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Cornplanter: 1740 - 1836

Picture of Cornplanter

Chief of the Seneca. The son of a Native American mother and a white father, he acquired great influence among the Seneca and in the American Revolution led war parties for the British against the colonial forces, particularly against Gen. John Sullivan in New York.

During the American Revolution, the Iroquois warrior Cornplanter rose to prominence, becoming a principal Seneca leader. He was also known as John O'Bail after his Dutch trader father.

After the Revolution, Cornplanter quickly decided that keeping the peace with the new Americans was the best way to help his own people. Although his mission as a peacekeeper was often unpopular and difficult, he negotiated the best possible terms for his people on numerous occasions when he traveled as a statesman to Philadelphia.

In gratitude for his assistance in keeping the Seneca neutral during the Indian wars in Ohio, Cornplanter was given a grant of land. He later favored friendship with the whites and signed the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784). He later pleaded with President Washington to enforce the treaty. Washington responded positively to this entreaty. In 1791, the grateful Commonwealth of Pennsylvania established Cornplanter's Grant along the western bank of the Allegheny River where he lived to a very old age.

Cornplanter's Grant was not a reservation, since the land was a gift to Cornplanter himself. Yet the land offered the Iroquois people a measure of asylum from the pressures of a new expanding nation. Nestled between the river and the mountains, the land offered the Seneca people an opportunity continue to plant, hunt, and live in their traditional ways.

He believed it would be advantageous for the Senecas to receive education in English and other Euro-American skills, so he invited the Quakers to come and teach at Cornplanter's Grant.

In 1798, 400 Seneca (one-fourth of the total Seneca population) lived on Cornplanter's Grant at the town of Burnt House, or Jenuchshadego. Many were major figures in the Iroquois Confederacy. Noted residents included Cornplanter's half brother, the prophet Handsome Lake; his uncle Guyasuta; his nephew "Governor" Blacksnake; and Blacksnake's sister, the leading woman of the community and clan mother of the Wolf clan.

Though given to Cornplanter in perpetuity, Cornplanter's Grant was confiscated by the U.S. government in 1964 in order to to construct the Kinzua Dam in Pennsylvania.