In Cornell’s digital copy of the original minutes, April 1723 starts here
In Library and Archives Canada digital copy of the original minutes, April 1723 starts here
On April 6th, the Onondaga diplomat Teganissorens (the commissioners spelled his name D’Canassore) came to Albany to discuss relations between the Five Nations and Virginia. He assured the Commissioners that the Five Nations would respect the peace agreement they had made with Virginia the previous fall and refrain from attacking Virginia’s native allies. By 1723, Teganissorens had had a long and successful career during which he helped to shape the relations between indigenous and colonial powers throughout the North Atlantic region. He was no longer young, and the journey from Onondaga to Albany was a lengthy one. His trip to Albany suggests that the treaty with Virginia had been called into question in a significant way.
The next entry in the Minute Book, an April 23rd letter to New York Governor Burnet, suggests that the issue was the Saponi man taken captive near Fort Christanna in Virginia by a raiding party from Kahnawake, the Mohawk community near Montreal, as described in the minutes for January and February. The commissioners told Burnet in their letter that they had still been unable to get him released. Perhaps Governor Spotswood of Virginia, who saw the Saponi captive as his own servant, had argued that keeping the prisoner violated the treaty and asked Governor Burnet to pressure the commissioners to force the Five Nations to use their influence with the Kahnawagas to have the captive returned.
Teganissorens reassured the English that the treaty remained in place, but if the captive was the issue, he either could not or would not force his return. The end of the letter finally reveals what is really going on. The captive has chosen to go to Kahnawake in Canada rather than return to his own country, and now he has been made a Sachim. The commissioners have sent orders to Kahnawaga for him to return, but they don’t expect him to do so. Apparently the captive, who remains anonymous, would rather be a chief at Kahnawake than work for Governor Spotswood.
From the Five Nations and Kahnawake point of view, he likely could be a valuable player in Iroquois negotiations with the Sapponis as well as the English. His proficiency in his own language as well as English could be an important asset. Perhaps he had even learned to read and write at Governor Spotswood’s school at Christanna, making him even more useful.
As often happened, the commissioners were caught in the middle of a delicate situation. Kahnawake and the Five Nations had the upper hand. All the commissioners could do was try to assure the English authorities that they had done everything they could to assert English sovereignty and get the captive returned. Their letter provides insights into the relations between Kahnawake and the Five Nations, as well as between the Five Nations, Albany, and the English government. As they explain, the residents of Kahnawake are part of the Five Nations. If they are treated roughly, the Five Nations will take offense. They may not react publicly, because they want to maintain good relations with Albany, where they obtain “bread & Cloathing.” But they will find “underhand” ways to injure English subjects in the “remotest part of the Government,” that is the areas distant from the centers of colonial control. The commissioners and their families frequented those areas. Without the support of the Five Nations, even Albany itself was still vulnerable to military attack and the loss of the fur trade.
The entry for Fort Christanna in the WordPress blog Native American Roots provides some interesting additional information. The fort itself was closed in 1718, but Saponi people continued to live in the area. Some of their children were “bound out” to local colonists. Perhaps this is how the captive became Governor Spotswood’s servant.