Canandaigua at an Early Day

Canandaigua at an early day was the objective point for all who were seeking what was called the Genesee country. It was at the head of navigation. Parties coming from the east could transport their goods by water from Long Island Sound to Canandaigua, with the exception of one or two carrying places, where they were taken by land.

We can hardly realize that at that time there was here a widely extended forest, in all its loneliness and grandeur. Its first trees were cut down in the fall of 1788, soon after Mr. Phelps had concluded his treaty of purchase with the Indians. By means of them a log store-house was constructed, near the outlet of the lake. The family of a Mr. Joseph Smith took possession of it in the spring of 1789. Judge J. H. Jones, who in the fall of 1788, was one of a party to open a road between Geneva and Canandaigua, witnessed, on revisiting the latter place in 1789, a great change.

“When we left,” he says, “in the fall of ’88, there was not a solitary person there;–when I returned fourteen months afterwards, the place was full of people; residents, surveyors, explorers, adventurers; houses were going up; it was a thriving, busy place.” During the following year quite a nucleus for a town had gathered here. In 1794, Mrs. Sanborne, an enterprising landlady, whose eye kindled with the recollection of those days, served up in a tea saucer the first currants produced in the Genesee country 1 . Canandaigua at that time and for many years after was head-quarters for all who were making their way into what at that time was called the Indian country, and from the respectability and enterprise of its early inhabitants, it became attractive as a place of residence.

But though considerable improvements had been made here, the entire region was new, romantic and wild. Such was its condition at the time of the great Indian council that convened here in the autumn of 1794. Indians and deer, and wolves, and bear were very abundant and were mingled with the early associations of those who contributed to make this an abode of elevation and refinement. The cow-boy, often startled while on his way by the appearance of a bear, went timidly forth on his evening errand, inspired with courage by the thought that he might, for his protection, shoulder a gun. Bear incidents, narrow escapes from fighting with bears, and bear stories of every description, entered largely into the staple of their conversation, and many an evening’s hour was thus beguiled away, around the huge and brightly blazing fire of the early pioneer.

“Did you hear,” said a Mrs. Chapman to a Mrs. Parks, how neighbor Codding came near being killed yesterday?

“Mercy! no. How did it happen?

“Mr. Codding was in the woods splitting rails, and just as he was turning around to take up his axe to cut a sliver, don’t you believe he saw a great bear sitting up on his hind legs, and holding out both fore paws ready to grab him.”

“Mercy on us! What did he do?

“What did he do? He took up his axe, and instead of cutting the sliver, cut into the old bear’s head. But the axe glanced and only cut into the flesh, without killing the bear, and he ran away with the axe sticking fast in the wound.

“Awful! Awful! How thick the bears are getting to be! Husband says they have killed off most all of our hogs.

“Your hogs! Just think once, there was a great bear came the other night and got hold of a hog in Asahel Sprague’s hog-pen, and would have killed him, if Mr. Sprague hadn’t shot the old fellow.

“Yes, and last summer when Mr. Sperry was gone off to training, there was a bear came in the day time and tackled one of their hogs right in their own door yard; but Mrs. Sperry and the children screamed so awfully, and gave him such a tremendous clubbing, he was glad to put off into the woods again.

“Ha! Ha! She was about up to Jim Parker, who broke a bear’s back with a hand-spike in driving him out of his corn field, just as he was climbing over the fence 2 .”

Wolves were equally if not more numerous, destroying in some instances entire flocks of sheep, so that there was not a farmer in the region who did not suffer more or less from their depredations.

It was something of an off-set to these annoyances that deer were very abundant, and furnished the inhabitants with an ample supply of their delicious meat. The Indians while assembled here during the council, often killed more than a hundred of them in a single day.

The object of convening this council was to settle difficulties of long standing, and quiet the minds of the Iroquois, who were much disturbed by the warlike spirit prevailing at this time among the Indians at the West. The influences from this source were of such a nature as to render many among these friendly tribes exceedingly bold. In some instances on entering the houses of settlers they would manifest a very haughty temper, and rudely demand a supply of their wants as though they were still proprietors and lords of the soil, and the settlers only their servants or tenants.

The settlers themselves began to feel unpleasantly about their position. During the spring of this same year while Thomas Morris was painting his house, erected the previous summer, and making other improvements around it, indicating his design of having a permanent and inviting home, it so happened that a company of settlers in passing by, paused to view with astonishment what was going on. From a feeling of insecurity they had just abandoned their new locations in this region, and had come thus far on their way, having resolved to return to the more safe and quiet homes they had left at the east. But beholding the enterprise of Mr. Morris, and the business and thrift that prevailed here on every side, they inferred that their situation could not be so very precarious, and wisely concluded to return and carry forward the improvements commenced by themselves.

The Indian council, held during the months of October and November, had been appointed before the victory of General Wayne, noticed in the preceding chapter, had transpired. This had much to do in giving a favorable turn to the proceedings, and of securing those pacific relations with the Iroquois, that were then established. Before this these tribes and the Indians generally were stimulated with the idea that they might form and maintain in the North-west an independent nationality, that would reflect once more the pride and glory of the ancient dominion of the Iroquois. But when the news of this signal victory was circulated among them, their spirits were humbled and broken. They seemed to relinquish this dream of greatness, and gave themselves up to the stern demands of an evident necessity. This sad intelligence, however, did not reach them until the council had been for several days in progress. Its first opening was darkened by no cloud of evil. There was nothing to hinder the exercise of that proud bearing with which their past greatness, and a hopeful future inspired them.

They began to assemble by the arrival of the Oneida on the eleventh of October. The Onondaga, Cayuga, and a part of the Seneca, led by Farmer’s Brother, came in on the fourteenth. Cornplanter at the head of the Allegany clan of Seneca arrived on the sixteenth, and Red Jacket with his, on the eighteenth.

On assembling, a degree of dignity and decorum was manifested, which served to indicate their ideas of the forms and proprieties due to the occasion. Before reaching the council fire the chiefs and warriors halted, carefully decorated themselves after their manner, and then marched to meet those appointed to confer with them on the part of the government, and after passing around and encircling them, with the train, the leader stepped forth, formally announced their arrival in obedience to the summons they had received, at the same time delivering the belt brought by the messenger sent to call them together.

The next tribe that came, halted and prepared themselves as the others, were received by the tribe or tribes already on the ground, who also arrayed themselves in their uniform, and having received their welcome, salutes being fired and returned, they marched all together and formed in a circle around the commissioners, when the same ceremony was observed, as before, of delivering the belt. They proceeded thus until all the Indians had assembled to the number of about sixteen hundred.

It was an occasion for the display of Indian pageantry, and though it may have been more rude than among nations calling themselves civilized, it was the same in its essential elements, and this council was ushered in with as true a military spirit as though banners had been flying, bayonets gleaming, and soldiers marching to the liveliest, or most heart-stirring sounds of music.

The uniform of the Indian was not as the dress of the European, ornamented, epauletted, tinselled; it was a more simple, less expensive, but not a less time honored mode of adorning his person. Though his military coat was of paint of different colors with which he was striped in a distinguishing manner, he regarded it no doubt as gorgeous and gay. Instead of the gracefully waving plume he was bedecked with the feathers of the kingly eagle; beads and shells served in the place of military buttons; and his trophies in the chase, and in war, he regarded as forming a prouder sash than the richest scarf of scarlet or of blue.

Canandaigua, in years gone by, has often witnessed scenes of proud military display. But never will there be witnessed so grotesque, and in many respects so imposing a parade as appeared on this occasion. The neighboring forest swarmed with life, and resounded with the wild yell and deafening war-whoop of the Indian. It was his gala day, and highly fitting that before surrendering these grounds forever to the dominion and usages of another race, he should come forth once more from his native wilds, and depart in the fullness of his strength, as the sun passing from under a cloud, sheds his full glory over the earth before sinking beneath the western horizon. This was his last day of pride on ground hallowed in the memories of the past.

The occasion called forth an unusual attendance. It was known that Colonel Pickering who had been appointed to hold this treaty, would come prepared to give them a grand feast, and distribute among them a large amount of money and of clothing. Hence they all came. “For weeks before the treaty, they were arriving in squads from all their villages, and constructing their camps in the woods, upon the lake shore, and around the court-house square. The little village of whites was invested, overrun with the wild natives. It seemed as if they had deserted all their villages, and transferred even their old men, women and children to the feast, the carousal, and the place of gifts. The night scenes were wild and picturesque; their camp fires lighting up the forest, and their whoops and yells creating a sensation of novelty not unmingled with fear, with the far inferior in numbers who composed the citizens of the pioneer village and the sojourners of their own race 3 .”

The council was formally opened on the eighteenth of October, by a speech of condolence on the part of the Oneidas and Onondaga, to the Seneca, Cayuga, Tuscarora and Delaware, some of whom were present, on account of the death of a number of their chiefs since the last meeting. It was with a view to “wipe away their tears, brighten their faces, and clear their throats,” that they might speak freely at the council fire.

Red Jacket in reply made a very sympathetic, and as it was regarded at the time, beautiful address, presenting belts and strings of wampum to “unite each to the other as the heart of one man.”

Next was given a speech of congratulation by Colonel Pickering, who appointed a council of condolence on the following Monday for the Delaware, who were mourning for a young brother killed by a white man.

The ceremony of burying the dead,–covering the grave with leaves to obscure it from sight,–of burying the hatchet taken from the head of the victim, thus representing his death by violence,–of covering it with stones and pulling up and planting over it a pine tree, so that in after years it should never be disturbed; of wiping the blood from the head of the victim, and tears from the eyes of the mourners,–these things represented by speech and action having been performed, the council was opened in earnest on the day following.

In reply to Colonel Pickering’s remarks of the preceding day respecting peace, and upon keeping the chain of friendship bright, Fish Carrier, an aged and influential chief, in a speech of some length recounted the history of the whites and of their intercourse with the red men from their first settlement in this country. He referred to the manner in which they had been received, to the friendship, that had existed before the controversy of the United States with Great Britain, and to the negotiations that had taken place since that time, the grievances they had suffered, dwelling particularly upon the dissatisfaction still existing among them about the treaty at Fort Stanwix in 1784. “The commissioners were too grasping, they demanded of us too much.” But as they had taken hold of the chain of friendship with the fifteen fires they were disposed to hold fast; but he thought it needed brightening up a little.

Colonel Pickering in reply to them said they ought not to think very hard of them about that treaty, for they had just come out of a long and bloody war, and as they had been victorious the Six Nations ought not to blame them for feeling a little proud; and they ought not to be surprised, in view of what had taken place during the war, if the commissioners were somewhat severe.

A deputation from the Quakers was present at this council, and their address being read and interpreted, was received by the Indians with much satisfaction.

At the opening of the council the next day, a request was presented by some of the Indian women, who desired that their views might be heard; and permission being granted, Red Jacket spake in their behalf.

He represented that the women had taken a deep interest in everything pertaining to the welfare of their nation; and he requested the sachems and warriors, as well as the commissioner, to give an attentive consideration to the views of those he had been chosen to represent. They had attended upon the council, had listened to all that had been said, and they desired it to be understood that their views were in accordance with those of their sachems and chiefs. They felt that the white people had caused them a great deal of suffering. The white people had pressed and squeezed them together until their hearts were greatly pained, and they thought the white people ought to give back all their lands. A white woman had told the Indians to repent 4 ; they wished in turn to call upon the white people to repent; they needed to repent as much as the Indians; and they hoped the white people would repent and not wrong the Indians any more.

The commissioner thanked them for their speech, saying he had a high respect for the women, and would be happy to hear from them whenever they had anything to say.

After several days had passed without coming to anything decisive in regard to the main object of the council; Colonel Pickering called their attention to the fact of their grievances, saying they had been together sometime and talked them over and had found but two rusty places in the chain of friendship, one of which they had already brightened. But the other spot they thought was too deep to be cleared up. It related to their lands. He then showed them maps which clearly pointed out the limits agreed upon in their treaties, and by a distinct statement of the negotiations and treaties that had been made at different times with them, and afterward confirmed, proving that the claims of the United States were just, he declared himself ready to stipulate concerning their grievances, that they should still have the privilege of hunting upon the lands they had ceded, and that their settlements thereon should remain undisturbed. He further assured them that the United States would increase their annuity from fifteen hundred to four thousand five hundred dollars, to say nothing about the presents he had brought them amounting to ten thousand dollars. These he would distribute in case of a favorable termination of their council. He hoped in view of these liberal offers they would dismiss their complaints, bury the hatchet deep and take hold of the chain of friendship so firmly as never again to have it torn from their grasp.

The Indians appeared to be pleased with these offers, and promising to regard them favorably, spent several days in deliberating among themselves, inviting to their councils the Quakers, a deputation of whom, as we remarked were present. William Savary, one of their number made the following interesting note of his observations at the time.

“Oct. 30. After dinner John Parrish and myself rode to view the Farmer’s Brother’s encampment which contained about five hundred Indians. They are located by the side of a brook in the woods: having built about seventy or eighty huts, by far the most commodious and ingeniously made of any I have seen. The principal materials are bark, and boughs of trees, so nicely put together as to keep the family dry and warm. The women as well as the men appeared to be mostly employed. In this camp there are a large number of pretty children, who in all the activity and buoyancy of health, were diverting themselves according to their fancy. The vast number of deer they have killed, since coming here, which they cut up and hang round their huts inside and out to dry, together with the rations of beef, which they draw daily, give the appearance of plenty to supply the few wants to which they are subjected. The ease and cheerfulness of every countenance, and the delightfulness of the afternoon, which the inhabitants of the woods seemed to enjoy with a relish far superior to those who are pent up in crowded and populous cities, all combined to make this the most pleasant visit I have yet made to the Indians; and induced me to believe that before they became acquainted with the white people, and were infected with their vices, they must have been as happy a people as any in the world. In returning to our quarters we passed by the Indian council, where Red Jacket was displaying his oratory to his brother chiefs on the subject of Colonel Pickering’s proposals.”

Mr. Savary again observes:–“Red Jacket visited us with his wife and five children, whom he had brought to see us. They were exceedingly well clad, in their manner, and the best behaved and prettiest Indian children I have ever met with 5 .”

Various councils and deliberations with the Indians, resulted finally in the conclusion of a treaty, which was quite satisfactory to all the parties.–By this treaty peace was again declared to be firmly established, the different tribes were confirmed in their reservations, and lands that had not been sold, the boundaries of which were accurately described, and the United States engaged never to claim these lands, or disturb the Six Nations in the free use and enjoyment of them. The Six Nations pledged themselves also not to claim any other lands within the boundaries of the United States, nor disturb the people of the United States in the free use and enjoyment thereof. It was stipulated also that the United States should have the right of way for a public road from Fort Schlosser to Lake Erie, have a free passage through their lands, and the free use of harbors and rivers adjoining and within their respective tracts of land, for the passing and securing of vessels and boats, and liberty to land their cargoes, where necessary for their safety.

In consideration of these engagements the United States were to deliver the presents, and pay the annuity as already intimated in the promise of Colonel Pickering.–The money thus pledged was to be expended yearly forever in purchasing clothing, domestic animals, implements of husbandry, and other utensils suited to their circumstances, and for compensating useful artificers who might be employed for their benefit.

It was further agreed that for injuries done by individuals on either side, private revenge should not take place, but that complaint be made by the injured party to the nation to which the offender belonged, and that such measures were then to be pursued as should be necessary for the preservation of peace and friendship 6 .

The conclusion of this treaty was regarded as a great point gained. Previous to this time, such of the Iroquois as remained in their ancient seats, were but partially reconciled to the United States, and were oscilating in their friendship. But henceforth they were uniformly steadfast in the allegiance they had promised.

The holding of this council was further useful in withdrawing the attention of this large body of Indians with their warriors, who had been earnestly solicited to join their hostile brethren at the West.

During the progress of the council there were several speeches made, but as they are not of special interest or importance they have not been given. Colonel Stone mentions an evening when quite a number of the chiefs dined with Colonel Pickering. He says,–“Much good humor prevailed on this occasion. The Indians laid aside their stoicism, indulged in many repartees, and manifested the keenest relish for wit and humor. Red Jacket, in particular, was conspicuous for the readiness and brilliance of his sallies 7 .”

Not far from this time, and with reference it is believed to this treaty, Thomas Morris says,–“Red Jacket was, I suppose, at that time about thirty or thirty-five years of age, of middle height, well formed, with an intelligent countenance, and a fine eye; and was in all respects a fine looking man. He was the most graceful public speaker I have ever known; his manner was most dignified and easy. He was fluent, and at times witty and sarcastic. He was quick and ready at reply. He pitted himself against Colonel Pickering, whom he sometimes foiled in argument. The colonel would sometimes become irritated and lose his temper; then Red Jacket would be delighted and show his dexterity in taking advantage of any unguarded assertion of the colonel’s. He felt a conscious pride in the conviction that nature had done more for him, than for his antagonist.”

“A year or two after this treaty, when Colonel Pickering from post master general, became secretary of war, I informed Red Jacket of his promotion. ‘Ah!’ said he, ‘We began our public career about the same time; he knew how to read and write; I did not, and he has got ahead of me. If I had known how to read and write I should have got ahead of him.'”Citations:

  1. Conversation of the author with Mrs. Sanborne.[]
  2. Facts which transpired in the early history of Bloomfield. See Turner’s History.[]
  3. History of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase.[]
  4. [Footnote: Referring to Jemima Wilkinson.][]
  5. As quoted by Col. Stone.[]
  6. Indian Treaties. Favored with a copy by O. Parrish. Esq., of Canandaigua, N. Y.[]
  7. Col. Stone’s Life and Times of Red Jacket.[]


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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