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Introduction: The Granger Letters In Context.

[Editor's Notes: The following is a modified-but faithful-version of the Introduction found in the book, "Red and White On the New York Frontier", by Charles Snyder,, published 1978. Links to some of this collections's letters are contained within particular sections of text. Thanks to Mr. Snyder for the use of his book]


Picture of Cornplanter

The North American Indian faced the arrival of the Dutch in the early 1600s, the subsequent invasion of the English-via the 1664 take-over of 'New Amsterdam (renamed New York); the French-Indian War of 1754-63 (which should be named the French-English War); and ultimately the final displacing and fracturing force of the American Revolutionary War (1775-1781).


At the start of the Revolution the Mohawks, the eastern gate keeper of the Iroquois Confederacy, occupying the most vulnerable position along the white frontier, followed the Johnson family into Canada. Farther west the Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas clung for a time to the illusion of neutrality, while the contestants bide for their warriors. In the end the Oneidas, influenced by the Reverend Samuel Kirkland, supported the American cause, the others, the British. The Loyalists recruited their Indian allies for destructive raids upon the Mohawk Valley, and in retaliation General Washington dispatched the Sullivan-Clinton Expedition into the Indian country, destroying their villages and crops, and leaving many of them refugees of the British at Fort Niagara.


Finding their maintenance at such an isolated outpost burdensome, the English subsequently settled most of them in that region; some choosing the Grand River Valley in Ontario, some occupying tracts near present-day Buffalo, and then as the war wound down others found their way back to their old haunts athwart central New York.

It would be inaccurate to say that the Indians thereafter were simply left to the mercies of the white man. In theory, it was assumed that they had certain rights as nations; and while they might be expected to make way for civilization, they were not to be coerced. Their treaty rights were recognized and their lands were officially closed to speculators and pioneers until titles were legally extinguished. Unfortunately for the aborigine, however, land hungry whites were oft-times unwilling to abide by treaties and titles, and the Indian's lot might be likened to a state of siege!

In Central and Western New York, because of overlapping claims and jurisdiction, the United States, Massachusetts and New York each had a hand in Indian affairs. In 1784, a year after peach had returned, commissioners of the United States met with Iroquois chieftains at fort Stanwix and drafted a treaty of peace. The Indians yielded claims to land in Ohio and along the Niagara River and received confirmation of their Pre-Revolutionary holdings. But during the next decade the Oneidas, Onondagas and Cayugas yielded their hunting lands to New York in return for gifts and annuities, leaving them with small reservations.

Conflicting claims of Massachusetts and New York for what is today the western one-fourth of New York were resolved at a conference at Hartford, Connecticut, in 1786. The first sale of the land, or as they termed it, preemption rights, would go to Massachusetts; that is, they might sell it, once they had extinguished Indian titles, while legal jurisdiction over it went to New York.

Massachusetts soon sold its preemption rights to Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham, Massachusetts speculators, who in turn, bargained with the Indians at Buffalo in 1788 for a tract west of Seneca Lake extending from Geneva to Rochester, and from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania line, a region roughly forty-five by eighty four miles. Several years later another council yielded an additional purchase west of the Genesee River including the falls of the river, the present site of Rochester.

Phelps and Gorham soon lost most of their land; they had over-speculated, and Massachusetts resold it to Robert Morris. He transferred it to such purchasers as the Pulteney associates in England, the Wadsworths of Connecticut and the Holland Land Company. It was now Morris' responsibility to negotiate with the Indians, and at the Council of Big Tree (Geneseo) in 1797 he bargained for all of the remaining Indians lands in western New York, excepting twelve reservations, sites varying in size from one to 130 square miles. [Letter insert here!]

The Indians consolidated upon these reservations. There was room enough here for villages and fields and some hunting and fishing, but the old challenges were missing. The warriors soon suffered from inactivity and boredom. It is probably impossible to comprehend the inhibitions restraining a warrior from handling a shovel or a hoe and tending crops. It was scarcely a man's work. He was almost equally resistant to the white man's crafts.

Meanwhile, during Washington's presidency land pressures in Ohio led to Indian restiveness and to attacks upon pioneer settlements there. Fearing that war fever would spread eastward, Washington invited a delegation of Iroquois chiefs to the national capital at Philadelphia in 1792, and addressed them twice during their three week visit.

He reassured them that he sought peace "upon principles of justice and humanity, as upon an immovable rock", and reported to the Senate that it appeared "proper to teach them to expect annual presents conditioned on the evidence of their attachment to the interests of the United States". He further recommended that because of the "situation of the Five Nations and the present crisis of affairs" that Congress agree to appropriate $1500 annually to be used in "purchasing for them clothing, domestic animals, and implements of husbandry and for encouraging useful artificers to reside in the villages." Congress complied at once, and Washington was able to tell his guests that they would receive an annuity of $1500.

It might be noted that in addition to this annual appropriation, the Indians of western New York also received dividends from land sales. They turned over sums amounting to approximately $100,000 to the United States in care of the President, and it was invested in the stock of the Bank of the United States. Dividends and annuities came to about $6400 yearly during the first decade of the nineteenth century. (A mortgage had been granted in 1796 to secure an annuity of $500 to the Seneca Indians. The Release of this mortgage was signed and sealed by Oliver Phelps and Erastus Granger in the presence of Abner Granger, Peter B. Porter and Jasper Parrish, December 18, 1806 and given to Oliver Phelps. The original Release is accessible via the University of Rochester's Rare Books and Special Collections Page. This Release is currently listed as #17 on their provided list of documents.)

Washington's attention to the planning of the above mentioned Iroquois visitation suggests its importance to him. He employed Samuel Kirkland, the noted missionary to the Oneidas, to accompany the fifty Indians on their journey, provided him with an expense account, and instructed him to take care that his wards would not be insulted along the road. With east-west roads almost non-existent, he advised Kirkland to come by way of Painted Post and the Susquehanna Valley.

During their stay in Philadelphia (the practice was followed by other Presidents) Washington presented medals to the chiefs, and two of the recipients, Cornplanter and Red Jacket, cherished them and wore them as badges of distinction; though it is said that Cornplanter destroyed his trophy some years later when he quarreled with federal officialdom.

[Editor's note: the Plea From Cornplanter to President George Washington and the latter's eloquent reply were both written before this trip. The Cornplanter plea was written sometime in 1790, while Washington's reply is dated December 29th of the same year. Accordingly, Cornplanter wrote it to protest the stealing of their possessions and lands and of course the murder of their warriors by intruding settlers]

A pilgrimage to the national capital was one of the few avenues open to the Indians to report their dissatisfactions to decision makers. Almost yearly, down to the War of 1812, a delegation of three or four made the journey in company with the agent or sub-agent. The agent, in turn, was the principal liaison with the Government. Agents sometimes used their offices to line their own pockets, but the Iroquois seem to have been fortunate in this respect. Connecticut born, Erastus Granger, agent from 1803 to about 1818, was a founder of Buffalo, having migrated from New England following the death of his wife. An ardent Jeffersonian and cousin of Gideon Granger, Postmaster General in Jefferson's Cabinet, he was also an early postmaster and collector of the port at Buffalo. He appears to have had the welfare of the Indians in mind, in so far at least as he understood it.

Jasper Parrish, interpreter and sub-agent for thirty years, also enjoyed the respect and friendship of the Indian. When a boy of eleven he had been captured by a roving band of Indians on the New York Frontier, and had lived with his captors until exchanged at the close of the war. Conversant in the Indian tongue, he was employed as an interpreter and sub-agent with headquarters at Canandaigua. He lacked a formal education, and his handwritten manuscripts are replete with misspellings. This is unfortunate, in that eloquent Indian orations appear as ungrammatical synopses.

With the long awaited withdrawal of the British from posts on the American side of the frontier in 1796 (including forts Niagara and Ontario), the way was open for an unprecedented flood of home seekers from New York and New England, and the Indians were soon feeling the effects. Trespassers felled their trees and stole their livestock. Granger's papers contain long lists of such grievances [Granger letter of April 10, 1815] .

Meanwhile, preemption rights to the reservations passed from owner to owner not unlike securities on the stock exchange. No land was for sale, but speculators paid for titles to land, to be delivered if, and when they were finally obtained in council from the reluctant Indians. By 1802, after all but about 1200 acres in the Genesee River Valley had been acquired, pressures on the other reservations eased for a time. A Quaker mission at Alleghany encouraged the expansion of farming and taught the women to spin, weave and sew. With Granger.s assistance, several saw mills were put into operation on the Buffalo Creek Reservation, and a blacksmith was hired to turn out tools. New England Presbyterians founded a mission school there.

But inactivity among the men made it a purgatory. The early reminiscences of Buffalo residents record the heavy traffic between the reservation and the local taverns, and the lounging in the streets and gutters. And while these reports may have been exaggerated, intoxicated Indians and whites made an inflammable mixture.

Of course the arrival of the annuity snapped the erstwhile warriors and hunters from their doldrums. For its distribution, a council would be called at the Seneca Village on Buffalo Creek. Time was allowed to permit residents of the Alleghany, Cattaraugus and Tonawanda reservations to gather for the home-coming. And several days of merriment would precede the council fire. At the ensuing deliberations chiefs and sachems observed the formalities commensurate with their rank as spokesmen for long established nations. And Granger responded in kind, though he must have found the formalities repetitious and tedious. An attitude of mutual self-respect is evident in the fragmented records of the councils

Indian-White relations deteriorated with the approach of the War of 1812. Ohio and Indiana Indians, led by Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa (the Prophet), took to the warpath to resist encroachments upon their land, and they turned to New York Indians for assistance. The chiefs advised caution, but young warriors were restive. If they remained neutral, they asked, who would protect them from a British invasion, and if they went to war on the side of the United States (their old enemy) to fight against their blood-brothers in Canada, who would safeguard their women and children?

Obviously, it was the policy of Washington to court the favor of the Indian tribes, and it became Granger's responsibility to retain the good will of the Iroquois, and, if possible, persuade them to assist in winning over the Indians in Ohio and Ontario.

One can observe Granger's implementation of this policy at councils in 1808 and 1810. Enlarging upon the blessings of peace, he reminded his listeners of their adversities in the Revolutionary War and warned them that if they allied themselves with the British their destruction would follow. He declared, however, that peace was more probable than war and advised them to make their minds easy for the present and be united.[]

Finding that councils did not provide answers to their grievances, Red Jacket went directly to Washington to gain the attention of the Secretary of War [].

As the threat of war mounted, the Indians mixed reaffirmations of loyalty with stiffening demands for satisfaction.

And when at last war was declared, the Iroquois of western New York responded favorably to Washington's call for support. A delegation of chiefs hurried to Ohio bearing a message of peace to disaffected Indians there. Another conferred with their tribesmen at the Grand River settlements in Upper Canada. Fortunately, fragments of speeches delivered at the latter have survived. They reveal the Canadian and American Iroquois as hopelessly divided. A call to arms would pit brother against brother.

That an Indian agent might be called upon to make contributions to national security is illustrated by a service performed by Granger for Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn, in 1807. War would at once open Upper Canada to invasion and expose the Niagara frontier in New York to British incursions, and Dearborn ordered Granger to make a confidential survey of British Military strength including fortifications, personnel, and the loyalty and morale of the Canadian populace. His report provides a comprehensive evaluation of British military might in the area [].

At the outset of the war little thought was given to the use of Indians as soldiers. They were considered a doubtful asset in battle; untrustworthy, and difficult to manage. The Indians were advised to remain at home, where they would be protected, or even better, to remove themselves from such exposed sites as Buffalo Creek and consolidate at the less endangered Alleghany Reservation. [Speech of General Alexander Smyth: November 22, 1812]

But the attitude of the War Department did not reflect the apprehension of white residents in the Buffalo area. Their militias soon proved unreliable, and they prepared to recruit Indian warriors, despite official directives to the contrary. [docs 33-35]. Meeting in council the Iroquois agree to join the war as allies of the United States. But they spelled out their reservations.

For a time ambivalent policies in Washington and along the Niagara frontier strained Indian relations. But despite misunderstandings Indian warriors were eventually called into action. Cattaraugus braves patrolled the shore of Lake Erie under General Dearborn in the spring of 1813. Others helped to turn back a commando-style raid across the Niagara River at Black Rock[] In Canada the Indians got into trouble when they seized horses and oxen and brought them into camp. Records indicate that thirty-six Indians were required to return sixty horses and a yoke of oxen, the latter attributed to Red Jacket. Chief Twenty Canoes handed back no fewer than six horses.

On the other hand, the Indians who had defended Black Rock were praised by Granger. The action, he wrote, was commenced and continued on the part of the Indians with the greatest coolness and intrepidity.[Letter of August 9, 1813]

The devastation of war came home suddenly and dramatically to both whites and Indians as 1813 closed, when in retaliation for the wanton burning of Newark, the British crossed the Niagara River and, after capturing Fort Niagara, applied the torch to the village of Lewiston and the Tuscarora Reservation near by. Several days later they entered Buffalo and burned all but two of its thirty dwellings. Residents fled eastward to Williamsville, and some it is said, did not stop running until they reached Batavia!

During the course of the war, failure to protect them from invasion, delays in receiving their annuities, the closure of the Bank of the United States, jeopardizing their investment in its stock, and war time inflation combined to undermine Indian morale and divide them into two camps: Red Jacket, Cornplanter and Blue Sky demanded satisfaction as a price for their continued support of the war, whereas Little Billy, Young King, Major Berry and Farmer's Brother headed the war party.

Preparations for an invasion of Canada in the spring of 1814 again tested the willingness of the Iroquois to fight against their former allies and kinsmen. In council the chiefs agreed to lead five hundred warriors; and when the American forces moved across the Niagara River on July 3, about six hundred Indians were in the ranks. Two days later they fought in the battle of Chippewa, one of the major American victories in the frustrating conflict, where they sustained twenty-three casualties, including nine deaths. Their commander, General Peter B. Porter, praised them for their courage, but recalled many years later that about twenty had appeared at his tent seeking bounties for scalps.

Most of the Indians seem to have withdrawn from the battle from before the battle of Lundy's Lane on July 25. But on the day of the battle General Porter called upon the warriors to turn out again and pursue the enemy, exhorting them to ignore voices who would restrain them, and naming Red Jacket, Cornplanter and Blue Sky as leaders unworthy of their confidence. []

In March of 1815, a few weeks after the war.s close, a delegation of the Six Nations accompanied Jasper Parrish to Washington, where they received a hearing from James Monroe, the acting Secretary of War. They reminded him of their financial straits and the tardy response of the Government to their needs, of the war.s devastation among the Tuscaroras, and of their personal sacrifices for their country. Monroe listened and promised both immediate and long-term compensation [Letter of March 11, 1815 from Secretary of War, James Monroe]

But the future President.s reassurances paled as the passing months brought no relief. Indian morale plummeted. The Indians entreated Granger to take their grievances to Washington and drew up a bill of particulars. The oratory was supplied by Red Jacket. Belatedly, Congress, the War Department and New York State provided a partial restitution to the Indians for war losses. Their $4500 annuity was resumed in 1817 and an additional $3000 was awarded by the Indian Department. When such monies were slow in coming-which they always were-the tribes reacted in the only way they could; write the Federal Government: [Letter of February 24, 1817] and [Letter of January 23, 1818]

For all of the grief attributable to the war, it had the salutary effect for the Indian of retarding the western migration of settlers into western New York. Thus the pressure upon their lands eased momentarily. But peace signaled a return to the old syndrome. They were soon being victimized by trespassers, who felled their trees, stole their timber, [Letter of April 10, 1815] and harassed by renewed schemes of preemption holders calculated to wrest away their dwindling reservations. By contrast, they were also caught up in a humanitarian impulse to educate and Christianize them [Letter of August 12, 1815].

In 1819 preemption holders moved to close the Buffalo Reservation and concentrate its residents on the Allegany Reservation [Speech of Red Jacket, from National Archives: July 19, 1819]. In July David A. Ogden and his associates, owners of the preemption rights to the remaining Indian lands, sponsored a council at the Buffalo Creek Reservation.

The meeting is of particular interest since it was reported in detail by Morris S. Miller, the United States Commissioner. Miller, Ogden and Nathaniel Gorham, Commissioner for Massachusetts, had prepared their homework carefully.

After waiting for four days while the Iroquois .warmly engaged in one of their national meetings., Commissioner Miller delivered the opening address. He alluded to the "bad behavior" of the whites, who were crowding the Indians. These misfortunes, he declared had touched the heart of their great Father, the President, who urged them to accept the offer of a "permanent sanctuary" within the Allegan Reservation. There was plenty of room there, he reassured them, and fertile land.

In the course of the deliberations some of the chiefs readily assented to the removal, but others dissented, and Miller obtained Ogden's consent to sweeten the offer in the form of a gift of land to Cattaraugus Reservation. The plan might have succeeded had not Red Jacket intervened. In the words of Miller:

"At the meeting on the ninth [of July] Chief Red Jacket, on behalf of the Seneca, Rejected the proposition to remove or contract their limits or dispose of any part of Their lands. The rejection was so unqualified and so peremptory, as to forbid all Reasonable expectation, that any good purpose would be effected by [continuing] The Council; it was therefore finally closed"

In his presentation Red Jacket recalled that the treaties at Canandaigua (1794) and Big Tree (1797) guaranteed Indian titles forever and that President Washington confirmed these guarantees, declaring that the treaty should be spread upon the greatest rocks which nothing could undermine. But you "white brothers have a faculty to disturb these contracts; to disturb the stoutest rocks.." The Indians, on the other hand, had sought to brighten the chain of friendship, but their petitions had been denied. They had aided the United States in the late war and had shed their blood in a cause between "you and a people not of our blood.." [INSERT LETTER HERE]

But Red Jacket did not speak for all of the chiefs. A faction headed by Pollard apologized to the Commissioner for his behavior and excoriated him for insulting the President of the United States. The quarrel divided the pagan and Christian elements; the latter having welcomed missions and schools, including the teaching of the English language.

[letter of January 23, 1818: In this letter, the federal auditor finds an accounting error in the previous computations of Erastus Granger, leaving him a windfall of over $600.00]

Red Jacket's victory in 1819 was in reality only a reprieve. By 1826 the Ogden group was prepared to extinguish other Indian claims and to have the residents transported to Green Bay, Wisconsin Territory. Removals of Indians from southeastern states had already been authorized by the Monroe Administration. Resistance to removal was obviously weakened by the above mentioned division of opinion. Members of the 'Christian Party' assumed that the white man's plans for their future would prove beneficial. But not the implacable Red Jacket.

Still erect and keen-eyed at seventy, though crippled by rheumatism and worn from a life-time of political struggle against Brant, Handsome Lake, Cornplanter, land agents, and the missionaries and clergymen he believed to be in league with them, he rallied his faculties to wage what has been termed his last campaign.

At a council at Buffalo Creek in August of 1826 Red Jacket was unable to match the inducements offered by Ogden, and a majority of the chiefs present affixed their marks to an agreement to sell 81,000 acres, most to be taken from the Tonawanda and Buffalo Creek reservations for 53 cents an acre. It reduced the former to a narrow strip measuring 1 &1/2 to 2 & enate without comment.

But it was not the end of the battle. Red Jacket prepared a remonstrance and dispatched it to the President, and his allies at Tonawanda drew up a second protest in which they declared that while their children might remove to Wisconsin they were determined to live and die at the homes of their fathers.

President Adams asked for explanations-in as much as the treaty had been represented as meeting the approval of the Indians.

The preemption holders now decided to remove the menace of Red Jacket once and for all time. At a council on September 15, 1827, purportedly called to distribute the annuity, but carefully stated to deal with the obdurate chieftain, the Christian Party, led by Little Billy, Young King, and Pollard, each of whom had received substantial annuities and gifts from the United States, and supported by twenty-two additional chiefs, deposed Red Jacket as a sachem, charging him with dividing and disturbing councils, sending false reports to the President, misappropriating annuity goods, deserting his wife, opposing education, and saying that communications from the Great White Father were forgeries written by those who wanted to buy their lands. The last charge must have amused the agents of Ogden Land Company, since they had represented the President as the Spokesmen for their own interest on many occasions. There was truth in at least one of the charges. Red Jacket had left his wife a few months earlier after she had publicly professed her conversion to Christianity. It seems to have been more than the proud old man could bear. There is no evidence that he appeared before the council, and no defense was offered in his behalf.

As before, however, Red Jacket was not without resources. A few weeks after his deposition the pagan faction came to his aid. After listening to his defense and to additional arguments by Levi Halftown, Big Kettle and other favorable witnesses, they declared that the charges were false and that the council had acted illegally, only a minority of the chiefs having registered their marks.

The following spring Red Jacket and two of his supporters obtained an audience with President Adams and presented his case. Adams promised to make an enquiry, and sent Richard M. Livingston of Saratoga to Buffalo to investigate. After meeting in council with the Senecas he reported that Red Jacket was the leader of at least three-fourths of the nation in their recent troubles. He is reunited to his Christian wife and acknowledged as the head sachem of the Wolf Tribe. The decree by which the Christian party denounced and assumed to depose him was voluntarily destroyed by those who issued it. Apparently the Indians had second thoughts about losing their homeland. The victory was sweet for the venerable leader, though he lived only eighteen months longer to enjoy it.

Meanwhile, the Ogden Land Company proceeded to sell tracts in the reservations without waiting for a formal treaty ratification, and Andrew Jackson's victory over Adams in the election of 1828 removed the Indians' last hope in the White House. Jackson subsequently transported thousands of Cherokees, Creeks, Chickawaws, Choctaws and Seminoles from the Southeast ranges in Oklahoma and showed no disposition to safeguard Indian claims in New York. Portions of the reservations were soon parceled into farms and occupied by the buyers.

In 1838, the Ogden Company renewed its quest for the remaining Indian lands, a prize then equated at two million dollars, half of it in the rich bottom land of the Buffalo Creek Reservation. A small attendance at their council early in 1838 must have disappointed preemption holders. But they surmounted their difficulties by obtaining the marks of absentees, despite instructions to do the business in council. Yet is is doubtful that they obtained a majority of the chiefs, even if those who later alleged that their signatures were unauthorized are counted. The Ogden negotiators came out of the council with a treaty providing for the surrender of the remaining acreage for $202,000.

As in 1826 the treaty ran into delays. President Van Buren forwarded it to the Senate without comment, and the Senate finally approved it conditionally, authorizing the President to promulgate it when it had been fully explained to the Indians, and after they had given their freer and voluntary consent.

But meanwhile, charges of bribery poured into Washington, and there were additional delays. The treaty was at last approved as a resolution (requiring only a majority consent), the vote of Vice President Richard Johnson twice breaking a tie. (Johnson had been elected Vice President because he had been credited with slaying Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames in the War of 1812)

Again, the treaty was not the last word. The Indians continued to resist removal, and in 1842 a compromise salvaged parts of the Allegany, Cattaraugus and Tonawanda reservations. But the highly prized Buffalo Creek Reservations was liquidated; most of its residents consolidating with their kinsmen at Cattaraugus and Allegany. Some of their descendants remain there in the eighth decade of the twentieth century. As a traveler approaches Buffalo from the east on the New York State Thru-Way he skirts the northern fringe of the old Buffalo Creek Reservation. But no thought of the redman is apt to cross his mind. A few of the landmarks, including the mission, the council houses and the burial yard survived until the end of the nineteenth century, but almost every trace of them has now yielded to suburbia.

Such was to be the ultimate fate of the people whose safety had been entrusted to the care of the United States and its representative: Indian Agent, Erastus Granger.