The Wampum Chronicles Treaties of Contention

Land Where The Partridge Drums
A History of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation

The Building of the Stone Church and The Drawing of the Border.

by Darren Bonaparte

Following the American Revolution, the pro-British Haudenosaunee under Captain Joseph Brant and Captain John Deserontyon were granted substantial territories on the Grand River west of Lake Ontario—Mississagua territory—and at the Bay of Quinte on that lake’s northern shore, where the Peacemaker’s village, Kahanayenh, once stood. Brant’s group on the Grand River was representative of all the Six Nations, hence the name Six Nations Reserve. Brant himself ultimately chose to live at Burlington Bay where his home (modeled after the Mohawk Valley estate of his mentor, Sir William Johnson) still stands. Deserontyon’s settlement would eventually come to be known as Tyendinaga. (Surtees 1985:73-79) With their departure, the only Mohawk community remaining within the borders of the United States was Akwesasne.

Joseph Brant, who considered the Mohawks at Grand River and the Bay of Quinte the only “real” Mohawks, would eventually come into conflict with the Mohawks of Kahnawake and Akwesasne over rights to land remaining in New York. Brant held a particular animosity toward the “Caughnawagas” for their involvement with the Americans in the Revolutionary War. He was deeply suspicious of them for their historic alienation from their Haudenosaunee brothers and denied, as did American authorities at the time, that they were entitled to any of the territory held by the Mohawks in days of old.

The “Central Fire” Moves to Buffalo Creek

The Haudenosaunee who did not follow Brant and Deserontyon found themselves in a crowded state. Many of the Onondagas and Cayugas moved west to Seneca territory to get away from the steady advance of white settlers. They eventually reorganized and relocated the Confederacy wampum and “central fire” to Buffalo Creek, site of the present-day city of Buffalo. In 1784, the Cayugas, Mohawks, Onondagas, and Senecas—the “hostile” tribes—were coerced by commissioners of the Continental Congress to sign the Treaty of Fort Stanwix. Although this treaty renewed peace between the pro-British nations and the pro-American Oneidas and Tuscaroras, its main effect was a considerable loss of Seneca territory in western New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. The Grand Council refused to ratify it, but to little effect.

To the Americans, the treaties signed with the Indian groups to relinquish their lands were mere formalities. They considered these lands already theirs by right of conquest and had debts to pay off to the many soldiers who had won their war. They also found these debauched treaty councils to be an excellent way to forment further divisions within the tattered Confederacy. It was also a chance for the Americans to humiliate the Six Nations by steadfastly refusing to acknowledge the very existence of their ancient league. (Irony fans will remember that it was the Iroquois Confederacy that inspired the American states to unify in the first place!)

Bureaucrats weren’t the only parties interested in the fertile Haudenosaunee territories. New York businessmen and corrupt politicians joined forces to secure outrageous deals such as the 1787 Livingston Lease signed by native individuals without authority to do so. This private lease for vast tracts of western Haudenosaunee land would have lasted 999 years had it not been quashed by the New York State Legislature. (Wallace 1969:149-153)

A witness to events of this period Colonel Louis Cook, was living among his Oneida friends during this time. Within two years of his witnessing the signing of the Livingston Lease, he would move to Akwesasne where some of the other Kahnawake “patriots” such as Thomas Williams now lived.

Cook and his comrades, who up until this point had been content with a shadowy presence in the New York “Land Rush,” suddenly prepared to take center stage in a new set of negotiations and a new set of controversies. Herein lies one of the little- known mysteries of Mohawk history, a tale of deception and subterfuge that has slipped from the history books like a missing page. The historical record seems at fifst glance quite volumous on the “Seven Nations of Canada Treaty of 1796” described in these pages. As a researcher, I quickly exhausted that record and found myself wondering where to find more. Perhaps the colonel wanted it that way.

Next week: New York Disposes of Northern New York

By Darren Bonaparte, historian and author of  The Wampum Chronicles. Reprinted with permission.

Darren Bonaparte is a cultural historian from the Akwesasne First Nation. He is a frequent lecturer at schools, universities, museums, and historical sites in the United States and Canada. He has written four books, several articles, and the libretto for the McGill Chamber Orchestra’s Aboriginal Visions and Voices. Darren is a former chief of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne. He is the creator of The Wampum Chronicles and historical advisor to film and television. He currently serves as the Director of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe.