but their hearts are grieved with the fears of women and children and desire that they may be buried so deep as to be heard no more."
"When you gave us peace, we called you father because you promised to secure us possession of our lands. Do this and as long as the lands remain, that beloved name will live in the heart of every Seneca."
He appeared at all the later treaty councils, usually in his accustomed role of compromiser. He and Red Jacket cordially disliked each other and once when the young orator was boasting about his speeches at the council fires, Cornplanter said curtly: "Yes, but we told you what to say."
He was of medium height, of stocky build, with a dark and penetrating eye and a poised and easy manner in any company. He carried the treaties of the Seneca Nation around with him in his saddle bags and was looked upon by his people as an authority in governmental affairs.
Less colorful and idealistic than Red Jacket, this urbane middle of the roader probably deserves to be called "the Seneca statesman."
When he was not on the war path, his early years were lived in the Genesee Valley. In 1756 he was living at Kanadesaga (Geneva). Some accounts say that he had a white wife. All agree that he had many children.
In 1832 the old chief breathed his last on the reservation named for the Allegheny River that winds through that wild and scraggly land in the shadow of the mountains. Some said Cornplanter was 96, Others maintained that he was 102 years old when he joined his fathers in the land beyond the skies.
The Seneca sage sleeps in "the Cornplanter Kingdom" in the Pennsylvania hills. But as this is written both his grave and most of his reserve are threatened by the Great White Father in Washington City. The Federal government plans to build a $125,000,000 flood control dam at Kinzua, Pa. This would take over 700 acres of the reserve in Pennsylvania and 9,000 acres of the Allegany Reservation in New York State.
In a campaign to save "the Kingdom," friends of the Indians have invoked the pledge made by the United States at the Pickering Treaty in Canandaigua in 1794 that the government "will never claim the land nor disturb the Nation in the free use and employment thereof."
That pledge has been violated before-and probably will be again.
* * *
Ganeodiyo, revered in Seneca hearts as Handsome Lake, the Peace Prophet, affected the lives of his people more than any statesman or orator.
He was the Savonarola of the tribes, without being a martyr. He was a reformer, the founder of an Indian religion which augmented the old faith. Above all he was a temperance crusader.
Born at Canawaugus around 1735, he was a half brother of Cornplanter but there was no white blood in his veins. He was a sachem of the highest rank in the Turtle Clan but for years he was a shiftless idler and a drunkard.
Then in the year 1800 as Handsome Lake lay on a hillside sleeping off a debauch, four young angels came to him in a vision. They were the messengers of the Great Spirit and they commanded him to spread among the people a new religion which they revealed to him.
From that day forth Handsome Lake was dedicated to his preaching mission, going from village to village as had the Nazarene of old. It was a code of morals rather than a revolutionary new religion that he taught. Despite its supernatural, spectacular origin, it really was a simple set of rules of conduct.
Temperance was the keynote of the crusade of the reformed drunkard. He saw how the white man's firewater had debased the Indian character, giving birth to two other vices foreign to the Indian nature, falsehood and thievery.
At first he encountered only ridicule and apathy. Red Jacket, who distrusted anything new, called him an imposter. Cornplanter remained a skeptic, without faith in his half brother's revelations. But the frail Peace Prophet persisted. He was no orator but he enlisted eloquent young missionaries to spread the gospel according to Handsome Lake.
Gradually he built up a following, especially among the Senecas and Onondagas. He never stopped preaching until death took him in 1815 at Onondaga. There's a handsome tomb above the grave of the Peace Prophet near the Long House of the League.
The Gaiwii-o, the record of his teachings, still lives and is recited at non Christian festivals on the reservations.
The code of Handsome Lake is not a complicated one. It condemns drunkenness, witchcraft, evil gossip, vanity and preaches the Golden Rule, constancy in marriage, tenderness toward children. The Prophet called upon his followers to care for the afflicted and decreed that no one should demand compensation for treating the sick. He extolled the spirit of hospitality toward the stranger and the value of occasionally communing with oneself in the forest.
On the practical side he adjured the Indians to copy the white people in all progressive ways, to learn the English language, to keep live stock.
The idea of a human soul and a Supreme Being runs throughout the preachings of Handsome Lake. He deplored the worship of animals and secret societies, dear to the tribal heart.
His gospel was introduced at a propitious time and had far-reaching effects. It rallied and solidified the Iroquois in a time of defeat in war and loss of their homeland. It saved many an Indian from a drunkard's grave. It effectively arrested the spread of Christianity among the Indians and the strength of the non Christian party on the New York State reservations today springs from the seed planted so long by the crusader from Canawaugus, the reformed drunkard who spoke with angels.
* * *
On old parchments on which were written the treaties by which thousands of acres passed from copper colored hands to white ones are the names of other mighty chiefs-each signed with a cross.
The name of Farmer's Brother is there, for he was a potent sachem of the Seneca Nation, an orator and warrior of the highest rank. At the Tioga Point and Big Tree treaties he joined Red Jacket, whom he once had branded a coward, in demanding a square deal for his people. More than once Farmer's Brother's influence turned the tide of the deliberations. He had much to do with Mary Jemison's grant of land at the Big Tree council.
He was tall, well built and dignified. When the Revolution ended, Farmer's Brother exclaimed with the poetic imagery of his race: "The Great Spirit spoke to the whirlwind and it was still."
No great shakes as an orator was Chief Little Beard but he was a redoutable warrior and ruled the biggest town in the Seneca homeland, the Genesee Castle or Beard's Town near the present Cuylerville. It was to this village that the Indians and their allies dragged Boyd and Parker, the captured soldiers of Sullivan's scouting party, to be tortured to death. It was this stronghold of the Senecas that Sullivan's men wiped out as the finale of their campaign. After the Revolution, a tract there was set aside as the Little Beard Reservation.
Little Beard had a reputation for cruelty and ferocity in battle but in peace he was amiable and made friends with the white settlers along the Genesee. He was a straight and slender man of medium height.
He came to an ignominious end. During a drunken brawl in a Leicester tavern in 1808, the thief was thrown out the door and sustained mortal injuries. The day after his death there was an eclipse of the sun, something that generation of Indians had never witnessed. They were terrified and assembled, beating their drums and chanting. Believing that the spirit of Little Beard, on its way up the heavenly path, had obscured the sun, they shot bullets and arrows skyward until the brightness was restored.
Also in the Genesee Valley in a Seneca village that bore his name on the west bank of the Genesee near the present Geneseo, lived a chief named Big Tree who was a useful friend of Washington and of the Americans. In 1778 Washington sent Big Tree to the Indian towns in an effort to enlist them on the colonies' side but it came to naught when a spy spread the word of the proposed American invasion of the Seneca country. Big Tree joined his tribesmen in resistance to Sullivan.
In 1791 the chief was given an island in the Allegheny River by the government but he never lived to claim it. The next year when he went to Philadelphia for the chiefs' powwow with General Washington, he died suddenly, probably of too much food and drink.
In 1805 the Indian village was moved across the river near the first settlement made by the Wadsworth brothers, which in the early years was known as Big Tree. It was there near a giant oak that the Treaty of Big Tree was signed. But the great tree has no connection with the Indian chief named Big Tree.
At the Old Castle of Kanadesaga (Geneva) there ruled a powerful chief with the Indian name of Sayenquerhagtha, "he who carries the smoke," better known as The Old King or Old Smoke. He was a friend of the Rev. Samuel Kirkland, the missionary, and other Americans. But he could be ruthless in war. After the colonists had routed the British and Indians at Fort Stanwix, Molly Brant, the Mohawk widow of Sir William Johnson, came to the Old King, pleading in the name of his dead friend, the lord of the Mohawk Valley, that he join the British cause. He yielded and led his warriors to the massacre at Wyoming and fought under the British flag in the Revolution.
Little Billy was another Seneca chieftain who took part in the post-war councils with the Thirteen Fires, as the Indians called the colonies. He became a leader in the Christian party.
A Canawaugus thief bore the interesting name of Hot Bread. He was short and swarthy, an excellent speaker but indolent and a glutton. Red Jacket once said of him: "Hot Bread big man here," pointing to stomach, "small man here," indicating head. Nevertheless Hot Bread had a flair for words, He drafted the chiefs' memorial to the Governor of New York, protesting against sending Christian missionaries among the tribes. It read:
"We ask our brothers not to force a strange religion upon us. We ask to be let alone and, like the white people, to worship the Great Spirit as we think best. We shall then be happy in filling in life the little space left us and shall go to our fathers in peace."
Blacksnake was a Seneca who lived along the Allegheny, where he died at the reputed age of 117 years. He had a singular religious belief-that after death all the people of the Six Nations would be gathered in the realms of the moon. "Here," he said, "we shall meet the Great Spirit who will direct us to the fairest celestial hunting grounds."
It was this old chief's long memory that saved the Oil Spring reservation near Cuba for the Nation. Through an oversight it was not included among the reserves in the first draft of the Big Tree Treaty. Before the council disbanded, at the behest of the chiefs, Thomas Morris signed a paper granting to the Senecas the mile-square tract forever.
Joseph Ellicott gave the Indians a map showing the reservations, including Oil Spring, outlined in red. For years it was thought the old map had been lost. But when in the 185Os a white settler sought title to land he cleared at the Spring, old Chief Blacksnake reached into the deer-hide trunk under his bed and pulled out the map. It won the case for the Seneca Nation in the courts.
There were other chiefs with picturesque names-Fish Carrier of the Cayugas; Half Town, Clear Sky, Young King, Tall Chief, Half Moon, the Montours. All were leaders of a people that had cast its lot with the losing side in a war. When "the whirlwind" was over and the peace was made, the British ignored the interests of their allies.
So, bewildered and dismayed, yet outwardly unruffled and ever with ceremonious dignity-until the firewater barrels were tapped-the simple statesmen of the forest had to match wits with the shrewd, land-hungry, victorious whites at the council fire. They made a valiant and pathetic effort to salvage what they could of the land of their fathers.
To Chapter Listing
To next chapter
To On-line Books Page
To GenWeb of Monroe Co. page.