Valley of the Genesee

The valley of the Genesee was a favorite resort of the Indian. His trail led along its banks and brought him at short intervals to Indian villages, or the head-quarters of Indian chiefs. Its flats were broad and beautiful, and were bordered on either side by hills that rose gradually to their summit, where they stretched out into extensive table lands. These hills, as we ascend the valley gradually become higher and higher, until we are brought into the vicinity of mountain elevations, where the scenery becomes very romantic, and the country much broken. The valley itself is almost of uniform width from its commencement, a few miles south of the city of Rochester, to the pleasant and thriving village of Mount Morris. Here these flats which are quite extensive and exceedingly rich and beautiful, appear to leave the river and follow its tributary, the Canaseraga, to a point about sixteen miles above; diminishing somewhat in width as they ascend, until they come near the present village of Dansville, where the hills again recede and forming a large basin, enclose it on the south, presenting the appearance of a magnificent amphitheater.

The Canaseraga is here joined by two streams, Stony Brook and Mill Creek, which flow down from the highlands beyond, over precipices, and through gorges deep and wild, where rugged cliffs defying all attempts at culture, rise abruptly at times, from one to three hundred feet on either side. The Indian’s trail conducted him to these wilds, which still remain the most unchanged of all his ancient haunts. Here are solitudes seldom visited by man, where are treasured sublimities that enchain the mind, and inspire a feeling of devotion in the heart of the beholder. Here the Indian, undisturbed by other sights or sounds, may yet listen to the voice of the waterfall as it sounded in the ear of his fathers, or to the gentle murmur of the stream discoursing now, as it did to them, in passing hurriedly over its rocky bed 1 .

Beyond this point the Canaseraga itself, as it flows from its source among the hills bordering on Pennsylvania, passes often through deep ravines, narrow defiles, and overhanging cliffs. The same is true also of the Genesee river above Mount Morris. Its course is marked by scenery rarely surpassed in sublimity and grandeur 2.

The Indian as he followed his trail leading up along its banks, paused often to listen to the thunder of its waterfalls, or to watch its course while threading its way at the bottom of ravines, hundreds of feet beneath the jutting point where he was standing. The territory marked by this river was unsurpassed in the magnificence and beauty of its scenery, and in the variety and richness of its soil; and the Indian who lived for the most part in the open world, found here a home congenial to his spirit, and he loved it. The white man saw and loved it too. But he loved it not as the Indian, who looked upon it as already complete. The hills brought him venison, the valleys corn, and the streams on every side abounded in fish, the beautiful speckled trout, which fairly swarmed in all of these waters. What could he want more? He loved it as it was; just as it came from the forming hand of the Great Spirit.

The white man loved it for what he saw he could make of it; but how little he thought his making, would mar the desirableness and beauty of the Indian’s home. He had already obtained of the Indian a title to all his land lying on the east side of this river. He had even been allowed to cross over to the west side, and look upon that generous Mill Yard, twelve miles square, as his own. A very extensive gift it is true, but as it was proposed to erect at the Genesee falls a saw mill, which was claimed to be a vastly benevolent institution, and would be useful to the Indians as well as whites, inasmuch as it would save the immense labor of splitting and hewing logs for plank, as they were going to make the water of the river split the logs and hew them at the same time; it was claimed that this surrender on the part of the Indians, would be but a just offset against the self-denial, great expense, and severe labor of the whites, in establishing so benign an institution as a saw mill, in these western wilds. This is one among many instances of the benevolence of the white man toward the Indian.

If the Genesee country was prized by the Indian, it was regarded with a wishful eye by the white man. And as he had obtained what was on the east side of the Genesee river, he was not content without a larger portion on the west. Already the tide of emigration had brought him to the utmost limit of his possessions, and he could hardly refrain from looking, with a wishful eye, upon the fertile fields lying beyond.

The Indian on the other hand, began to feel uneasy about having sold so much of his land. He regretted very much the permission he had given the white man to own one foot of ground, on the west side of the Genesee river. Natural boundaries with him weighed more than with the white man; and had the white man’s possessions been confined strictly to the east side of the river, he would have felt better satisfied though it had cost him a larger area of ground. The white man’s mode of running lines and of measuring land, he did not comprehend or appreciate. But when the line was made by a creek, river, or mountain, he understood it, and it harmonized better with his views of fitness, in dividing up the surface of this great earth. He was utterly unschooled in the art of computing by acres and roods. But the water’s edge he had traversed with his light canoe, and with every point and islet on the lakes he was familiar. He had followed the rivers to where they came bubbling up from their rocky bed amid mountain elevations, and there was not a tributary stream or run, by whose side he had not rested, or by whose music he had not been charmed, keeping pace with it, as it went innocently busying and babbling along on its downward way. With any or all of these landmarks he was familiar, and when fixed upon as boundaries, he could readily recur to, and religiously keep them; for they had been made by the Great Spirit, and it was his life- study to know them.

Not satisfied with the large purchase already made, the white man contemplated still greater acquisitions of Indian land. Little did the red man suspect, while roaming unmolested over his native hills, that in civilized circles, the advantages and disadvantages of his cherished home were canvassed, and made the subject of negotiation and purchase. And it awakened his deepest surprise when assured, that without his knowledge or consent, his land had been sold. He was not aware that his ignorance of the value of his country, for the purposes of civilization, was made a subject of barter among his superiors in knowledge, and that men of enterprize were willing to pay for the privilege of making a bargain with him for his lands.

This right, as we have seen, was claimed by the government; Massachusetts holding the right of buying the Indian lands in Western New York. This right, under sanction of which the Phelps and Gorham purchase was made, was in part sold, as related in a preceding chapter. The pre-emptive right to the remainder was bought by Robert Morris in the spring of 1791. He re-sold soon after, to a company of gentlemen in Holland; pledging himself to survey the entire tract, and extinguish the Indian title. Thirty-five thousand pounds sterling of the purchase money were retained, as a guaranty of his fulfilling these engagements.

It became an object therefore for Mr. Morris to obtain, at as early a period as practicable, a conference with the Indians, and their consent to sell this land. Owing to their extreme reluctance to part with any more land, he had not been able to persuade them to appoint a council for this purpose, and committed the further prosecution of this to his son Thomas. Hence the occasion given to notice the presence of Thomas Morris at the Indian councils, particularly that at Tioga Point. For several years he had been cultivating an acquaintance with the Indians, residing in their midst, attending their councils, and making himself generally agreeable; and by means of his own personal influence with the chiefs, and unwearied exertions he gained their permission to hold a council, which assembled at Big Tree, the present site of Genesee, in August, 1797.

This had already become the residence of the white man. James and William Wadsworth, from Durham, Conn., had emigrated hither as early as the year 1790. Under their auspices a new settlement had been commenced. On rising ground which commanded a fine view of the flats, stood their large block house. The same site has still its attractions, for what at a later day, was the old Wadsworth mansion.

The coming of the Wadsworths into this region, which was still in possession of the Indians, and their prominence in its subsequent history, would seem to justify a more extended notice.

In the spring of 1790, James Wadsworth, then a young man of twenty-two, was debating with himself the question of his future calling in life. He had graduated at Yale College in the fall of ’87:–had spent the winter of ’87 and ’88, at Montreal, Canada, teaching school. He had no thought of teaching as his life-work, and what would he do next? was his earnest inquiry. Some one suggested that he should study medicine; but this did not suit him. As he had received a liberal education, it was further intimated that he should lead a professional life and become a lawyer, or a minister.

After duly considering the matter, choosing for this purpose the retirement of a neighboring wood, he returned the answer,–“I am not satisfied with either of these professions.”

“What will you do, then?” was the inquiry. He replied, “I know God has made me for something, and I am trying to find out what that is.”

With his mind thus unsettled, he determined to visit his uncle, Colonel Jeremiah Wadsworth, of Hartford. This uncle had pursued a sea-faring life, entering upon it at first for the benefit of his health, and following it afterward, from a love for the employment. From a sailor before the mast, he came to be mate, and captain, and at the breaking out of the Revolutionary war he had retired from the sea, and had settled at Hartford, Conn. He was appointed commissary of the Connecticut line, and subsequently had important trusts committed to his charge, by his own State, and also by the Congress at Philadelphia, having reference to the pay, clothing and subsistence of the Continental troops.

In the discharge of his official duties he had formed an acquaintance with Oliver Phelps; and after Mr. Phelps had secured an interest in the Genesee country, he represented its advantages to Colonel Wadsworth in such glowing colors, as led him to purchase a considerable tract of land in that region. Being a man of wealth and advanced in life, he had no thought of emigrating thither, but designed to provide for his interests by employing an agent.

As soon as James Wadsworth arrived at the house, he was met at the door by his uncle, who eagerly grasped his hand and exclaimed,–“James, I am glad you have come, you are the very man I have been wanting to see.”

It was not long before they were deeply engaged in discussing the Genesee question, this becoming the chief topic of conversation during the visit. As the result, James purchased on advantageous terms a part of the tract at Big Tree, and became agent for the remaining lands, qualified by the condition that his brother William would consent to accompany him in the proposed emigration 3 .

The two brothers jointly entered upon the undertaking, and commenced preparations for their journey into this, at that time, far-off wilderness. An ox cart, and ox team, are in wide contrast with the conveniences of travel enjoyed at present. Yet with these, and two or three hired men, and a colored woman, a favorite slave belonging to the family, William set forth to encounter the vicissitudes and dangers involved in the enterprise. It was a slow and wearisome journey, most of the way rough, and some of the way requiring to be opened and prepared for travel.

James, with provisions and a small supply of household furniture, went by the sound, the Hudson, and the head of navigation on Canandaigua outlet. He arrived at Canandaigua three days in advance of his brother.

From this point their journey was comparatively easy. They pursued the route taken by Sullivan in ’79, yet not without having frequently to cut a way for their team and cart. They arrived at their point of destination on the 10th of June, 1790.

Captain Horatio, and John H. Jones preceded the Wadsworths, and other families came into the region soon after. But the country was full of Indians. Their villages swarmed with life in every direction. Ken-de-wah or Big Tree, as principal chief was at the head of a numerous clan, located on the bluffs near by. Not far from them on the river was a village of the Tuscaroras. Two miles below was Oneida Town, a large village of Oneidas. Near the present site of West Avon was another principal village, whose chief was Ga-kwa-dia, or Hot Bread. Above was another large village called Little Beard’s Town, occupying the present site of Cuylerville. Further on were Allen’s Hill, Squaky Hill and Gardeau, the residence of the “White Woman.” Her husband was principal chief of the clan at this point. Further on at Nunda, was another village, its principal chiefs were Elk Hunter and Green Coat. Still higher up on the river at Caneadea, was another considerable village, whose chief was John Hudson 4 .

The author remembers Hudson very well. Often visiting his grandfather’s house in Angelica, N. Y. When a boy he often sat on Hudson’s knee, whom he regarded as a very pleasant, kind Indian.

These villages were mostly in the vicinity of Big Tree, a region which at that time was not without its charms, and has since been regarded as possessing attractions in soil and scenery, unsurpassed by any in the State.

It was here the council, solicited by Thomas Morris, assembled.

The unfinished block house of the Wadsworths was engaged for the accommodation of those particularly interested with Mr. Morris in conducting the council; and a large tent covered with boughs, and prepared with rows of seats, and a platform, furnished a place suited to their deliberations.

The United States, though not directly concerned as a party in this council, were interested in the welfare of the Indians, and appointed a commissioner to watch over their rights, and see that no injustice took place. Massachusetts reserved this right in the sale of her pre-emptive title. Accordingly Colonel Wadsworth of Connecticut, appeared as commissioner on the part of the United States, and General Wm. Shepard in behalf of the commonwealth of Massachusetts. William Bayard of New York represented the interests of the Holland company, and Mr. Morris, appeared through his agents, Thomas Morris and Colonel Williamson. The engagements of Mr. Williamson calling him away, the responsibility of conducting the treaty devolved upon Thomas Morris.

A large number of Indians were present, brought together by the prospect of good cheer, no less than their interest in the object of their assembling.

The council being duly opened, the commissioners offered their credentials, and explained the reason of their appointment; after which Mr. Morris presented in a speech of some length, the object for which they had been convened. Representing the desire of his father to obtain by purchase a part, or all of their lands, and how much better it would be for them to dispose of all, except what were actually needed for settlement, and place the money at interest, than to retain in their possession uncultivated wastes, whose only value to them could be such as were derived from the chase; and that this advantage would not be lost, for they could still use it for hunting, the same as before. He concluded by offering them the sum of one hundred thousand dollars, for the entire tract that remained to them in the State, allowing them such reservations as might be needed for actual use.

The Indians after deliberating for a time returned an unfavorable answer; saying “they did not wish to part with any more of their land.”

Mr. Morris replied, urging them to reconsider the case, that they ought not to decide hastily, setting before them in various ways the favorable terms he had proposed.

After deliberating once more, they returned the answer they had already given.

Meetings and speeches thereupon succeeded; Farmer’s Brother, Cornplanter, Little Billy, Little Beard, and Red Jacket, taking part in the discussion, the chief burden of which fell upon the latter.

When Mr. Morris urged upon their attention the liberal sum he had proposed to pay for their lands:–

Red Jacket replied,–“We are not yet convinced that it is best for us to dispose of them at any price.”

“But,” said Mr. Morris, “what value can they be to you as they now are, any further than the consciousness that you own them?”

“Yes,” said Red Jacket, “but this knowledge is everything to us. It raises us in our own estimation. It creates in our bosoms a proud feeling which elevates us as a nation”. Observe the difference between the estimation in which a Seneca and an Oneida are held. We are courted, while the Oneidas are considered as a degraded people, fit only to make brooms and baskets. Why this difference? It is because the Seneca are known to be the proprietors of a broad domain, while the Oneidas are cooped up in a narrow space.”

“Ah,” said Mr. Morris, “you presume too much in regard to the consequence of your nation. It is far from being as great as you seem to suppose; and in proof of this let me refer you to the manner in which your deputation to the Miamis was received in 1793. Though large and composed of many of the first men of your nation, it had but little influence.”

“Very true,” replied Red Jacket, “and why? It was because we were in bad company. We went with the pale faces. Had we gone alone, we should have been treated with the dignity which belongs to the Seneca throughout the world.”

While Red Jacket was still standing some one interposed the remark, “he’s a coward.” Turning round with a look of contempt, and in tone and manner expressing the deepest sarcasm, he said, “YES, I AM A COWARD.” And then waving his hand over the broad and beautiful lands that were spread out before them, added: “assure me that you can create lands like these, which the Great Spirit has made for us his red children, so that you can give us lands like them in return, and I will be brave: UNTIL THEN, I AM A COWARD, I DARE NOT SELL THESE LANDS 5 .”

The commissioners together with the agent of the Holland company, who had been looking on and anxiously observing the proceedings for about two weeks, began to regard the undertaking as hopeless, and urged Mr. Morris to use more decisive means with them, and bring them to terms one way or the other.

Though contrary to Mr. Morris’ convictions from his knowledge of the Indian character, as to its being the best method to pursue, he yielded to their solicitations; and when the Indians presented him the offer of a single township on the line of Pennsylvania, at one dollar an acre, Red Jacket assuring him that he could sell this at a sufficient advance, to pay for the trouble and expense of the treaty, he told them if that was all they could offer, they might return to their homes, for the sooner their conference was ended the better.

Red Jacket thereupon sprang to his feet and said, “You have now come to the point to which I wished to bring you. You told us in your first address, that even in the event of our not agreeing to sell our lands, we would part friends. Here then is my hand.” Mr. Morris taking his hand, he then added; “I now cover up the council fire.”Citations:

  1. Who would ever suspect that a railroad would stride across any of these deep chasms? How presumptuous.[]
  2. The High Banks, as they are called, near Mt. Morris, and a similar formation, together with the falls, near Portage, have attracted the attention, and are often visited by the tourist.–J. N. H.[]
  3. Conversation of the author with Nehemiah Hubbard, Esq., of Middletown, Conn., and statements in Turner’s History.[]
  4. It was here the author’s grandfather, as an Indian prisoner, had to run the gauntlet in the spring of 1782.[]
  5. Conversation of the author with Wm. Jones.[]


Hubbard, John Niles. n Account of Sa-Go-Ye-Wat-Ha, or Red Jacket, and His People, 1750-1830. Self Published. 1885.

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