Sunday, 16 February 2014

Have the British and Successors Failed to Appreciate the Contribution of the Six Nations to the American Revolution and the War of 1812?

The following is a response to a comment to the previous posting by Tony, to whom I am thankful for his bringing this matter to my attention.  It has spurred an update to an earlier posting, and is the stimulus for the present, and the previous posting.

There is still a widespread, almost universal, belief that the Six Nations got the short end of the stick at the end of the American Revolution, and that their contribution to the War of 1812 has not been adequately recognized. This viewpoint is expressed, for example, in a comment by R. Walker to a post on the blog,“Niagara at Large”, entitled, Shorthills Protests are Short on Patience with the Hunters by Six Nations member Karl Dockstader, 13 November 2013. The post and comment can be found here.

Here the author of the comment states the following: I am grateful that we were allies at the time of the American revolution and accompanied the the Mohawks to Canada when their river settlements in the New York colony were seized by the revolutionaries like Washington. As allies your people defended Canada in the war of 1812 which was recently celebrated by local governments who seem to forget this fact when it come to this hunt which is important to sustain your culture and way of life.

The comment got me thinking about how distorted some information is that is being fed to the general population, and hence my theme of beliefs versus facts applies here.  The above quote seems to imply the belief that Canada "owes" Six Nations a great debt in relation to the American Revolution and the War of 1812.  It is undeniable (the evidence is overwhelming) that the statement is true of the Mohawk in relation to the Revolution.  However, when it comes to the War of 1812, the situation is far from clear.  We are presently in the midst of the Bicentennial of this War, so it has taken a higher profile of late.  The problem is that there is a distortion in the beliefs about the specifics of the participation of the Six Nations, and as well, how Six Nations were "treated" by virtue of their assistance.  The whole set of circumstances was little different than that of their neighbours in the Norfolk and Lincoln Militia, except that the help of the Six Nations could not be depended upon to the degree that was true of the Militia - something that is seldom mentioned in relation to this subject.  However, both the Militia and the Six Nations did receive compensation for their efforts.

The "Treatment" of the Six Nations After the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812:

I must also allow some latitude here concerning Mr. Walker's take on the Six Nations role in the above conflicts. Few have spent 30 or more years sifting through the relevant records pertaining to this subject that would provide first hand balanced account of the Revolution and the War of 1812. Thus it is easy to "fall for" well established beliefs, and to form an opinion based on limited and biased data. Here follow the facts which can be verified.

A) Revolutionary War - The Six Nations, and all First Nations peoples, were in fact ignored by the British in the Treaty of Paris of 1783, which ended the Revolution and dictated peace terms. That part is true, but the impact of this unconscionable "oversight" was felt primarily by the Indians of the American Northwest (the Ohio Country). Hence the feeling among some Six Nations and their apologists is that there should be some justice (compensation) for this "slap in the face", and this seems to be the overarching attitude driving some of the "sympathy" for the Six Nations. Any such emotion is very much misplaced, and should be saved for those Native peoples who ended up under American rule.

There is no doubt that the Revolution of 1776 to 1783 involving His Majesties disobedient children, was devastating to the Six Nations. The Council fire at Onondaga was extinguished in 1777 when it was apparent that some tribes were supporting the King (the Mohawk and most of the Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca), but a significant number supported the Colonists (the Tuscarora and Oneida in particular). Six Nations losses were immense, however after the War not only the Tuscarora and Oneida, but also many of the Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca decided to stay in their old homelands in Upstate NY and tried to make the best deal they could with the victorious New York and Federal Governments. The most consistent supporters of the British, with the exception of four families who espoused neutrality as the best way to protect their valuable possessions, were the Mohawk of Fort Hunter and Canajoharie (Lower and Upper Mohawks) who were unwavering supporters of the British.

Before detailing compensation packages offered by the British, it will be helpful to note what the Six Nations, and particularly the Mohawks, possessed at the beginning of the conflict. Over the years the Mohawks had sold almost all of their land, which had then been granted by the Crown to White purchasers. Millions or acres were voluntarily surrendered for monetary or other considerations, but the bottom line is that by 1777 the Upper and Lower Mohawks owned some Appalachian lands and only a few hundred acres of arable land - and even these small parcels were under claim by Abraham Van Horne et al. and the Corporation of the City of Albany, respectively. So even the land under their feet had been sold and granted to White persons in the 1730s. Since then the Mohawk had complained bitterly to the Indian Commissioners in Albany (where they got no sympathy), and later Sir William Johnson the Superintendent of Indian Affairs (Northern Department) who did try to obtain justice for the Mohawk (while enriching himself in the process). However at the time the War broke out, the Mohawk owned very little land.

There are numerous references to the sale of land by the Mohawk. I have noted a number of them in previous posts. Here I will offer a source that shows all of the patents to land on the south side of the Mohawk River extending in a time frame from the 1600s to the 1770s.  See Map of the Head Waters of the Rivers Susquehanna & Delaware Embracing the Early Patents on the South Side of the Mohawk River from the Original Drawn about the Year 1790 by Simeon De Witt, Esq. Surveyor General Etc., State of New York, Documents Relative to the Colonial History of New York, Vol. 1.

British Grants of Land, Presents, and Money After the Revolution

While the Treaty of Paris of 3 September 1783 may have ignored the needs of the Native peoples (and the Loyalists), the local officials in Quebec certainly did not. They felt honour bound to grant reasonable compensation to those who had served with His Majesty's forces. The major reference for the participation of the Six Nations in the Revolutionary War is, Barbara Graymont, The Iroquois in the American Revolution, Syracuse, University of Syracuse Press, 1972. Here follows a list of the compensation to the Mohawks for their services:

1) Claims for land and property lost in the conflict: When it became apparent that the outcome of the War was not going to be favourable to the British, they offered to compensate individual Mohawks for their losses. Governor General Sir Frederick Haldimand must be given credit for this decision, as he felt strongly that the Indians who served as soldiers, particularly the Loyal Mohawks, deserved compensation. The Lower Mohawks filed claims at Lachine Quebec, and the Upper Mohawk and some Lower Mohawk filed at Niagara. Some Mohawk were very wealthy and owned up to 200 acres of land, horses, oxen, pigs, sheep, houses made of clapboard with every imaginable type of furniture, barns, horse tack, and silver jewelry. Each Mohawk claimant was given a cash settlement no different from what would be assessed for their Loyalist neighbours some years later. An example is the claim of Katerine, filed at Niagara 22 April 1784, so likely an Upper Mohawk.  Her claim included a house worth 80 pounds, 60 acres of land worth 250 pounds, as well as numerous other items such as 4 horses for 26 pounds, 6 large kettles and 8 small kettles. Her total claim was for 447-3-0. See Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Colonial Office Records, Q Series, Vol. 24, pt. 2, pp. 307-325 for claims submitted at Niagara (Mohawk, Tuscarora, and Aughquagas); and LAC, MG11, CO42, Vol. 47, pp. 240-242 for claims submitted at Lachine (Mohawk).

2) Two large tracts of land: While the Mohawks had been compensated monetarily for the loss of their individual land holdings, Haldimand, for whatever reason, decided that he could justify the gift of a tract of land to replace some of the holdings of the Mohawks in New York - although objectively this was extremely generous of him and likely reflected his respect of the Mohawk and an acknowledgement of their contribution to the War effort, and their loyalty. Thus he supported the choice of Captain John Deserontyon, Village Chief of the Lower (Ft. Hunter) Mohawks, for a tract of land at the Bay of Quinte. Captain Joseph Brant Thayendanagea (Village Chief of the Upper, Canajoharie, Mohawks), preferred a location on the Grand River, ostensibly so he could be closer to the Senecas. However it was no secret that the Lower Mohawks and the Upper Mohawks were significant factions within the broader community and it would have been impossible to the two Chiefs to "share power". Thus Haldimand purchased both tracts for the Mohawks from the owners, the Mississauga. So Brant's Mohawks were granted the opportunity to possess the Grand River Tract, which by agreement was six miles on each side of the River from the mouth to the headwaters. Unfortunately Haldimand did not purchase the headwaters from the Mississauga, and this omission was to become a bone of contention for years (and still to this day). The area was not well known so only a rough description could be offered until an official survey was completed which occurred in both 1790 and 1793, which showed the land to end at the far end of what was termed "Block Nichol" (see various chapters in William C. Stutevant (Ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 15, Northeast, Washington, Smithsonian Institution, 1978; and Charles M. Johnston, The Valley of the Six Nations: A Collection of Documents on the Indian Lands of the Grand River, Toronto, The Champlain Society, 1964).

Haldimand worded the proclamation such that not only the Mohawk were invited to settle here, but also others of the Six Nations (and allies) who wished to move here. The area is huge, and is situated in an area of highly valuable land in what is today Southern Ontario.

Over the years there have been arguments as to whether the Mohawk and others held the land in fee simple (and so could dispose of any of it forever without consulting the Crown), or whether it was held by the Crown for the exclusive use of the Six Nations. All rulings have supported the latter interpretation, and hence all sales must be enacted with the knowledge of the Crown.  I can guarantee that had the British not chosen to establish the "ownership" in this manner, the land would have been sold piece meal by individual members (as happened in much of Oklahoma) and the Six Nations would have been dispersed - and there would have been no Reserve here today.

3) Rations and presents: From the time the British took over New Netherlands from the Dutch in 1664, regular "presents" (including rations, rum, ammunition, jewelry and assorted supplies) to the Six Nations, and "upped the ante" during any conference for example at the home of the Indian Superintendent Sir William Johnson, or at Albany or Oswego. The practise continued unabated during the Revolution where the British supplied even wavering and uncooperative Natives with "presents" to "keep up their spirits" and for sundry other reasons. The amount spent on this practise was staggering. In 1785 the Six Nations and other refugee tribes (e.g., Nanticoke) settled on the River. There were distribution centres established in Burlington, Niagara and the Mohawk Village. This was an expected "perk" that had a long history, and was necessary to ensure the cooperation of the Six Nations. There was still a "Census for Presents" at Six Nations for 1856. After this date the term was "Pay Lists". Also annuity monies were paid to Six Nations. All of these payments were usually on a biyearly basis (see reference below).

4) Land grants for military service: There was still more coming to the Mohawks. Those who served in the Six Nations Indian Department, along with Capts. Nelles and Dochstader, and Lt. Young who lived on farms along the lower Grand River, were eligible for half pay, and for individual land grants. Captain Joseph Brant hit the jackpot here with this grant in Burlington where he built Brant House (a reproduction home still stands on this site near Joseph Brant Hospital). A good summary of monies or grants, well referenced, can be found in David K. Faux, Understanding Ontario First Nations Genealogical Records: Sources and Case Studies, Toronto, The Ontario Genealogical Society, 2002.

Not only was compensation forthcoming from the British, but the Americans wanted to ensure that their title to the land was secure so in two meetings with the Mohawks formerly of the Lower and Upper Villages along the River that bears their name, the State and Federal Governments paid monies for this purpose.

New York and American Grants Relating to the Revolution

The State of New York wanted to secure its title to the Mohawk lands so sent Jelles Fonda (a merchant well known to the Mohawk) to negotiate a "final surrender". Thus on 9 July 1789, at the Council House in Niagara, two deeds were signed, one for the Mohawks formerly of Ft. Hunter, and another for the Mohawks formerly of Canajoharie. Here the "Sachems, Chiefs, principal Men and Women" of these villages yielded all "rights, title and interest" in the lands they formerly owned in the State of New York. The Lower Mohawk group received 700 pounds of New York currency, and the Upper Mohawks 516 pounds. As an example, there were 39 recipients among the Ft. Hunter group (some residing at Tyendinaga and some at Six Nations) - about half were women, and most signed both their Indian and White names. The three clan symbols (turtle, wolf and bear) were placed on the back. I have photographs of each of these documents. To show that I have references for each item I mention in this blog, I will take the time here to give detailed references to the above two documents:

1) Lower Mohawk - Library and Archives Canada, MG19, F21, "Treaty between the Indians formerly resident at the Mohawk Castle ............... and the State of New York."

2) Upper Mohawk - New York Historical Society, "Miscl. Lansing, John Jr., Power of Attorney to Jelles Fonda to Recover lands Granted to Abraham Van Horne and others Nov. 13, 1731." (see Indians, Mohawks" in catalogue).

Sundry payments continued to 29 March 1797 at Albany when the Upper and Lower Mohawks were each given 1000 dollars as further compensation for all Mohawk who resided in traditional lands before the War - and 600 dollars for each negotiator (Joseph Brant and John Deserontyon) for expenses and work done to bring the treaty to fruition (American State Papers, Vol. 1, p. 636).

So any illusion that somehow the Mohawk and Six Nations were ignored by, or suffered due to the indifference of, the British should be dispelled. The facts show quite the contrary. Their favour was even courted by their former enemies, with substantial payments for land that was in United States territory which was won by conquest. However this revelation does not quite meet the political agenda where the White authorities must be demonised, and the the Six Nations must be seen as "victims".

B) War of 1812 -

Grants and Payments by the British During and After the War of 1812

An excellent overview of the contribution of the Six Nations during the War of 1812 is, Carl Benn, The Iroquois in the War of 1812, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1998.

First I wish to make a very clear statement of fact about the contribution of the Six Nations during the War of 1812. It is undeniable that the outcome of the Battle of Queenston Heights in October 1812 hinged on the support of the Six Nations, led by John Norton. After this date, it was more and more difficult for Norton, or any other leaders such as John Brant, youngest son of Capt. Joseph Brant, to enlist (and keep) the support of Six Nations warriors right through the end of the War in 1814. There is once again no denying that Norton and the Six Nations he was able to bring to the field, made a very valuable contribution to the Battle of Chippewa in July 1814 - but after the losses of the day, they simply could not be arm twisted in any way to return to the field. Thus they were not in attendance at the Battle of Lundy's Lane. Reading the diary of their War leader, John Norton, is illuminating. See, The Journal of Major John Norton, 1816, Carl F. Klinck (Ed.), Toronto, The Champlain Society, 1970.

War of 1812 payments:  Payments and presents to the Six Nations continued throughout the War of 1812 and beyond.  Some payments were questionable.  In effect, the British went the distance in their compensation payments to the Six Nations - even when unjustified. For example, by 1813 a controversy had divided the community over how much assistance to give the British. Many were upset over the spectre of fighting their own people since the Seneca were beginning to participate on the side of the Americans. A list of the most intransigent lack luster Six Nations was written by the Six Nations Chiefs, with the recommendation that these individuals not be the recipients of "His Majesty's bounty", and most were Mohawks (see Johnston, p. 219). Presents continued to flow even during the times when the British could ill afford to maintain this "tradition" - when even basic food supplies were in danger of running out.

Though there is a list of the names of 80 Mohawks (and other Six Nations) who were at Beaver Dams 24 June 1813 (Johnston, p. 203).  According to their leader Major John Norton, as written in the above Journal, the Caughnawagas (led by a French - speaking Indian Department officer) from a Reserve across from Montreal did the fighting, the Mohawks got the plunder, and Fitzgibbon got the credit. It appears to have been at times easy to get an assembly of volunteers from Six Nations, but it was typical to see them peel off en route so that by the time the battlefield was reached there may have been less than a handful left - which was also the case at the Battle of Stoney Creek. A lot more primary source information is copied in Johnston (1964).

By 1814, the "support" had withered to a handful including Major John Norton, Chief John Brant, and John "Smoke" Johnson - all Mohawks. Given this tepid help (although acknowledging the essential assistance provided in the early years, such as the Battle of Queenston Heights), it is amazing that in 1817 the British chose to offer almost every adult member (head of family) of every tribe residing on the Six Nations Reserve substantial compensation for War of 1812 "loses". The payments were in three instalments, over 20 years, the last payment being in 1837 (Journal of the Legislative Assembly, Appendix GGG, Province of Canada, 2nd Part, 1st Session, Vol.4, No. 2, 1844-1845. Pay lists of Indian claimants for losses during the War of 1812).

The Recognition of the Role of the Six Nations in the War of 1812 Today

Reprinted copies of the above noted book by Benn, and the Norton Journal, which are available in places such as Fort George in Niagara on the Lake, are literally flying off the shelves. There is a lot of interest in the role of the Six Nations in the War of 1812. I have purchased 6 DVD's about the War of 1812 that have been made recently, often with the financial support of the Federal and Ontario Provincial Governments, and all place a very sharp focus on the role played by Six Nations and Aboriginal peoples (e.g., Delawares and Ojibway). Native leaders such as Major John Norton (Capt. Joseph Brant's adopted nephew), and Tecumseh (Shawnee Chief) have been quite rightly acclaimed as heroes in each. The one I have at my current location is, War of 1812: A 4-Part Documentary Series produced by the National Film Board of Canada in 1998. Two of the three panels on the jacket cover show Natives, including one where a warrior is in hand to hand combat with an American soldier. Their role is clearly "front and centre".

It is simply untrue that the role of the Six Nations has been downplayed in any way, shape or form. Frankly, some Six Nations leaders are ensuring that the Six Nations get plenty of "good press". I observed this in Niagara at the ceremony at Brock's Monument celebrating the Bicentennial of the Battle of Queenston Heights. Here the two representatives from Six Nations seemed to be shown a type of reverence, even adulation, by those assembled, and the applause for the description of the participation of Six Nations ancestors was profound. At this event R.H. and K.J. also brought out the "Two Row Wampum" belt and explained to the crowd about Six Nations sovereignty (the generally accepted, but lacking in evidence version of same). I took close note of the "audience reaction". They seemed to accept everything said as the gospel (at least no one said, "this is bull#@%&") - again more enthusiastic applause.

Update 1 - The 12 February 2014 issue of the Turtle Island News (p.5) has a headline, War of 1812 to be taught in the schools. Here we find an announcement that, If all goes according to plan, Ontario students from grade one to 12 will learn about the War of 1812 from a Haudenosaunee perspective beginning this fall. Keith Jamieson, the coordinator of the Six Nations Legacy Consortium, headed the group pushing to have this addition to the curriculum. That is indeed good news. Canadians, in my opinion, need to learn more about how our ancestors shaped Canada during the War of 1812. Of course the question on my mind is whether the accurate or "sanitised" version will be inserted into the curriculum (along with a dose of politics - for example comments about "self determination" and "sovereignty"), and whether it will be a distorted "how we won the War for you White folks" perspective. Time will tell.

Update 2 -  The 19 February 2014 issue of the Turtle Island News (p.16) includes information on a talk by the above noted Carl Benn to the 17th Annual Grand River Conservation Authority's Heritage Day celebration.  Here, in an article entitled, War of 1812 part of Haudenosaunee '60 Years War', historian says, Benn said that, The biggest misconception I think is how complex and sophisticated the native response was.  There are still a million mysteries still.  Perhaps something of an exaggeration, but his point is on the mark, as any serious student of this era will agree is true.

Conclusion: Thus, while Mr. W. is very supportive of Six Nations, it does not appear that his reference to a lack of compensation and recognition for their contribution during the American Revolution and the War of 1812 is warranted, and thus the opinions appear to fall within the "widespread beliefs" category.  The truth is far more nuanced.

Revised - 19 February 2014.


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