Change in Red Jacket’s Views

As time advanced, the mind of Red Jacket gradually receded from the favorable opinion he had entertained, with respect to the introduction among his people, of the customs of civilized life. Before this he regarded with favor the philanthropic designs of Washington and others, which contemplated such a change. But henceforth his influence and energies were uniformly exerted, in resisting any innovation, upon the anciently established usages of the Iroquois. Several causes seemed to influence such a result.

First of all was the condition of his people, as affected by the whites. They had been wasted and greatly enfeebled by the wars carried on between the whites, taking sides, as in the Revolution, against each other. And in their own conflicts, though in some instances successful, they had been so effectually overcome, that no hope now remained to them of resistance by war; no matter what combinations they might be able to effect among themselves.

A still deeper source of regret, was the loss of so large a portion of their wide and beautiful country. Since parting with it, swarms of settlers had been flocking to the more favored portions, and were irresistibly advancing to full and entire possession. The idea that they could have their country to hunt in, as well after it was sold as before, was rapidly dissipated by the busy sounds, all through the forest, of the woodman’s axe, and by the roar of the stately trees, as they fell down before the enterprising pioneer. The Indian brooded over this in silence, while all of these sounds, delightful to the emigrant, were as a knell of death to his ear. The eloquence of Red Jacket had been exerted in vain, to arrest the progress of the white men. Onward they swept, bidding defiance to all the obstacles in their way. They were in possession of the ancient seats of the Iroquois. The red man’s inheritance, was but a beggarly portion, when compared with his former princely domain. The thought of this weighed heavily upon Red Jacket’s lofty spirit, and affected materially the disposition with which he regarded the white man.

He had observed also that the Indian had not been improved, but rather made worse by intercourse with the white man. He more readily acquired his vices, than his virtues.

The schools likewise that had been established among the Indians, had not been attended with very salutary results. And some of the Indian boys that had been sent to the schools of the whites, had failed to be qualified for usefulness among white men, and were unfitted in their tastes and habits for a life among the Indians. As was observed by Red Jacket: “they have returned to their kindred and color, neither white men nor Indians. The arts they have learned are incompatible with the chase, and ill adapted to our customs. They have been taught that which is useless to us. They have been made to feel artificial wants, which never entered the minds of their brothers. They have imbibed, in your great towns, the seeds of vices, which were unknown in the forest. They become discouraged and dissipated, –despised by the Indians, neglected by the whites, and without value to either, less honest than the former, and perhaps more knavish than the latter 1 .” Red Jacket was not alone in this opinion.

One of Cornplanter’s sons, Henry O’Bail, had been educated in Philadelphia; but on returning to his people, became a drunkard, and was discarded by his father. He had other sons, but resolved that no more of them should be educated among the whites, for said he, “it entirely spoils Indian.”

“What have we here?” exclaimed Red Jacket on one occasion addressing one of them. “What have we here? You are neither a white man, or an Indian; for heaven’s sake tell us, what are you?”

But further than this, Red Jacket had witnessed among the whites so many evidences of deceit and fraud; he had so often seen the Indians circumvented by their avarice and craft, that he looked with suspicion even on their attempts to do the Indians good. The language of the Trojan patriot concerning the Greeks–represents very nearly the feelings he entertained toward the whites.

“Timeo Danaos et dona ferrentes. “The Greeks I fear, e’en in the gifts they bear.”

Hence Red Jacket began to look unfavorably on the attempts that had been made to civilize the Indian. He scorned to use the white man’s axe, or hoe, or any implement of husbandry. He would not even use his language. Understanding well what was said to him in English, he spurned the idea of holding any communication with a white man, save through an interpreter. The Indian he looked upon as the rightful lord of this part of creation, the white man, as an intruder. The white man’s ways were good for the white man; but in his view they would spoil the Indian. He believed that the peculiar characteristics of the Indian, were conferred on him by the Great Spirit for a wise purpose, and for his good, they needed to be maintained. Hence all the ancient habits of his people, he earnestly strove to preserve, and had it been in his power, he would have built a wall like the Chinese, to keep his people from meeting with, and being contaminated by the whites. He would frown contempt on the Indian, who used a stool or chair in his cabin, and no king in his palace, ever sat more proudly, or with greater dignity on his throne, than did Red Jacket on his bear-skin in his humble dwelling.

We can but admire in this, his independence of character; and when we reflect upon his conduct as influenced by the conviction, that such a course was essential for the good of his people, we may view it as meriting the praise of philanthrophy. Had he been as firm in resisting every enticement of the whites, he would have maintained a greater consistency, and himself attained a higher degree of excellence.

Red Jacket was equally opposed to the introduction of Christianity among his people. He looked upon the religion of the white man, with the same feeling of suspicion and distrust as everything else coming from that source. He had no evidence from experience, of the benefits that would arise to them from its introduction among them. On the contrary his convictions, arising from observation, were against it; because he saw his people were made worse, by associating with the whites. When asked on one occasion, why he was opposed to the coming of missionaries among his people, he replied, “Because they do us no good. If they are not useful among the white people, why do they send them among the Indians? If they are useful to the white people, why do they not keep them at home? They are surely bad enough, to need the labor of every one, who can make them better.”

The Indians made no distinction between those who professed religion and those who made no profession. Their own religion was national. There was no division between the religious and irreligious. All were religious. In other words, they were all educated in the same faith, all united in observing the same religious rites, and all entertained the same religious belief, as had been handed down to them from their forefathers. This was salutary in promoting among them many virtues, worthy of commendation. They very properly estimated the value of religion, by the practical influence it exerted on those who received it. And they judged of the Christian religion, by the conduct and character of the nation that received and cherished it; who were nominally Christian.

Unfortunately for the success of Christianity among them, they had witnessed so much deceit and fraud, there were so many among the whites, who were ready to take advantage of them, to make them drunk, and then cheat them, they were unable to perceive in what way the religion of the whites, from whom they had received such treatment, could be better or as good, even as their own. They had not learned to regard those only as Christians, who reduced the principles of Christianity to practice, and were not aware that as a system, it enforced only what was right, and tolerated no conduct that was wrong.

Hence in the efforts made to introduce Christianity among the Seneca, we find Red Jacket summoning the entire force of his influence, and eloquence in opposition to the measure.

The arrival among them of a missionary from Massachusetts, was the occasion of a forensic effort, which defines very clearly his position, and though it may have suffered, as did most of his speeches, from coming through an interpreter, it displays nevertheless, indications of deep thought, and of a high order of talent. It was regarded at the time as an effort of great ability, and is perhaps as fair a specimen of his oratory, as has come down to us from the past.

A council having been called to consider the matter, the missionary was introduced, who spoke as follows 2 :

“My Friends: I am thankful for the opportunity afforded us of meeting together at this time. I had a great desire to see you, and inquire into your state and welfare. For this purpose I have traveled a great distance, being sent by your old friends, the Boston Missionary Society. You will recollect they formerly sent missionaries among you, to instruct you in religion, and labor for your good. Although they have not heard from you for a long time, yet they have not forgotten their brothers, the Six Nations, and are still anxious to do you good.

“Brothers: I have not come to get your lands, or your money, but to enlighten your minds, and instruct you how to worship the Great Spirit, agreeably to his mind and will, and to preach to you the gospel of his Son, Jesus Christ. There is but one religion, and but one way to serve God, and if you do not embrace the right way, you can not be happy hereafter. You have never worshipped the Great Spirit, in a manner acceptable to him, but have all your lives, been in great errors and darkness. To endeavor to remove these errors, and open your eyes, so that you might see clearly, is my business with you.

“Brothers: I wish to talk with you as one friend talks with another; and if you have any objections to receive the religion which I preach, I wish you to state them; and I will endeavor to satisfy your minds, and remove the objections.

“Brothers: I want you to speak your minds freely; for I wish to reason with you on the subject, and if possible remove all doubts, if there be any on your minds. The subject is an important one, and it is of consequence, that you give it an early attention, while the offer is made you. Your friends, the Boston Missionary Society, will continue to send you good and faithful ministers, to instruct and strengthen you in religion, if on your part you are willing to receive them.

“Brothers: Since I have been in this part of the country, I have visited some of your small villages, and talked with your people. They appear willing to receive instruction, but as they look up to you, as their elder brothers in council, they want first to know your opinion on the subject. You have now heard what I have to propose at present. I hope you will take it into consideration, and give me an answer before we part.”

The chiefs were in consultation for about two hours, when Red Jacket arose and spoke as follows:

“Friend and Brother: It was the will of the Great Spirit that we should meet together this day. He orders all things, and has given us a fine day for our council. He has taken his garment from before the sun, and caused it to shine with brightness upon us. Our eyes are opened that we see clearly; our ears are unstopped, that we have been able to hear distinctly the words you have spoken. For all these favors we thank the Great Spirit, and Him only.

“Brother: This council fire was kindled by you. It was at your request that we came together at this time. We have listened with attention to what you have said. You requested us to speak our minds freely. This gives us great joy: for now we consider that we stand upright before you, and can speak what we think. All have heard your voice, and all speak to you now as one man. Our minds are agreed.

“Brother: You say you want an answer to your talk before you leave this place. It is right you should have one, as you are a great distance from home, and we do not wish to detain you. But we will first look back a little, and tell you what our fathers have told us, and what we have heard from the white people.

“Brother: Listen to what we say. There was a time when our fathers owned this great island 3 . Their seats extended from the rising to the setting sun. The Great Spirit had made it for the Indians. He had created the buffalo, the deer, and other animals for food. He had made the bear, and the beaver. Their skins served us for clothing. He had scattered them over the country, and taught us how to take them. He had caused the earth to produce corn for bread. All this he had done for his red children because he loved them. If we had some disputes about our hunting ground, they were generally settled without the shedding of much blood. But an evil day came upon us. Your forefathers crossed the great water, and landed on this island. Their numbers were small. They found friends and not enemies. They told us they had fled from their own country for fear of wicked men, and had come here to enjoy their religion. They asked for a small seat. We took pity on them, granted their request, and they sat down amongst us. We gave them corn and meat; they gave us poison in return 4 .

“The white people had now found our country. Tidings were carried back, and more came amongst us. Yet we did not fear them. They called us brothers. We believed them and gave them a larger seat. At length their numbers had greatly increased. They wanted more land; they wanted our country. Our eyes were opened, and our minds became uneasy.

“Wars took place. Indians were hired to fight against Indians, and many of our people were destroyed. They also brought strong liquors among us; they were strong and powerful, and have slain thousands.

“Brother: Our seats were once large, and yours were very small. You have now become a great people, and we have scarcely a place left to spread our blankets. You have got our country, but are not satisfied;–you want to force your religion upon us.

“Brother: Continue to listen. You say that you are sent to instruct us how to worship the Great Spirit agreeably to his mind, and if we do not take hold of this religion which you white people teach, we shall be unhappy hereafter. You say that you are right, that we are lost. How do we know this to be true? We understand that your religion is written in a book. If it was intended for us as well as you, why has not the Great Spirit given it to us, and not only to us, but why did he not give to our forefathers the knowledge of that book, with the means of understanding it rightly? We only know what you tell us about it. How shall we know when to believe, being so often deceived by the white people?

“BROTHER: You say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion why do you white people differ so much about it? Why are you not all agreed, as you can all read the book?

“BROTHER: We do not understand these things. We are told that your religion was given to your forefathers, and has been handed down from father to son. We also have a religion which was given to our forefathers and has been handed down to us their children. We worship in that way. It teaches us to be thankful for all the favors we receive; to love each other, and to be united. We never quarrel about religion.

“BROTHER: The Great Spirit has made us all, but he has made a great difference between his white and red children. He has given us different complexions, and different customs. To you He has given the arts. To these He has not opened our eyes. We know these things to be true. Since He has made so great a difference between us in other things, why may we not conclude that He has given us a different religion according to our understanding? The Great Spirit does right. He knows what is best for is children; we are satisfied.

“BROTHER: We do not wish to destroy your religion, or take it from you. We only want to enjoy our own.

“BROTHER: You say you have not come to get our land or our money, but to enlighten our minds. I will now tell you that I have been at your meetings, and saw you collect money from the meeting. I cannot tell what this money was intended for, but suppose it was for your minister, and if we should conform to your way of thinking, perhaps you may want some from us.

“BROTHER: We are told that you have been preaching to the white people in this place. These people are our neighbors. We are acquainted with them. We will wait a little while, and see what effect your preaching has on them. If we find it does them good, makes them honest, and less disposed to cheat Indians, we will then consider again of what you have said.

“BROTHER: You have now heard our answer to your talk, and this is all we have to say at present. As we are going to part, we will come and take you by the hand, and hope the Great Spirit will protect you on your journey, and return you in safety to your friends.”

Suiting the action to the word, he then drew near the missionary with the other chiefs, to take him by the hand; but he would not receive them, and rising hastily from his seat, said, there was no fellowship between the religion of God, and the works of the devil, and he could not therefore join hands with them.

When this was interpreted to the Indians, they smiled and retired from the interview, without saying anything further.

Such is the account given of this transaction. The termination is painful. It is a sad thought, that when the Indians had been invited to make known their objections, if they had any; and when they had been offered in good faith by this unlettered son of the forest, he should have been answered with so little patience or kindness. We hesitate not to say that the red man in this, manifested the better spirit.

Mr. Crane afterward regretted the course he had taken, saying, “he supposed by shaking hands with them, they would regard it as signifying his approval of what they had said.”

  1. Washington had always been earnest in his desire to civilize the savages, but had little faith in the expedient which had been pursued, of sending their young men to our colleges; the true means he thought, was to introduce the arts and habits of husbandry among them. Irving’s Life of Washington.[]
  2. The speech of the missionary is quoted from Col. Stone; the reply of Red Jacket from Drake, who is Col. Stone’s authority for the same speech.[]
  3. The term used by the Indians when speaking of this continent.[]
  4. Spirituous liquors.[]

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

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Access Genealogy

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Scroll to Top