The Reverend Mr. David Craft
INDIAN TREATY AT ATHENS
WHILE the Iroquois immediately desisted from open hostilities at the close of the Revolutionary war, yet the relations between them and the government of the United States were far from being satisfactory. Many of them sympathized with, and some aided, the western Indians in their warfare with the United States; much dissatisfaction was expressed about the Phelps and Gorham purchase in the State of New York; British Indian agents in Canada, aided by the powerful influence of Joseph Brant, were encouraging them to acts of hostility; so that, although no overt acts were committed, there was a constant feeling of distrust and uneasiness among the Six Nations. Matters were brought to a crisis by the murdering of two Seneca Indians on Pine creek, June 28, 1790, by the "Walker boys." It was alleged by the Walkers,---three brothers, Henry, Joseph, and Benjamin,---and another man, named Samuel Doyle, that one of these Indians boasted that he had taken twenty-three scalps in the late war, and among them that of the Walkers’ father, which so enraged the young men that they tomahawked the Indians forthwith. The people of that neighborhood fled to the lower settlements, and sought aid from the government. A reward was offered for the murderers, who were apprehended, tried at the November term in Northumberland county, and acquitted.
A general Indian war now seemed imminent, and the Federal government took immediate measures to conciliate the tribes. Unfortunately, the papers relating to this treaty cannot be found at Washington, where diligent search has been made, and the account which is now given is derived from the Pickering papers, which are very full, except that they do not contain the text of the treaty.
A letter from General Washington, President of the United States, bearing date September 4, 1790, to Timothy Pickering, "authorized and required him to proceed to Painted Post, or some other convenient place, to meet in behalf of the United States the Indians, to assure them that the murders committed on Pine creek on some of their tribe were causes of displeasure to the United States." On account of the difficulty of transportation, owing to the low stage of water in the river, it was determined to hold the treaty at Athens. A trusty messenger was at once dispatched to the Seneca nation, to which the murdered men belonged, inviting them to a council to be held at Tioga, Oct. 25, 1790, and containing assurances of good-will on the part of the United States, and a willingness to make reparation for the evil done them, and asking them to accept these assurances of the friendship of the general government.
Col. Pickering at once set about making preparations for the conference. To Judge Hollenback, who was largely engaged in the Indian trade, familiar with their habits and wants, personally acquainted with many of their leading men, and who had been present at the treaty at which the Phelps and Gorham purchase was effected, was committed the duty of purchasing and transporting the goods to be used for the customary presents to the Indians, and supplies for the whole company during their attendance. By an invoice found among the papers of Judge Hollenback, these goods amounted to more than sixty hundredweight, consisting of flour, rum, tobacco, pipes, kettles, hoes, wooden bowls, clothes, cotton goods, etc. There is no valuation given in this paper; but by the invoice of goods taken to Elmira, where a treaty was held the next year, and where about the same quantities were taken, the valuation amounts to more than L270, or $720.
About the middle of October, Col. Pickering and his party set out from Wilkes-Barre, and reached Tioga Point on the 17th. On his way up he stopped at Sheshequin, where Col. Spalding, who was also well-acquainted with the Indians, by whom he was held in high esteem, joined the party. It was not until the 29th of October that five runners arrived at Tioga, announcing the approach of five hundred Indians to the conference. In a letter to Mr. Hodgdon, Nov. 11, Col. Pickering says, "I have been waiting here about a fortnight for the coming of the Indians; but they are not yet arrived, though they will undoubtedly be here next Saturday. Some white villains among them, who wish to make themselves important and necessary on all such occasions, have greatly contributed to this, though as soon as I arrived Col. Spalding told me I must not look for them in less than a fortnight; it is their usual practice to be extremely dilatory. Mr. Ellicott arrived here last Tuesday. The Indians, he says, retarded his business, and the British from Niagara endeavored to prevent their attending this treaty. I have certain information of two hundred and thirty-four advancing, and stragglers may make up three hundred. It is probably, from their deliberate manner of doing business, that I shall not get clear of them till next week."
To his wife, under date of November 15, he writes: "The Seneca Indians arrived yesterday afternoon. The chiefs say they expect some chiefs of the other nations, particularly the Cayugas, and desire to wait two days for their arrival. If they do not come in that time they will proceed to the business without them. On Wednesday, therefore, I expect a speech from them in council….They are of all ages, some very old and some infants at the breast….Last evening, agreeably to my invitation, the chiefs came to smoke a pipe with me, drink grog, and eat our bread and butter and cheese. This morning they have sent a message to inform me that their ladies will make me a visit. I did not invite them, but I must receive them in the same manner I did the chiefs. They have among them some very pretty boys. Fortunately, the young people stayed at home, it being the season for hunting."
Col. Pickering states that the conference was designed to be with the Indians of the Seneca nation relative to the murder of their brothers on Pine creek, the circumstances of which he describes as "barbarous," but the Indians of the other nations came with them, considering the injury as done to them all. Runners had been sent by some of the leading sachems through the Six Nations, urging them to attend the conference, the message concluding in these words: "This is from your brothers, sachems, chiefs, and warriors, walking to the big fire at Tioga Point."
On the day after the informal meeting at Col. Pickering’s quarters, where thirty or forty chiefs were present, the first regular conference took place, which was opened by Col. Pickering in the following speech:
"Brothers, sachems, chiefs, and warriors of the Six Nations, I bid you a hearty welcome to this council fire, and thank the Great Spirit who has brought us together in safety, though I sincerely lament the cause of our meeting. I mean the murder of our two brothers of your nation at Pine creek."
He then informed them that the thirteen fires had become one fire, and that General Washington was the great chief of all the fires, and had appointed him, Col. Pickering, to represent him at the treaty. He then caused his commission to be read, and handed it around that the chiefs might examine it. This being done, he excused any want of formality which might be observed, on the ground of his ignorance of their customs, that being the first treaty he had ever attended, and continued:
"Brothers, you now see my commission, which has been read and interpreted, that according to my letter to you, I was appointed to wash off the blood of our murdered brothers, and wipe away the tears from the eyes of their friends, and that this occasion was to be improved to brighten the chain of friendship between you and the United States.
"Brothers, you said the hatchet was yet sticking in your head. I now pull it out. I have now met you to wash off the blood of the slain, and wipe away the tears from the eyes of their friends; and, as a token of friendship and peace, and of the perfect security with which we may confer together, I now present you these strings."
I then, says Col. Pickering, delivered to the principal chief, usually called Farmer’s Brother, strings of wampum. After some consultation with the chiefs near him, he rose, and addressed me to the following effect:
"Brother, we thank the Great Spirit, who has appointed this day in which we sit side by side, and look with earnestness on each other. We know you have been long waiting for us, and suppose you have often stretched up your neck to see if we were coming.
"Brother, we sent your letter to the Grand river by the Fish Carrier, and we have been waiting for its return, but it has not yet come to hand, and therefore we cannot yet properly enter upon the business. We must wait two days for the arrival of the Fish Carrier, or to hear from him. But, in the mean time, as the letter has not come back, we desire you to accept this belt as a pledge."
He then delivered the belt. After a pause, the chief called Red Jacket rose, and spoke to this effect:
"Brother, we are happy to see you here, for which we thank the Great Spirit.
"Brother, you say you are not acquainted with our customs.
"Brother, we are young, but we will describe the ancient practices of our fathers. The roads we now travel were cleared by them. When they used to meet our brothers of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia, our brothers not only pulled the hatchet out of their heads, but buried it. You say you have pulled the hatchet out of our heads, but you have only cast it behind you. You may take it up again.
"Brother, while the hatchet lies unburied we cannot sit easy on our seats.
"Brother, from the time we made peace with the United States, we have experienced troubles more than before. The United States have also had their troubles.
"Brother, we now hear General Washington, the great chief of the United States, speaking to us by you, and hope our troubles will now have an end. But our eyes are not yet washed that we may see, nor our throats cleared that we may speak."
As soon as Red Jacket sat down, I rose, and spoke to the following effect:
"Brothers, you say I have only pulled the hatchet out of your heads, and have not buried it, and while it is unburied you cannot sit easy on your seats.
"Brothers, in declaring that I pulled the hatchet out of your heads, I meant to comply with your own demand to the president and council of Pennsylvania,* which was that he should come and pull the hatchet out of your heads. However, to give you entire satisfaction on this point, as the hatchet is already pulled out of your heads, I now bury it, and pray God that it may remain buried, and that its sharp edge may never more be seen.
"Brothers, the United States has no wish but to live with you as brothers in perpetual peace.
"Brothers, I now wash off the blood of your murdered brothers, and the tears from the eyes of their friends."
I then drank to their health. After they had been served round with a glass of rum, Farmer’s Brother rose, and spoke to the following effect:
"Brother, you have now taken us by the hand, and washed our eyes; our women expect that you will show them equal attention. They are here, waiting your invitation, to receive the same tokens of your friendship which the last evening you gave us. Perhaps in taking them by the hand you may see one who will please you."
A general laugh arose at the speaker’s humor. I arose, and addressed the women:
"Sisters, I am very glad to meet you here. I have seen a great many excellent women of various complexions, and doubt not such may be found among you.
I invite you to my quarters, where we may eat and drink together in friendship.
I now take you by the hand as my sisters."
I then went round, and shook hands with every woman present.
The specific object of Col. Pickering’s mission was to assuage the resentment to which the Six Nations had been wrought by the murder of the two Senecas. This is evident both from the letter of the Indians to the authorities of Pennsylvania, the letter of the president to Col. Pickering, and the speeches made on the occasion. There are but remote allusions made to any trouble about the land, and I think Col. Stone (whose account has been followed by Sherman Day in the "Historical Collections of Pennsylvania," and by Mrs. Perkins, in "Early Times") is mistaken when he makes this the prominent topic of the conference. Col. Pickering held treaties with these same Indians in 1791, at Newtown (Elmira), and at Canandaigua in 1794, and it is probable that the speeches on these occasions may have become confounded with those at Tioga Point. Although the Indians were dissatisfied about the Phelps and Gorham purchase, it was not until December, 1790, and the early part of 1791, that Cornplanter, Half-town, Big Tree, and others brought the matter to the attention of the Federal government.
It was also a matter of the highest, perhaps vital, importance to prevent the Six Nations from joining the western Indians, then at war with the United States. Col. John Butler, then commandant at Fort Niagara, and other British officials on the Canadian border, were using all possible means to induce these nations to engage in hostilities. Joseph Brant was using his great influence in the same direction. There were reasons to believe that Cornplanter, the most prominent Seneca chief, had received like impressions, and this was confirmed from the fact that he refused to attend the treaty. Red Jacket, who was the principal speaker in the conferences at Tioga Point, had strong prejudices against the United States, which were manifested in his speech on the first day. The difficulties encountered by Col. Pickering in bringing the Indians to a favorable feeling were from these causes very great, and required great tact to overcome.
Red Jacket was a great aboriginal orator. It is said he received this name from the fact that an English officer once presented him with a red coat or jacket; after that was worn out he presented him with another. According to Col. Stone, his Indian name was "Sa-go-ye-wat-ha." Col. Pickering gives it as "Soo-que-ya-waun-tan," "Sleeper, wake up," probably given as expressive of his rousing, magnetizing eloquence.
His feelings seem to have been mollified early in the conference. Col. Pickering bears this testimony to his character and deportment on this occasion:
"He acted a conspicuous part at the conferences, displaying a good understanding, a ready apprehension, and great strength of memory. He was attentive to business at the council fire, and when consulted in private on matters relating to their peculiar customs, he seemed to be very well acquainted with them, and always gave me the necessary information very intelligently, with perfect candor, and in a most obliging manner."
Many of the chiefs of the Seneca and other nations showed a good disposition throughout, particularly Farmer’s Brother, Good Peter, Captain Hendrick, Aupaumut, Fish Carrier, and Big Tree. Each spoke in his own proper language, and it was passed from one side to the other by "Ear," the name given to the interpreter.
The conference continued until Nov. 22. The speeches were conciliatory on both sides, but, as the contain nothing of particular importance, would not interest the general reader.
The final scenes of the negotiations are thus described by Col. Pickering: "Upon conversing with some of the principal chiefs, I found that the delivery of a mourning belt to the head of each family to which the murdered Indians belonged was an invariable custom among themselves, and that without a compliance with it the injuries could not be forgiven. As I had none, the chiefs undertook to inquire among their people for suitable belts, and, if obtained, I agreed to purchase them. I also found that when I should deliver the belts they expected me to make a particular address to the relations of the deceased. The belts were procured, and on the 22d of November, before the council fire was covered, I addressed the whole body of Indians, and the relations of the deceased in particular, in the following speech:
"Brothers, the business for which this council fire was kindled is now finished. The hatchet has been buried, and the chain of friendship is made bright; but before the fire is put out I must address a few words to the relations of our two murdered brothers.
"My friends, you are now assembled to receive the last public testimony of respect to the memory of our two brothers whose untimely deaths we have joined in lamenting.
"Mothers, you have lost two worthy sons from whom you expected support and comfort in your old age. You appear bowed down with sorrow as with years. Your afflictions must be very great. I also am a parent, the parent of many sons, the loss of any one of whom would fill me with distress. I therefore can feel for yours.
"Brothers and sisters, you have lost two valuable relations, whose assistance was useful, and whose company was pleasing to you, and with whom you expected to pass yet many happy years. With you, also, I can join in mourning your misfortune.
"Mothers, brothers, and sisters, let me endeavor to assuage your grief. You enjoy the satisfaction of remembering the good qualities of your sons and brothers; of reflecting that they were worthy men; and of hearing their names mentioned with honor. Let these considerations afford you some comfort. Death, you know, is the common lot of mankind, and none can escape its stroke. Some, indeed, live many years, till, like well-ripened corn, they wither and bend down their heads. But multitudes fall in infancy, like the tender, shooting corn nipped by the untimely frosts. Others again grow up to manhood, are then cut off while full of sap, and flourishing in all the vigor of life. The latter, it seems, was the state of our two deceased brothers. But, my friends, they are gone, and we cannot bring them back. When the Great Spirit shall so order it, we must follow them, but they cannot return to us. This is the unalterable course of things, and it is our duty patiently to bear our misfortunes.
"Mothers, to manifest the sorrow of the United States for the loss of your sons, and that you and your families may always have with you the usual tokens of remembrance, I now present to you these belts.
"Brothers, the stake has been stuck into the ground, and it has been pulled out in the presence of you all. We have put into the hole all of our troubles, and stuck in the stake that they may never rise again."
On the following day, November 23, he delivered to the Indians the present of goods from the United States, prefacing it with a short speech. These ceremonies terminated, renewals of friendship secured, a treaty concluded, and satisfaction given and taken on both sides, the council fires were covered up, the Indians returned to their homes, and Col. Pickering repaired to Philadelphia to make report of his doings.
Gen. Knox, secretary of war, in his report, says, "The proceedings of Col. Pickering were conducted with ability and judgment, and consistently with the constitution and laws of the United States, and also with the candor and humanity which ought to characterize all treaties of the general government with the unenlightened natives of the country."
The following episode, which occurred during the negotiation held with Col. Pickering at Tioga, will possess interest to the reader, and is quoted from Mrs. Perkins’ "Early Times," p. 103, et seq.
"It was this year (1790) that Robert Morris, of Philadelphia, purchased from the State of Massachusetts the pre-emption right to that portion of her territory in western New York (west of the Genessee river) that had not been purchased by Phelps and Gorham. For the management of his concerns, and the negotiations he knew he should be obliged to hold with the Indians, his son Thomas had taken up his residence at Canandaigua, and was cultivating acquaintance with the Indians. In this he was successful, and soon became popular among them. He was in attendance with Col. Pickering at Tioga Point, where the Indians determined to adopt him into the Seneca nation, and Red Jacket bestowed upon him the name he himself had borne previous to his elevation to the dignity of sachem, Otetiani, ‘Always Ready.’ **
"The ceremony of conferring upon young Morris his new name occurred during 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. The ceremonies were performed in the evening. It was a clear night, and the moon shone with uncommon brilliancy. The host of Indians and their neophyte 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 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.
"At the conclusion of the address, the whole assembly 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 honor of Madame 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, except the 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 they would 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 captive.
"In the course of the dance they sang their songs, and made the forest ring with their wild screams and shouts, as they boasted of their deeds of war, and told of the scalps they had respectively taken, or which had been taken by their nation. Those engaged in the dance, 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 remembered, had sustained the cause of the colonists 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 gunpowder. The ire of the Senecas was kindled in an instant, and they in turn boasted of the number of scalps taken by them from the Oneidas in that contest. They moreover taunted the Oneidasas cowards. Quick as lightning the hands of the latter were upon their weapons, and in turn the knives and tomahawks of the Senecas began to glitter in the moonbeams, as they were hastily drawn forth. For an instant it was a scene of anxious, almost breathless suspense; a death-struggle seemed inevitable, when the storm was hushed by the interposition of 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 I have performed, you may boast what you have done; 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. Such an assembly of the inhabitants of the forest, grotesquely dressed in skins, 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, in the opening of the wilderness, the starry canopy of heaven glittering above them, the moon casting her silvery 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."
Mrs. Perkins adds: "Very few Indians were ever seen here (Athens) after this event. There were a few aged and infirm ones who lingered until their recovery, or means were provided for their removal."
*This letter, dated Aug. 12, 1790, says: "We now take you by the hand and lead you to Painted Post, or as far as your canoes can come up the creek, where you will meet the whole tribe of the deceased, and all the chiefs, and a great number of warriors of our nation, when we expect you will wash away the blood of your brothers, and bury the hatchet, and put it out of memory, as it is yet sticking in our head.
"Brothers, it is our great brother, your governor, who must come to see us, as we will never bury the hatchet until our great brother himself comes and brightens the chain of friendship, as it is very rusty.
"Brothers, you must bring the property of your brothers you have murdered, and all the property of the murderers, as it will be great satisfaction to the families of the deceased.
"Brothers, the sooner you meet us the better, for our young warriors are very uneasy, and it may prevent great trouble."
This letter was signed by Little Beard and three other important chiefs, and was doubtless the immediate cause for holding the conference---See Hist. of Holland Purchase, pp. 332, 333.
**Mr. Morris was known among the Indians by the name conferred upon him at this time. For many years after his marriage, his wife was called by them "Otetiani’s squaw," and his children "Otetiani’s papooses."
***There were not more than five hundred.