Border Warfare-Annals of Tryon County - Introduction







New York, at the time of its discovery and settlement by the Europeans, was inhabited by a race of men distinguished, above all the other aborigines of this Continent, for their intelligence and prowess. Five distinct and independent tribes, speaking a language radically the same, and practicing similar customs, had united in forming a confederacy which, for durability and power, was unequalled in Indian history. They were the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas, called the Iroquois by the French, and the Five Nations by the English. In cases of great emergency, each tribe or nation acted separately and independently; but a general council usually assembled at Onondaga, near the centre of their territory, and determined upon peace or war, and all other matters which regarded the interests of the whole. The powers of this council appear to have been not much dissimilar to those of the United States Congress under the old confederation.

Their language, though guttural, was sonorous. Their orators studied euphony in their words and in their arrangement. Their graceful attitudes and gestures, and their flowing sentences, rendered their discourses, if not always eloquent, at least highly impressive. An erect and commanding figure, with a blanket thrown loosely over the shoulder, with his naked arm raised, and addressing in impassioned strains a group of similar persons sitting upon the ground around him, would, to use the illustration of an early historian of this State, give no faint picture of Rome in her early days. {Smith’s History of New York.}

They were very methodical in their harangues. When in conference with other nations, at the conclusion of every important sentence of the opposite speaker, a sachem gave a small stick to the orator who was to reply, charging him at the same time to remember it. After a short consultation with the others, he was enabled to repeat most of the discourse, which he answered article by article. {Ibid.}

These nations were distinguished for their prowess in war, as well as for their sagacity and eloquence in council. War was their delight. Believing it to be the most honorable employment of men, they infused into their children in early life high ideas of military glory. They carried their arms into Canada, across the Connecticut, to the banks of the Mississippi, and almost to the Gulf of Mexico. Formidable by their numbers and their skill, they excited respect and awe in the most powerful tribes, and exacted tribute and obedience from the weak.

In 1608, the first efficient settlement was made in Canada by Governor Champlain, who founded Quebec. At this time the Five Nations were waging a desperate war with the Hurons and Algonquins, who inhabited a part of that province. Champlain, unfortunately for the colony, entered into an alliance with the latter tribes, and by furnishing them with men and fire-arms, enabled them to gain a temporary ascendency. {Vide Edinb. Encyclopedia – Art. America.} The confederates, who had always been victorious, and who considered the Hurons and Algonquins as little better than vassals, could not brook this defeat. They applied to, and courted the friendship of the Dutch, who found their way up the Hudson River, and established themselves at Albany, soon after the settlement of Quebec. From them they obtained arms and munitions, and soon regained the influence and power which they had lost. This opportune arrival and assistance of the Dutch, together with their mild, conciliatory manners, endeared them to the Five Nations, who afterward looked up to them for advice and direction in their own affairs, and protected and fought for them with cheerfulness and courage. But the interference of the French aroused the indignation of these haughty warriors; for almost a century they harassed their infant colonies, and visited with a dreadful vengeance both the authors of their disgrace and their descendants. This, if not the iron, was the golden age of the Iroquois. During this period, the hardy German passed up the Mohawk in his light canoe, and penetrated into the remote bounds of their territory, where he exchanged his merchandise and munitions of war for the peltry of the Indians. {Memoirs of an American Lady.}

In 1664 the province of New York was surrendered to the English by Peter Stuyvesant, the last of the Dutch governors. The English, perceiving the importance of being on friendly terms with the Indians, exerted themselves to preserve that good understanding which had existed between the latter and the Dutch. Conventions were frequently called at Albany, at which the governors met and conferred with them; presents were distributed liberally, and no opportunity was neglected to impress them with ideas of the wealth and power of the English monarch. The French were not idle. Jealous of the growing power and influence of the English colonies, and desirous of monopolizing the Indian trade, they adopted various plans to detach the Iroquois from their alliance with the English. They endeavored to break up the confederacy, that they might conquer the nations in detail. They attacked the English, in hopes that, by gaining some splendid victories over them, they would convince the Indians of the weakness of their allies, and of the strength of their enemies. They sent missionaries among them, more desirous of making allies for France than converts to Christianity; in this they partially succeeded; and in 1671, persuaded the Caughnawagas to remove from their settlements on the Mohawk, and to establish themselves in Canada.

In 1688 the vengeance of the Five Nations was again aroused by a stratagem of the Dinondadies, a tribe at war with them, and in alliance with France. The Dinondadies killed several of their ambassadors while going to hold a conference in Canada, and falsely pretended that they had been informed of their journey by the French governor. Incensed at what they considered a great breach of faith, about twelve hundred warriors of the Five Nations landed at Montreal on the 26th July, 1688, and killed about a thousand French – men, women, and children, and carried away twenty-six prisoners, whom they afterward burned alive. The French retaliated for these aggressions by making incursions into the Indian country, and burning their villages.

In 1690 the French made an attack upon Schenectady; took the place by surprise, as it was in the dead of winter, and no danger was apprehended; the whole village was destroyed; about sixty of the inhabitants were killed, and most of the remainder perished, as they fled naked through the snow toward Albany. {See Appendix – Note A.}

This was the first intimation the colony of New York received that a war was meditated on the part of the French; it was the more perfidious, as negotiations were then pending in Europe for the purpose of settling the claims of the two governments in America. During this war the confederates remained attached to the English, and rendered important services by harassing the frontiers of their enemies. About 1701 a general treaty of peace was made between the French and Five Nations, which put an end to these long and afflicting wars, in which both parties had been sufferers. In the early part of this century, (about 1712,) the Monecons, or Tuscaroras, a tribe of Indians living in the Carolinas, made war upon the inhabitants of those colonies; they were vanquished by the colonists, and forced to abandon their country; they are thought to have been allies of the Five Nations in some of their southern expeditions. From a similarity in their language, the confederates supposed them derived from a common origin; they received them into the confederacy, assigned them a section of their territory to dwell in; after this they were called the Six Nations. The Tuscaroras never possessed the energy and courage of the other confederates. Tradition says that they were obliged to wear a woman’s pocket for a tobacco pouch, as a mark of their effeminacy and want of courage.

From the commencement of this century down to 1750, the French missionaries and agents were very successful. That body of men, the French Jesuits, who by their zeal put to shame many men engaged in a better cause, entered upon this field of labor with great ardor. At one time they doffed the clerical habit, and putting on the Indian garb, accompanied the warriors on distant and hazardous expeditions; and at another, they astonished their savage audience with the splendid and imposing rites and ceremonies of the Romish church. They spoke in glowing terms of the resources and magnificence of le grand Monarque, as they termed the King of France.

They obtained permission for the French to build forts in their territory; and in short, when the last French war broke out in 1754, the four western tribes went over to the French, and took up the hatchet against the English. This war terminated by the complete subjection of Canada, and the annexing it to the British dominions. The Indians, {In 1774 Governor William Tryon, the royal governor of the province of New York, made a return to the British government, embracing the general condition of the province, its civil history, political and judicial, the general features of the country, rivers, mountains, cities, forts, population, commerce; in short, giving a complete view of the province. This document is among the papers at Albany, obtained by Mr. Brodhead, and ought to be published at length. It was the closing account of the province of New York, which was soon thereafter to give place to the state.

One of the questions relates to the Indians, and was answered by Gov. Tryon, upon information derived from Sir William Johnson, and the statement may be implicitly relied on. It shows of course the numbers and situation of the Indians at the commencement of the war.

"What number of Indians have you, and how are they inclined?"

"The Indians who formerly possessed Nassau or Long Island, and that part of this province which lies below Albany, are now reduced to a small number, and are in general so scattered and dispersed, and so addicted to wandering, that no certain account can be obtained of them. They are the remnants of the tribes Montocks and others of Long Island, Wappingers of Dutchess County, Esopus, Papagonk, &c. in Ulster County, and a few Skachticokes. These tribes have generally been denominated River Indians, and consist of about three hundred fighting men.

"They speak a language radically the same, and are understood by the Delawares, being originally of the same race. Most of these people at present profess Christianity, and as far as in their power adopt our customs. The greater part of them attended the army during the late war, but not with the same reputation as those who are still deemed hunters.

"The Mohawks, the first in rank of the Six Nation confederacy, though now much reduced in numbers, originally occupied the country westward from Albany to the German Flats, a space of about ninety miles, and had many towns, but having at different times been prevailed on to dispose of their lands, they have little property left except to the northward, and are reduced to two villages on the Mohawk river, and a few families at Schoharie. The lower Mohawks are in number about one hundred and eighty-five, and the upper, or those of Canajoharie, two hundred and twenty one, making together four hundred and six. This nation hath always been warm in their attachment to the English, and on this account suffered great loss during the late war.

"The nation beyond and to the westward of the Mohawk, is the Oneidas. The villages where they reside, including Onoaughquaga, are just beyond the Indian line or boundary established at Fort Stanwix, in 1768, and their property within that line, except to the northward, has been sold. This nation consists of at least fifteen hundred, and are firmly attached to the English.

"The other nations of that confederacy, and who live further beyond the Indian line, are the Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas and Tuscaroras, and are well inclined to the British interest. The whole Six Nations consist of about two thousand fighting men, and their number of souls according to their latest returns at least ten thousand; the Seneca nation amounting alone to one half that number."

"What is the strength of the neighboring Indians?"

"The Indians north of this province near Montreal, with those living on the river St. Lawrence, near the 45th degree of northern latitude, form a body of about three thousand five hundred. They are in alliance with, and held in great esteem by the rest; are good warriors, and have behaved well since they became allies to the English previous to the reduction of Canada.

"The tribes of Indians within the province of Massachusetts Bay, and the colonies of Connecticut and Rhode Island, &c., are under similar circumstances with those denominated River Indians; and the Stockbridge Indians, living on the eastern borders of New York, may be considered as within it, as they formerly claimed the lands near Albany, and still hold up some claim in that vicinity. They served as a corps during the late war, and are in number about three hundred.

"Of the Susquehanna tribes many have retired further westward, among which are some not well affected to the British government. They are all dependents and allies of the Six Nations.

"Within the department of Sir William Johnson, His Majesty’s Superintendent of Indian Affairs, there are twenty-five thousand four hundred and twenty fighting men, and may be about one hundred and thirty thousand Indians in the whole, extending westward to the Mississippi."

It is thus seen that the Indian warriors of the Six Nations were as numerous as the able-bodied men of Tryon County, while the warriors under the superintendence of Sir William Johnson, and afterwards under that of Col. Guy Johnson, were equal nearly to the militia of the whole province. The whole body of warriors could be called out if necessary. Being under the pay of England, and having no domestic labors, and war being their delight, it was evident that it would be a fearful event to the Colonies of the Indians took part in the controversy.} however, witnessing the defeat of the French, had many of them returned, before the close of the war, to the English, by whom they were again received as allies.

Major General William Johnson {See Appendix – Note B.} rendered very important services during this war; his complete victory over Baron Dieskau, Sept. 1757, at the head of Lake George, and the capture of Fort Niagara by him, had aided materially in bringing the war to a successful termination. He was created a baronet, and Parliament – voted him five thousand pounds sterling; he was also appointed general superintendent of Indian affairs: he had settled upon the Mohawk in 1734, having emigrated there from Ireland, and thus rose to rank and affluence. Stern, determined in purpose, at times even arbitrary, sagacious and penetrating, but when necessary, urbane and conciliatory in his matters, he was eminently qualified for the station to which he was appointed. No person has ever exerted an equal influence over those unlettered children of the forest. He lived at Johnstown, where he had a beautiful residence, and was surrounded by the Mohawks. The Indians looked up to him as their father, paying the utmost deference to his advice, and consulting him on all occasions. Out of compliment to them, he frequently wore in winter their dress; he received them cordially at his house, where sometimes hundreds of them assembled. So great was the respect they had for him, that though the house contained many valuables, nothing was purloined from it, even in their carousals. Being a widower, he received into his family an Indian maiden, a sister of the celebrated sachem Joseph Thayendanegea, called the Brant.

The influence of Sir William continued until his death, about the commencement of the revolutionary war, when the principal events took place, which I design hereafter to relate.


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