Kiontwogky or Corn Plant

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Corn Plant
Kiontwogky or Corn Plant
A Seneca Chief

The Seneca, as we have already stated in another place, were a tribe of the Iroquois, or Five Nations; and, more recently, the Six Nations, when the Tuscarora were added to the confederacy, which then consisted of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondaga, Seneca, Cayuga, and Tuscarora. These Indians were among the earliest who were known to the English, who recognized them as a warlike and powerful people, and took no small pains to conciliate their friendship. In the year 1710, five chiefs of the Iroquois were induced by the British officers to visit England, under the expectation that their savage natures might be softened by kindness, or their fears alarmed by an exhibition of the power and magnificence of the British sovereign. This event excited much attention in London. Steele mentioned it in his Tattler of May 13, 1710, while Addison devoted a number of the Spectator to the same subject. Swift, who was ambitious to be a politician, and who suffered no occurrence of a public nature to escape his attention, remarks, in one of his letters to Mrs. Johnson; “I intended to have written a book on that subject. I believe he (Addison) has spent it all in one paper, and all the under hints there are mine too.” Their portraits were taken, and are still preserved in the British Museum; and Steele says, of these illustrious strangers: “they were placed in a handsome apartment, at an upholsterer’s in King street, Covent Garden.”

In Oldmixon’s History we find the following notice: “For the successes in Spain, and for the taking of Doway, Bethune, and Aire, by the Duke of Marlborough, in Flanders, there was a thanksgiving day appointed, which the Queen solemnized at St. James’ chapel. To have gone, as usual, to St. Paul’s, and there to have had Te Deum sung, on that occasion, would have shown too much countenance to those brave and victorious English generals who were fighting her battles abroad, while High Church was plotting, and railing, and addressing against them at home. The carrying of five Indian casaques about in the Queen’s coaches, was all the triumph of the Harleian administration; they were called Kings, and clothed by the playhouse tailor, like other kings of the theater; they were conducted to audience by Sir Charles Cotterel; there was a speech made for them, and nothing omitted to do honor to these five monarchs, whose presence did so much honor the new ministry.”

In a work entitled “The Annals of Queen Anne’s Reign, Year the IX, for 1710,” written by Mr. Boyer, we find the following remarks:” On the 19th April, Te-ye-neen-ho-ga-prow, and Sa-ga-yean-qua-pra-ton, of the Maquas, Elow-oh-kaom, and Oh-neah-yeath-ton-no-prow, of the river Sachem, and the Genajoh-hore sachem, four kings, or chiefs, of the Six Nations, in the West Indies, which lie between New England and New France, or Canada, who lately came over with the West India fleet, and were clothed and entertained at the queen’s expense, had a public audience of her majesty, at the palace of St. James, being con ducted in two of her majesty’s coaches, by Sir James Cotterel, master of ceremonies, and introduced by the Duke of Somerset, lord chamberlain.” The historian then proceeds to recite a long speech, which these sachems from the West Indies, between New England and Canada, are supposed to have made to the British monarch, but which is so evidently of English manufacture, that we refrain from giving it a place. We are farther informed, that our chiefs remained in London, after their audience with her majesty, about a fortnight, and were entertained by several persons of distinction, particularly the Duke of Ormond, who regaled them likewise with a review of the four troops of life guards. In Smith’s History of New York, we are told, “The arrival of these five sachems in England, made a great bruit throughout the whole kingdom. The mob followed wherever they went, and small cuts of them were sold among the people.”

The visits of Indian chiefs to the more refined and civilized parts of the world are, unhappily, to be regarded only as a matter for curiosity, for we do not find that they have produced any beneficial results. The savage gazed with astonishment at the wonders of art and luxury which met his eye at every step, and returned to repeat the marvelous narrative of his travels to hearers who listened without understanding the recital, or being convinced of their own inferior condition. The distance between themselves and the white men was too great to be measured by their reasoning powers. There was no standard of comparison by which they could try the respective merits of beings so different, and modes of life so opposite; and they satisfied themselves with supposing that the two races were created with distinct faculties) and destined for separate spheres of existence. They took little pains to investigate any thing which was new or wonderful, but briefly resolved all difficulties by referring them to fatality, or to magic. A few of the more acute, obtained distant and misty glimpses of the truth, and were willing to spare the weaker intellects of their people, from a knowledge which filled themselves with dread and sorrow; for, in the little which they comprehended of European power, they saw the varied and overwhelming elements of a superiority which threatened their destruction. Hence their wisest and most patriotic chiefs have been prudently jealous of civilization; while the Indians in general have feared and distrusted that which they could not comprehend. A striking instance, in illustration of these remarks, may be found in the story of an individual belonging to the Iroquois confederacy, upon whom the experiment of a civilized education was fairly tried.

Peter Otsaquette we give his name as we find it, disguised by an English prefix, and a French termination was an Oneida Indian, of a distinguished family. At the close of the American revolution, he attracted the attention of Lafayette, whose benevolent feelings, strongly enlisted by the intelligence and amiable qualities of the savage -boy, induced him to send the young Oneida to France. At the age of twelve, he was placed in the best schools of Paris, and not only became a good scholar, but attained a high degree of proficiency in music, drawing, fencing, and all the accomplishments of a gentleman. His was one of the few native stalks upon which the blossoms of education have been successfully engrafted. De lighted with the French metropolis, and deeply imbued with the spirit of its polite inhabitants, he seemed to have forgotten his native propensities, and to have been thoroughly reclaimed from barbarism. He returned to America an altered person, with a commanding figure, an intelligent countenance, the dress of the European, and the grace of a polished man. Proud of his acquirements, and buoyed up with the patriotic hope of becoming the benefactor of his tribe, and the instrument of their moral elevation, he hastened to his native forests. He was welcomed with hospitality; but on his first appearance in public, the Oneidas disrobed him of his foreign apparel, tearing it from his person with indignant violence, and reproaching him with apostasy in throwing off the garb of his ancestors. They forced him to resume the blanket, to grease his limbs with the fat of the bear, and to smear his body with paint. Nor was this enough; he was married to a squaw, and indoctrinated in the connubial felicities of the wigwam. The sequel of his story will be readily anticipated. With no relish for savage life, and without the prospect of happiness or distinction, he sank into intemperance, and so rapid was his degradation, that within three months after his return from Europe, he exchanged the portrait of Lafayette, the gift of his illustrious benefactor, for the means of gratifying the brutal propensity which was now “his sole remaining passion.

As our object is to illustrate the Indian character, we may be permitted to extend this digression by relating, before we proceed to the proper subject of the article, another anecdote, which, while it exemplifies the self-possession of the Indian, and the readiness with which he adapts himself to circumstances, shows also how slight are the impressions made upon his mind by the finest incidents, or the most agreeable objects in civilized life. In 1819, an Indian warrior, named Makawitta, happened to be a passenger upon Lake Erie, in the steamboat Walk-in-the-water. On board the same vessel was a sprightly young lady, who, pleased with the fine appearance and manly deportment of the savage, played off upon him some of those fascinating coquetries, in which fair ladies are so expert, and which the wisest men are unable to resist, and unwilling to avoid. Makawitta was a youth of little over twenty years, neat in his dress, and graceful as well as dignified in his movements; we presume the lady was both witty and handsome, and we are assured that the passengers were highly amused at this encounter between a belle and a beau of such opposite nurture. For some time he sustained his part with admirable tact, but when his fair opponent drew a ring from her finger, and placed it on his, he stood for a moment in respectful silence, at a loss to understand the meaning of the ceremony. A gentleman who spoke his language, apprised him that the ring was a token of affection; upon which, placing himself in a graceful attitude, he addressed her in an oratorical style, which showed that he entered fully into the spirit of the scene, in the following words :

“You have conferred the best gift this ring, emblem of love of love that lives while the Great Spirit endures. My heart is touched it is yours for ever.

“I will preserve this ring while I live. I will bear it with me over the mighty waters, to the land of good spirits.

“I am happy to be with you in this wonderful canoe, moved by the Great Spirit, and conducted by the Big Fist of the great deep.

“I wish to be with you until I go to the land where my fathers have gone. Take back the ring, and give me that which I value more yourself.”

On the next day the ring was bartered for a drink of whisky!

Such is the singular race whose history we are endeavoring to exemplify patient under hardship, subtle in war, inflexible in the stern purpose of revenge, but fickle in every good resolution, and irreclaimable in barbarism. In the multitude, bravery is a common virtue, a prominent and almost a single merit; while here and there a noble, character shines like a bright peculiar star among the host of mere warriors, adorned with the highest qualities that dignify and soften the harsher features of manhood.

The name of Corn Plant is very familiar to most of our country men, yet we have been unable to obtain the materials for a connected account of his whole career. He was a chief of the Seneca, and the rival of Red Jacket, from whom he differed in character, while he equaled him in influence. Without the commanding genius of Red Jacket, he possessed a large share of the common sense which is more efficient in all the ordinary affairs of life. They were both able men; both acquired the confidence of their people; but the patriotism of Red Jacket was exhibited in an unyielding hatred of the whites, between whom and the red men, he would have cut off all intercourse; while Corn Plant adopted the opposite policy of conciliation, towards his more powerful neighbors. The one was a warrior of unblemished reputation, the other an orator of unrivalled eloquence; both were shrewd, artful, and expert negotiators, and they prevailed alternately over each other, as opportunities were offered to either for the exertion of his peculiar abilities. The one rose into power when the Seneca were embittered against the whites, and the other acquired consequence when it became desirable to cultivate friendly relations upon the frontier.

The father of Corn Plant was a white man, and is said to have been an Irishman; but nothing is now known of him, except what may be gathered from a letter of Corn Plant to the Governor of Pennsylvania. This singular production was, of course, dictated to an interpreter, who acted as amanuensis, but the sentiments are undoubtedly his own. It was dated in 1822, when the lands reserved for the Indians in the north-western part of Pennsylvania became surrounded by the farms of the whites, and some ‘attempt was made to tax the property of the Seneca chief; in consequence of which he wrote this epistle to the governor.

“I feel it my duty to send a speech to the Governor of Pennsylvania, at this time, and inform him of the place where I was from which was at Connewaugus on the Genessee River.

“When I was a child I played with the butterfly, the grass hopper, and the frogs; and as I grew up I began to pay some attention, and play with the Indian boys in the neighborhood, and they took notice of my skin being of a different color from theirs, and spoke about it. I inquired of my mother the cause, and she told me that my father was a residenter in Albany. I still eat my victuals out of a bark dish. I grew up to be a young man, and married me a wife, and I had no kettle nor gun. I then knew where my father lived, and went to see him, and found he was a white man, and spoke the English language. He gave me victuals while I was at his house, but when 1 started home, he gave me no provision to eat on the way. He gave me neither kettle not gun, neither did he tell me that the United States were about to rebel against the government of England.

“I will now tell you, brothers, who are in session of the Legislature of Pennsylvania, that the Great Spirit has made known to me that I have been wicked; and the cause thereof has been the revolutionary war in America. The cause of Indians being led into sin at that time, was that many of them were in the practice of drinking and getting intoxicated. Great Britain requested us to join with them in the conflict against the Americans, and promised the Indians land and liquor. I myself was opposed to joining in the conflict, as I had nothing to do with the difficulty that existed between the two parties. I have now informed you how it happened, that the Indians took a part in the revolution, and will relate to you some circumstances that occurred after the close of the war. General Putnam, who was then at Philadelphia, told me there was to be a council at Fort Stanwix; and the Indians requested me to attend on behalf of the Six Nations, which I did, and there met with three commissioners who had been appointed to hold the council. They told me that they would inform me of the cause of the revolution, which I requested them to do minutely. They then said that it originated on account of the heavy taxes that had been imposed upon them by the British government, which had been for fifty years increasing upon them; that the Americans had grown weary thereof, and refused to pay, which affronted the king. There had likewise a difficulty taken place about some tea which they wished me not to use, as it had been one of the causes that many people had lost their lives. And the British government now being affronted, the war commenced, and the cannons began to roar in our country.

“General Putnam then told me, at the council at Fort Stanwix. that by the late war the Americans had gained two objects; they had established themselves an independent nation, and had obtained some land to live upon, the division line of which from Great Britain run through the Lakes. I then spoke, and said I wanted some land for the Indians to live on, and General Putnam said that it should be granted, and I should have land in the State of New York for the Indians. He then encouraged me to use my endeavors to pacify the Indians generally; and as he considered it an arduous task, wished to know what pay I would require. I replied, that I would use my endeavors to do as he requested with the Indians, and for pay there for, I would take land. I told him not to pay me money or dry goods, but land. And for having attended thereto, 1 received the tract of land on which I now live, which was presented to me by Governor Mifflin. I told General Putnam that I wished the Indians to have the exclusive privilege of the deer and wild game, to which he assented; I also wished the Indians to have the privilege of hunting in the woods and making fires, which he like wise assented to.

“The treaty that was made at the aforementioned council, has been broken by some of the white people, which I now intend acquainting the governor with. Some white people are not willing that Indians should hunt any more, whilst others are satisfied there with; and those white people who reside near our reservation, tell us that the woods are theirs, and they have obtained them from the governor. The treaty has also been broken by the white people using their endeavors to destroy all the wolves, which was not spoken about in the council at Fort Stanwix . by General Putnam, but has originated lately.

“It has been broken again, which is of recent origin. White people get credit from Indians, and do not pay them honestly according to agreement. In another respect, also, it has been broken by white people residing near my dwelling; for when I plant melons and vines in my field, they take them as their own. It has been broken again, by white people using their endeavors to obtain our pine trees from us. We have very few pine trees on our lands in the State of New York; and whites and Indians often get into dispute respecting them. There is also a great quantity of whisky brought near our reservation, and the Indians obtain it and become drunken.

“Another circumstance has taken place which is very trying to me, and I wish for the interference of the governor. The white people who live at Warren, called upon me some time ago to pay taxes for my land, which I objected to, as I never had been called upon for that purpose before; and having refused to pay, they became irritated, called upon me frequently, and at length brought four guns with them and seized our cattle. I still refused to pay, and was not willing to let the cattle go. After a time of dispute they returned home, and I understood the militia was ordered out to enforce the collection of the tax. I went to Warren, and, to avert the impending difficulty, was obliged to give my note for the tax, the amount of which was forty-three dollars and seventy-nine cents. It is my desire that the governor will exempt me from paying taxes for my land to white people; and also to cause that the money I am now obliged to pay, be refunded to me, as I am very poor. The governor is the person who attends to the situation of the people, and I wish him to send a person to Alleghany, that I may inform him of the particulars of our situation, and he be authorized to instruct the white people in what manner to conduct themselves towards the Indians.

“The government has told us that, when difficulties arose between the Indians and the white people, they would attend to having them removed. We are now in a trying situation, and I wish the governor to send a person authorized to attend thereto, the fore part of next summer, about the time that the grass has grown big enough for pasture.

“The governor formerly requested me to pay attention to the Indians, and take care of them. We are now arrived at a situation in which I believe the Indians cannot exist, unless the governor should comply with my request, and send a person authorized to treat between us and the white people, the approaching summer. I have now no more to speak.”

It is unfortunate that most of the interpreters through whom the productions of the aboriginal intellect have reached us, have been so entirely illiterate as to be equally incapable of appreciating the finer touches of sentiment and eloquence, and of expressing them appropriately in our language. The letter of Corn Plant is distinguished by its simplicity and good sense, and was no doubt dictated in the concise, nervous, and elevated style of the Indian orator, while we have received it in a garbled version of very shabby English. His account of his parentage is simple and touching; his unprotected yet happy infancy, when he played with the butterfly, the grasshopper, and the frog, is sketched with a scriptural felicity of style; there is something very striking in the description of his poverty, when he grew up to be a young man, and married a wife and had no kettle nor gun; while the brief account of his visit to his father is marked by the pathos of genuine feeling. It -is to be regretted that he did not pursue the narrative, and inform us by what steps he rose from his low estate to become the head of a tribe. We learn from other sources that he was a successful warrior, and it is probable that the traders and the missionaries, whose interest he espoused, in opposition to Red Jacket, aided in his elevation. In the latter part of the letter he has given a synopsis of the evils which his nation endured in consequence of their alliance with the whites,, and which invariably attended the unnatural contact of civilized and savage men.

Corn Plant was one of the parties to the treaty at Fort Stanwix, in 1784, when a large cession of territory was made by the Indians; at the treaty of Fort Harmer, five years afterwards, he took the lead in conveying an immense tract of country to the American government, and became so unpopular that his life was threatened by his incensed tribe. But this chief, and those who acted with him, were induced to make these liberal. concessions by motives of sound policy; for the Six Nations having fought on the royal side during the war of the revolution, and the British government having recognized our independence, and signed a peace without stipulating for her misguided allies, they were wholly at our mercy. In an address sent to the President of the United States, in 1790, by Corn Plant, Half Town, and Big Tree, we find the following remarks in allusion to these treaties:

“Father: We will not conceal from you that the Great Spirit, and not men, has preserved Corn Plant from the hands of his own nation, for they ask continually, ‘where is the land upon which our children, and their children after them, are to lie down? You told us that the line drawn from Pennsylvania to Lake Ontario would mark it for ever on the east, and the line running from Beaver Creek to Pennsylvania would mark it on the west, and we see it is not so; far, first one comes, and then another, and takes it away, by order of that people which you tell us promised to secure it to us. He is silent, for he has nothing to answer. When the sun goes down he opens his heart before the Great Spirit, and earlier than the sun appears again upon the hills, he gives thanks for his protection during the night; for he feels that among men become desperate by the injuries they have sustained, it is God only that can protect him.”

In his reply to this address, President Washington remarked: ” The merits of Corn Plant, and his friendship for the United States, are well known to me, and shall not be forgotten; and as a mark of the esteem of the United States, I have directed the Secretary of War to make him a present of two hundred and fifty dollars, either in money or goods, as the Corn Plant shall like best.”

It would be tedious to pursue the history of this chief through the various vicissitudes of his life. His reputation as a warrior was gained previous to the American revolution, and during that war. Shortly after that struggle, the lands reserved for the Seneca became surrounded by the settlements of the American people, so as to leave them no occasion nor opportunity for hostilities with other tribes. In his efforts to preserve peace with his powerful neighbors, Corn Plant incurred, alternately, the suspicion of both parties the whites imputing to him a secret agency in the depredations of lawless individuals of his nation, while the Seneca have sometimes become jealous of his apparent fame with the whites, and regarded him as a pensionary of their oppressors. His course, however, has been prudent and consistent, and his influence very great.

He resided on the banks of the Alleghany river, a few miles below its junction with the Connewango, upon a tract of fine land, within the limits of Pennsylvania, and not far from the line between that state and New York. He owned thirteen hundred acres of land, of which six hundred were comprehended within the village occupied by his people. A considerable portion of the remainder he cultivated as a farm, which was tolerably well stocked with horses, cattle, and hogs. Many of his people cultivated the soil, and evinced signs of industry. The chief favored the Christian religion, and welcomed those who came to teach it. He lived in simple style, surrounded with plenty, and practicing a rude hospitality, while his sway was kind and patriarchal.

In 1815, a missionary society had, at his earnest solicitation, established a school at his village, which at that time promised success. We are not aware that any permanent results were attained by the effort.

Corn Plant imbibed, in the feebleness of age, the superstition of the less intellectual of his race. His conscience reproached him for his friendship towards the whites, and in a moment of alarm, fancying that the Great Spirit had commanded him to destroy all evidence of his connection with the enemies of his race, he burned an elegant sword and other articles which he had received as presents. A favorite son, who had been carefully educated at one of our schools, became a drunkard, adding another to the many discouraging instances in which a similar result has attended the attempt to educate the Indian youth. When, therefore, the aged chief was urged to send his younger sons to school, he declined, remarking, in broken English, “It entirely spoil Indian,”

Corn Plant died on his reservation on the Alleghany river, some time in the winter of 1836 supposed to have been over ninety years old. His Indian name was Ki-on-twog-ky. The likeness we have given of him was taken in New York, about the year 1788, and when the original is supposed to have been in his forty-eighth year. It was intended for some friend of the Indians, in London, but Captain M’Dougall, who, at that time, commanded a merchant ship, between Philadelphia and Liverpool, and who was to have conveyed it to Liverpool, sailing without it, the portrait fell into the hands of Timothy Matlock, Esq., who cherished it, not only because of its admirable and close resemblance to the original, but because he was indebted to Corn Plant for his life. At his death the portrait was still cherished by his daughter. It was from that original the copy before the reader was taken.



MLA Source Citation:

McKenny, Thomas & Hall, James & Todd, Hatherly & Todd, Joseph. History of the Indian tribes of North America: with biographical sketches and anecdotes of the principal chiefs. Embellished with one hundred portraits from the Indian Gallery in the War Department at Washington. Philadelphia: D. Rice & Co. 1872. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 22 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/kiontwogky-or-corn-plant.htm - Last updated on Dec 19th, 2012


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