Union of the Western Indians

When Red Jacket, at the treaty of Fort Stanwix, in 1784, projected the bold idea of the union of all the Indian tribes on the continent, to resist the aggressions of the whites, he may not have thought it would soon come near having a practical fulfillment. This thought grew out of the circumstances and necessities of the times, and was the natural forecast of a great mind. His words sank deep into the hearts of his people,–they were carried beyond the bounds of that council-fire,–they went gliding along with the light canoe that plied the Lakes,–and were wafted onward by the waters of the Ohio and Mississippi. Several causes contributed to give direction and force to this movement.

Prominent among them was the fact, that the treaty of peace with Great Britain in 1783, though it put an end to the war, did not secure friendly relations between the two countries. Hostile feelings had been engendered and were still cherished, particularly by those who had taken refuge in Canada, in the early part of the Revolutionary struggle. Some of them were very active in stirring up Indian hostilities among the tribes at the west.

But prominent above all others were the exertions of Thayendanegea, or Brant, the famous war-chief, from whose leadership the inhabitants of our frontier settlements had suffered so severely, during the war of the Revolution. Very soon after the treaty at Fort Stanwix in 1784, from the dissatisfaction growing out of that treaty, and other indications among the Indians, he began to entertain the ambitious project of forming a grand Indian confederacy, of which he would be chief, embracing not only the Iroquois, but all of the Indian nations of the great North-west. He had given the entire summer of 1785, to the business of visiting these nations, and holding councils among them, with a view to the furtherance of this object 1 .

He visited England at the close of this year, “ostensibly for the purpose of adjusting the claims of the loyal Mohawks upon the crown, for indemnification of their losses and sacrifices in the contest, from which they had recently emerged 1 .”

“Coupled with the special business of the Indian claims, was the design of sounding the British government, touching the degree of countenance or the amount of assistance which he might expect from that quarter, in the event of a general Indian war against the United States 2 .”

His arrival at Salisbury was thus noted in a letter from that place, dated December 12, 1785, and published in London. “Monday last, Colonel Joseph Brant, the celebrated King of the Mohawks, arrived in this city from America, and after dining with Colonel De Peister, at the head-quarters here, proceeded on his journey to London. This extraordinary personage is said to have presided at the late Grand Congress of Confederate chiefs, of the Indian nations in America, and to be by them appointed to the conduct and chief command in the war, which they now meditate against the United States of America. He took his departure for England immediately as that assembly broke up; and it is conjectured that his embassy to the British Court is of great importance 3 .”

No public, decisive answer, for obvious reasons, was given to this application for countenance and aid in the contemplated war, for this part of the errand of the Mohawk chief, was “unknown to the public at that day 3 .”

Captain Brant on his return to America in 1786, entered once more upon the work of combining the Indian forces, and assembled a grand confederate council, which was held at Huron village, near the mouth of Detroit River 4 .

An address to the Congress of the United States was agreed upon at this council, pacific in its tone, provided no encroachments were made upon their lands west of the Ohio river. This was their ultimatum previous to the war, in which they were afterwards united.

At the treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States in 1783, it was stipulated that the military posts south of the great lakes should be surrendered. This surrender was refused, on the plea that the United States had not fulfilled an agreement on her part, to see the just claims, due the subjects of Great Britain, cancelled.

From certain correspondence at this time it appears that there were other reasons also, for the wit holding of these forts. Their surrender was earnestly desired on the part of the United States, as it was well understood, they gave encouragement to the hostile combinations, that at this time were going on.

In a letter to Captain Brant by Sir John Johnson dated Quebec, March 22d, 1787, he says, “Do not suffer an idea to hold a place in your mind, that it will be for your interest to sit still and see the Americans attempt the posts 5 . It is for your sakes chiefly, if not entirely, that we hold them. If you become indifferent about them, they may perhaps be given up; what security would you then have? You would be at the mercy of a people whose blood calls aloud for revenge; whereas, by supporting them, you encourage us to hold them, and encourage new settlements, already considerable, and every day increasing by numbers coming in, who find they can’t live in the States. Many thousands are preparing to come in. This increase of his Majesty’s subjects will serve as a protection to you, should the subjects of the States, by endeavoring to make further encroachments on you, disturb your quiet 6 .”

Another letter soon after, by Major Mathews seems to confirm the above statements. “His Lordship 7 wishes them (the Indians), to act as is best for their interest; he cannot begin a war with the Americans, because some of their people encroach and make depredations upon parts of the Indian country; but they must see it is his Lordship’s intention to defend the posts; and that while these are preserved, the Indians must find great security there from, and consequently the Americans greater difficulty in taking their lands; but should they once become masters of the posts, they will surround the Indians, and accomplish their purpose with little trouble 8 .”

Thus it is seen that those at the head of British affairs in Canada, while they studiously avoided coming into open collision with the United States, were viewing with satisfaction the gathering war-cloud, and were lending their influence to extend and intensify its threatening character.

The only course left for the United States was to prepare for the conflict; and while forces were being summoned to take the field, they were preceded by efforts of a pacific character.

A treaty was held with the Six Nations at Fort Harmar, on the Muskingum, in January, 1789, by Gen. St. Clair, in behalf of the United States, with a view to renew and confirm all the engagements, made at the treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784. Goods amounting to three thousand dollars were distributed among the Indians, after the satisfactory conclusion and signing of the treaty 9 .

At the same time a treaty was concluded with the Wyandot, Delaware, Ottawa, Chippewa, Pottowattamie and Sac nations, and goods distributed among them amounting to six thousand dollars, for a relinquishment of their claim to western lands.

These negotiations were doubtless attended with a beneficial influence, but they could not arrest the tide of warlike feeling that had been created. Hostilities were continued throughout the long line of our frontier settlements, and two of the Senecas having been killed by some bordermen of Pennsylvania, a great excitement was awakened among them.

Our government, anxious to remove the new occasion of disaffection, immediately disavowed the act, sought to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice, and invited a friendly conference of the Iroquois at Tioga Point.

This council was convened on the sixteenth and remained in session until the twenty-third of November, 1790.

The chiefs in attendance at this council, and who took an active part in its deliberations, were Fish Carrier, Farmer’s Brother, Hendrick, Little Billy and Red Jacket.

Colonel Pickering, as commissioner on the part of the United States, was present.

Red Jacket, their principal speaker, portrayed in a vivid and strong light, the sorrow they experienced, the injustice they had suffered, and the unpleasant feelings aroused among them. A large number of Indians were present, and were powerfully moved, and deeply affected by his speech.

Colonel Pickering, on the other hand, gave a very clear view of the facts in the case, showing conclusively the innocence of the government in the murder committed, and after a time succeeded in allaying the excitement, drying up their tears, and wiping out the blood that had been shed.

This council was enlivened by good cheer, and the observance of ceremonies common among the Indians.

Thomas Morris, who was present, was at this time adopted into one of their tribes. His father, Robert Morris of Philadelphia, having purchased of Massachusetts, in 1790, the pre-emptive right to that part of Western New York, not sold to Phelps and Gorham, sent his son, as preparatory to the negotiations he desired to make with the Indians, and for the general management of his business connected with the undertaking, to reside in Canandaigua. While here he was diligent in cultivating an acquaintance with the principal chiefs of the Iroquois confederacy, who resided in that region. In this he was successful, and soon became a general favorite among them. He was in attendance with Colonel Pickering at Tioga Point, where the Indians determined to adopt him into the Seneca nation, and Red Jacket bestowed upon him the name himself had borne, previous to his elevation to the dignity of Sachem; O-ti-ti-ani, “Always Ready.” It is beautifully described by Colonel Stone, and is given in his language.

“The occasion of which they availed themselves to perform the ceremony of conferring upon young Morris his new name, was a religious observance, when the whole sixteen hundred Indians present at the treaty, united in an offering to the moon, then being at her full. It was a clear night, and the moon shone with uncommon brilliancy. The host of Indians, and their neophite, were all seated upon the ground in an extended circle, on one side of which a large fire was kept burning. The aged Cayuga chieftain, Fish Carrier, who was held in exalted veneration for his wisdom, and who had been greatly distinguished for his bravery from his youth up, officiated as the high priest of the occasion;–making a long speech to the luminary, occasionally throwing tobacco into the fire, as incense. On the conclusion of the address, the whole company prostrated themselves upon the bosom of their parent earth, and a grunting sound of approbation was uttered from mouth to mouth, around the entire circle.

“At a short distance from the fire a post had been planted in the earth, intended to represent the stake of torture, to which captives are bound for execution. After the ceremonies in favor of Madam Luna had been ended, they commenced a war-dance around the post, and the spectacle must have been as picturesque as it was animating and wild. The young braves engaged in the dance were naked, excepting a breech-cloth about their loins. They were painted frightfully, their backs being chalked white, with irregular streaks of red, denoting the streaming of blood. Frequently would they cease from dancing, while one of their number ran to the fire, snatching thence a blazing stick, placed there for that purpose, which he would thrust at the post, as though inflicting torture upon a prisoner. In the course of the dance they sung their songs, and made the forests ring with their wild screams and shouts, as they boasted of their deeds of war, and told the number of scalps they had respectively taken, or which had been taken by their nation. During the dance those engaged in it, as did others also, partook freely of unmixed rum, and by consequence of the natural excitement of the occasion, and the artificial excitement of the liquor the festival had well nigh turned out a tragedy. It happened that among the dancers was an Oneida warrior, who in striking the post, boasted of the number of scalps taken by his nation during the war of the Revolution. Now the Oneidas, it will be recollected, had sustained the cause of the colonies in that contest, while the rest of the Iroquois confederacy, had espoused that of the crown. The boasting of the Oneida warrior therefore, was like striking a spark into a keg of powder. The ire of the Seneca was kindled in an instant, and they in turn boasted of the number of scalps taken from the Oneidas in that contest. They moreover taunted the Oneidas as cowards. Quick as lightning the hands of the latter were upon their weapons, and in turn the knives and tomahawks of the Seneca began to glitter in the moon-beams, as they were hastily drawn forth. For an instant it was a scene of anxious, almost breathless suspense, a death- struggle seeming inevitable, when the storm was hushed by the interposition of Old Fish Carrier, who rushed forward, and striking the post with violence, exclaimed ‘You are all a parcel of boys. When you have attained my age, and performed the warlike deeds that I have performed, you may boast of what you have done; but not till then.’

“Saying which he threw down the post, put an end to the dance, and caused the assembly to retire. This scene in its reality must have been one of absorbing and peculiar interest. An assembly of nearly two thousand inhabitants of the forest, grotesquely clad in skins and strouds, with shining ornaments of silver, and their coarse raven hair falling over their shoulders, and playing wildly in the wind as it swept past, sighing mournfully among the giant branches of the trees above, such a group gathered in a broad circle of an opening in the wilderness, the starry canopy of heaven glittering above them, the moon casting her silver mantle around their dusky forms, and a large fire blazing in the midst of them, before which they were working their spells, and performing their savage rites, must have presented a spectacle of long and vivid remembrance 10 .”

This meeting conducted with evident good feeling, served much to allay the excitement and anger of the Seneca, and other tribes there represented, but the question concerning their lands, was still agitated and created dissatisfaction.

With a view to obtain some concession in their favor, Cornplanter, Half Town and Big Tree visited Philadelphia, which was at that time the seat of the general government, very soon after the council at Tioga Point. They were especially anxious to obtain the restoration of a portion of land south of Lake Erie, and bordering upon Pennsylvania, which was occupied by Half Town and his clan. They represented it as the land on which Half Town and all his people live, with other chiefs who always have been, and still are dissatisfied with the treaty at Fort Stanwix. “They grew out of this land, and their fathers grew out of it, and they cannot be persuaded to part with it. We therefore entreat you to restore to us this little piece.”

This appeal, so simple and touching, was responded to by President Washington with great kindness. He reminded them that the treaty at Fort Stanwix had been fully confirmed at Fort Harmar in 1789, that it was not within his province to annul the provisions of a treaty, especially one that had been concluded before his administration commenced, yet he assured them that Half Town and his people, should not be disturbed, in the peaceful occupancy of the land in question.

From the friendly manner in which they were received and treated by the President, and the generous gifts bestowed, they returned home feeling satisfied that the ruler of the thirteen fires would do them no injustice, and they were hence better reconciled to the people he governed. Before leaving, however, they were engaged to go in company with Colonel Proctor, of the Indian Department, on an embassy of peace to the hostile tribes at the West, which was undertaken in the following spring.

On reaching their own country it was found that another outrage had been committed by a party of border-men, upon the Seneca at Beaver Creek, in the neighborhood of Pittsburg, in which three men and one woman were killed.

Cornplanter immediately sent runners with a dispatch to the government, informing them of the event, and with the earnest inquiry, “Our father, and ruler over all mankind, speak now and tell us, did you order those men to be killed?”

The secretary of war utterly disclaimed and denounced the transaction, promised them restitution, and that the offenders should be brought to justice. These times were so fruitful in difficulties, that ere one was healed another was created; yet our government by wise and prompt measures were after this successful, in securing peace with all of the Iroquois family within its borders.Citations:

  1. See Stone’s Life and Times of Brant, Vol. 2, p. 248.[][]
  2. Ibid.[]
  3. Life of Brant, Vol. 2, p. 249.[][]
  4. It was attended by the Six Nations, the Hurons, Ottawas, Miamis, Shawanese, Chippewas, Cherokees, Delawares, Pottowattamies, and Wabash, confederates.[]
  5. Oswegatchie, Oswego, Niagara, Detroit and Mackinaw.[]
  6. Stone’s Life and Times of Brant.[]
  7. Lord Dorchester, Governor General of Canada, formerly Sir Guy Carlton.[]
  8. Life of Brant, Vol. 2, p. 271.[]
  9. Indian treaties.[]
  10. Stone’s Life and Times of Sa-go-ye-wat-ha.[]

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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