|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 paidthem a whirlwind visit in 1779 during the Revolution-ashead of an army that laid waste the heartland of the Iroquoisand routed the Indians and their British allies. Then hewent back to New Hampshire, where he was born and wherehe died.
Nevertheless this self-made New England lawyer-politicianturned soldier was perhaps the most significant figure in theearly history of Western New York. In a symbolic sense hewas "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 wereveterans of his army. They remembered the richness of thecountry they had raided, the fields of Indian corn and beans,the tall grass on the river bottoms, the orchards, the wealthof virgin timber, the rushing streams that would turn millwheels. After a decade they came back over the old trail, notto the roll of drums, but to the rumble of oxcarts and covered wagons.
An old engraving pictures General Sullivan as a dashingfigure in his dress uniform, sash, sword and lance. The tri-corn hat above a strong, rather imperious, youthful facehides the retreating hairline shown in other pictures. Although he was a veteran of many campaigns, he was only 39when he led an army into the wild Indian domain in 1779.
He was born and raised in New England but there wasnothing of the Puritan about him. Every drop of blood inhis veins was Irish. His father had won his bride on the shipwhich brought them, emigrants from Erin and indenturedservants, to Yankeeland.
John Sullivan was warm-hearted, aggressive, fearless. Alsohe was plain spoken, sensitive and short tempered. Aboveall he was a dedicated patriot. Among George Washington'sgenerals were some ambitious schemers, some incompetents,a few cravens and at least one traitor. Washington couldtrust John Sullivan. The New Hampshire Irishman might bedifficult 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, hehung out his shingle in nearby Durham. He married andbuilt for his bride a graceful white house which still standsbeside the Oyster River. They had four children, three sonsand a daughter.
Sullivan rose in the law, he profited from investments inmills and was regarded by the substantial, Tory-minded headmen of Durham as a comer.
The promising young lawyer did not bask for long inthe favor of the solid men of Durham. A spirit of revoltagainst the oppressive acts of the British government sweptthrough the colonies and John Sullivan fervently espousedthe 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 thecolonial militia, he began drilling townsfolk and farmers onfields 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 StateHouse in Philadelphia that was to become a national shrineas Independence Hall. Out of that conclave was to come amomentous declaration of colonial rights.
First order of business was for a representative of eachcolony to state the instructions given his delegation. Firstto speak was John Sullivan, for New Hampshire. He told ofthe New Hampshire resolutions "to secure and perpetuatetheir rights and to restore that peace, harmony and mutualconfidence which once subsisted between the parent countryand 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 rightsof the colonies and declaring some acts of Parliament illegal.It also set up an association to prevent imports from Englandand selected a commissioner for each political subdivision.All of which added up to bold and unprecedented defianceof the Crown.
It was at that Congress that Sullivan for the first time meta tall, dignified, quiet-spoken planter from Virginia who alsowas a delegate. George Washington was to become theyounger man's idol, as well as his commander for five waryears.
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 thewhite house at Durham. He was young Paul Revere, a silversmith who was courier for the Boston Committee. Hebrought word to Sullivan that the British commander inBoston, General Gage, was sending two boatloads of infantryto 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 handfulof rebels had overpowered the garrison, dismantled the fortand carted off 15 cannon and 100 barrels of powder-whichcame in handy later at Bunker Hill. Some of those storeswere hidden under the pulpit of a Durham church.
John Sullivan had acted swiftly. He and John Langdonhad led the little band of rebels that raided Fort Williamand Mary.
That attack, although a minor affair, was the first hostileact by a military force against Britain in the colonies. Therehad been riots but this was the first organized blow struckin the war for independence. It came four months beforeLexington and Concord and "the shot heard 'round theworld."
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 thearmy, such as it was, that had gathered at Cambridge, Mass.On June 22 Sullivan was commissioned a brigadier generalin that rabble and became an aide on Washington's staff.
He distinguished himself in withdrawing to the safety ofCrown 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 thearmy in the debacle that was the battle of Long Island, wascaptured in the rout of the American troops but was released in a few days through an exchange of prisoners. Heled part of the retreating army into Westchester after theBritish Howe inexplicably had failed to crush it.
Sullivan commanded a brigade at the historic crossing ofthe Delaware on the stormy Christmas night of 1776. Afterhis men had crossed the river on the boats of the Marbleheadmariners, he led them along the snow-muffled Jersey roadsto surprise the drunken Hessians in their camp at Trenton.When on the way his men complained that the wet snowhad made their muskets useless, Sullivan snapped: "Thengive them the bayonet."
He was at Monmouth and heard a white-faced Washingtonroundly curse the haughty know-it-all, Charles Lee, for retreating in the face of victory. He commanded a wing atBrandywine 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 theFrenchman took over. Conveniently de Coudray died andSullivan stayed on.
In the Spring of 1778 he was given command of the forcesin Rhode Island. Plans were made for a joint attack on Newport island by the land troops under Sullivan and a Frenchfleet under Count D'Estaing. Nothing went right. The Frenchships engaged the British fleet and a storm scattered bothnavies. Sullivan, left to face a strengthened enemy land forcewithout naval support, failed in his attack and at nightfallferried his troops to the mainland in an orderly withdrawal.
John Sullivan was in command in Rhode Island when inthe Spring of 1779, General Washington called upon him tolead a new campaign-into the Indian country of New York.
* * *
Urgent appeals had come to Washington and the Congressfrom the Mohawk Valley and Northern Pennsylvania frontiers tostop 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 joinedthe 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 suppliesfrom the rich granary of the Iroquois to the enemy, not tothe American armies.
He determined to end this frontier menace by large scaleinvasion. He stated his plan to Congress: "It is proposed tocarry the war to the heart of the Six Nations, to cut off theirsettlements, destroy the next year's crop and do every othermischief that time and circumstances will permit."
After General Horatio Gates had declined the commandof this "Indian Expedition," because of his age, Washingtonturned to the sometimes temperamental but ever dependableJohn Sullivan.
A three-pronged invasion was planned. The main army ofsome 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 1,600men under General James Clinton, coming down from theMohawk via Otsego Lake. A third division of 600 underColonel 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 Britishbastion of the frontier.
The units never reached their planned strength but stillthe total force numbered some 5,000 seasoned troops. AndSullivan was given such experienced aides as Generals Dearborn (later to be secretary of war), Hand, Poor and "ScotchWillie" Maxwell.
Sullivan's army began gathering at Easton in early Maybut it did move until mid June. Two regiments had to goahead and hack down trees to widen the narrow Indian trailto Wyoming. Pennsylvania did not come through with thepromised men and supplies.
Once in motion, the army marched in martial style, withcolors flying, drums beating and fifes shrilling. Each dayopened and closed with cannon fire. Sullivan later was criticized for this display. He defended it on the grounds that itraised 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 thelight of flickering camp fires the events of each day. A century later these accounts, with other data, were collected intoa 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 Jerseysoldiers 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 frontiermissionary, asked the general to spare the life of one of thedoomed men, Lawrence Miller. They said he sincerely repented his crime and had a previous good record, as well asa large family, The other, Michael Rosebury, was describedas sullen and anything but contrite.
After Rosebury had been hanged, in the "Danny Deever"manner before his comrades, and while Miller was standingby, waiting his turn on the gallows, he received a reprievefrom the commander. It was good theater but a little roughon 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 Sullivannoted that a third of his "men did not have shirts on theirbacks." He dispatched a wrathful protest to Congress. Hewas to send several during the campaign.
After more than a month of gathering supplies, the armymoved again. The heavy supplies went by boat up the Susquehanna and the troops and 1,200 packhorses by land. TheIndians, watching from the woods, called the marching columns "The Long Blue Snake." Tioga Point was reached onAugust 17. Sullivan had been ill during part of the trip.
Meanwhile the New Yorkers were on their way from theMohawk Valley. Their commander, James Clinton, a brotherof one New York governor, George Clinton, and father ofanother, the canal builder, De Witt, was a veteran of theFrench and Indian war.
Clinton was an engineer and surveyor. He evolved theingenious scheme of damming the outlet of Otsego Lake toraise the level of the Susquehanna to make the river navigable for his brigade. On August 22 the Clinton and Sullivanforces joined at Tioga Point. One phase of the campaign hadbeen carried out according to plan. But Broadhead neverjoined Clinton and Sullivan. After destroying some Indiantowns along the Allegheny, his men ran out of shoes andother supplies at about the present site of Salamanca andturned back to Fort Pitt.
The enemy chose to make its stand against Sullivan at abend of the Chemung River at the Indian village of Newtown, southeast of the present Elmira. There were a fewBritish regulars in the army of 1,250 but the bulk of theforces were made up of Tories under Col. John Butler andIndians under Brant.
They prepared an ambuscade but the trap was discoveredand Sullivan ordered attacks on the enemy flank and rear.The battle was short but fierce and it ended when heavyartillery fire routed the Indians, who had little taste for thatsort of warfare, After that the allies were in full retreat andthe battle of Newtown, fought on Sunday, Aug. 29, 1779,was the only real engagement of the campaign.
The victorious Americans were woefully short of rationsafter Newtown. The next evening, while the army was onthe march to French Catherine's Town (Montour Falls),Sullivan displayed his ability in handling men.
He could have summarily ordered the troops put on halfrations. Instead he addressed the whole army, asking theranks to vote on the cut in rations, "while in a country whichabounds in corn and vegetables." He reminded his men thatthe enemy had gotten along "with corn only, without salt,meat and flour" and declared, "you, I am sure, will not beoutdone." He lambasted "the inattention of those whosebusiness it was to make the necessary provision," and calledfor 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 FingerLakes, dragging the cannon through marshes and over roughhills, living off the land. Sullivan burned every Seneca villagein 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 ofstanding crops and those harvested and stored.
As the haze of autumn settled over the land of lakes, theeating Indians saw in the sky the smoke of their burningvillages-French Catherine's Town, Kendaia (now the site ofa government munitions depot), Kanadesaga (Geneva), Kanandaque (Canandaigua). Honeoye, Conesus and finallyGenesee Castle (Cuylerville). Side expeditions laid waste theIndian town of Skoiyase (Waterloo) and settlements alongCayuga Lake.
After the war, some members of Congress criticized Sullivan's "unmilitary vandalism." The bluff general did notdeign to reply. George Washington's orders had been "tocut off their settlements, destroy . . . the crops and do everyother mischief. . . ." John Sullivan, a soldier, was merelycarrying out the orders of his commanding officer.
When in camp near Conesus, Sullivan sent out a scoutingparty under young Lieutenant Thomas Boyd to reconnoiterGenesee Castle, the stronghold of Chief Little Beard. Theparty of 26 men was ambushed at Groveland Hill by anIndian-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 notspare the dead lieutenant. He pointed out that Boyd "took26 men, a much larger number than I thought of sendingand by no means so likely to answer the purpose."
When the army reached Genesee Castle, the big town hadbeen abandoned. Every vestige of it was destroyed. ThenSullivan again addressed his assembled troops. He told his"brave and resolute army" that "the immediate results ofthis expedition are accomplished-total ruin of the Indiansettlements and destruction of their crops" and announcedthat "the army will this day commence its march for Tioga."
In his official report of the campaign, Sullivan said hewould have paid Fort Niagara a visit had he been suppliedwith 15 more days' rations.
So the army went back the way it had come. Fort Niagarastill stood, a haven for the beaten Indians who were a drainon British supplies. The raids on frontier settlements becamefewer although the British paid the savages a bounty forevery 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 andabove all, a vast rich territory had been opened for eventualsettlement.
At Fort Reed near Elmira on the return march, word wasreceived of Spain's meaningless declaration of war on England and, what was more vital to the men, news that theirpay 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'sbrigade wrote this account of that day's festivities:
"In the forenoon the army all discharged their musketswith orders to parade in the afternoon, each man given oneblank cartridge. According to orders the whole paraded in aline to fire a feu de joie when 13 rounds of cannon werefired. Then began a running fire of muskets from the right . . . this not being performed to the general's liking, heordered the whole to again charge; after this was done heordered not a man to fire until he should come opposite him.Then he put his horse at full speed and rode from right toleft with whip and spur, the men all firing according toorders which . . . caused the general to say 'it went like ahallelujah.'"
Even on a day of relaxed jubilation at the fag end of acampaign, General Sullivan would tolerate no sloppiness inhis army.
Back at Easton, the starting point, the army hastened toin Washington's forces in New Jersey. The rebel cause waslooking up. French aid was coming and all hands wereneeded for the finale.
John Sullivan did not accompany his men. "The IndianExpedition" was his last campaign. He resigned his commandin 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 andamong 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 ContinentalCongress, as he had been to that first one which defied theCrown. He served four years as attorney general of his state,a term as Speaker of its House of Representatives and twoyears as chief magistrate of New Hampshire. He was president of the state convention that ratified the constitution ofthe United States. New Hampshire's approval, as the ninthstate to ratify, was necessary for adoption.
Sullivan was a Presidential elector in 1789 and cast hisvote for his old commander as first President of the newRepublic. Later that year Washington named him federaljudge for the New Hampshire district. He was holding thatoffice when he died on Jan. 23, 1795 in his 55th year. Thosewar years had shortened a useful life.
A monument honoring him stands in his home town ofDurham. Nor is the trail-blazing general forgotten in theland he opened to settlement. Part of the way over which hisragged, hungry soldiers marched is called the Sullivan Trail.Scores of markers line the route of Sullivan's army. In NewYork, which is loyal to its own son, James Clinton, themarkers read "Sullivan-Clinton Expedition." But it's "theSullivan Expedition" in the history books. After all JohnSullivan was the supreme commander.
Counties and communities have been named for him. Ona hill, where the tide of battle at Newtown turned in 1779,a tall granite shaft overlooks the old battlefield, now a statereservation. Whatever its official name, people call it "theSullivan Monument."
That monument has stood on the high hill only since1912. 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 theprincipal speaker was the Union general, William TecumsehSherman, Eighty five years after Sullivan blazed a trail ofdesolation across the heartland of the Six Nations, Shermanduplicated that march-on a far grander scale-through theDeep 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 ofSullivan's troops through the old Indian hunting groundsthat the first pioneer's axe broke the silence of the WesternNew 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 ofNew York claimed the land between Lakes Seneca and Erie.
Massachusetts based her claim on a grant by Charles I in1629 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, wasthe controversy settled. Commissioners of both states met atHartford, Conn. and reached an agreement whereby NewYork was to govern the disputed territory and Massachusettswas given the right of pre-emption (the right of first purchasefrom 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 youngrepublic. 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 rightsof Massachusetts, obtaining releases from the Indians andthen selling the lands, at a profit, to other speculators andto settlers.
One of those Yankees who had the golden dream was aself-made Bay State merchant, then only 37 years old. Hisname was Oliver Phelps, a name indelibly written on theGenesee Country.
He was a native of Windsor, Conn. His father died whenhe 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 farmersat Lexington and then became a commissary general in thecolonial forces. After the war he settled in Suffield, Mass.,and served as a member of the state Assembly, as a statesenator and a member of the governor's council.
Through his commissary duties, he had become acquainted with Robert Morris of Philadelphia, the financierof the Revolution, destined to become the biggest landspeculator of his time and to play an important part in thesettlement of the Genesee Country. Morris and Phelps heardglowing accounts of the Western wilderness from veterans ofthe Sullivan campaign.
Possibly spurred on by his friend Morris, Phelps organizedA syndicate of Massachusetts men to buy the Western NewYork lands. He found that another enterprising Bay Stater,Nathaniel Gorham of Charlestown, had the same idea. ToAvoid an unprofitable rivalry, Phelps and Gorham joinedforces in the venture.
The syndicate agreed to buy from Massachusetts the entireterritory covered by the Hartford covenant, six million acres,for one million dollars in the depreciated currency of theBay state. Payment was to be made in three annual installments. The Phelps and Gorham offer was accepted in Apriland the purchasers authorized to proceed with extinguishingthe Indian title, the first step before settlement.
No time was lost in developing the domain. Oliver Phelpsset out in the late Spring of 1788 for the Purchase to dealwith the Indian chiefs. Nathaniel Gorham went to Albany tonegotiate with New York state authorities. He never set footon the Purchase but sent his young son, Nathaniel, Jr., as hisrepresentative in 1789. The younger Gorham lived the restof his years in Western New York.
Phelps and Gorham are names written large in GeneseeCountry history and tradition. Ancient deeds bear theirnames 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 inthe development of this frontier. He lived for many yearson the Purchase and deserves a place in American historyfor establishing at Canandaigua in 1789 the first office forthe sale of land directly to settlers in the New World.
He was to know reverses but he never lost heart untilalmost the end of his career. His sanguine spirit inspired confidence in the hard, early years. Pictures of the pioneer landowner reveal a full-faced man with bright eyes and a merrymouth, wearing a wig, ruffles at his wrists and a high stockabout his neck.
On his first trip to the Genesee Country, Phelps arrivedby the waterways at the foot of Seneca Lake, the site of thebig Indian village of Kanadesaga, which Sullivan had destroyed, along with the British barracks and stockade builtbefore the Revolution by Sir William Johnson. Kanadesaga,which was to be renamed Geneva, was an important placein the Senecas' domain, Their hereditary "king" had livedthere before the war.
In 1788 there was a tiny settlement along the lake, theonly one on the frontier save for the religious colony ofJemima Wilkinson near Dresden. There were a few cabinsof traders and trappers, a log tavern and a trading postwhere the distinctive city of Geneva stands today.
Phelps was pleased at the setting and the air of bustle atKanadesaga and in a letter home wrote "at the foot of SenecaLake we propose to build the city." He would make Genevathe seat of his Purchase. But that was not to be, as we shallsee.
At the onset Phelps ran into a barrier in negotiating withthe Indians. A group of powerful land speculators, organizedinto the New York Genesee Land Company and led by JohnLivingston and Peter Schuyler of the Hudson River gentry,had beaten him to the draw.
These speculators had met the chiefs in council at Genevaand obtained a 999-year lease to all the Indian lands inWestern New York, this circumventing a law which forbadepurchase of land from the tribesmen Knowing that theirlease would not be upheld in Massachusetts or New Yorkcourts, the Lessees conspired to set up a separate state in thewilderness. The doughty New York Governor, George Clinton,fought the move, the Legislature voided the "LongLease" and the movement for a new state died on the vine.
But in that Summer of 1788, "the Long Lease" presenteda distinct threat to the Phelps and Gorham interests. TheNew York speculators had the ear of the Indians. Phelps sawthat his pre-emption claim was of little value if the rival landcompany 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 bargainwith Phelps. It is worthy of note that one of the leaders inthe Canadian land company was John Butler, the ToryRanger so hated by the settlers.
Phelps failed in an attempt to convene a treaty council atGeneva but after conferring with "Indian" Allen, the loneresident along the lower Genesee, he got the chiefs to meetwith him at Buffalo Creek on July 4. At that council firethe Rev. Samuel Kirkland, the missionary so trusted by theIndians, represented Massachusetts. The Senecas sent theirforemost chiefs-Cornplanter, Red Jacket, Farmer's Brother,Hot Bread and Big Tree among them.
After long palavering the Indians consented to part with2,600,000 acres. In general it was the area between SenecaLake and the Genesee. The Indians believed the Great Spirithad fixed the Genesee as the boundary between the whitemen and the redmen. They were induced to part with astrip 12 miles wide West of the Genesee between Charlotteand Canawaugus. That "mill site" includes much of Rochestertoday. For $5,000 down and a perpetual annuity of $500Phelps and Gorham obtained a veritable wilderness empire.
After the treaty had been signed, Phelps immediately putsurveyors under Col. Hugh Maxwell, a Revolutionary veteran, to work fixing the boundaries of his domain. That firstsurvey erroneously put Geneva east of the Purchase preemption line. So Phelps revised his plans. He picked "yeoutlet of the Kennaradaque Lake" as the headquarters of hisenterprise. Thus Canandaigua, which in the Indian tonguemeans "the Chosen Spot," and not Geneva, became the capital of the frontier.
In 1792 a new and correct survey showed Geneva wellwithin the limits of the Purchase.
Along with the surveyors there came from Massachusettsin the year 1788 Gen. Israel Chapin, a close associate ofPhelps and a shareholder in the Genesee land venture, andWilliam Walker, land agent for the company. They hadroads cut through the woods from Geneva to Canandaiguaand to the Genesee. They built a log storehouse at the footof the lake. It was the first white man's structure in their"capital." But no white man stayed on the Purchase thatWinter of l788-89.
Early in May of 1789, General Chapin returned and builta log house near the Outlet. Then Walker built a combination land office-dwelling on the west side of Main Streetsouth of the Public Square. William Walker deserves a footnote in history because he sold the first lands in Americadirectly 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 fromGeneva 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 upin January, 1789, when there was only a handful of settlerson the six million wild acres west of Seneca Lake and onlyone 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 hadto default on their payment. Although they were granted anextension, they still could not meet their obligations and in1790 they turned back to Massachusetts the approximatetwo thirds of their purchase which had not been cleared ofIndian claims.
They sold to Robert Morris the remaining lands in theirtract, some one and one quarter million acres, at less than12 cents an acre. That was in August, 1790. Phelps andGorham reserved two townships for themselves. Out of thattransaction they emerged with good sized estates.
One suspects that Morris, who had a passion for speculationin wild lands, had been waiting in the wings all the time.He sent his son, Thomas, a personable, well-set up youthof 21, schooled in France and England, to the frontier as hisrepresentative.
Hardly had the young man arrived in Canandaigua thanthe newly acquired tract, except for a half million acre reserve, was sold to a British syndicate headed by Sir WilliamPulteney. Robert Morris had made a quick profit of some$160,000 on the deal.
That whetted the appetite of the greatest land speculatorof his day. In 1791 Morris acquired from Massachusetts thatpart of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase, still encumberedby 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 toplague the sorely buffeted Oliver Phelps. The Seneca chiefscharged that the price agreed upon for their land at theBuffalo Creek council was $10,000 rather than the $5,000they received. In effect they declared that Phelps and hisassociates had cheated them.
At the Tioga Point Council of 1790 Red Jacket and otherchiefs aired these serious charges before Timothy Pickering,Washington's "trouble shooter" in Indian affairs. Phelps alsoaddressed the council in these words:
"Brothers, you remember we sat up all night (at theBuffalo Creek council.) It was almost morning before weagreed on our boundaries. After breakfast we returned toagree on the price you should have. After some consideration you agreed to the terms proposed but insisted that Imust 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 anhonest man. If you go to New England and inquire aboutmy character, you will not find me such a rogue as you represent me to be. I mean to fulfill my engagement to you. I nowowe you $1,000 for two years' rent which I am willing to payat 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 thegood offices of the Rev. Mr. Kirkland and concessions grantedthe Indians by the Federal government. It may well havebeen that the misunderstanding arose because the Senecas,used to trading with Canada, thought of the price offeredthem 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 thatwhile he might drive a hard Yankee bargain, he was not onedeliberately to cheat untutored Indians. Besides the presenceof the missionary Kirkland at the council would assure fairtreatment and no double dealing.
Until he made Canandaigua his family residence in 1802,Phelps spent considerable time on the Purchase, alternatingbetween the Genesee Country and New England. He wasnamed the first judge of Ontario County in 1789 and heldthe first court in an unfinished room of Moses Atwater's loghouse.
In the earliest years of settlement, the balance wheel ofthe frontier, other than Oliver Phelps, who was often absent,was Israel Chapin, While Nathaniel Gorham, Jr. andThomas, son of Robert Morris, were living on the Purchase,they were very young men and on the stalwart shoulders ofGeneral 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 hadbeen a brigadier general in the Revolution and had servedin the ill-starred Quebec campaign. He became a subcontractor for army commissary Oliver Phelps and recalled thathe was once asked to obtain "a fine yoke of oxen for GeorgeWashington's table."
After the war he had invested in Vermont lands andeagerly joined Phelps and Gorham in their Western NewYork venture. He explored the Purchase.
His principal service was as a liaison man with the Indianson the frontier. Named by War Secretary Knox as deputysuperintendent of the Six Nations, his job was to keep peacewith 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 inCanandaigua. He fed them and advised them. He acted asarbitrator in their disputes. He traveled to far councils, everpouring oil on troubled waters. He handled the proud andjealous 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 in1794. He was the spearhead of that powwow. He sent outrunners to summon the chiefs. He sat beside Timothy Pickering, Washington's representative, at the council fire. Hishome was open alike to white statesmen and red sachems. Hedispensed 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 tokeep 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 IsraelChapin. 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 tribesmenwas Jasper Parrish, who had been a prisoner of the Indiansfor six years. His story is a strange one.
Born in Connecticut in 1766, he was very young when hisparents moved into Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Whenhe was 11 years old, during a time of border warfare, he wastaken prisoner by Munsees. With his father he was helpinga family move nearer the settlement when the Indians attacked.
The father was taken to Fort Niagara where he was acaptive for two years. The boy was protected by a war chiefwho took him to the Seneca town of Chemung. When Jasperrode into the village, he was scourged with whips, pulled offhis horse and beaten by tomahawk handles in the hands ofyoung Indians. The chief rescued him and later sold him toa family of Delawares.
The boy suffered through the Winter of 1778 for lack ofwarm clothing and food. To inure him to the cold, the Indians made him strip daily and plunge into the icy DelawareRiver. Generally he was well treated and the Indians tookhim on their hunting and fishing trips.
He was a captive at Newtown when Sullivan's avengingarmy came. The retreating Indians took him to Niagara. Hewell remembered that Winter when most of the Six Nationswere encamped at the fort and ate the scanty, salted provisions doled out by the British. Many died and others wentback to their old villages.
At Niagara, Parrish overheard one drunken brave say toanother, "Let's kill the young Yankee and sell his scalp atthe fort for rum." One of the Indians took a burning brandfrom the fire and hurled it at Jasper's head. The youthdodged and escaped in the darkness.
In 1780 he was sold for $20 to Capt. David Hill, a Mohawkkinsman of Joseph Brant. He lived with the captain in histent and was formally adopted as his son. He stayed withHill until 1784 when he was released with other prisoners.
Jasper was 17 then. During six years of captivity he hadlearned the Indian language and virtually forgotten his own.He went to school and picked up the education of which hehad been deprived. With the Indians he had learned selfreliance and the craft of the forest.
In 1790 he was made a government interpreter and servedPickering at treaty councils with the Indians. In 1792 he wasappointed to the Indian department and as interpreter, heassisted 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 untilJackson's second term as president. Not only did he helpkeep the peace between the whites and the Indians but hewas 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 inthe fine frame house he had built on the Square, OliverPhelps 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 wasactive in all community affairs. He gave 3,000 acres of county land to benefit Canandaigua Academy. He was regardedas the first citizen of the Genesee Country.
He also was considered the wealthiest. Some thought hewas worth a million dollars. But his fortune was all in undeveloped lands, mostly in the South and West. He hadbeen caught up in the vortex of unbridled land speculationrevolving about that prince of plungers, Robert Morris.
The bubble burst. The Georgia Land Company, in whichPhelps 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 publicresentment, 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 ornamentalfigure 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 representativeat the Big Tree council which won a vast territory from theIndians. Morris, who became an accomplished woodsman,owned considerable land, including the site of MountMorris.
In 1792 he built an elegant frame house in Canandaiguaon the west side of Main Street. There Morris kept bachelor's hall until he brought his bride, Sally Kane, to the settlement in1799. The Morris house, which lingered on the scene until1900, 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 ofthe Pulteney interests, was a frequent guest. The Morrisesmaintained a French cook and a gardener who cared forthe extensive grounds.
But in 1804 young Morris found himself in the samepredicament as his father, Oliver Phelps and other over-extended land speculators. He left Canandaigua to practicelaw in New York. He lived to a good age but never recoupedhis fortune, serving at one time as a clerk in the New YorkCustoms 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 OliverPhelps in the Pioneer Cemetery in the heart of Canandaiguaare these words:
Enterprise, Industry and Temperance Can Not Always Assure Success
On the adjacent stone, marking the last resting place of hiswife 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 diedthinking himself a failure. True his finances were in tangledruins. But he had been one of the principal architects of thisfrontier. 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 chiefsaround the council fire, they found that the toughest of theIndian negotiators was the silver-tongued Red Jacket.
He was the outstanding orator of his Nation, one of thegreatest of his race. He marshalled his eloquence againstevery white encroachment on the Indian domain. Sometimeshe had to fight alone. Some powerful chiefs were his enemies,But to his dying day he kept warning his people that theywere parting with an empire for a pittance, that they werebeing cheated by the greedy whites.
Just as consistently he resisted every inroad of the whiteman's culture on the Indian way of life. He was the leaderof the pagan party and he opposed the spread of Christianityamong 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 andwarned that if the Indians joined the British in the Revolution, the Iroquois Nations were doomed. He was a soldierin that war-and was accused by a fellow thief of cowardiceduring the flight of the Indian-Tory army after Sullivan'svictory at Newtown. Yet in the War of 1812, despite hisyears, he took up arms on the American side and served well.
The erect Seneca with the flashing eye and the pendulouslip of the orator was a shrewd and logical debater who couldhold is own with any paleface at the council fire or in thecourt room. He never learned to read or write English andpretended not to be able to speak it. But he knew most ofthe words. He spoke in his own tongue and nothing was lostin the translations by imaginative interpreters. They putsome pretty high flown language into the mouth of an unlettered redskin. Unquestionably Red Jacket's diction anddelivery were superb.
The white men gave him the name Red Jacket becauseof the richly embroidered scarlet coat he always wore. ABritish officer gave him his first one, as a reward for hisyouthful fleetness as a messenger. When that one wore out,he got another and he was never without the red jacket aslong as he lived. And night and day he wore around his neckthe silver medal George Washington had given him.
His first Indian name, bestowed upon him when he was10, was Otetiana, which means "always ready." When heattained manhood, he was given the name Sa-go-ye-wat-hah,"he keeps them awake." Both names fitted him because noone slept when Red Jacket spoke and he was always readyto advocate his people's cause.
He was no paragon. He was exceedingly vain. His ambitious, pushing ways as a youth incurred the lasting enmityof the influential half white chief, Cornplanter, and his halfbrother, Handsome Lake, the Prophet. Red Jacket's lateyears 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 Jacketbecame a Seneca and a member of the Wolf clan through thematernal line according to the tribal law.
Part of his boyhood was spent along Keuka Lake nearBranchport. When a lad he attended a tribal council on theShenandoah and there he heard the great Indian oratorLogan. His oratory enthralled young Red Jacket and he wasfired with the ambition to become another Logan.
Back home, when his mother would miss him from thecabin and asked where he had been, he would reply: "Out inthe woods playing Logan." The birds and the woods animalsalong "the Crooked Lake" first heard the golden voice thatwas to resound at a hundred council fires.
The youth won renown as a runner and the British usedhim as a courier between their outposts. He fought underBrant against Sullivan and during the retreat, when theSeneca chief, Farmer's Brother, wanted to make a stand atCanandaigua, Red Jacket counseled further flight andFarmer's Brother bitterly accused him of cowardice.
After the Revolution the voice of Red Jacket as a Senecasachem was raised at every treaty council save the one atFort Stanwix which ceded large tracts to the whites. RedJacket stayed away from that treaty making and then denounced Cornplanter for easy capitulation.
At a gathering of tribesmen two years later, he made theinflammatory statement that: "Though Great Britain haswithdrawn from the contest, the Indians as original ownersof the land ought to make common cause and carry on thecontest until the Americans recognize our rights." He was apotent 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 theIndians never received the full sum agreed upon for their lands.
He liked to match wits with the tall Pickering whom hetried to goad into some unguarded statement and sometimeshe 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. Heknew how to read and write. I did not. So he got ahead ofme. If I had known how to read and write I would havegot ahead of him."
Red Jacket faced Pickering again at the Canandaiguatreaty making in 1794, when he argued against any pact thatignored the restoration of lands taken from the Indians bywhat he called sharp bargaining. As was so often the case,the calmer counsels of Cornplanter and other conservativesprevailed, 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 whitenegotiators at Big Tree and once extinguished the councilfire although he had no right to do so. He was obduratein his opposition to granting a tract to Mary Jemison, thewhite captive who had spent her life with the Indians, buthe was overruled.
The final agreement at Big Tree found Red Jacket in adrunken stupor. He later signed the treaty and with theother chiefs took his life annuity. But he was never happyabout 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 seethe noted orator of the Senecas. He was told he already hadseen Red Jacket but did not recognize the Indian with amedal around his neck asleep in a ditch along the trail nearAvon as the tribal Demosthenes, ditched by too much firewater.
He was wont to use graphic examples at councils to drivehome his points. At the Canandaigna treaty making, he filledtwo benches, one with nine Indians and a lone white manat the end; the other with nine white men and a singleIndian, to illustrate the change in the status of the twopeoples 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 ofthe city of Niagara Falls, was having a bridge built to GoatIsland in the Niagara, Red Jacket watched the operationsfor a while, then stamped away. Sadly he realized that hispeople could never cope with the superior ingenuity andenterprise of the whites and he uttered two words that yearslater were echoed by thousands in war-ravaged Dixie: "DamnYankees!"
Once a "Black Coat," as he called the Christian missionaries, sought to convert Red Jacket by telling him the storyof 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 acceptingany religion other than the ancient one of his fathers. Henever sanctioned the codes preached by Handsome Lake andclaimed the Peace Prophet altered the old Indian religion.
When he found that his third wife, Wysaoh, "the talkativeone," had been attending Christian services secretly, he lefttheir home on the Buffalo Creek Reservation in anger andhumiliation. He wandered around for weeks before returning to the log house in the present South Buffalo near SenecaStreet 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 newfarming 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 theIndians in their struggle to retain their lands.
The orator was an old man, bald, crippled by rheumatismand worn out by dissipation and his life-long battle againstwhite speculators and Indian rivals when he made his lastgreat campaign for his people.
He was fighting an attempt by a group of land speculatorsto take over five Indian reservations. Stockholders in thisOgden 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 deposinghim from his tribal office. In 1802 when he had faced trialfor witchcraft in an Indian court, he had pleaded his owncase and won. This time he lost. But the next year saw himrestored to his old office as head sachem of the Wolf Clan.Within eighteen months the greatest orator of the nation wasdead, at the age of 80.
Here is Red Jacket's valedictory, delivered at the last ofthe many council meetings that had been stirred by hismatchless oratory:
"When I am gone, my warnings shall no longer be heardand the craft and the avarice of the white man will prevail.Many Winters have I breasted the storm. I am an aged treeand can stand no longer. . . . Think not, my people, that Imourn for myself. I go to join the spirits of my fathers, whereage cannot wither; but my heart fails me when I think ofmy people who are soon to be scattered and forgotten."
Red Jacket was buried with tribal ceremony on the BuffaloCreek Reservation in late January of 1830. Later when thecity of Buffalo spread out over the old Indian stampingground, 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 RedJacket as an orator, was far greater on the war path and overthe years more influential at the treaty fires.
Often he chose the path of compromise. Often his counselssaved his people from too hasty or warlike action. A practicalrealist, without Red Jacket's fanaticism, he always tried tomake the best bargain possible in dealing with the whitemen. The government representatives and the land baronsfelt that "they could do business with Cornplanter." After allhe 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 thename, Ga-yant-hawah-geh, meaning "at the planted field."Under the name of Cornplanter, the youth served in theFrench and Indian War under the British flag and was atBraddock's famous defeat in Pennsylvania, along with ayoung 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 Stanwixtreaty of 1784 by which the whites obtained most of theIndian domain in Eastern New York. He defended his standagainst charges of appeasement, saying that a beaten nation hasto accept the best terms it can obtain from its conqueror.
Six years later he went with other chiefs to Philadelphiato tell President Washington of their discontent with theFort Stanwix compact. One grievance was that many acres ofIndian 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 squaremiles of land along the Allegheny River in Warren County.A handful of the old chieftain's descendants still live on whatis known locally as "The Cornplanter Kingdom."
At the Philadelphia pow-wow, Cornplanter in his statelyfashion, 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 nameis mentioned, our women look behind them and turn paleand our children cling close to the necks of their mothers,Our councillors and warriors are men and need not be afraidbut their hearts are grieved with the fears of women andchildren and desire that they may be buried so deep as to beheard no more."
"When you gave us peace, we called you father becauseyou promised to secure us possession of our lands. Do thisand as long as the lands remain, that beloved name will livein the heart of every Seneca."
He appeared at all the later treaty councils, usually in hisaccustomed 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 darkand penetrating eye and a poised and easy manner in anycompany. He carried the treaties of the Seneca Nationaround with him in his saddle bags and was looked upon byhis people as an authority in governmental affairs.
Less colorful and idealistic than Red Jacket, this urbanemiddle of the roader probably deserves to be called "theSeneca statesman."
When he was not on the war path, his early years werelived 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 reservationnamed for the Allegheny River that winds through that wildand scraggly land in the shadow of the mountains. Some saidCornplanter was 96, Others maintained that he was 102 yearsold when he joined his fathers in the land beyond the skies.
The Seneca sage sleeps in "the Cornplanter Kingdom" inthe Pennsylvania hills. But as this is written both his graveand most of his reserve are threatened by the Great WhiteFather in Washington City. The Federal government plansto build a $125,000,000 flood control dam at Kinzua, Pa.This would take over 700 acres of the reserve in Pennsylvaniaand 9,000 acres of the Allegany Reservation in New YorkState.
In a campaign to save "the Kingdom," friends of the Indians have invoked the pledge made by the United Statesat the Pickering Treaty in Canandaigua in 1794 that thegovernment "will never claim the land nor disturb theNation in the free use and employment thereof."
That pledge has been violated before-and probably willbe again.
* * *
Ganeodiyo, revered in Seneca hearts as Handsome Lake,the Peace Prophet, affected the lives of his people morethan 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 brotherof Cornplanter but there was no white blood in his veins.He was a sachem of the highest rank in the Turtle Clanbut for years he was a shiftless idler and a drunkard.
Then in the year 1800 as Handsome Lake lay on a hillsidesleeping off a debauch, four young angels came to him in avision. They were the messengers of the Great Spirit and theycommanded him to spread among the people a new religionwhich they revealed to him.
From that day forth Handsome Lake was dedicated to hispreaching mission, going from village to village as had theNazarene 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 reformeddrunkard. He saw how the white man's firewater had debasedthe Indian character, giving birth to two other vices foreignto the Indian nature, falsehood and thievery.
At first he encountered only ridicule and apathy. RedJacket, who distrusted anything new, called him an imposter.Cornplanter remained a skeptic, without faith in his halfbrother'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 theSenecas and Onondagas. He never stopped preaching untildeath took him in 1815 at Onondaga. There's a handsometomb above the grave of the Peace Prophet near the LongHouse of the League.
The Gaiwii-o, the record of his teachings, still lives and isrecited at non Christian festivals on the reservations.
The code of Handsome Lake is not a complicated one. Itcondemns drunkenness, witchcraft, evil gossip, vanity andpreaches the Golden Rule, constancy in marriage, tendernesstoward children. The Prophet called upon his followers tocare for the afflicted and decreed that no one should demandcompensation for treating the sick. He extolled the spirit ofhospitality toward the stranger and the value of occasionallycommuning with oneself in the forest.
On the practical side he adjured the Indians to copy thewhite people in all progressive ways, to learn the Englishlanguage, to keep live stock.
The idea of a human soul and a Supreme Being runsthroughout the preachings of Handsome Lake. He deploredthe worship of animals and secret societies, dear to the tribalheart.
His gospel was introduced at a propitious time and hadfar-reaching effects. It rallied and solidified the Iroquois in atime of defeat in war and loss of their homeland. It savedmany an Indian from a drunkard's grave. It effectively arrested the spread of Christianity among the Indians and thestrength of the non Christian party on the New York Statereservations today springs from the seed planted so longby the crusader from Canawaugus, the reformed drunkardwho spoke with angels.
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On old parchments on which were written the treaties bywhich thousands of acres passed from copper colored handsto white ones are the names of other mighty chiefs-eachsigned 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 buthe was a redoutable warrior and ruled the biggest town inthe Seneca homeland, the Genesee Castle or Beard's Townnear the present Cuylerville. It was to this village that theIndians and their allies dragged Boyd and Parker, the captured soldiers of Sullivan's scouting party, to be tortured todeath. It was this stronghold of the Senecas that Sullivan'smen wiped out as the finale of their campaign. After theRevolution, a tract there was set aside as the Little BeardReservation.
Little Beard had a reputation for cruelty and ferocity inbattle but in peace he was amiable and made friends with thewhite settlers along the Genesee. He was a straight and slender man of medium height.
He came to an ignominious end. During a drunken brawlin a Leicester tavern in 1808, the thief was thrown out thedoor and sustained mortal injuries. The day after his deaththere was an eclipse of the sun, something that generationof Indians had never witnessed. They were terrified andassembled, beating their drums and chanting. Believing thatthe spirit of Little Beard, on its way up the heavenly path, had obscured the sun, they shot bullets and arrows skywarduntil 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 rivernear the first settlement made by the Wadsworth brothers,which in the early years was known as Big Tree. It was therenear a giant oak that the Treaty of Big Tree was signed.But the great tree has no connection with the Indian chiefnamed Big Tree.
At the Old Castle of Kanadesaga (Geneva) there ruled apowerful chief with the Indian name of Sayenquerhagtha,"he who carries the smoke," better known as The Old Kingor 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 andIndians at Fort Stanwix, Molly Brant, the Mohawk widowof Sir William Johnson, came to the Old King, pleading inthe 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 partin the post-war councils with the Thirteen Fires, as theIndians 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 asingular religious belief-that after death all the people ofthe Six Nations would be gathered in the realms of themoon. "Here," he said, "we shall meet the Great Spirit whowill direct us to the fairest celestial hunting grounds."
It was this old chief's long memory that saved the OilSpring reservation near Cuba for the Nation. Through anoversight it was not included among the reserves in the firstdraft of the Big Tree Treaty. Before the council disbanded,at the behest of the chiefs, Thomas Morris signed a papergranting 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 theSpring, 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-FishCarrier 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 andever with ceremonious dignity-until the firewater barrelswere tapped-the simple statesmen of the forest had to matchwits with the shrewd, land-hungry, victorious whites at thecouncil fire. They made a valiant and pathetic effort to salvage what they could of the land of their fathers.
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