Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Cornplanter and Others, 11 February 1803

To Cornplanter and Others

Washington Feb. 11. 1803.


I have recieved your letter of January 18. and observe the dissatisfaction you express at the sale of lands made by your nation to the state of New York. it was the act of your nation, which the United States would not pretend to controul: they had no interest in it; yet they sent a commissioner to watch over your interests and to see that you understood the transaction, & gave free consent to it. the determination you express to sell no more of your lands is perfectly agreeable to me; as our wish is that you remain in a situation to support yourselves happily & plentifully. but, brothers, when you consider the diminution of the game on your lands, you must be sensible you cannot feed & clothe yourselves but by working your lands more, and manufacturing cloaths for yourselves. in this way the lands you hold will abundantly maintain you from generation to generation. your leaving off the use of spirituous liquors is a wise measure, and will leave you much more capable of taking care of yourselves & families. with respect to the lands on the Alleganey river which you wish to have given to the Handsome lake, I am not informed whether the right to them has been purchased from you by Pensylvania, in which case they belong to that state, and are not subject to our gift, or whether they still belong to your nation, in which case they can give them themselves to the Handsome lake as they please. I am very glad you are pleased with your new agent and hope he will continue to give you satisfaction. Accept brothers my best wishes for your health and happiness.

Th: Jefferson

RC (NBuHi); at head of text: “To the Cornplanter, the Stinking fish and Gachgewashe” and so recorded in SJL. PrC (DLC).

brothers: Stinking Fish (Kenjauaugus), one of the recipients of this letter, was among the Seneca leaders who signed a treaty negotiated by Timothy Pickering at Canandaigua in 1794 (Charles J. Kappler, comp. and ed., Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, 5 vols. [Washington, D.C., 1975], 2:37).

The letter of 18 Jan. has not been found and is not recorded in SJL. Handsome Lake addressed a document to TJ on the same day (see TJ to Handsome Lake, 12 Feb.). A Seneca now commonly known as Governor Blacksnake probably carried the letters to Washington. Other people traveled with him, but nothing is known of the size or composition of the group. Blacksnake, also called The Nephew, was a relative of Cornplanter and Handsome Lake and a supporter of their revitalization program. He passed through Pittsburgh late in January on his way to the capital. There is no indication that he addressed TJ in a conference or acted as anything except a courier for the written communications. He and his group were ready to depart Washington on 14 Feb., when they received a pass from Dearborn for their return journey (pass for The Nephew, 14 Feb., in DNA: RG 75, LSIA; Georgetown Olio, 10 Feb.; Thomas S. Abler, Chainbreaker: The Revolutionary War Memoirs of Governor Blacksnake [Lincoln, Neb., 1989], 20–1, 82, 217; Anthony F. C. Wallace, The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca [New York, 1969], 240–1, 285).

The letters from Cornplanter and Handsome Lake followed a Seneca council held in January at Cornplanter’s Town (Jenuchshadago) or Burnt House, which was on a tract on the Allegheny River granted to Cornplanter in 1795 by the state of Pennsylvania. The meeting protested the recent sale of lands on the Niagara River, announced that Cornplanter’s Town would become the site for meetings of the council of the Six Nations confederation—of which Handsome Lake was a member—and attempted to decree that Buffalo Creek, where Red Jacket, the political rival of Cornplanter and Handsome Lake, lived, would no longer be a council site. According to a newspaper report, Blacksnake was also “the bearer of information to the President respecting overtures of an unfriendly nature towards the United States made to the Seneca Nation of Indians, by French emissaries” (Georgetown Olio, 10 Feb.; Wallace, Death and Rebirth, 171–2, 285–6; Thomas S. Abler, Cornplanter: Chief Warrior of the Allegany Senecas [Syracuse, N.Y., 2007], 57, 83; Vol. 37:30, 35n).

the act of your nation: another delegation, connected to Red Jacket—who supported the recent land cessions and had no role in the January council—was in Washington at the same time as Blacksnake’s group (see TJ to Farmer’s Brother and Others, 14 Feb.).

pleased with your new agent: Callender Irvine was the U.S. agent for the Six Nations. Red Jacket had objected to the replacement of Israel Chapin with Irvine (Dearborn to TJ, 22 Aug. 1802).

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