The purpose of this website is 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. The name of the group as well as the number of commissioners varied slightly over time. Its members were appointed by the governor of New York, chosen mainly from prominent Dutch traders living in Albany. The site evolved from my desire to look at the records and my discovery that it was hard to do so without first transcribing them. As I began to do that, I realized that they form a coherent whole, an overall picture full of information that is not available anywhere else. I also came to realize that much of the material has not been used by researchers and writers about the history of the period, probably because of the challenges involved in accessing and working with it. I became drawn ever deeper into transcribing, and decided to share the work as it continues to evolve.
Someday this entire collection 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.
How to Use the Website
You can download complete transcripts from the menu in the black bar at the top of each page. The transcripts for complete volumes follow the original order, while those for individual years and for the “Schedule of Propositions” are in chronological order. For the first few years, you can also read summaries with links to the original images, starting here.
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. The transcription of these notes was the first one I completed. It can be accessed here.
LAC also retains the originals of the final two volumes and a large collection of related material from the second half of the 18th century, when the British dissolved the Commissioners of Indian Affairs and created a more centralized system, placing the northern colonies under Sir William Johnson. My transcription of the third volume, which covers 1723 through a portion 1732 with a couple of entries from 1733 can be accessed here. Portions of it are significantly out of order, with a lot of duplicate copies mixed together. I have put the pieces together chronologically year by year, beginning with 1723. Click on a year in the menu at the top of the page to get the chronological text. I am also adding summaries month by month as blog posts, starting with January 1723.
Library and Archives Canada has made digital images 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.
The digital versions at LAC and Cornell consist of thousands of images of manuscript pages. There is no index and no way to search the text. Parts of this website include summaries, commentaries, and tags that make the transcribed portions of the records easier to navigate and understand, with links to the images of the originals.
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. 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 maintaining his own appointments to the positions of Secretary of Indian Affairs and City Recorder of Albany against challenges by local Dutch residents of Albany, so he included vicious criticisms of the Dutch. A comparison of the Abridgement and the full records strongly 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: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt80t7r
For an analysis of the Indian Commissioners’ role in the context of 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 were heavily influenced by the Haudeenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy and other native nations as well as by European traditions. For example they combined the use of records written on paper with the use of wampum and calumets. 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 material reveals 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.
Most of the photographs are of the Albany area in the 21st century. Unless otherwise labeled, they were taken by me.
Tips for using the site:
Click on the category “transcriptions” on the right side of this page to get the full transcriptions posted so far. Click on a year to see summaries and discussions related to that year. Transcription texts are also available by clicking the links in the banner at the top of the page.
The site will keep evolving as more is added. Occasionally I may revise transcripts if I find and correct mistakes or add new references to the annotations. When that happens, I will notify readers in a blog post.
THANKS FOR VISITING. COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS ARE WELCOME!!
The commissioners generally met in Albany’s City Hall or Stadt Huys. The building in the picture replaced a similar smaller structure in about 1741. Image is from Joel Munsell’s Annals of Albany, Albany: Munsell, 1853, v.4, p. 323