A Conference With Kahnawake, Schawenadie, the Kaniengeha’ka, and Albany
On March 13 the commissioners met with five leaders from Kahnawake (spelled Cachnawage in the records) and Kahnawake’s ally Schawenadie, in this case spelled Scanrinadie. (My best guess is that Schawenadie is the Iroquois name for the community that gradually relocated in the early 18th century from the Island of Montreal to Lac des Deux Montagnes on the Ottawa River nearby, becoming known as Kanesetake.) Some Kaniengeha’ka (Mohawk) leaders were also present. The record of this conference is a good example of the ongoing diplomacy between Iroquois communities in the Saint Lawrence Valley, the Six Nations, New France, and Albany that was conducted outside the initiatives of English governors. It also shows how events in Dummer’s War looked from a native perspective and confirms that Burnet was wrong when he accused the Albany traders of manipulating the Six Nations into objecting to Burnet’s plans for a trading house at Oswego. In reality those objections reflected the Six Nations’ valid concerns about the situation, concerns that Albany shared. The conference is omitted from Peter Wraxall’s Abridgement except for a brief reference to the information provided about French plans. I have not found that it is printed anywhere else.
The Iroquois Object to Shifting the Fur Trade to Oswego
The speaker was Ondatsagto (possibly the Oneida leader Ondatsighta). The minutes say he spoke for Cachnawage and Schawendie, although he seemed at times to speak for the Haudenosaunee as a whole. He began by saying that he was glad that some of the Maquas (Kaniengeha’ka or Mohawk) sachems were present. After explaining that “we are but youngsters, our ancestors understood affairs better than we,” he said that they would speak plainly. The ancient friendship among the parties was declining as though they were no longer brothers. They came to rekindle the fire at Albany, long established as the place to treat about matters of public concern.
Ondatsagto went on to explain that Kahnawake had six sachims, two of whom had been made “children” of Albany who were responsible for telling the commissioners if there was a threat to them. One of them had died and the commissioners had appointed someone to take his place. He was now present and would convey important information.
Ondatsagto next referred to the treaty conference held the previous year with Governor Burnet. New York had asked the Iroquois to persuade the Eastern Indians to end their war with New England. Ondatsagto said that the Iroquois had tried to end the war, but their efforts were undermined by the news that New England had taken an Eastern Indian town. This news made the Iroquois ambassadors ashamed. The Eastern Indians accused them of being spies because they remained at peace with New England while it subjected the Eastern Indians to a bloody war. Ondatsagto reproached the commissioners with not keeping their promise to write to the governor of New England to ask him to stop his people from attacking the Eastern Indians.
Next Ondatsagto said that D Cannihogo, the Kahnawake leader appointed to maintain ties between New York and Kahnawake, now had news for them. Kahnawake had learned that at the treaty the previous year, Governor Burnet insisted on his plans to build a trading house at the mouth of the Onnondaga River (Oswego) over the objections of the Six Nations, who wanted it to be located at the west end of Oneida Lake. But there were serious problems with Burnet’s desired location. It was already in use by the French to travel from Montreal to the “far nations” beyond Iroquoia, and was first possessed by them. The Governor of Canada would undoubtedly destroy any English trading house built at that location, which could trigger a conflict between the French and the English. Ondatsagto advised the commissioners to keep the trade at Albany. They would get more beaver that way, and the French might be persuaded not to build their proposed fort at Niagara. On this proposition he gave a large belt of black wampum. The recorder first wrote and then crossed out that if the English insisted on their location a war would ensue and destroy the beaver trade.
Ondatsagto reminded the commissioners that the Onondagas had accepted Monsr. De Longueuil, the Governor of Montreal, as their child and allowed him to build a house at Onondaga. Pieter Schuyler then tore the building down, claiming that its construction was a breach of the Covenant Chain. The French could be expected to destroy Governor Burnet’s proposed building at Oswego for the same reason.
The “French Indians,” that is the people from Kahnawake and Schawenadie, then addressed the Mohawks and said their ancestors all lived in one country as one people, but now everyone had gone where they pleased and it was their lot to settle in Canada. They acknowledged a belt sent to them by the Mohawks asking them to keep the Covenant Chain, promised to do so, and said they expected the same on the Mohawks’ part.
The pages of the minutes are out of order at this point and it is possible that some material has been lost.
The Commissioners Response: England Claims the Six Nations as Subjects
Three days later the commisioners responded. They thanked the Sachims for speaking clearly and clearing up “the mistake that happen’d.” It is not clear exactly what they meant. They expressed appreciation that the other Sachims had come with DCannihogo to tell them about the French plans. They renewed the Covenant Chain, assuring all present of their continued friendship, and gave a belt of Wampum.
Then they explained the trading house situation from England’s point of view. They claimed that Pieter Schuyler destroyed the French trading house at Onondaga because Onondaga was on “Land belonging to the five Nations who are Subjects to the King of Great Britain.” The same logic allowed the English to build their house at Oswego on “Land belonging to the English.” The French would not dare to break it down because the two crowns were at peace. They said they would give Governor Burnet the information about the French plans and gave another belt of wampum. If Ondatsagto responded to the commissioners’ claim that the Six Nations were English subjects and England owned the land in their country, his answer is not recorded.
The commissioners said they did not remember promising to write to New England to ask them to end hostilities and they could not do such a thing while the Eastern Indians continued to kill New England settlers. They asked D Cannihogo to continue bringing information.
D Cannihogo said again that the French intended to break down the proposed trading house at Oswego. He added that the Governor of Canada planned to build two ships at Cadaraqui (the location of present day Kingston, Ontario) to be used in transporting furs from Niagara to Montreal, another ship above Niagara Falls to bring furs there, and a strong fort at Niagara itself.
The Commissioners Ask the Governor to Work Directly With the Senecas
The commissioners passed this information on to Governor Burnet in a letter, enclosing a copy of the minutes of the meeting. They asked the governor to give the Senecas presents in order to persuade them not to allow the French to execute their plans for a fort and repeated their suggestion to make an English settlement at Irondequoit (present day Rochester, NY) in order to counter the influence of the French. Significantly, they did not offer to negotiate with the Senecas themselves, a sign of the ongoing tensions between them and Governor Burnet. At the treaty conference the previous year, when the Six Nations objected to Burnet’s proposed location for a trading house, he accused them of being manipulated by Albany traders. Now the commissioners seemed to be trying to put the burden of dealing with the situation back on him.