Minute Book 3: 1728 – August: Laurence Claessen is Sent to Invite the Six Nations to a Conference With Governor Montgomerie

The entries for August 1728 document that the new governor of New York and New Jersey, John Montgomerie, asked the Commissioners of Indians Affairs to send Laurence Claessen to Iroquoia to invite the Six Nations to a meeting with Governor Montgomery by going “from Nation to Nation in the Manner usual.”  They gave the orders to Claessen and informed the governor that they had done so.

This is as good a place as any to insert these paintings of Claessen and his son that now hang on the walls of the Schenectady County Historical Society. They remind us that every time Claessen was sent on a mission like this, he left a family behind.  Or perhaps the boy in the picture came with him sometimes.

Laurence Claessen Van der Volgen
Laurence Claessen. Attributed to Nehemiah Partridge. Held at the Schenectady Historical Society, 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady, NY 12305 and used with their permission. They give the date as 1725.
Version 2
The child in this painting by John Heaton, made in the early 1700s, is thought to be Laurence Claessen’s son. The painting now hangs at the Schenectady County Historical Society.

In Library and Archives Canada’s digital copy of the original minutes, the entry for May starts here on p. 259.

Minute Book 3: 1728-May through July: A Doctor is Sent to Oswego

There are no entries for April or June 1728.  During this time New York’s governor William Burnet was replaced by Colonel John Montgomerie, who arrived in New York on April 15th.  Burnet did not leave for his new position as governor of Massachusetts and New Hampshire until July.  Many of the records preceding July 1728 are numbered in a way that suggests they are copies rather than originals, leading me to suspect that at some point the new governor had things copied and they got out of order in the process, perhaps leading to the loss of some materials.

The sole entry for May, a copy of a letter from the Commissioners of Indian Affairs to the governor, does not say which governor was being addressed, but the wording suggests that it was Colonel Montgomerie. The commissioners thanked him for acknowledging the importance of security on New York’s frontier and tried to convince him that they needed financial support to guarantee that security since their affairs were conducted on credit.

The letter shows that troops at Oswego were still becoming ill. It is unclear what disease was affecting them or whether it was the same thing that made people sick the year before.   The governor asked the commissioners to find a doctor to address the problem and in their letter of May 13th they said they had agreed with Charles Kerr, “a fitt person” “who understands Bleeding and Phisick,” to go to Oswego for a year in exchange for sixty pounds to be paid on his return. They planned to provide him with “wine Rum & sugar for the use of the sick men.” The governor approved their choice and on July 19th he received his orders to go to Oswego as “chirugeon.”

In Library and Archives Canada’s digital copy of the original minutes, the entry for May starts here on p. 216.

Minute Book 3: 1728-March: Mohawk Leaders Ask About Missing Kahnawake Hunters and Bring News of French Plans to Attack Oswego; The Six Nations Complain About Insults and High Prices at Oswego; The Garrison Needs Food

News from Mohawk Country

The Mohawk leaders Hendrick and Seth met with the Commissioners of Indian Affairs on March third. They said that two “Onnogonque indians” who had moved from Canada to live with the Haudenosaunee at Oriskany had come to a Mohawk castle (i.e. town) from hunting at the little falls on Wood Creek with other Canada Indians.  Two Kahnawake Indians had inquired about the three hunters from Kahnawake who had disappeared on the New England frontier.  Hendrick and Seth asked their “brethren at Albany” for news about the missing hunters, but the commissioners’ response is not recorded.

Hendrick and Seth also said that the Kahnawake Indians told the Mohawks that an army of a thousand Frenchmen were marching on Oswego.  The Mohawks immediately sent a messenger with wampum to inform the rest of the Six Nations.  They acknowledged the English advice to the Six Nations the previous summer urging them to keep their men at home to defend Oswego rather than allowing them to go to war elsewhere.

The English Won’t Let Indians Inside Fort Oswego and Powder is Too Expensive

On March 14th, an unnamed leader from Oneida complained to the commissioners about the situation at Oswego. He spoke in the name of the entire Six Nations. There may have been other Six Nations representatives present, since the commissioners responded using the term “Brethren.”

The speaker began by reminding the commissioners that the Six Nations had agreed to the trading house at Oswego because it was supposed to be for their benefit as well as that of the English.  Now the English at Oswego were preventing people from the Six Nations from coming into the house to warm themselves, or if “any one Obtains that liberty before he can be half warm he is out Doors.” Moreover the Six Nations had expected goods to become cheaper, but instead powder had become more expensive. The speaker pointed out that cheap goods would draw “waganhoes & far Indians” to trade with the English rather than the French. He also reprimanded the commissioners because Oswego was supposed to be “a house of peace” but the English were still at odds with the Governor of Canada much of the time. He presented seven hands of wampum and asked again for cheaper powder and lead as well as a quick response.

The commissioners said they were sorry that the new building was not providing “Such releave as was first Intended by our Gov.r” in the form of cheap power, lead, and other goods.  They said the men at Oswego had not brought enough powder and that they would tell the governor and obtain a “Speedy & Acceptable answer.” They assured the speaker that the governor wanted to provide cheap goods to encourage trade. The rest of their response contains some contradictions and it would be interesting to know what the Oneida speaker thought about them, but nothing is recorded about it. The commissioners blamed the rude reception for Indians at the Oswego trade house on the commander there and on the report that the French were threatening to attack it. At the same time they insisted that there was a “firm peace” between the crowns of France and England.  Despite the firm peace, they cautioned the Six Nations against joining the French war against the “foxes a Nation of Indians Liveing on a breach [branch] of the Mississippi” on the grounds that the French wanted the Six Nations to fight the Fox in order to weaken the Six Nations and prevent trade with the English.

The French were fighting a devastating war with the Fox  (Meskwaki) during this period. Apparently some of the Meskwaki had joined the Six Nations, since the commissioners added that “part of the Same indians are now liveing among you” so the Six Nations should be able to make peace with the rest.

Food, Arms, and Powder for Oswego

Several entries in March deal once again with getting supplies to the garrison at Oswego, which was running low on peas and wheat. One of the commissioners, Philip Livingston, put up the money to provide these goods, which required repairing batoes at Schenectady, fitting them with tarpaulins to keep off the rain, and hiring four men to convey them to the Oneida Carrying Place. Captain Nicolls, the commander at Oswego, would send his men to the carrying place and take the supplies the rest of the way to the fort.  Another commissioner, Harmanus Wendell, put up the money to pay Jacobus Peek for a batoe load of peas.

"Poling a Batteau," as depicted by an unknown artist, probably in the 1880s.
“Poling A Batteau,” from p. 423 of A History of the Schenectady Patent in the Dutch and English Times, by Jonathan Pearson. Albany: Munsell, 1883. Artist and date unknown.                           Much of the food for the Oswego garrison was sent there from Schenectady by batteau. According to Pearson, batteaus could be either paddled, poled, or towed by workers walking along the riverbank or through the shallows.

Governor Burnet informed the commissioners that he was sending pork for the garrison as well as orders that anyone who wanted a license to go there should be required to carry arms and powder.  A somewhat confused entry in the records appears to say that the commissioners asked the interpreter at Schenechtady to hire a “trusty Indian” to take a letter to Oswego to convey orders from Colonel Rensselaer (possibly Hendrick Van Rensselaer, who was also a commissioner) to Captain Nicolls that men going to Oswego should take arms and ammunition with them.

In Library and Archives Canada’s digital copy of the original minutes, the first entry for March starts here on p. 213.

There are no entries for April 1728.

Minute Book 3: 1728-February: Families from Kahnawake Still Plan to Settle at “Saratoque;” Glen and Claessen’s Report; Kahnawake Hunters Are Missing in New England

Plans Continue for a New Mohawk Settlement on the Upper Hudson

On February 6th, Sconondo (here spelled “Schonondo) asked the Commissioners of Indian Affairs for supplies for the new community he was starting near what the commissioners called “Saragtoque,” as he had proposed a few months earlier.  He planned to settle there (the commissioners use the word “settle”) with his family and 60 people including women and children. The commissioners said they would have land suitable for planting somewhere between “still water & Saragtoque” and that they would provide pork and Indian corn when the group arrived.  They gave Sconondo gifts including powder, shot, rum, corn and clothing for him and his son.

“Saragtoque” was the name used at this time for what is now called Schuylerville on the west side of the Hudson, as well as the name of a large tract on both sides patented by a group of Albany traders in 1685. The land between Schuylerville and Stillwater is rich, flat, and very suitable for planting. It is also strategically located in terms of trade and defense across from the Battenkill and Hoosick Rivers which flow into the Hudson from the east and which lead to the Connecticut Valley. The area is also on the route from Albany to Montreal by way of Lake Champlain.

IMG_0084
Lock 4 Canal Park near Stillwater NY in August 2015.

Laurence Claessen and Jacob Glen Encounter a Stalemate at Onondaga

Claessen and Glen travelled to Onondaga between January third and February second. They submitted a journal in Dutch describing their trip. The commissioners summarized it in a letter to the governor. Despite their promises the previous summer, the Onondagas were reluctant to openly oppose the “French Indians” over Oswego. The commissioners’ letter reveals that the Palatine settlers were attempting to raise food for the garrison at Oswego, but that the governor was still supplying additional provisions directly as needed. They asked him to send some pork for the garrison “by the Return of our first Sloops.” The letter also says that Captain Holland planned to write to Captain Nicolls at Oswego, telling Nicolls to order Printhop, the smith stationed at Oswego, to go to Onondaga.  The commissioners planned to send steel to the Palatine Country from whence the Indians would take it to Onondaga.

Is New England Safe for Kahnawake Hunters?

Leaders at Kahnawake sent two messengers to Albany named Catistagie and Cahowage to ask the commissioners for help.  Several months earlier four Indians were hunting near Northfield. Three of them, a man named Sanagarissa and his two sons, went to buy powder from the English and did not come back. Their companion returned to Kahnawake afraid that Sanagarissa and his sons had come to some harm.  By a string of wampum the messengers asked the commissioners to find out whathappened. Other hunters at Kahnawake were waiting for the news before going out to hunt.

The commissioners told Catistagie and Cahowage that they had heard nothing about the missing hunters. They promised to send someone to New England to look into the matter. They tried to reassure them that “our brethren in New England” would not have hurt the missing hunters. At the messengers’ request, they reimbursed the men who had brought them in a sled.

[There are no entries for January 1728.]  In Library and Archives Canada’s digital copy of the original minutes, the first entry for February starts here on p. 211.