Land Where The Partridge Drums
A History of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation
In the Shadow of Serpents:
Trials and Tribulations of the Early 1800’s
The Rise of the Chief Warriors
Written and illustrated by Darren Bonaparte
It wasn’t long before Loren Tarbell, the surviving trustee, appointed two old life chiefs, Peter Tarbell and Jacob Francis, to fill the vacancies left by Cook and Gray. New York passed an act in 1818 recognizing these appointments. In a treaty meeting with the Governor of New York in 1824, a group calling themselves the “chief warriors of the tribe of American St. Regis Indians” petitioned New York to appoint Thomas Williams, Lewis Doublehouse, Mitchell Cook, and Peter Tarbell as trustees. These men, along with later appointees Charles Cook, Thomas Tarbell, Louis Tarbell, Battice Tarbell, Jarvis Williams, and William L. Gray (the son of the deceased William Gray) were signatories to a series of land sales that further diminished Akwesasne territory.
Before the War of 1812, annuities from the Seven Nations of Canada Treaty of 1796 were dispersed to residents of both Akwesasne and Kahnawake, but when it was over only “American” Mohawks at Akwesasne received payment. British authorities stopped paying rental annuities to the Mohawks who had supported the United States or remained neutral during the conflict. They refused to allow anyone but “British” Mohawks to settle north of the border. The violence that erupted between these factions prompted some of the “Loyalist” Mohawks to evacuate their homes in St. Regis and settle on islands closest to the British garrison in Cornwall. When they finally returned to their former properties around 1822, they were constantly harrassed and treated with “every possible mark of obloquy and Scorn” by their patriotic American neighbors. Some of their properties had been destroyed, others hacl been completely taken over by pro-Americans, who added insult to injury by parading American flag and saluting the stars and stripes with the firing of a cannon procured in Fort Covington. This conflict prevented the chiefs from collecting rent for previous land leases to white settlers. (NAC RG10 v. 625 pp. 182, 238-182, 555)
In an effort to firmly establish their independence from any obligation to the British Crown, the American-based “Chief Warriors” submitted a signed document dated May 31,1824 to the governor of New York that read as follows:
“Know all whom it may concern, that we, whose names are hereto annexed, do solemnly declare ourselves, to belong to the American Tribe of St. Regis Indians, that we owe no fealty to the British government, nor receive any annuities or benefits from the same; that we are friendly to the United States during the late war, and have continued to be so since, and that it is our fixed determination, to establish and continue our residence within the limits of the said United States, the protection and countenance, and especially of the state of New York, we hereby claim for said tribe. In witness of all which we have hereto caused our names and seals to be affixed this 31st day of May, in the year 1824, within our reservation lands, in the state of New York, done in duplicate one copy to be kept by our chiefs, and one copy to be delivered to the governor of the state of New York.”
This document was signed by sixty natives, probably family members of the “Chief Warriors.” With legal recognition from the state of New York, this faction of Akwesasne Mohawks were then in a position to sell 840 acres of land south of the village of Hogansburg, which they promptly did. In time the mile square in Massena, and the meadows leading to it, were also sold off by this group. (The mile square in Fort Covington had been sold off by the Trustees in 1816.)
Relations between Akwesasne and Kahnawake were strained by these new land sales and by the refusal of American authorities to pay anyone but the American Mohawks the annuities of the Seven Nations of Canada Treaty of 1796. Payment was enventually resumed, but only after considerable lobbying by the Kahnawake Mohawks and their allies on the Canadian side of Akwesasne. The legal wrangling over the annuities marks a low point in the history of the Seven Nations Confederacy. It also marked the emergence of a new political entity on the Haudenosaunee stage: the American Tribe of St. Regis Indians, an entity which survives to this day, albeit under a different name.
Initial research in this era suggests that the life chief council at Akwesasne was just as split by the international border as the rest of the community. The Tarbell family had been dominant in Akwesasne politics since the start of the mission in the 1750’s; this prominence continued on the American side well into modern times. In time the Canadian faction would raise up new life chiefs to take the place of the breakaway Americans. This Canada-based Council of Life Chiefs would derive its authority from tradition, but it held no real membership in any confederation or league and very little is known about it today.
Next week: A Mohawk Meets the Pope
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.