The Iroquois or Six Nations

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Condition of the Six Nations subsequent to the Revolution

After the conclusion of peace and the recognition of the independence of the United States, arrangements were made between the British government and those of the Six Nations who still wished to reside under the jurisdiction of the parent country, to secure them an asylum in Canada. Thayendanegea was the principal negotiator on the part of the Indians, and, at his instance, the country bordering on Grand River, which empties into Lake Erie, about thirty miles westward from Buffalo, was granted by the crown to “the Mohawks, and others of the Six Nations, who had either lost their possessions in the war, or wished to retire from them to the British.” They were to be secured in the possession of a tract extending six miles in breadth, on each side of the river, from its mouth to its source.

Conclusion Of Brant’s History

The course to be taken by the United States respecting the Iroquois resident within their limits, was a subject which led to much discussion and dissension. A conference was finally held at Fort Stanwix, between deputies from all the six tribes and United States commissioners; and, after much violent debate, in which the celebrated Red-Jacket took a prominent part, it was settled that the Indians should cede to the government all jurisdiction over lands in eastern New York, and confine themselves to a district specified at the west. All prisoners were to be delivered up, and several hostages were given to secure performance of their stipulations on the part of the Six Nations.

Many of the Indians were greatly dissatisfied with this treaty. Red Jacket (in opposition to Corn-Planter) strenuously advocated a continuance of hostilities. His speech at Fort Stanwix upon the subject gained him a wide reputation for oratory. Brant, who was then about starting for England to push the claims of his tribe for remuneration for their losses in the war, postponed his embarkation., and wrote a letter of remonstrance to Colonel Monroe, complaining especially of the retention of one of his relatives, a Captain Aaron Hill, as one of the hostages.

The Mohawk chief did not lay aside his purpose of visiting the royal court in his people s behalf. He arrived in England in the month of December 1785, and never was ambassador received with more nattering attention. His intelligence and dignity, together with the remembrance of his long and faithful services, commended him to all. He was feted by the nobility and gentry; his acquaintance was sought by the most learned and celebrated dignitaries of the age; and the native shrewdness evinced in his speeches and remarks drew forth universal applause. His attempt to awaken an interest at court, in favor of the claims of his nation, was successful; and a royal order was obtained for the indemnity of those whose losses had been specified, and for an examination of further demands.

In the United States, Indian affairs continued unsettled, and ominous prospects of future disturbance on the western frontier called for wise and cautious action. A great council was held in December, 1786, by many tribes of Indians, among whom the Six Nations were the most prominent, at Huron village, not far from the mouth of Detroit River. The object was to concert some general plan of resistance to encroachments upon their lands by the inhabitants of the United States. It is said that an unfriendly feeling towards the new government was promoted by English officials in their communications with the Indians, in reference to the retention, by the crown, of Oswego, Detroit, Niagara, and other posts.

For many years, subsequent to the peace with England, bloody skirmishes, and scenes of plunder and rapine, kept the western border in continual distress; and when the United States undertook the reduction of the hostile tribes in 1790 and 91, it was found that the feeling of disaffection on the part of the red men was indeed extensive. Upon the occasion of St. Glair s disastrous defeat by the Miami and their associates, under the renowned chief, Little Turtle, it is asserted by the biographer of Brant that the old Mohawk warrior and the warlike tribe to which he belonged bore a conspicuous part.

No man, born of a savage stock, has ever associated with the enlightened and intelligent upon terms of greater equality than did Thayendanegea. While he retained all his partiality for his own people, and never lost sight of their interests, he fully appreciated the advantages of education and civilization. A long life, spent for the most part amid scenes of strife and danger, in which the whole powers of his active mind and body seemed called forth by the stirring scenes in which he mingled, did not unfit him for the pursuits of literature and the arts of peace. He was indefatigable in his endeavors to elevate the social position of his tribe, and devoted no little time and attention to the translation of scriptural and other works into the Mohawk tongue, for their benefit. His earlier specimens of composition, which have been preserved, are, as might be expected, rudely and imperfectly expressed, but they evince great shrewdness and intelligence. The productions of his latter years are strikingly forcible and elegant.

We cannot go into a detail of the tedious and somewhat obscure negotiations with the American government in which the chief of the Six Nations took part in behalf of his people, nor chronicle the events of private interest and domestic troubles, which disturbed his declining years. The old warrior died in November, 1807, at the age of sixty-four.

In the war of 1812, the Mohawks, under John Brant, son and successor of Thayendanegea, took the part of their old friends and allies, the English, and did good service in various engagements upon the northern frontier.

Red-Jacket And Corn-Planter

In the early part of the nineteenth century, few names stand more prominent in Indian annals than that of the Seneca chief and orator, Saguoaha, or Red-Jacket. We hear of him, indeed, in much earlier times, as opposed to Brant, at the time of Sullivan s campaign. The Mohawk chief always regarded him with contempt and dislike, speaking of him as an arrant coward, and a man of words merely. Saguoaha held the whites generally in suspicion, and his great effort appears ever to have been for the preservation of his nation s independence and individuality.

We have already mentioned the part, which he took at the treaty of Fort Stanwix, and his opposition to the cession by his nation of their eastern lands. Corn- Planter or O’Bail, who favored the proposal, was high in authority at that time among the Senecas; but Red-Jacket, more by his eloquence and sagacity in council than by any warlike achievements, was gradually supplanting him. Corn-Planter was a veteran warrior, and had fought in former times against the English, in behalf of the French. He is said to have been attached to the French and Indian army, upon the occasion of Braddock s defeat, in 1755. He could ill brook the rivalry of a young man, noted for no warlike achievements, and only prominent among his people by virtue of his natural gift of eloquence. To check, therefore, this advance of the young orator, O’Bail endeavored to work upon the credulity of his people by announcing his brother as a prophet, and, for a time, succeeded in exciting their reverence and superstitious fears. Red- Jacket, however, in open council, eloquently pro claimed him an impostor, and harangued the tribe with such power and effect as to create a complete diversion in his own favor. He was chosen chief of his tribe, and exercised, from that time forth, a control over his numerous followers seldom surpassed by any Indian ruler. He was a steady opposer of Christianity, holding the missionaries who endeavored to effect the conversion of the Six Nations, in great suspicion. As a specimen of his style of oratory, we will give some extracts of Saguoaha s speeches upon these religious questions, as they are to be found in Thatcher s Indian Biography. It must be observed that, with characteristic obstinacy, the speaker would never use the English language, but communicated his remarks by means of an interpreter, so that due allowance must be made for the change in style and loss of force almost al ways attendant upon a translation.

At a Seneca council in May, 1811, held at Buffalo Creek, he answered a missionary from New York, substantially as follows: “Brother! we listened to the talk you delivered us from the Council of Black-Coats in New York. We have fully considered your talk, and the offers you have made us. We now return our answer, which we wish you also to understand. In making up our minds, we have looked back to remember what has been done in our days, and what our fathers have told us was done in old times.

“Brother! Great numbers of Black-Coats have been among the Indians. With sweet voices and smiling faces, they offered to teach them the religion of the white people. Our brethren in the East listened to them. They turned from the religion of their fathers, and took up the religion of the white people. What good has it done? Are they more friendly one to another than we are? No, brother! They are a divided people; we are united. They quarrel about religion; we live in love and friendship. Besides, they drink strong waters. And they have learned how to cheat, and how to practice all the other vices of the white people, without imitating their virtues. Brother! If you wish us well, keep away; do not disturb us.

“Brother! We do not worship the Great Spirit as the white people do, but we believe that the forms of worship are indifferent to the Great Spirit. It is the homage of sincere hearts that pleases him, and we worship him in that manner.”

After arguing the matter a little more at length, and expressing a decided preference for the “talk” of Mr. Granger, an Indian agent, and for that of the emissaries of the Society of Friends, the orator concluded:

Brother! For these reasons we cannot receive your offers. We have other things to do, and beg you to make your mind easy, without troubling us, lest our heads should be too much loaded, and by and by burst.” Red-Jacket remained, through life, consistent with the ground first taken by him upon religious and political questions. To the clergy he was ever courteous and civil, and appears to have been ready to hold argument with them upon their creed. In conversation with one of the cloth, he is said to have strenuously denied any responsibility on the part of the red men for the death of Christ. “Brother,” said he, “if you white people murdered “the Savior” make it up yourselves. We had nothing to do with it. If he had come among us, we should have treated him better.”

In the war of 1812, the Senecas espoused the American interests, and, Brant s assertions to the contrary not with standing, their chief, with his subordinates Farmer’s Brother, Little Billy, Pollard, Black Snake, Young O’Bail, (a son of Corn-Planter,) and others gained honorable notice for courage and activity from the commanding officers of the army to which they were attached. It is still more pleasing to reflect that these Indians readily conformed to the more human usages of modern warfare. General Boyd reported that, “the bravery and humanity of the Indians were equally conspicuous.”

In his old age, Red-Jacket became very intemperate, and in so many instances conducted himself in a manner unbecoming the dignity of a chief, that his opponents, the Christian portion of the tribe, succeeded in passing a resolution, in council, for his deposition. This was effected in September, of the year 1827, and a formal written proclamation of the charges said to be substantiated against him, was promulgated. The old chief immediately bestirred himself to obtain a revocation of this decree. He caused a grand council of the Six Nations to be held, and, with all his former fire and energy, made answer to his accusers. After enumerating and ridiculing the charges against him, (many of them really trifling,) he proceeded to speak of his long-continued services and care for his people: “I feel sorry for my nation,” said he; “when I am gone to the other worlds, when the Great Spirit calls me away, who among my people can take my place? Many years have I guided the nation.”

The eloquence of the speaker, and a remembrance of his faithful zeal for the welfare of his tribe, produced their due effect: he was fully restored to his former position and authority. During the latter years of his life, Red-Jacket resided at the Seneca settlement, in the vicinity of Buffalo. He made several visits to the Eastern cities, where his appearance always attracted much interest and attention. A traveler who visited the Seneca country a few years before the death of the old chief (which took place in January, 1830,) speaks of his residence and appearance in the following terms: “My path grew more and more in distinct, until its windings were only intimated by the smoothness of the turf, which often left me in perplexity, till it at last brought me to the view of the abode of the-chief. He had penetrated, like a wild beast, into the deepest recesses of the forest, almost beyond the power of a white man to trace him. A wild beast! but I found him in a calm, contemplative mood, and surrounded by a cheerful family. Old and young, collected about the door of the log hut where he was seated, seemed to regard him with affection; and an infant, which one of the females held in her arms, received his caresses with smiles. It was a striking scene a chief! Yet some of his inferiors, who cultivate the soil in other parts of the Seneca lands, had abundant fields and well-filled store-houses, while he was poor, but bore his privations with apparent equanimity. If he had power, he did not exert it; if he had passions, they were quiescent; if he had suffered injuries, they were buried in his breast. His looks, his motions, his attitudes, had that cast of superiority which convinced me that, whether justly or not, he considered no man his superior in understanding. He appeared to regard himself as the only one of his nation who retained the feelings and opinions of his ancestors, and to pride himself in preserving them.” Halleck’s address to “Red-Jacket, on looking at his portrait, by Wier,” although not in all respects strictly accordant with facts, contains a beautiful summary of Indian characteristics. The poem concludes as follows:

” The monarch mind, the mystery of commanding,
The birth-hour gift, the art Napoleon,
Of winning, fettering, molding, wielding, banding
The hearts of millions, till they move as one;

Thou hast it. At thy bidding men have crowded
The road to death as to a festival;
And minstrels, at their sepulchers, have shrouded
With banner-folds of glory the dark pall.

Who will believe? Not I for in deceiving
Lies the dear charm of life s delightful dream;
I cannot spare the luxury of believing
That all things beautiful are what they seem.

Who will believe that, with a smile whose blessing
Would, like the patriarch’s, soothe a dying hour,
With voice as low, as gentle and caressing,
As e’er won maiden s lip in moonlit bower;

With look like patient Job s, eschewing evil;
With motions graceful as a bird s in air;
Thou art, in sober truth, the veriest devil
That e’er clinched fingers in a captive s hair!

That in thy breast there springs a poison fountain,
Deadlier than that where bathes the Upas tree;
And in thy wrath, a nursing cat-o -mountain
Is calm as a babe s sleep, compared with thee!

And underneath that face, like Summer Ocean s,
Its lip as moveless, and its cheek as clear,
Slumbers a whirlwind of the heart s emotions
Love, hatred, pride, hope, sorrow, all save fear.

Love, for thy land, as if she were thy daughter,
Her pipe in peace, her tomahawk in wars;
Hatred of missionaries and cold water:
Pride in thy rifle-trophies, and thy scars;

Hope that thy wrongs may be by the Great Spirit
Remembered and revenged when thou art gone;
Sorrow that none are left thee to inherit
Thy name, thy fame, thy passions, and thy throne!”


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MLA Source Citation:

Brownell, Charles De Wolf. Indian Races of North and South America: Comprising an account of the principal aboriginal races; a description of their national customs, mythology, and religious ceremonies, the history of their most powerful tribes, and of their most celebrated chiefs and warriors; their intercourse and wars with the European settlers; and a great variety of anecdote and description, illustrative of personal and national character. Hartford, Conn., Chicago,E. B. & R.C. Treat; [etc., etc.]: Hurlbut, Scranton & Co. 1864. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 18 December 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/general-character-of-six-nations-or-iroquois.htm - Last updated on Jan 31st, 2013


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