Connecting past with present: Schaghticoke, Governor Edmund Andros, and Governor Andrew Cuomo

A few days ago, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wrote a letter affirming the safety of those who fear being targeted by the incoming Republican administration.

His reassurance that New York is a safe place brings to mind a much earlier Governor, Sir Edmund Andros,

Sir Edmund Andros,  RI State House Creator:Frederick Stone Batcheller (1837-1889. Image from Wikipedia.
Sir Edmund Andros. Rhode Island State House collection. Creator:Frederick Stone Batcheller (1837-1889. Image from Wikipedia.

who worked with the Albany Indian Commissioners, the Haudenosaunee, and the Mohicans to make New York a safe haven for the native peoples who were targeted by governments in New England following Metacomet (King Philip)’s War (1675-1678). During Metacomet’s War, casualties on both sides were high, but they were far higher for the native peoples of New England.  Thousands were  displaced from their lands, even those who had remained at peace. Many were sold into slavery in the West Indies by the governments of Boston and Connecticut. Andros worked with the Mohawks and Mohicans to prevent Metacomet from using New York as a military base, but once peace was achieved, he showed no desire to take revenge on native people or exploit the situation to acquire or sell slaves. On December 5, 1679, New York’s Council adopted a resolution declaring that Indians in New York could not be held as slaves. (Documents Relative to the Colonial History of New York, v. 13, p.537-538). Connecticut asked Andros to return Indians who had fled from there in order to punish them, but Andros refused (Trelease, Allen W., Indian Affairs in Colonial New York: the Seventeenth Century,. Ithaca: Cornell, 1960, 235; DRCHNY 13:496-497).

Mohawks, Mohicans, Dutch, and English worked together to invite the refugees to settle on Mohican land at Schaghticoke, New York, where the Hoosick River meets the Hudson.The photograph at the top of this page shows the remains of a very old white oak tree at Schaghticoke on the Knickerbacker Mansion historic site, the home of Dutch trader and translator Johannes Knickerbacker. Local tradition asserts that Governor Andros planted this “council tree” in 1676 to represent protection and refuge. The records of the Albany Indian Commissioners show that the Schaghticoke Indians repeatedly thanked successive British governors for inviting them to take shelter under the “Tree of Welfare” planted at Schaghticoke, and asked for assurances that they could remain secure there. Governor after Governor assured them that they could live there in peace.  In many of these meetings it is clear that Schaghticoke leaders and British governors used the Tree of Welfare as a metaphor rather than referring to a physical tree, but the physical tree came at some point to represent Andros’s policy, even if he did not actually plant it. The town of Schaghticoke still remembers this history.

Unfortunately, the Albany Indian Commissioners began to lease land at Schaghticoke to Dutch settlers, starting in 1707. Although they continued to invite Indians to come there, they also continued to lease out more of the land, and the Tree of Welfare policy gradually fell apart. The last Schaghticoke Indians left the area in 1754 during a raid by the French (Shirley Dunn, The Mohicans and their Land, 1609-1730. Fleischmann’s, NY: Purple Mountain Press, 1994, p. 162.) Many settled at the French mission town at Odanak, now an Abenaki First Nations community.

Even though the Tree of Welfare eventually succumbed to colonialism, at least Schaghticoke provided a sanctuary for three quarters of a century to people who needed one. May Governor Cuomo’s policy last even longer.

1633 June 8: Agreement for a Trading House on the Connecticut River (Pre-Minute Books documents)

vancurler_sickenames-drchny2-139The records that were bound together in the mid 18th century and labelled as “Minute Books” of the Albany Indian Commissioners had earlier precedents that were not included in those compilations. I am going to post copies of as many of these as I can find in order to look at how the Albany Indian Commissioners, and the diplomatic protocols they followed, evolved out of both European and Native American traditions.

Here is one of the earliest, an agreement made on June 8, 1633, between Jacob Van Curler, Commissary for the Dutch West India Company, and  Tattoepan, the chief of Sickenames, on the Connecticut River at what is now Hartford. Although framed by the Dutch as the purchase of a piece of land, this agreement contains the condition that the native owners will live there with the Dutch. The purpose of the agreement is clearly to allow the Dutch to build a “trading-house” that can be used by “all tribes of Indians,” even those in conflict with each other. The Dutch proceeded to construct a fort called Huys de Hoop . Sadly, the intent to keep things peaceful did not last and the trading house was soon caught up in the violence of Dutch-English-Pequot quarrels.

Source: E.B. O’Callaghan (ed.). Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, Albany: Weed, Parsons, 1853. You can download it from the Internet Archive here.