Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY

The Cornplanter (Vol 1, pg 373)

The most intelligent Indian of the Seneca nation--learned wisdom by the bitter experience taught his people; and, at the close of the Revolution, he was not only ready to bury the hatchet, but to take sides in all future troubles with the young Republic. He became the firm friend of Washington, who reciprocated his kindness; and in our trouble with the Shawnee he was, perhaps, the only war chief among Indian warriors, whose friendship for the United States was unshaken in the Indian difficulties existing from 1791 to 1794, when Gen. Wayne achieved a victory which terminated the war that had raged along the Ohio and other western waters. There seems to have been a distinction between Indian chiefs and sachems, the former having the direction of war matters, and the latter the control of the civil government. (The Cornplanter Memorial, from which I shall mainly give his character.) Hence, Brant, Red Jacket and others, accused Cornplanter of exerting too great an influence. The honest truth was that he, of all the distinguished chiefs, saw the danger to his people of any further war with the United States.

Marked friendship grew up and continued between Gen. Washington and Cornplanter, and, in 1797, the latter visited Philadelphia to pay his respects to Washington, and take farewell leave of him. This was some two years before the death of the latter. He fixed his permanent residence on the Alleghany river, within the State of Pennsylvania, where he subsequently lived and died, and where his descendants still reside.

In 1802 Cornplanter visited President Jefferson, whose friendship was no less sincere than was that of Washington, treating him kindly in their intercourse. He approved of his conduct toward the States; and assured him that, in all enterprises for the good of his people, he could count on the aid and protection of the United States. In the war of 1812, with Great Britain, although at least 66 years old, yet he offered to lead 200 warriors with our troops against the English and the Indians in their interest He was not allowed to so do, but some of his nation were with the Americans in this war, and rendered efficient service as scouts; and George Abeel, a son, led those warriors, holding a Major's commission in the service.

Rev. Timothy Alden, says of the address of Snowden, spoke of Cornplanter in 1815, as appearing to be about 68 years of age, and five feet ten inches in height. The Memorial thought he was then at least 84 years old; but the reader will see that my predication of his age, from that of his father, would make him at that period about 68. He is said to have been a fine orator, and convincing in his arguments; but few of his telling speeches were ever reported for the press. Thomas Struthers, Esq., of warren, Pa., was well acquainted with Cornplanter, and at the request of Mr. Snowden, furnished him a sketch of an interview he, with several friends, had with him in May 1831. He received them kindly and courteously, and made a speech on the occasion said the visitor, which would compare favorably with many State papers. He spoke of the former relations between the whites and the Indians, but dwelt especially upon the virtues of Gen. Washington, the great and good White Father. "He spoke as a statesman and philanthropist, whose mind was occupied with the weighty interests of mankind, rather than with merely the affairs and concerns of a family or tribe" He is said to have been constitutionally sedate, seldom indulging in a laugh of smile. In 1789, Gen. Mifflin suggested to Richard Peters, Esq., Speaker of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, that it would be good policy to give Capt. Abeel, the Cornplanter, a tract of land on the Alleghany, and the suggestion was acted upon, and he was given 1,300 acres. He was also the recipient of an annual stipend from the general government of $250 in appreciation of his services rendered the country, by keeping his own people in friendship with the United States.

The Life of Many Jemison, places the captivity of John Abeel, to Cornplanter, his son, at the invasion of the Schoharie and Mohawk Valleys by Sir John Johnson, which was in October, 1780; but he was captured the day his house was burned, which was at the invasion of Brant and Cornplanter with a large body of Indians, and Tories disguised as such, who overran the Canajoharie district in August, 1780. At the fall invasion of 1780, the firing in Stone Arabia--when Col. Brown fell--gave the inhabitants around Fort Plain timely warning, who took refuge in the fort then commanded by Col. Willet, who had a force with him to ensure its defense, and cause the Indians to give it a wide berth. The elder John Abeel, and family were no doubt in the fort on that eventful day, besides, the enemy are believed to have remained upon the north side of the river until they passed Fort Plain.

The Cornplanter Memorial published a speech of Cornplanter to the Governor of Pennsylvania in 1822, in which is following sentence: "I grew up to be a young man, and married me a wife, and had no kettle nor gun. I then knew where my father lived, and went to see him, and found he was a white man and spoke the English language. He gave me victuals while I was at his house, but when I started for home he gave me no provisions to eat on the way. He gave me neither kettle nor gun, neither did he tell me that the Untied States were about to rebel against the government of England." In the same speech he said his mother had told him that his father resided in Albany. Cornplanter must have been 11 or 12 years old when his father married and settled in the Mohawk Valley. There is no tradition here that Cornplanter was in the valley, or ever saw his father after he was a young child, until the latter became his prisoner in 1780. Mr. Abeel, his wife, died within the recollection of relatives now living; but they have no tradition from here that his Seneca son ever visited them when a young man. Nor is it believed that she was a woman who would send even an Indian guest on a long journey without food, as it would illy comport with her reputation for benevolence. The Indians have ever dealt in metaphors, tropes and familiar figures for needed sensation; and if the son really visited his father early in life--which is not credited in the Mohawk Valley--the idea that he was not then the possessor of a gun or a cap kettle is preposterous; when the British government--through Sir William Johnson--Had for year supplied young warriors of less renown, in all the Six Nations, with both articles free of cost. Cornplanter also says that his father did not tell him that the United States were going to rebel against England. Who, when he was a young man leaving his teens, could have told him that, ten or a dozen years, later, the colonies would rebel against the mother country? The presumption would seem to be, that the imagination of some white man is in this speech.

Pending the war of the Revolution, the chiefs and warriors of the Six Nations were assembled by the British commissioners at Oswego, to secure the services of the Indians against the colonies. Says the Life of Mary Jemison: "As soon as the treaty was finished, the commissioners made a present to each Indian of a suit of clothes, a brass kettle, a gun and tomahawk, a scalping knife, a quantity of powder and ball, and a piece of gold, and promised a bounty on every scalp that should be brought in." Nor was this a single instance of present: they were distributed on all occasions of assembling them. Some writes in the English interest have been trying ever since the war to wipe out this disreputable and damning bloodstain on the British escutcheon, pretending that the nefarious scalp-traffic in the Revolution did not exist; but it did exist, sanctioned by the British government, which footed the bills.

The speech of Cornplanter to Washington in 1790 is perhaps, the ablest reported speech of his life. The burden of it was that the Senecas were compelled, by the treaty of Fort Stanwix, at the close of the war, to give up so much of their land without more compensation. They said they had been deceived at the beginning of the war by the King's agents, who made them believe that the colonists could not resist British power. That, since the war, speculators were grasping their lands, etc. He said, "All the lands we have been speaking of belonged to the Six Nations, and no part of it belonged to the King of England, and he could not give it to you.

"The land we live on our fathers received from God; and they transmitted it to us for our children, and we cannot part with it.

"Father, we told you that we would open our hearts to you. Hear us once more

"At Fort Stanwix we agreed to deliver up those of our people who should do you any wrong, that you might try them and punish them according to your law. We delivered up two men accordingly, but instead of trying them according to your laws, the lowest of your people took them from your magistrate and put them immediately to death. It is just to punish murder with death; but the Senecas will not deliver up their people to men who disregard the treaties of their own nation.

"Father! Innocent men of our nation are killed one after another--and our best families; but none of your people who have committed the murders have been punished.

"We recollect that you did not promise to punish those who killed our people, and we now ask: was it intended that your people should kill the Senecas, and not only remain unpunished by you, but be protected by you against the revenge of the next of kin?

"Father! These are to us very great things. We know that you are very strong, and we have heard that you are wise, and we wait to hear your answer to what we said, that we may know that you are just."

"President Washington, in his address to Cornplanter, under date of December 29, 1790, assured him that many of the difficulties of which he complained about the sale of their lands, "arose before the United States government was established, when the separate States and individuals, under their authority, undertook to treat with the Indian tribes respecting the sale of their lands." "But," he added, "the case is now entirely altered. The general government only has power to treat with the Indian nations, and any treaty formed and held without its authority, will not be binding." Such complaints for grievance as could be, he said, should be corrected, and promised the Senecas that their sale of lands in the future would depend entirely upon themselves, the general government giving them its protection. After pledging the United States to aid the Senecas who should till their land; promising to punish bad white men who killed the Indians, if captured, as though they had killed white men; and cautioning the young Senecas to keep aloof from the Miamee Indians--who were causing trouble along the Ohio--he added this personal paragraph:

"The merits of the Cornplanter, and his friendship for the United States, are well known to me, shall not be forgotten; and, and as mark of the esteem of the United States, I have directed the Secretary of War to make him a present of two hundred and fifty dollars, either in money or goods, as the Cornplanter shall like best, and he may depend upon future continued kindness of the United States; and I have also directed the Secretary of War to make suitable presents to the chiefs present in Philadelphia; and, also, that some further tokens of friendship be forwarded to the other chiefs, now in their nation.

"Remember my words, Senecas; continue to be strong in your friendship for the United States, as the only rational ground four your future happiness, and you may rely upon their kindness and protection, etc.

"If any man brings you evil reports of the intentions of the United States, mark that man as your enemy, for he will mean to deceive you and lead you into trouble. The United States will be true and faithful to their engagements."

I have alluded to Cornplanter's last visit to President Washington in 1797, when he closed his speech as follows: "Father! I congratulate you on your intended repose from the fatigues and anxiety of mind which are constant attendants on high public stations, and hope that the same good spirit which has so long guided your steps as a father to a great nation, will still continue to protect you, and make your private reflections as pleasant to yourself as your public measures have been useful to your people."

Cornplanter's Visit to Fort Plain.

The Hon. Peter J. Wagner, a grandson on the mother's side of John Abeel, an octogenarian, well remembers a visit of Cornplanter to his relatives at Fort Plain, when he was a boy in his teens. He places the visit in the fall of about 1810. The noted chieftain then came here in his native dress of "feather and plume," on his way to Albany, attended by several other Indian chiefs, whose character or standing is not now remembered--but Cornplanter was the central star of observation. The party were first entertained at the house of Joseph Wagner, the father of informant, whose wise and half sister of the distinguished chief, who received at her hands that kind and courteous attention which his reputation justly entitled him to expect. The distinguished guests also found the fatted calf prepared for them at Nicholas Dygert's; his wife being a sister of Mrs. Wagner. Indeed, they were made to feel equally at home at Jacob Abeel's, at the homestead--his father, John Abeel, having then been dead more than a dozen years: but his widow was living with her son, and exerted herself to make her home one of comfort and hospitality for the red men. These guests were here several days, and Cornplanter was so handsomely treated by his kinsfolk, that he must have carried home a grateful recollection of his visit. He was then judged nearly six feet high and well proportioned. He appeared in attire and ornament as the representative man of his nation, and well did he sustain the role of his national reputation. Many people in this vicinity then saw the celebrated Cornplanter, who never gave his white relatives cause to blush for any known act of his life; and his visit has ever been treasured as a bright spot on the memory of his friends.

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