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To George Washington from Cornplanter, 28 February 1797

From Cornplanter

Philadelphia 28th Feby 97

Speech of the Cornplanter to General Washington.


I thank the great spirit for protecting us through the Various paths which we have trod since I was last at this place1—As I am told you are about to retire from public business, I have come to pay my last address to you as the great Chief of the fifteen fires, and am happy to find that I have arriv’d here in time to address you once more as Father, and to advise with you on the business of our Nation. you have always told us that the land which we live upon is our own; and that we may make such use of it as we think most conducive to our own comfort and the happiness of prosperity.2


I wish whilst I am able to do business to provide for the rising generation—Our Forefathers thought that their posterity would pursue their tracks, and support themselves by their hunts, as they did, in the extensive Forrests given them by the Great Spirit, and by them transmitted to us. But the great revolution amongst the White people in this Country has extended it’s influence to the people of my Colour: turn our faces which way we will, we find the white people cultivating the ground which our forefathers hunted over, and the forrests which furnish’d them with plenty now afford but a Scanty Subsistance for us, and our Young men are not safe in pursuing it—If a few Years have made such a Change, what will be the Situation of our Children when those Calamities increase?


To those points I wish to draw your attention, and once more to have your candid and friendly Advice, on what will be best for the present race, and how we can best provide for posterity. Your people have a different mode of living from our’s; they have Trade, and they have education which inables them to take different pursuits—by which means they maintain themselves, provide for their Children, and help each other.


I am also told that your people have a Strong place for their mony where it’s not only Safe, but that it produces them each and every year an increase without lessening the Stock, If we should dispose of part of our Country and put our mony with Yours in that Strong place, will it be Safe? Will it yield to our children the Same advantages after our heads are laid down as it will at present produce to us? Will it be out of the reach of our foolish young men so that they cannot drink it up to the prejudice of our children?3


you know that some of our people are too fond of Strong drink and I am sorry to observe that your people are too Apt to lay that temptation before them.


the last time I was here I mentioned to you that my mind was uneasy in rigard to Mr Oliver Phelps’s purchase, to which you desir’d me to make my mind easy and said that you woud enquire into the business4—On my return I met Mr Phelps at Cannandaigua, when he promis’d to give me a piece of Land and to build me a House, and give me some Cattle. With this I was satisfied till I saw him again some time after, when he, to my surprise had almost forgot it—but when I put him in mind of it he gave me a Horse & two Cattle but refus’d the House and Land because Land had raised so much in Value.


To one thing more I wish your Attention: When I was returning home the last time I was here, I was plunder’d by some of your unruly people, of Several things, amongst which was a paper given me by Genl Parsons, entitling me to one mile Square of Land at Muskingum, which I have never been able to recover, and without your friendly Assistance must loose the Land.5


I congratulate you on your intended repose from the Fateigues and anxiety of mind which are constant attendants in high public Stations—and hope that the Same good Spirit which has So long guided your Stips as a father to a great Nation, will still continue to protect you, and make your private reflections as pleasant to yourself, as your public measures have been useful to your people.

D, NHi: Henry O’Reilly Collection. No reply from GW to Cornplanter has been found.

Cornplanter, a principal war chief of the Seneca, had left Canandaigua, N.Y., on 6 Feb. 1797 in company with Mohawk chief Joseph Brant, who was seeking an annuity for displaced Iroquois Indians. Cornplanter’s mission is not as certain, but likely had to do with seeking an indemnity for the family of one of his followers who had been murdered or with land sale negotiations with Robert Morris (see Thomas S. Abler, Cornplanter: Chief Warrior of the Allegany Senecas [Syracuse, N.Y., 2007], 121–22).

For then-Secretary of War Henry Knox’s assessment of Cornplanter, whom he thought it would be “sound policy to attach” by “solid ties of interest” to the United States, see Knox to GW, 27 Dec. 1790.

1For Cornplanter’s most recent visit to Philadelphia as a member of a delegation of Seneca chiefs, see Seneca Chiefs to GW, 1 Dec. 1790, and 10 Jan. and 7 Feb. 1791; see also GW to the Seneca Chiefs, 29 Dec. 1790 and 19 Jan. 1791.

2In his address of 29 Dec. 1790, GW assured the Seneca chiefs that in the future, they could not be defrauded of their lands and that they had the right to sell or not sell their lands as they saw fit.

3Cornplanter is probably referring to the Bank of the United States.

4The Seneca chiefs had accused land speculator Oliver Phelps of fraud and defaulting on the terms of a 1788 agreement to purchase large tracts of Seneca land in western New York (see Seneca Chiefs to GW, 1 Dec. 1790, and n.4; and GW to the Seneca Chiefs, 29 Dec. 1790; see also Knox to GW, 27 Dec. 1790, and Seneca Chiefs to GW, 10 Jan. 1791).

5Cornplanter is referring to land granted to him by the Ohio Company of Associates, of which Samuel Holden Parsons, a former general of the Continental army, was one of the directors (see Hall, Life and Letters of General Parsons description begins Charles S. Hall. Life and Letters of Samuel Holden Parsons: Major General in the Continental Army and Chief Judge of the Northwestern Territory, 1737-1789. Binghamton, N.Y., 1905. description ends , 496). For the formation of the company, see Ohio Company Committee to GW, 13 June 1789, source note.

Cornplanter is referring to the Muskingum River in what is now Ohio. In 1788, the company established the first successful settlement in the Northwest Territory at Marietta, where the Muskingum River flows into the Ohio River. Cornplanter’s grant, given to him for cooperation in the U.S. negotiations with the Six Nations and the Indians of the Northwest Territory, was for 640 acres (one mile square) near Marietta (see Thomas S. Abler, Cornplanter: Chief Warrior of the Allegany Senecas [Syracuse, N.Y., 2007], 77–78).

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