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The Mohawk Indians — The Iroquois — Extent of Country — Confederation — Probable Period when it took Place — Not a Perfect Union — Popular Aspect of the System — Presiding Officer in General Council — War Chief— Tuscaroras — Territory Claimed by the Mohawks — St. Regis Colony — Indians Treated as Owners of the Soil— The Hostility of the Mohawks to the French — Friendship to the English —Sir William Johnson's Influence — They Join the English and Abandon their Country — The Oneidas— Bravery and Cruelty of the Mohawks — Upper Castle in Danube — Fighting Men in 1677 — Same in 1763 — Hereditary Descent in Female Line — Council of Nations — Marriage — Wife's Right of Property — Witchcraft — Hendrik — Little Abraham — Garangula.
The aboriginal inhabitants of the territory whose history is intended to be delineated in the subsequent pages of this work, were the Maquaes, or Mohawk Indians, one of the five confederated tribes or cantons of the Konoshioni or Iroquois, found in that part of the state extending from Albany north to lake Champlain and the river St. Lawrence, south-westerly to the head waters of the Susquehanna and Delaware rivers, and westerly to lakes Ontario and Erie, and even to the valley of the Ohio, when the Dutch made their appearance on the waters of the Hudson, in 1609.
The period when this confederacy was formed is quite as much involved in the mists of tradition as any other remote event of Indian origin. Some fix the epoch a short time prior to the occupation by the Dutch, while others extend it back to A. D. 1414. This confederation seems to have been established for the common purposes of defense and offense in war. It was not a perfect union whereby each tribe or canton surrendered to the council any portion of the internal policy of the tribe. Each was perfectly independent of all control by the other members of the confederacy, except when the united cantons in council had resolved unanimously to go upon the war path, and even then, that question had to be referred to the warriors of each tribe assembled in council, where also a unanimous decision was required. Thus every resolve carried with it the full popular will, and hence the success which always attended the war parties of the Iroquois against the other American tribes. Each tribe was governed by its own civil and war chiefs. In the general council of the confederacy, the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas and Cayugas were each represented by one delegate, and the Senecas by two, the latter being much more numerous than either of the other tribes. The presiding officer in this congress of ambassadors was always assigned to the Onondagas, and the principal war chief was taken from the Mohawks.
The Tuscaroras, who were always admitted as off-shoots of the New York Iroquois tribes, retired from North Carolina in 1714, after being severely chastised by the whites and a party of southern Indians, for several cruel massacres, and joined the Five Nations, and thereafter became one of the members of the confederacy. The Oneidas assigned lands to them within their cantonal limits. Each tribe claimed dominion over territory having general boundaries, and that of the Mohawks embraced all that part of the state included within a line running from the Hudson river to the head waters of the Susquehanna and Delaware, and extending thence to the St. Lawrence near Ogdensburgh, and embracing all the lands between Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence, as well as those about Lake George. Their northern limits were not fixed in 1771, and they probably claimed as hunting grounds all the lands between the St. Lawrence and St. John's rivers to Montreal. This probability is much strengthened by the fact that an off-shoot of the Mohawks, the St. Regis colony, was seated on the south side of the St. Lawrence as early as 1650, or about that period.
The Dutch and English colonial governments, although they treated the Indians within their respective jurisdictions as subjects, would not make any grants of the ultimate fee until the Indian titles had been extinguished by purchase. The Mohawks were always on terms of amity with the English, but exercised the most bitter hostility against the French in Canada and their Indian allies, even when France and England were at peace. Sir William Johnson's influence over these people was unbounded, and at his death they transferred all their deep-seated savage affections to his family.
Under the influence of the Johnson family, they early attached themselves to the royal cause in the revolutionary war, emigrated to Canada, and but few, if any, ever returned. The Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas, were also hostile to the colonists during the whole period of the war. The Oneidas promised to remain neutral, but towards its close, they with some of the Tuscaroras joined the American forces, and performed good service in punishing marauding parties of the enemy. In the preliminary articles and definitive treaty signed at Paris, Great Britain abandoned their sable allies, except those who emigrated to Canada, to the mercy of the Americans.
The Oneidas were driven from their towns by the enemy for their attachment to the cause of the colonists, and were compelled to seek a home for their old men, women and children, near Schenectady.
The Mohawks distinguished themselves on many occasions by acts of bravery and devotion, so striking and peculiar as to elicit from those whom they served, the highest commendations, while their deeds of cruelty in war have been long remembered and deeply execrated by those who were so unfortunate as to be numbered among their enemies.
The Upper Mohawks' castle was erected in the present town of Danube, on a beautiful flat east of the Nowadaga creek, and here a mission was established and a small church built for them before the revolution. The spot on which the first church was erected, has always been consecrated to pious uses, and a small church is now standing on the site of the old mission building, called in the language of the inhabitants of the country the Indian Castle Church. The principal Christian mission establishment of this tribe was at Fort Hunter, near Amsterdam, in Montgomery county.
Wentworth Greenhalgh, in 1677, describes the Maquaes or Mohawks, as possessing four towns, besides one small village one hundred and ten miles west of Albany, and that they had in all about three hundred fighting men.
Sir William Johnson, in 1763, states there were one hundred and sixty men of the Mohawks, that they had two villages on the river which bore that name, and a few emigrants at Schoharie, about sixteen miles from Fort Hunter.
An extended notice of these people is not designed, but it will not be out of place to present a few of their peculiarities. Hereditary descent was confined to the female line, and thus the son of a chief's daughter would inherit a chieftainship to the exclusion of his uncle, and a chief's brother would succeed him, and not his male children, provided there were no descendants through the female line.
Another peculiarity marked these people. The matrons of the tribe, in council, could always propose a cessation of hostilities, and this could be done without compromising the warriors and chiefs. For this purpose a male functionary, the messenger of the matrons, who was a good speaker, was designated to perform an office which was deemed unsuitable to the female. When the proposition to drop the war club was resolved upon, the message was delivered to this officer, and he was bound to enforce it with all the powers of eloquence he possessed.
Marriage among the Iroquois was a mere personal agreement between the parties, requiring no particular sanction and in no respect affected the rights of property, if the wife had any. Whatever goods, effects or valuables of any kind the wife had before marriage, she continued to hold absolutely, and if a separation took place, the wife was entitled to take with her all her property.
These people, like all others in the rude and savage state, were sturdy believers in witchcraft. Their ancient religious system or mode of worship no doubt contributed to strengthen this belief. The worship of a good and an evil spirit, must of necessity have produced such results; and dreams were considered the revelation of inspiration too sacred to be neglected or disregarded, and hence the effects of this belief upon the prosperity and population of these tribes must have been, at times, most disastrous.
This is a brief and by no means a perfect outline of the characteristics of a people who occupied the Mohawk valley when first visited by the Europeans.
After the death of Hendrik, the celebrated Mohawk chief, Little Abraham, his brother, became by the laws of the tribe the war chief of this branch of the Iroquois confederacy, and consequently was the leader of the confederate forces, when upon the war path, unless degraded in accordance with Indian usages. I shall in a subsequent part of this work again allude to Little Abraham's situation, and give the reasons why he was probably superseded as the war chief of the Six Nations, at the commencement of the revolutionary war through the influence of British officials.*
* I can not forbear to give, in this place, a speech delivered by Garangula, an Onondaga chief, in the presence of De La Barre, the governor of Canada, in 1684. He speaks as the representative of the five confederate tribes, and no doubt in accordance with the usages of these people, which conferred on the chief of his tribe the office of enunciating or declaring the sentiments and wishes of the general council of the cantons.
This speech is found in Colden's History of the Five Nations, and the historian may not have done any injustice to the native orator—at any rate the point and sarcasm of the language, spoken in the slow and measured cadence of Indian oratory, must have touched his auditor to the quick, and can not but interest the general reader. It shows a noble specimen of native independ