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Cornplanter known as John O’Bail, was born in the village of Conewaugus sometime around the year 1732. Because of the influence of this chief the Senecas did not join the western Indians as Wayne’s army marched against them. The Senecas, who flanked Wayne’s advance, were in a position to bring about his defeat. Had they thrown their great weight against Wayne, it is very doubtful whether he would have succeeded when he did. Historians say that because Cornplanter prevented his Senecas from falling upon Wayne he rendered the United States a great service. If this chief had been the enemy of the Americans it is doubtful if the Jay Treaty with England would have taken place and that the British would have left the western posts then held by them.
In 1790 Cornplanter appeared before the governing body of Philadelphia in behalf of his people. Two Seneca chiefs had been murdered by whites as well as his brother-in-law. His nephew also had been killed by unscrupulous white border ruffians. Said Cornplanter on this occasion, “Fathers, consider me and my people, and the many injuries we have been stained by the repeated robberies and in the murders and depredations committed by the whites among us.” When he stood before President Washington he laid before him the complaints of the Senecas. It is said that Cornplanter spoke the following words on that occasion, “Father Washington, we know that you are very strong, and we have heard that you are wise, BUT WE WAIT TO SEE THAT YOU ARE JUST!”
Because Cornplanter was a signer of several treaties which were unfavorable to the Iroquois be was regarded by his people as a traitor. They suspicioned this all the more when Pennsylvania granted him a reservation of 640 acres of land “for valuable services to the whites” and an annual pension of $250.00.
During his old age Cornplanter turned on again to the “Indian ways,” refusing to have anything to do with white people and returning to the religion of his people. He died; an Indian of the old way, at Cornplanter Town on the banks of his long loved Allegany. Though he wished no marker over his grave, the State of Pennsylvania erected one in 1866; It bears the following inscription:
“Gy-ant-wa-chia, the Cornplanter, John O’ Bail alias Cornplanter died at Cornplanter Town, Feb. 18, A. D. 1736 aged about 100 years. Chief of the Seneca Tribe, and a Principal Chief of the Six Nations from the period of the Revolutionary War to the time of his death. Distinguished for talent, courage, eloquence, sobriety, and love for tribe and race to whose welfare he devoted his time, his energy, and his means during a long and eventful life.”