Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Farmer’s Brother and Others, 14 February 1803

To Farmer’s Brother and Others

Feb. 14. 1803.

Brothers of the Seneca, Oneida
& Onondagua Nations

I give you a hearty welcome on your arrival at the Seat of our Government, where I am glad to take you by the hand and to renew the Chain of Friendship between us: and I am thankful to the Great Spirit who has preserved you in health during your long journey at this inclement season of the year, and am hopefull his protection will cover you on your return.

I sincerely lament with you, Brothers, the unfortunate murder which was committed by one of your people on one of ours at Buffaloe Creek—It has been one of the many evils produced by the abuse of spiritous liquors—and it is with sincere pleasure I learn that your people have in a great measure1 abandoned the use of them—You ask an explanation how it has happened, that, our Treaty having provided that injuries done by either party to the other shall be settled by Commissioners, the murderer, in this case, should be tried by the Laws of New York; to which laws you say you never gave your consent and therefore are not subject to them—The words of the Treaty, Brothers, are, “that for injuries done by individuals on either side, no private revenge or retaliation shall take place, but, instead thereof, complaint shall be made by the party injured to the other, by the six nations, or any of them, to the President of the U.S. or the Superintendant by him appointed, and, by the Superintendant or other person appointed by the President, to the principal Chiefs of the six nations, or of the nation to which the offender belongs: and such prudent measures shall then be pursued as shall be necessary to preserve our peace & friendship unbroken, until the Legislature or Great Council of the U. States shall make other equitable provision for the purpose.” In pursuance of this agreement in the Treaty, the Great Council of the U.S. have made provision by a law that, where any murder shall be committed by any of our people on yours, or of yours on ours, the murderer shall be punished with death—In this case the murder was committed within the lands belonging to New York, and therefore the judges of New York are the persons authorised to enquire into the truth of the fact, and to punish it, if true—And had the murder been committed at the same place by an Englishman, a Frenchman, a Spaniard2 an American, or a person of any other nation the same judges would have tried it, by the same rules, and subject to the same punishment; So that you are placed on the same footing, in this respect, as the most powerful & the most friendly nations are, and as we are ourselves. As the State authority, where the murder was committed, is appointed to enquire into the fact & to punish it, so they are entrusted to remit the punishment, if they3 find it was committed under circumstances which entitle the murderer to mercy. And I have great hopes, Brothers, that those who enquire into the case may find grounds for pardoning the offender, and that he may again be safely restored to you.

You ask that the Lands which you hold at Buffaloe Creek, Allegany and all other reserves, now in your possession, may remain yours, and descend to your children, and that we will confirm your title to these lands, and oppose any chief who may in future come forward to sell. These lands are yours, Brothers, we confirm the title to them for yourselves and your children, against our people, and all others, except yourselves. No person shall ever take one foot of them by any bargain with one or a few unauthorised chiefs, nor any otherwise than4 with the consent of your nation, fully5 given by your deputies, according to your own rules & customs—When the nation at large6 shall see an interest in making any bargain respecting their own lands,7 they certainly would not chuse we should oppose what they judge for their own interest.8 All we can rightfully do is to maintain them in the exercise of all their rights over the country they possess; and this we will do against fraud and force.

With respect to the residence of our Superintendant, or an assistant, at Konon-daigua, to the payment of your monies at Albany, the delivery of the goods for the Oneidas, Onondaiguas & Stockbridge Indians at Konon-daigua, and the continuance of the blacksmiths and gunsmiths, the Secretary of War will consult with you, & will endeavor to accomodate these matters to your and our convenience. Whatever he says to you on that subject, you are to consider as if said by myself.

We hope with you, Brothers, that the tomahawk is for ever buried between us; never more to be taken up. Peace and friendship is our best interest.9 By war we can injure one another: but no good man can receive pleasure from doing injuries. We wish to see you advance in the cultivation of the earth, in manufacturing clothes, and in whatever may contribute to feed & clothe your people, and make them comfortable & happy. In this way your numbers will increase, & the hardships & wants you now experience, from the uncertain pursuit of wild beasts, will be exchanged for plentiful living, produced by less labor from the soil you live on.

I pray you, Brothers to carry for me to your nation, assurances of the constant friendship & protection of the United States to them.

Th: Jefferson

RC (NPV: Jasper Parrish Papers); in a clerk’s hand, signed and dated by TJ. FC (Lb in DNA: RG 75, LSIA); in a clerk’s hand; dated 12 Feb.; at head of text: “A talk delivered by the President to a deputation from the Six-nations of Indians.” Dft (DLC); dated 14 Feb. Recorded in SJL as to “Farmer’s brother et al. of Senecas, Oneidas & Onondagues.”

Farmer’s Brother (d. 1814), who may have been born in the 1730s or as early as 1725, was a Seneca sachem, or civil leader, and had been a prominent warrior. He, Red Jacket, and Young King were leaders of the Buffalo Creek Senecas, frequently in political opposition to Cornplanter and Handsome Lake. Farmer’s Brother joined Red Jacket in bringing about the sale of the tract on the Niagara River and in breaking into the customs storehouse in 1802 (see TJ to Handsome Lake, 12 Feb.). He participated in meetings with Timothy Pickering, Robert Morris, and missionaries, often acting as moderator or introductory speaker at councils in which Red Jacket was the primary orator. Farmer’s Brother had made at least one visit to Philadelphia, where his oldest grandson had gone for an education, and he later reported that he had found the young man’s schooling in the city to be primarily in the arts of gentlemanly debauchery (Granville Ganter, ed., The Collected Speeches of Sagoyewatha, or Red Jacket [Syracuse, N.Y., 2006], xxvi, 4, 6, 9, 14, 15, 42, 74–5, 87, 93, 97, 105, 281–2; Anthony F. C. Wallace, The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca [New York, 1969], 131, 137, 145, 172–3, 180–3, 205; Thomas S. Abler, Cornplanter: Chief Warrior of the Allegany Senecas [Syracuse, N.Y., 2007], 147, 151; Christopher Densmore, Red Jacket: Iroquois Diplomat and Orator [Syracuse, N.Y., 1999], 58–9, 84; Alan Taylor, The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution [New York, 2006], 271, 274).

glad to take you by the hand: Farmer’s Brother and his delegation probably received permission before traveling to Washington, Dearborn having corresponded with Callender Irvine during the autumn about a pass for four unnamed chiefs (Dearborn to Irvine, 19 Nov., in DNA: RG 75, LSIA). The other Seneca group in the capital city in February, representing the council held on the Allegheny in January, would not have had time to wait for permission before setting off for Washington—and apparently did not get to have a formal conference with TJ and Dearborn (see TJ to Cornplanter, 11 Feb., and to Handsome Lake, 12 Feb.).

The unfortunate murder was the case of Stiff-Armed George, which had been a source of discontent among the Senecas for several months. On 14 Feb., Dearborn wrote to George Clinton on TJ’s authority, urging the governor to pardon the man (see Vol. 38:274n).

An article of a 1794 treaty between the United States and the Six Nations contained the clauses about injuries done by either party. Farmer’s Brother signed the treaty (along with Red Jacket, Cornplanter, and Handsome Lake). provision by a law: articles on punishment of crimes committed by Indians and by whites against Indians appeared in acts of Congress of May 1796 and March 1802 (Charles J. Kappler, comp. and ed., Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, 5 vols. [Washington, D.C., 1975], 2:36; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States…1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855-56, 8 vols. description ends , 1:469–74; 2:139–46).

as if said by myself: Dearborn addressed Farmer’s Brother’s delegation on the 14th. “In addition to what your Father, the President of the United States has said to you in his answer to your talk made before him since your arrival at this place,” Dearborn stated, he was authorized by TJ to say that they were appointing Jasper Parrish, who had experience as an interpreter, as a subagent. Dearborn made that appointment the following day, instructing Parrish to reside at Canandaigua but to spend at least three months each year among the Oneidas, Onondagas, Stockbridge Mohicans, Cayugas, and Indians who lived along the Genesee River. Irvine would continue as principal agent, residing part of each year at Buffalo Creek and spending time in other towns of the Six Nations tribes. Dearborn would arrange for future payments of money, clothing, and farming implements to be made in a way that would be convenient for each Indian nation. Those annuities must be distributed by the government’s agents, he indicated (and deductions would be made to cover the expenses of making the distributions). Because of “the friendly disposition of your father the President towards his Red Children,” blacksmithing operations would be established at Buffalo Creek, in the Oneidas’ territory for them and neighboring tribes, and among the Senecas on the Allegheny River. Smiths at Niagara and Canandaigua would serve smaller tribes. The secretary of war authorized Irvine to use $2,500 of the annuities of the Six Nations tribes for tools, farm implements, and payments to blacksmiths. As Irvine and Parrish circulated among the Indians’ towns in the course of a year, they would help to advance “improvements in husbandry and domestic manufactories” and resolve disputes. Perhaps in response to rumors of French intrigue among the Indian tribes, Dearborn warned that “evil designing people often attempt to fill your ears with stories calculated to excite uneasiness in your minds.” Such attempts should be reported to the government’s Indian agents, he urged, “as the most sure means of preserving the friendship which so happily exists at present between your Nations and your father the President.” Dearborn also acknowledged the divisions among Seneca leaders. “As peace and friendship among yourselves as well as with your white neighbours is essential to your general happiness,” he stated, “permit me to advise you to avoid all party quarrels and disputes between your respective Nations and Towns and to use every means in your power to heal any differences or jealousies which may now exist between any of your Nations or parts of Nations, and especially between those who live near Buffaloe Creek and those who live on the Allegany river.” He declared that “without harmony among yourselves you can never be happy” (Dearborn address, 14 Feb.; Dearborn to Parrish, 15 Feb.; and to Irvine, 15 Feb., in DNA: RG 75, LSIA; Vol. 36:634n; Vol. 37:31).

1Preceding four words interlined in Dft in place of “entirely.”

2Here in Dft TJ canceled “or any other.”

3Here in Dft TJ canceled “think.”

4Preceding passage beginning “by any bargain” interlined in Dft in place of “but.”

5Word interlined in Dft.

6Preceding two words interlined in Dft.

7Here in Dft TJ canceled “we ought not.”

8Here in Dft TJ canceled “but as long.”

9Here in Dft TJ canceled “war may do great injur.”

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