Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Johnson Hall, Johnstown, NY., Home of Sir William Johnson, 1763

Mohawk Valley Indian Notes

Indian Affairs at the Beginning of the Revolutionary War

The Last Indian Council in the County.

The article says by L.V.D. and written for the Amsterdam, NY, Recorder-Democrat. December 4, 1925. Sorry the author is not in the newspaper clipping.)

The pale face and the red man had lived many moons in the valley as neighbors at the beginning of the war of the American Revolution. Sir William Johnson, the friend of both red and white, and the one to whom they looked for advice and leadership, had been summoned by the great Spirit at a time when he was sorely needed, leaving his son, Sir John, who was poorly adapted to fill his place.

When it was seen that war with Great Britain was inevitable, the common thought of the inhabitants of the thirteen colonies was the planning of a course of action. The Indians question was one that occasioned much serious concern, for while not wishing them as allies, they would be a most dreaded and ferocious foe. They had, in years past, acted as a useful barrier between the French in Canada and the settlements here. Their position now was just as important for they stood between the Colonies and the English in Canada. It was of grave importance to keep them from taking sides with England, and the anxious desire of the Continental Congress to keep them in a position of neutrality and at peace among themselves. Massachusetts was disposed to employ the Indians and had actually employed the Stockbridge Indians as auxiliaries. Congress deemed it best to keep a watchful eye on the Six Nations.

For the purpose of observing more closely and to have more efficient action in respect to Indian affairs, an Indian department, with three divisions, northern, middle and southern, was established on July 12, 1776, with commissioners appointed for each division. These were invested with power to treat with the Indians in their respective departments, to preserve peace and friendship, and to prevent, if possible, their taking any part in the present trouble.

A form of address to be used in all departments to the several tribes of Indians and to be altered as occasion might require for local adaptation, was agreed upon. The form of the address was that of Indian speeches, long and allegorical, with ceremonies appropriate to the occasion including the giving and receiving of belts. The Indians were to be advised of the nature and object of the trouble between the Colonies and England and were asked to remain at home, keeping the hatchet buried deep. They were all urged to fortify their minds and shut their ears against false rumors being careful what they received for truth unless spoken by wise and good men.

Such were the policy and spirit of the commissioners of the northern department, who lost no time in putting their plan into execution. A date in August was set to hold a meeting with the Six Nations in Albany, all the tribes begin invited to attend. Previous to that day, a preliminary council was held by two of the commissioners, Volket R. Douw and Colonel Francis, and some of the Indian chiefs and warriors at German Flats on the 15th and 16th of August, which was not very well attended. They were again urged to attend the council at Albany and it was proposed to send belts of invitation to the Caughnawagas near Montreal, and the Indians of the Seven Nations of the St. Lawrence. To which an Oneida sachem replied, after the matter had been deliberated upon the next day, that it would be difficult for them to send the belts of invitation to the Caugnawagas and the Seven Tribes because of the presence of a man there who was of white blood and who would never consent to their coming down but would "draw hard" upon their minds another way. The man referred to was Guy Johnson, who had left the valley and gone into Canada early in the summer.

The times being critical and the valley people suspicious of the movements of the Indians, the latter were somewhat apprehensive of a journey to Albany, and asked protection which was promised by the commissioners who stated that white men who spoke the Indian language, and were their friends would see them safely to Albany and provide provisions on the way.

The council fire was kindled at Albany on August 23rd, an invitation being extended by the commissioners to the civil authorities of Albany to pay the sachems and warriors a complimentary visit, which was done. The council comprised but a partial representation of the Six Nations, for the great body of Mohawk warriors led by Joseph Brant had left the country and with them went also the most influential of the Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas.

The real council opened on the 15th, when Indians and whites sat down and smoked the peace pipe together. The commissioners spoke with much ceremony and many belts, reminding them of some ancient covenants of friendship with the colonists and repeating to them part of the speech of an old and popular sachem of the Six Nations whose name and character were held in great reverence by them, which speech had been delivered thirty years before at a great council held at Lancaster, and exhorted them to union among themselves and peace and friendship with the colonists.

It was not until the 31st, that the Indians were ready with their reply for the deliberations of Indian councils and ceremonies were slow all having to be translated by Mr. Kirkland, on of the early missionaries who was the first Protestant to establish a mission among the Indians, begun by him at Oneida Castle in 1766. Their answer was delivered by Little Abraham, Mohawk sachem of the Lower Castle then at Fort Hunter. In all the speeches, the chiefs expressed a strong attachment for Sir John Johnson, the son of their white father, and desired that he might be unmolested. Some other matters were settled, and the council with the agents of the colonies was ended, Gen. Philip Schuyler and Mr. Douw being appointed to keep the council fire burning.

On September 2, the Albany committee met in council with the Indians and the commissioners in the Presbyterian church, where in Indians were addressed at length by the committee, reference being made to the council at Oswego, and the movement of Guy Johnson. To this, reply was made again by Little Abraham, and with this the council closed. Although Gen Schuyler and Mr. Douw had been appointed to keep the council fire burning, the fire slowly burned to embers and ashes, never again to be opened at Albany for that was the last grand Indian council ever held there. The speeches which were made upon this occasion are most interesting to read and may be found in appendix to Vol. 1 of Stone's Life of Brant.

The result was highly satisfactory to the commissioners and apparently so to the Indians, who took their leave handsomely supplied with presents and with manifestations of good will. The residents of Tryon county were relieved by these expressions of peace and neutrality and felt safer than they had for some time.

Unfortunately, soon after their return from Albany, and epidemic in the form of a highly malignant fever, broke out among them, and great numbers died especially among the Schoharie Mohawks. The remainder believed that the Great Spirit had sent the pestilence upon them in anger for not having taken sides with the king, and so they too followed their brethren and Sir Guy Johnson to Canada.

Soon after this council at Albany, the conduct of Sir John Johnson became such as to arouse suspicion. A messenger was sent to him asking him if he would allow the inhabitants of Johnstown and Kingsborough to form into companies for the defense of their country' s cause, to which he was asked to give his personal assistance, and his permission was asked for the use of the gaol by the committee of safety.

His reply was far from satisfactory, and immediately upon its receipt, the committee resolved to bring the question of the occupancy of the gaol to an issue, as there had been more or less discussion concerning it. Two prisoners were sent to the gaol with orders that if Sir John opposed them, they were to be brought to the home of the new sheriff, John Frey; Alexander White, the first sheriff, having been imprisoned earlier in the year by the county committee. Sir John did not allow the committee to take possession of the gaol, and it became necessary to fit up a private home as a temporary one, while some of the prisoners were sent to Albany and other to Hartford for safe keeping. A report of this was sent to the provincial congress.

The first act of hostility on the part of the Indians occurred in the early autumn of 1775, when Gen. Richard Montgomery, advancing in a successful second attack upon St. Johns, was opposed by some of the Mohawk warriors, doubtless those who had gone to Canada with Sir Guy. So on the 27th of October the county committee sent a letter to the sachems of the Canajoharie castle, in regard to the return of some Indians who had shown signs of hostility.

The sachems and warriors of the Canajoharie castle appeared before the committee in person, pleading their cause, referring to the agreement made in Albany, and asking that the matter be dropped for the present.

On October 30, at the request of some of the chiefs of the Mohawk castle, John Marbatt (probably John Marlatt), was designated by the committee to hold a conference with the Indians in regard to the imprisonment of two men who the Indians seemed to hold in high esteem. This meeting took place on the farm of Abraham Quackenboss, and was of short duration, not many records being left that give a lengthy account of it. The chiefs begged that the two men be liberated, especially as the offense took place before the law for its punishment was in existence. They did not seem belligerent, and the fact that many of them had remained in their ancient castles shows that they had not yet determined to swerve from their promise of neutrality.

Of this meeting mention is made in the Gazetteer of New York state, where it is stated that the last council within the bounds of the county previous to the Revolution was held between the Indians and Americans October 13, 1775, on the farm owned by John S. Quackenboss on the Mohawk flats two miles east of Fultonville. October 13 seems an early date for the meeting as the records of the Tryon county committee show that on October 27 it was resolved that a letter be sent to the sachems of the Canajoharie Castle, and at the request of these same sachems John Marlett was sent to hold a conference with them on October 30.

This was the last council held within the present bounds of this county, and although other Indians councils were held the Red Man and the pale face never met again in the county to smoke the peace pipe around the council fire.

The commissioners who had labored so arduously to keep the Indians neutral and had journeyed up and down the valley to meet them in council found all their efforts in vain, for with the exception of the Oneidas and a few Tuscaroras all the Six Nations joined the forces of the king, seeming to take delight in their brutal savagery against their old time friends and neighbors. It was too difficult as task for Indian nature of habits to remain neutral in the midst of war.

The place of this last council would be an interesting one to mark in some way. Perhaps with some inexpensive marker at first, to be replaced later with a more substantial one. The location of the farm is known, and a marker placed on this farm along the roadside where all may read would do much to arouse interest in the name and fame of our valley. L.V.D.     

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