Stockbridge Indians in New York: 1784 - 1829
By Lion J. Miles
(Editor’s Note: The following account is the information that was researched and written by the author of this piece. Given the extensive nature of the work we have not independently corroborated this information. However, we have met Mr. Miles and believe him to be a man of substance and character. We present the following in that light).
The apparent prosperity of the Mohican town of New Stockbridge, New York, early in the 19th century was overshadowed by larger issues created by whiskey traders and land speculators who arrived at the head of a massive influx of white settlers from the east. Events in New York State gradually placed so much pressure on the Stockbridge tribe that its leadership began to consider seriously the possibility of a removal to the west. After the American Revolution, in which the tribe had served valiantly against the British, the state offered bounty lands to war veterans and many of them sold their rights to land speculators who obtained control of large tracts of real estate.
Early in the 1790s the state began to develop its transportation system and the white population of central New York increased dramatically as a result. In 1792 the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company was organized to improve navigation on inland waterways from Albany to Oswego, paving the way for the Erie Canal built between 1819 and 1825. In 1794 the Genesee Road was authorized from Utica to the Genesee River, running just to the north of New Stockbridge. In 1801 the Oneida Turnpike was incorporated to run through the northern part of the town. Indians leased land along this road to white settlers and the population of Madison and Oneida Counties grew from 1,900 in 1790 to 72,000 in 1814, and 93,000 in 1825.
The most important land speculator in the vicinity of New Stockbridge was Peter Smith, who had moved to Old Fort Schuyler (Utica) in 1789 and established a store there. As a partner with John Jacob Astor in the fur trade, Smith developed a skill in dealing with Indians and in 1793 managed legally to lease 61,440 acres from the Oneida tribe for 21 years, a parcel known as the "New Petersburgh Tract." This tract comprised parts of the present towns of Augusta, Stockbridge, Smithfield, Fenner, and Cazenovia, effectively circling the Stockbridge Indian town to the south and west. Smith then proceeded to sublet half of the lots in the tract to white settlers.
In 1795 the state purchased 100,000 acres from the Oneidas for 50 cents an acre, including the New Petersburgh Tract formerly leased to Peter Smith. Smith had already paid three years rent to the Oneidas so he was forced to buy the tract from the state in a settlement allowing him to deduct the rent money he had paid. In turn he sold lots in the tract to more white settlers.
These transactions tempted a minority of Stockbridge Indians who hoped to profit by leasing tribal lands to whites. Rev. Sergeant wrote in his journal in 1794:
A few Individuals of my people have tried to lease some of their lands. But Capt Hendrick with myself have discountenanced the measure for too many reasons to mention, on which account he with myself have incurred the ill will and envy of one or two unworthy characters among us. Those few among us who are disposed to lease are encouraged and tempted by liquor from white people. I think the Leassees will soon find they cannot obtain a good title to the lands. They will therefore drop the business and neglect the Lessors. In that case they will return to their neglected farms and families.
Mindful of their experience in Massachusetts and the sad example of the neighboring Brothertown Indians, the Mohican leadership stood fast against the leasing of land to white people. The Brothertowns, ten miles to the east, had become "an unhappy, divided, ruined and undone people" who had leased most of their township for ten years and drink up the rent while having ten English families to one Indian in their town.
Captain Hendrick wrote Timothy Pickering in 1796 that "our young men keep good courage & resolution to go on the way of civilization" but John Konkapot and his brothers "have been troublesome to the nation -- They have endeavoured to persuade our young men to Join them in leasing our land to white people -- It is our Unanimous agreement never to admit white people on our land -- but it Shall be for our own use & for the use of our grandchildren after us."
The Indian policy of New York at this time was determined by state officials "tied to transportation and land interests," especially General Philip Schuyler, who relentlessly sought Indian lands and worked to extinguish the native title to them. Schuyler was then a very powerful New York State Senator and served as president of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company. As early as 1793 the builders of that company were trespassing on Oneida land and stripping them of timber. The Quaker, Thomas Eddy, was one of the directors and acted as treasurer of the company. It appears that Eddy was scouting out land for his company when he visited New Stockbridge in 1795 and, as he wrote, "I applied myself with much zeal, in forwarding the views of the company, and in improving the internal navigation of the state." He made several journeys to western New York "to examine the country, as far as Seneca Lake."
The 1800 law against selling liquor in New Stockbridge proved ineffective and the practice continued. In 1821 Rev. Sergeant wrote that the tribe was "surrounded by a white population many of whom are greedy after their money & property, and in a secret way contrary to the Laws of the State are constantly supplying them with a liquor called whiskey, which is a great grief to the serious people, on which account many of the Indians are willing to remove into some distant country, if they can get away from white heathen, as the whiskey traders are commonly called." Sergeant himself, at the age of 75, found a white man selling liquor to Indians. "I went in and expostulated with the white man on the pernicious practice of breaking the Laws of God and man ... I ordered the Indians to leave the house and to go to their respective homes, and prepare for the approaching Sabath. I had the satisfaction to find them complied with my advice -- but the white man continued his practice. He was complained of by the Indians and has left the Town."
The idea of a removal to the west had long been in the minds of the Stockbridge chiefs, especially Captain Hendrick, and they had frequently referred to their ancient covenant with the western tribes in the Ohio country. Hendrick had, in 1807, informed the Mohawk chief, Joseph Brant, that he would "never live in a land which can be taken from me without my consent." Captain Hendrick had acted as a peace ambassador for the United States on four different occasions in 1791, 1792, 1793, and 1808. He lived with the Delaware tribe on the White River in Indiana for seven years and obtained a promise from them of land for his people. In his absence from New Stockbridge the Mohicans were ably led by Chief Sachem Joseph Shauquethqueat (Pye), David Neesoonnuhkeek, John Quinney, John Metoxen, Isaac Wnaupey, and others.
The War of 1812 intruded on life at New Stockbridge during Hendrick's time on the White River. In the spring of 1813 his son, Abner W. Hendrick, served under General Edmund Gaines at Sacketts Harbor, New York, with ten Stockbridge and five Oneida Indians. In September he joined his warriors to a company of Stockbridge's commanded by John W. Jacobs and served for two months under General James Wilkinson at Fort George in Canada. Rev, Sergeant described their departure:
In the fall of the year when Gen Wilkerson [Wilkinson] commanded the American Army at the Niagara frontier, it was reported to him [Sergeant] that the young warriors of the Stockbridge Tribe were invited by some officers from the Gen Government to join said Wilkersons Army. ... He saw said Warriors in great numbers paraded before his door, Captin John Jacobs and Leut Jacob Konkpot at their head. ... He saw them March in single file after the Indian custom from his bouse on their way to said Army. ... It was currently reported in the Tribe that they were paid forty dollars only for their services by Captin Paresh [Parish] the Indian Agent.
The Stockbridge's and the neighboring Brothertowns again fielded a company of 48 warriors in June 1814 to join the American Army under General Jacob Brown at Niagara. They possibly crossed into Canada with the main army and took part in the taking of Fort Erie. Finally, from August to September 1814, seventeen Stockbridge warriors served under Ensign Jacobs on unspecified duty. After the war, in 1818 and again in 1820, 38 Mohican veterans petitioned Congress and the Secretary of War for proper compensation for their services. Secretary Calhoun denied their claim on the grounds that they had not produced the necessary vouchers and documentary proof.
Captain Hendrick returned from White River in 1815 and reported that the title to the Stockbridge lands there had been secured. John Sergeant wrote that "the Stockbridge Indians will all remove into that country in the course of eight or ten years. ... It is a settled point that they cannot flourish where white people are allowed to mix among them. In order, therefore, to have religion and civilization flourish among Indians, the societies and Missionaries must use their influence with the government, to keep them at a distance from all immoral squatters on Indian land." Squatters became so numerous in New Stockbridge that the state passed a law in 1817 authorizing the superintendents of the tribe to remove all those who were "not entitled by law to settle on said lands," and were "likely to be injurious to the said Indians by corrupting their morals, or by injuring their lands or property."
Although the anti-leasing party had become ascendant in 1796, the Stockbridge tribe obtained permission in 1803 to lease 1,000 acres in the southeastern part of the town to Captain John Gregg, John Gregg Jr., and James Alexander. They were to receive $300 a year in rent, which was to be used to support the tribal school and allow for the establishment of a second school to handle the increased number of children who had arrived from New Jersey with the Delaware. Then in October 1809 the state allowed the tribe to sell 310 acres for the support of the poor, with tracts in the west going to Joseph Black, John Demott, and George Gragg. Another lot of 500 acres in the east was sold in 1815 for building mills. Then in 1816 Thomas Eddy wrote the Governor:
We have lately been informed by some of our friends who reside near the Stockbridge Indians, that near one hundred white persons have settled on the lands belonging to said Indians – "that, although they have been proceeded against, as the law directs, yet by their influence with the chiefs, the matter has been so represented to the Governor, that he and the Attorney General have directed that further proceedings against them be stopped for the present, and the probability is, that the chiefs may address the Legislature, requesting a law to permit them to remain." ... We have always found, that [the Indians] have been exceedingly injured in their morals, &c. by the whites getting on their lands, and mixing with them. ... We have a confidence that everything on thy part has, and will be done, for the welfare of the Indians; but, as an application may be made by the white people to the Legislature, for some law to be passed, by which they may unjustly get an advantage over the Indians ... we, therefore, take the liberty ... respectfully to solicit a continuation of thy friendly regard ... of our fellow men ... whose peculiar situation and circumstances seem to demand our sympathy, and require our assistance.
The tribe had allowed the white settlers into their town illegally by accepting rent of $30 a year for each 100 acres and declared that they "did not know or suppose that making such contracts was criminal" under the laws of New York. Fearing that the whites would be liable to heavy penalties and lose the improvements they had made, the chiefs of the tribe joined with the settlers in petitioning the Governor to stop any further proceedings against them. The state legislature responded with an act granting immunity from prosecution for those whites who had leased Stockbridge land before 1815. By 1818 the Stockbridge Indians had leased or sold more than 1,800 acres to white people and were under increasing pressure to give up more of their land. Many in the tribe felt it was time to remove from New York. The beginnings of their move will be described in Part Three.