Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Munsee Indians, with Henry Dearborn, 24 February 1802

To Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Munsee Indians, with Henry Dearborn


Your friend Captain Chapin, has laid before your father the President of the United States, your talk made at Genisee-river, on the 12th: of November last, and the President has authorised me to give you the following answer.


Your Father the President of the United States is in his heart a friend to all his red children, and will at all times listen to their complaints, and do all that is in his power for their comfort. He considers you as a part of his great family; and as the Great Spirit, formed us all, it should teach us to live together like brothers.


Your friend Captain Chapin will be directed to procure for your use such kind of goods as will be most agreeable to you, with a due proportion of powder and lead for your huntsmen.


Your father the President will give Capt. Chapin instructions to furnish such of your people as in his judgement will make a good use of them, with a few ploughs, Oxen, Cows and Sheep, and also with some Wheels and Cards for spinning, and if those who may receive such articles this year, do actually use them to the best advantage, more will be furnished the next year; but if you expect your father the President to continue such supplies, you who are Chiefs, must take care that the friendship and benevolence of the President be not abused, by an improper use of the articles provided for you by his directions.


The heart of your father the President is rejoiced to learn that his red children are sensible of the bad effects of that Poison, which has done them so much harm, he hopes that you will not hereafter suffer any of it to be used in your Nations, he will then with more pleasure and better hopes, contribute all in his power for your advancements in comfort and happiness.


The President has spoken to Governor Clinton about purchasing your strip of land on Niagara-river, and he will willingly appoint Comissioners to assist Governor Clinton and your Nations in making the bargain for the land. And if the Cayugas and Onondago’s wish to sell any of their lands, the President will assist them in disposing of it; but it is to be understood that Governor Clinton must be consulted before any sale can be made in the State of New York.


You may rest assured, that so long as your Nation shall conduct themselves peacably, honestly, and soberly among themselves and towards their white brethren, and shall make the best use in their power of such means for increasing their happiness, as may be furnished from time to time by their father the President, he will continue to be their friend, and to treat them as his Children.

Given at the War Office of the United Sates at the City of Washington, the 24th: day of February 1802.

H. Dearborn

FC (Lb in DNA: RG 75, LSIA); in a clerk’s hand; at head of text: “To the principal Chiefs of the Seneca, Onondago, Cayuga and Delaware Nations”; in margin at head of text: “A Talk to the Seneca Onondago Cayuga & Delaware Nations.”

Several years earlier Israel Chapin, Jr., succeeded his father as the U.S. agent to the Iroquois (Alan Taylor, “The Divided Ground: Upper Canada, New York, and the Iroquois Six Nations, 1783–1815,” Journal of the Early Republic, 22 [2002], 65).

Your talk: in November 1801, chiefs of the Senecas and some neighboring tribes gathered at Geneseo, New York, for the distribution of annuities in the form of goods. On 12 Nov., Red Jacket, the principal speaker of the Senecas, made an address to Chapin and asked him to “make known to the President the whole of our speech.” The address was translated by an interpreter, Jasper Parrish, and written down, apparently with the expectation that Chapin would take it to Washington for transmittal to the president—“bring us his answer on your return,” Red Jacket advised. Henry Dearborn framed the above response as if it would be delivered to its recipients orally. The repeated salutation of the listeners as “brothers” was typical of addresses made during face-to-face encounters, and mirrored Red Jacket’s addressing of Chapin as “Brother” in the 12 Nov. address (Granville Ganter, ed., The Collected Speeches of Sagoyewatha, or Red Jacket [Syracuse, N.Y., 2006], 115–17; Conference with Little Turtle, at 4 Jan., and Conference with Black Hoof, at 5 Feb.).

In his address, Red Jacket made practical requests concerning the annuities that were paid in the form of goods. He asked that the government give the Senecas only very warm cloth—coarse, heavy wool or cotton flannel, rather than “fine broadcloths”—and that powder and lead be provided for hunting. The tribe also wanted payments due to them from a land sale in the 1780s to be deposited in the Bank of the United States so that cash annuities from different sources could be paid at the same time each year. Most significantly, although on some previous occasions Red Jacket had rejected acculturation and change, he now declared that the Senecas were ready to follow George Washington’s advice “to quit the mode of Indian living and learn the manner of White people.” The Senecas “finde ourselves in a situation which we believe our fore Fathers never thought of,” said Red Jacket: now the “White people are seated so thick over the Country that the dear have almost fled from us, and we finde ourselves obliged to pursue some other mode of geting our living.” The Indians would accept oxen, cows, plows, farming utensils, and spinning wheels from the government and would learn to use them. The Senecas “must make use of Cattle instead of Moose Elk etc” and “sheep in place of dear” (Ganter, Collected Speeches of Sagoyewatha, 115–16).

That poison: Red Jacket declared that the tribe had determined to “quit the use of liquor” (same).

In the address on 12 Nov., the Seneca orator also indicated that the tribe wanted to make a land swap with the Holland Land Company and were ready to sell a strip of land along the Niagara River—property that Timothy Pickering had tried to interest them in selling as early as 1794. The ribbon of land at Black Rock was a traditional Seneca fishing site, but also a desirable travel corridor for white settlements. The Senecas had come to “fear incroachments,” Red Jacket said, “a party of men having made a beginning there last summer.” Selling that piece of land had become a point of sharp contention between political rivals in a Seneca council meeting in June 1801. Red Jacket favored selling the property, but his uncle, Handsome Lake, strongly opposed the idea. Handsome Lake later tried to have the sale overturned (same, 115, 117; Anthony F. C. Wallace, The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca [New York, 1969], 259–60, 265, 285).

Cayugas and Onondago’s: present at the annuities meeting on 12 Nov. when Red Jacket addressed Chapin were “Principal chiefs of the Senecas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Delawares.” The Onondagas and Cayugas were, like the Senecas, Iroquois tribes of the Six Nations. Red Jacket said that he spoke for the three tribes with regard to land sales: “our voices are one.” The term “Delaware” was applied to various groups, none of which were Iroquoian. In this case it meant a band of Munsee-speaking Indians who lived near the Senecas in western New York but retained their own identity and were referred to alternately as Munsees or Delawares. They had some alliance to Red Jacket, for in the spring of 1801, Handsome Lake accused the Munsees and Red Jacket of witchcraft. Soon after, the Munsees moved from Cattaraugus Creek to Buffalo Creek, where they could be closer to Red Jacket. In March 1802, Handsome Lake met with TJ and Dearborn in Washington, declared that he spoke for the Senecas, and indirectly denounced Red Jacket (Ganter, Collected Speeches of Sagoyewatha, 115, 117; Wallace, Death and Rebirth, 255–61; Sturtevant, Handbook description begins William C. Sturtevant, gen. ed., Handbook of North American Indians, Washington, 1978–, 14 vols. description ends , 15:213, 223; ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends , s.v. “Red Jacket”; Conference with Handsome Lake, 10 Mch. 1802).

Continue to be their friend: one of the Senecas’ annuities derived from the sale of land rights to Robert Morris in 1797 and drew on dividends from shares of the Bank of the United States (see Memorandum on the Seneca Annuity, 19 Nov. 1801). The proceeds of the stock had been held in the Treasury, but in December 1801, Henry Dearborn opened an account in the B.U.S. for that Seneca fund. On 2 Mch. 1802, TJ wrote a brief instruction to George Simpson, the cashier of the bank: “Sir, You will place to the credit, and hold at the disposal of the Secretary of War, the avails of two hundred & five shares in the bank of the United States belonging to the Seneca Nations of Indians, and by them placed under my immediate superintendence and direction” (RC, facsimile in Kenneth W. Rendell, Inc., Somerville, Massachusetts, catalogue, 1972, in hand of Joshua Wingate, Jr., signed and dated by TJ, at foot of text: “George Simpson Esquire Cashier of the bank, U States,” not recorded in SJL; Dearborn to Simpson, 18 Dec. 1801, in Lb in DNA: RG 75, LSIA). Also on 2 Mch., Dearborn drew on the Senecas’ account for $6,250. Noting that the government’s records on the Senecas’ dividends had been lost in the War Department fire of November 1800, Dearborn asked Simpson for a statement of the dividends, the amounts drawn from that source, and any balance remaining. The money that Dearborn drew from the bank early in March was for Chapin; on 1 Mch., Dearborn instructed the agent to distribute, among “three or four of the best disposed chiefs” of the Senecas, a dozen sheep, some wool cards and spinning wheels, three or four milk cows, and two or three plows, each plow to have a yoke and a pair of oxen. Chapin was also to give plows, oxen, wool cards, and spinning wheels to the Tuscarora Indians to introduce “a spirit and knowledge” of agriculture and domestic arts to that tribe. In addition, Dearborn authorized the construction of “a cheap saw-mill” at the Tuscaroras’ reservation. A century earlier the Tuscaroras lived in North Carolina, but in the eighteenth century a segment of the tribe, which spoke an Iroquoian language, moved north and became affiliated with the Iroquois confederacy. Although it was not written into the contract with Morris in 1797, the Senecas wanted the Tuscaroras to have a small tract in western New York, and by arrangements with the Holland Land Company the Tuscaroras occupied, in 1802, a reservation two square miles in size near the Niagara River. On 4 Feb. 1802, Dearborn had met with a group of Tuscaroras who were returning from a trip to North Carolina, where the tribe hoped to sell some land and use the proceeds to augment the reservation in New York. Dearborn had also seen that delegation in the fall of 1801 as they traveled through Washington to North Carolina (Dearborn to Tuscaroras, 2 Nov. 1801, 4 Feb. 1802, to Chapin, 1 Mch. 1802, to Simpson, 2 Mch., in Lb in DNA: RG 75, LSIA; Sturtevant, Handbook description begins William C. Sturtevant, gen. ed., Handbook of North American Indians, Washington, 1978–, 14 vols. description ends , 15:282, 518–21; Vol. 32:435–6n).

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