Council at Canawangus

A council of the Iroquois was held at Ca-na-wau-gus, near West Avon, in the autumn of 1798. Connected with it is a reminiscence of Red Jacket of much interest, as an item of history, and it serves well to illustrate the orator’s mental habit.

His conduct was such on this occasion, as to excite the observation as well as curiosity of Captain Parrish, who related the occurrence.

For the first few days of the council, he uttered not a word. He appeared to be in deep thought, and was exceedingly reserved. The expression of his countenance was severe, and there was much “hauteur” in his manner. He ate scarcely anything, and his appearance was so remarkable, as to excite the wonder of all present. At length on the third or fourth day of the council, he arose with great dignity, and solemnity of air, and commenced speaking. His exordium was for the most part a beautiful and highly wrought enconium on the character and history of the Indians; particularly of his own people, in the past. They were taken back, as by a magic spell, to primitive times. The days of their renown, when the name and glory of their nation, were the admiration of the world. When from the rising to the setting sun, there was no power to stand before them, or hinder the victorious march of their warriors through the land. As they glided over the waters of river or lake, as they ascended the mountain, or passed through the valley, they could feel that their dominion was wide, and undisputed. Every deer that bounded through the forest, every bird that winged the air, and the fish in all the waters, were theirs, and they were happy. Such was the glowing picture he drew, they did not realize the present, from the engrossing theme of the past.

He next proceeded to sketch their history, as affected by the coming of the white man among them. The friendly relations, that marked their early intercourse. Their small beginnings, and the imperceptible manner of their increase. How they began to line the eastern shores,–plant themselves upon the borders of their rivers, and gather into neighborhoods, and towns, and cities. How these new and wonderful things engaged the attention of the Indians, and kept them spell-bound, so that they were insensible to what had been going on till the whites were firmly planted, like a tree that has taken deep root, and sends its branches out over the land.

He next drew their attention to a time when the signs of a great tempest began to appear. When the clouds began to overspread the heavens, when the lightning flashed, and the thunders rolled, and the land was shaken by their power. A mighty whirlwind came sweeping through the land, the tall trees of the forest were uprooted, the branches torn off and sent flying through the air. So has our nation he said been uprooted, the strong men torn from us, and scattered, and laid low. Thus he went on recounting as few could, the circumstances of their history, and as he advanced, his expressions matured in their intensity, his thoughts appeared to be winged, and came glowing, as if from some furnace in nature, where all her materials are wrought under intense heat, and sent forth in forms of highest brilliancy, and beauty. His hearers were amid the heavings of the earthquake, the blackness of the storms, the wild and irresistible sweep of the tornado. The heavens, the earth, the elements, seemed to be careering under the rapid and startling flights of his fancy.

He next adverted with much feeling, and with evident sadness, to the transactions of the past year, by which they had become dispossessed of the largest part of their ancient inheritance: and then he drew, with a prophetic hand, a picture of their probable future, that brought sorrow to their hearts, and tears to their eyes. He closed his harangue by pronouncing a most withering phillipic against the whites. The effect of his speech was wonderful. Mr. Parrish declared that it exceeded, in its brilliancy and force, all his former utterances, of which he had any knowledge; and he never heard from him afterward, anything that could compare with it. His auditors were mainly those of his own people. His flow of thought was not interrupted by the slow, and embarrassing process of interpretation. The full grief of his heart, in view of the transactions of the previous year, was poured forth, and came like the irresistible sweep of a whirlwind 1 .

It was some little time after the delivery of this speech, before the minds of the Indians were sufficiently composed to attend to the main business of their council, which was presented in a speech by Farmer’s Brother, and embodied in an address to the Legislature of New York, thus: “The Sachems, Chiefs and Warriors of the Seneca Nation, to the Sachems, and Chiefs assembled about the great Council Fire of the State of New York:

“BROTHERS: As you are once more assembled in council for the purpose of doing honor to yourselves and justice to your country, we, your brothers, the Sachems, Chiefs and Warriors of the Seneca Nation, request you to open your ears, and give attention to our voice and wishes.

“You will recollect the late contest between you and your father, the great king of England. This contest threw the inhabitants of this whole island into a great tumult and commotion, like a raging whirlwind, which tears up the trees, and tosses to and fro the leaves, so that no one knows whence they come, or where they will fall.

“BROTHERS: This whirlwind was so directed by the Great Spirit above, as to throw into our arms two of your infant children, Jasper Parrish, and Horatio Jones. We adopted them into our families, and made them our children. We loved them and nourished them. They lived with us many years. At length the Great Spirit spoke to the whirlwind, and it was still. A clear and uninterrupted sky appeared. The path of peace was opened, and the chain of friendship was once more made bright. Then these, our adopted children, left us, to seek their relations. We wished them to return among us, and promised if they would return, and live in our country, to give each of them a seat of land for them, and their children to sit down upon.

“BROTHERS: They have returned, and have for several years past been serviceable to us as interpreters. We still feel our hearts beat in affection for them, and now wish to fulfill the promise we made them, and to reward them for their services. We have therefore made up our minds to give them a seat of two square miles of land lying on the outlet of Lake Erie, about three miles below Black Rock, beginning at the mouth of a creek known by the name of Scoy-gu-quoy-des Creek, running one mile from the river Niagara, up said creek, thence northerly as the river runs two miles, thence westerly one mile to the river, thence up the river as the river runs to the place of beginning, so as to contain two square miles.

“BROTHERS: We have now made known to you our minds; we expect and earnestly request that you will permit our friends to receive this our gift, and will make the same good to them, according to the laws and customs of your nation.”

By the laws of the State, no sale or transfers of Indian lands could be made to private individuals, without permission from the government. Hence the address embodying the request as presented above, which was complied with, and the land secured as desired by the Indians.

The above is certainly an able document, and has been justly admired for its originality, and the boldness of its figures. It is in keeping with the high order of mind, that has marked the history of the Six Nations. One expression in it has been pointed out, as an instance of the truly sublime: “THE GREAT SPIRIT SPOKE TO THE WHIRLWIND, AND IT WAS STILL.”

We may observe here that in tracing the history of the Iroquois, the instances are not rare of a true nobility of character. Their confidence and esteem once secured, no slight cause would interrupt, none appreciated more highly the offices of kindness,–and none would go further in making a generous return for favors rendered.

Jasper Parrish and Horatio Jones were favorite interpreters of Red Jacket, and as they passed no inconsiderable part of their lives among the Indians, a further notice of their history is desirable.

The early life of Captain Jasper Parrish was marked by scenes alike trying and eventful. He was a native of Connecticut, from which State his family removed to the waters of the Delaware, in the state of Pennsylvania. In 1778, when but eleven years old, he accompanied his father on a short expedition, to remove a family of backwoodsmen, to a less exposed part of the settlement. On their way they were attacked by a small party of Indians, and made captives. The father was taken to Niagara, and after a captivity of two years, was exchanged and enabled to return to his own family.

The son was claimed by a war-chief, who treated him kindly, and after a time took him to the waters of the Chemung. On entering an Indian village, the war-party which accompanied them, sounded the war-whoop, and it was answered by the Indians and Indian boys who came out to meet them. They pulled the young prisoner from the horse he was riding, scourged him with whips, and beat him with the handles of their tomahawks, one of the forms of their gauntlet, until his master humanely rescued him. He was after this sold to a family of Delaware, and taken to reside with them on the Delaware river, where he suffered much from want of proper clothing, and from scanty fare. To inure him to cold, the Indians compelled him almost daily, to strip and plunge into the icy waters of the river.

He was with the Indians when General Sullivan invaded their country, and witnessed their retreat, after the battle at Newtown, until they found protection from the guns of the British, at Fort Niagara. Here they subsisted during the winter by rations from the garrison, and to induce them to return again to their villages, on the Genesee river, the officers pledged them an increased bounty for American scalps.

On one occasion, while with the Delaware family at Niagara, he came near being a victim of the British bounty for scalps. Left alone with some Indians, who were having a carousal, he overheard a proposal to kill the young Yankee, and take his scalp to the fort, and sell it for rum. In a few moments one of them took a large brand from the fire and hurled at him, but being on the alert he dodged it, and made his escape. The Indians pursued, but it was dark and they did not find him.

From the Delaware family, he was sold to an Indian of the Mohawk tribe, called Captain David Hill. At a council of the British and Indians, he was afterwards adopted with much ceremony, into the family of Captain Hill, as his own son. He resided with him at the Mohawk settlement near the present village of Lewiston, till the close of the war, and being surrendered in accordance with the stipulations of the treaty at Fort Stanwix in 1784, he returned once more to his own father’s house.

It was with some effort he recovered again the use of his own native tongue. During his captivity he had acquired and could speak fluently, the language of five different tribes, and his qualifications as an interpreter, together with his known faithfulness and integrity, coming to the knowledge of our government, he received an appointment in the Indian service, and during the greater part of his subsequent life, was actively employed in business relating to the welfare of the Indians. He died at his residence in Canandaigua, July 12th, 1836, in the sixty-ninth year of his age.

Captain Horatio Jones, was a native of Chester county, Pennsylvania. At the age of sixteen he enlisted as a volunteer, in a company commanded by Captain John Boyd. It was when the Indians, led by the notorious Butler, Brant, and Nellis, were committing their depredations and massacres among the settlers of the frontier, sparing neither age nor sex, from the tomahawk and scalping knife. With the ardor of youth he engaged in the active employments of a soldier, and accompanied Captain Boyd on several important and dangerous expeditions, in which himself and commander had the good fortune to escape unhurt.

At length in the spring of 1781, while Captain Boyd and his men, numbering thirty-two, were in pursuit of Nellis, they were surprised by a large party of Indians, who killed about half their number, and of the rest took eight prisoners, Jones and his commanding officer being among the number. The Indians conducted them to their towns on the Genesee river, where they had to run the gauntlet, and having passed with safety through this trying ordeal, they next came near losing their lives in a savage frolic. The warriors, on returning from their excursion, gave themselves up to drinking and merriment. Partaking freely of the intoxicating bowl, they soon became much excited, and the ferocity, which a time of war engenders, was thoroughly aroused among them. One of the prisoners they killed, and severing his head from the body, carried it about the camp, on the end of a pole, with wild shouts and frantic yells.

They next meditated the death of Boyd and Jones, and while discussing the manner in which they would have them suffer, a few squaws conveyed them away and hid them. Jones was subsequently adopted into an Indian family, became familiar with their customs and language, and after the declaration of peace, was appointed by President Washington as Indian interpreter, the duties of which office he discharged with fidelity, until within a year or two of his death.

Mr. Jones was about the ordinary stature, firmly built, and qualified by nature for duties requiring activity and endurance. Possessing uncommon mental vigor, and quick perception, he was enabled to form a just estimate of character, and determine with readiness the springs of human action. His bravery, physical power, energy and decision of character, gave him great command over the Indians with whom he was associated, and having their entire confidence, he was enabled to render the government invaluable service in her treaties with the northern and north-western tribes. He was a favorite interpreter of Red Jacket, and his style is said to have been energetic, graphic, and chaste. He died at his residence near Genesee, on the 18th of August, 1836.

It was not far from the time of this council at Canawangus that Red Jacket visited Hartford, Conn.

In the adjustment of the land difficulties between the states of Connecticut and Pennsylvania, owing to the indefinite terms of their original charters, Connecticut obtained, as we have seen, a title to that part of Ohio, called Western Reserve. The Seneca laying claim to this, on the ground of conquest, negotiations were entered into with them for the extinguishment of their title. This was the occasion of the orator’s visit, concerning which there is but a very brief record. His appearance, however, has been spoken of in terms of high commendation, and a single passage only of the speech he made on that occasion has been preserved.

“We stand,” said he, when representing the condition of his people, “a small island in the bosom of the great waters. We are encircled, we are encompassed. The evil spirit rides upon the blast, and the waters are disturbed. They rise, they press upon us, and the waves once settled over us, we disappear forever. Who then lives to mourn us? None. What marks our extermination? Nothing. We are mingled with the common elements.”

The entire speech was listened to with feelings of profound admiration, and his action elicited praise for its dignity and grace. He entered the august assemblage, before which he was called to appear, with a step measured, firm and dignified,–a countenance erect, bold and discursive,–without manifesting surprise, fear or curiosity; and his effort sustaining fully his high reputation as an orator, made the occasion one of great interest, to those whom it had been the means of bringing together, or who had been attracted by curiosity, to see one whose fame had reached the land of steady habits 2 .Citations:

  1. Conversation of the author with Samuel J. Mills, Esq., formerly of Mt. Morris, N. Y., later of Nevada, Iowa. Mr. Mills heard Mr. Parrish give this description of Red Jacket and of his speech, while sitting at one time on the porch of one of the hotels at Avon Springs. Mr. Parrish pointed out the ground occupied by the Indians, when this speech was delivered. It was only a little distance from the porch where they were sitting.[]
  2. Col. Stone, from collections by J. W. Moulton.[]

Jones, Parish,

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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