I created this website in order to share my transcriptions of the records of the Commissioners of the Indian Affairs at Albany, the body that managed relations with Indigenous nations for the colony of New York until 1755, with occasional gaps.
Someday this entire body of records should be transcribed, edited, annotated, indexed, and made available both in print and digitally to scholars everywhere. This website is not a substitute for that work. Rather it is a gateway to inform people about the resource and support its use. Hopefully the website will encourage the creation of a full scholarly version at some point in the future. For more about the records and the website, here are the slides from my talk about them at the 2018 and 2019 Conferences on Iroquois Research:
How to Use the Website
You can download complete transcripts in original order and also in chronological order by clicking the links in the menu. I have written blog posts containing month by month summaries from 1723 to the beginning of 1729, starting here. You can look at the all the summaries for a given year by clicking on that year in the Blog Post Categories dropdown menu. You can look at summaries relating to a person, group, place, or topic, by clicking on the appropriate tag under Blog Post Topics
The commissioners’ records include detailed notes of meetings as well as copies of correspondence, instructions, accounts, and miscellany. They were bound into four volumes in the middle of the 18th century. During the American Revolution they were carried to Canada, where they were maintained by the British Indian Department and eventually transfered to Library and Archives Canada. At some point the first two volumes, which covered 1677 through 1722, were lost. Library and Archives Canada retains a collection of notes taken from these volumes which became known as the Schedule of propositions made by the Indians and answers given to them 1677-1714. To see the slides from my 2016 presentation about these notes, click here:
LAC retains the originals of the final two “Minute Books,” which cover the period from 1723-1748. They are made up of three parts because part of the second volume ended up separate from the rest. LAC also holds copies of the records from the final three years of the Commissioners of Indian Affairs records (1753-1755), which are part of a separate collection of papers related to the Superintendant of Indian Affairs.
LAC has made digital images of these materials available through Heritage Canada , with a finding aid here. Digital images are also available at Cornell’s online collection: The Records of the Albany Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1678-1755: An Integrated Digital Database . I will take this opportunity to thank the staff at Library and Archives Canada, Professor Jon Parmenter at Cornell University, and the staff at Cornell University Library for their help in providing information about the collection. I am especially grateful to Cornell for sharing high resolution versions that make some of the images easier to decipher.
Some of the materials, including many of the longer conferences with New York governors, are printed in E.B. O’Callaghan’s Documents Relative to the Colonial History of New York, and other sources. For the most part I did not transcribe materials that are printed elsewhere, including references to them instead.
In the mid eighteenth century, an English government official named Peter Wraxall wrote an Abridgement of the records that is useful but biased. As explained in Charles MacIlwaine’s introduction to the printed version, Wraxall wrote it with the goal of promoting William Johnson’s displacement of the Commissioners, so he included vicious criticisms of the Dutch. A comparison of the Abridgement and the full records suggests that he also privileged British imperial agendas in his selection and description of events.
The Commissioners of Indian Affairs at Albany
In the Dutch colony of New Netherland, relations with indigenous nations north of the lower Hudson were entrusted to traders and members of the courts of Beverwyck, Fort Orange, Rensselaerswyck, and Schenectady. After New Netherland became New York these relations continued to be key to the survival of the colony. New York’s English governors relied on the same Dutch officials to maintain them. Beginning in 1677 the Indian Commissioners were established as a body separate from the local governments in the area, but membership continued to overlap substantially. Robert Livingston, appointed as Secretary for Indian Affairs in 1677 by Governor Edmund Andros, was also the clerk for Albany and Rensselaerswyck. He continued to hold these and other offices well into the 18th century, eventually passing his Indian Affairs position on to others in his family.
For a short introduction to the Albany Indian Commissioners (who have been called by a few variations of that name), see the New York State Museum webpage about them, as well as their Wikipedia entry .
For a more in depth discussion, see the article by Jon Parmenter, “Onenwahatirighsi Sa Gentho Skaghnughtudigh”: Reassessing Haudenosaunee Relations with the Albany Commissioners of Indian Affairs, 1723–1755 in Nancy L. Rhoden (ed.), English Atlantics Revisited: Essays Honouring Ian K. Steele, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007 (pp. 235-283). If you have access to JStor, you can access this book here. Dr. Parmenter’s thesis, At the Wood’s Edge: Iroquois Foreign Relations, 1727-1768, U. Mich. 1999, integrates the Indian Commissioners’ records with other sources to provide a deeper picture of the Iroquois during the time period covered by the records. David L. Preston’s The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquoia, 1667-1783, is another invaluable source that makes extensive use of the Commissioners’ records. For an analysis of the Indian Commissioners’ role in the broader international picture, see Andrew Thomas Stahlhut’s recent thesis, Creating Borderlands Authorities: The Albany Commissioners for Indian Affairs and the Iroquois Nations, 1691-1755 .
Significance of the Material
Although they are out of order in places, these records form a coherent sequence of material that reflects the way that relations between First Nations and Europeans evolved over time. Much of the material is not available anywhere else. The commissioners played a key role in diplomatic relations between many different native peoples and other British colonies in addition to New York. They evolved from the relationship between Albany, the Kaniengeha’ka (Mohawks), who were the closest member of the Six Nations to Albany, and the Mohicans, who were the original inhabitants of Albany itself. Soon they expanded to center on the Six Nations (Haudenosaunee) as a whole and to include other native peoples in the vicinity of Albany. As trade, warfare, and diplomacy steadily evolved, Albany’s relations came to extend even farther, building on the Six Nations’ own expansion and encompassing peoples as far away as the Carolinas, the Mississippi Valley, and the Great Lakes, as well as French Canada and most of the other English colonies. Thus these records provide unique insights into the history and cultures of many diverse peoples living in North America during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
The diplomatic protocols followed by the commissioners combined the traditional practices of the Haudeenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy and other Native nations with European traditions. For example the Commissioners routinely condoled the deaths of Indigenous leaders and used wampum and calumets, while also maintaining written records of their proceedings. These protocols evolved from the earliest relations between the Dutch traders and farmers of the upper Hudson and the indigenous nations that surrounded them, including the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, and the villages of the Mohican, Munsee, Abenaki, and related peoples. The records show how diplomacy was conducted locally on an everyday level as well as during the formal treaty conferences that have received more attention from historians.
Finally the records reveal details about life in Albany and surrounding Anglo-Dutch communities during this period, details that don’t show up in the records of the Albany Common Council or British authorities.
I have included a few photographs of places relevant to the text, taken by me within the last few years. Other images include excerpts from the original text and a few others from texts that are out of copyright, as labeled.
WordPress is a lot more stable than Facebook, for example, but it does evolve, and it has discontinued the theme that I used to set the site up originally. I have switched to another theme and readers who have been here before will notice that things have changed quite a bit. I have reformatted many of the older posts, rewritten a few, and deleted those that were dated in order to make the site easier to navigate.
THANKS FOR VISITING. COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS ARE WELCOME!!