Oswego continued to face the problems that had dogged it from the time it was constructed: a shortage of supplies, recurrent illness, and the threat of French attacks. During April the Commissioners of Indian Affairs took steps to address them. In early March they had heard from Dr. Kerr, the resident physician at Oswego, that the men were “much out of order” and short of supplies. They wrote to him on April 14th to tell him that the governor had given them a box of medicines that they were sending along with twenty gallons of rum, a hundred pounds of sugar, twenty-five pounds of rice, and two pounds of pepper. Provisions for Oswego were provided by the Palatine farmer Johan Jurch Kast and the commissioners arranged for them to be conveyed there by Casper Ham, Johannes Wyngaert, Evert Janse, and Marte Van Buren Junior along with the medical supplies. Each man was provided with a bateau for the purpose. They were told to bring back any empty bags from Oswego and leave twenty five of them with John Jurch Kast if he needed them.
After hearing that the French were making preparations to attack Oswego “this Spring with their Indians,” the commissioners sent Lourence Claese to ask the Six Nations for help. He was instructed to point out that if the French took Oswego, the Haudenosaunee would be surrounded on all sides by hostile forces. While this seems like an exaggeration, it is true that there were already several French forts on the Great Lakes. The English position was that these were illegal, although the Haudenosaunee position was far more nuanced. Nonetheless, Claese was told to remind the Six Nations leadership that they had agreed to the construction of the Oswego trade house and that it was built for their defense and security. Moreover they had promised to defend it if necessary. Governor Montgomerie now requested them to send two Sachims from each Nation to Oswego to remain there pending further orders from the governor. If the French attacked, the sachims should tell them that the trading house was built by the orders of the Haudenosaunee and upon their ground, and a attack on it would be considered as “an Attempt on their own Castles.”
These instructions framed what the Six Nations said at the treaty held with Governor Montgomery the previous October to make it sound more whole-hearted than it was.. The Six Nations did not see the Oswego trade house as one of their own castles, nor was it built “by their orders. ” They had agreed to let the English construct it, but with considerable ambivalence and reluctance. When asked to affirm their willingness to defend it, they initially pointed out that the English said they were building it to defend the Six Nations, not the other way around. As they put it, “Wee Acquaint you that last year when Liberty was Desired to build there it was told us that the same was built there on Purpose to Defend and Protect the Six Nations because It is a Fronteer of our Nations Therefore Wee Rely on your Promises to Perform them.” When the governor seemed to take offense, they soothed his feelings by acknowledging that the French were their “Ancient Enemies,” and they were willing to help defend the trade house. But they also made it clear that they expected the English to provide them with arms and ammunition and to use Great Britain’s much vaunted military resources if war should break out with the French.
In Library and Archives Canada’s digital copy of the original minutes, the first entry for April 1729 starts here on p. 282.
The Schuyler brothers (Peter and Philip) returned from Onondaga with Laurence Claessen on September 2d and reported on the meeting there. The Commissioners of Indian Affairs enclosed the report in a letter to Governor Burnet in which they said the trip had met with success, but there is no copy of the report itself in the records. The commissioners immediately sent Laurence back to tell the Six Nations that George II had succeeded George I as King of Great Britain. He was also instructed to prevent the Onondagas from going to war against the Flatheads by telling them that the French were encouraging it in order to get them out of the way and then destroy them. Claessen was also told to encourage the Onondagas to defend Fort Oswego if anyone attacked it and to learn what messages the French had been sending the Six Nations. Guysbert Van Brakel Junior went with Laurence at the commissioners’ expence.
On September 13th, the commissioners met with the Onondaga sachim Teganissorens (written here as D’ Kannasorie) and a Cayuga sachim named Ondariagen, who brought information backed by seven bands of wampum that “a nation Called the Jenontadies who live at le detroit,” (the Tionontaties or Petun) had concluded a peace with the “Waganhoes,” the Iroquois term for Anishinaabeg peoples. The Waganhoes promised to maintain the alliance they had made with New York and the Six Nations and turn down any requests by the Governor of Canada to take up the hatchet against them.
The record of this meeting reveals what happened when the Schuyler brothers went to Onondaga. The Six Nations agreed to send messengers to “the Indians liveing at & near Canada” to tell them that the Six Nations had decided to defend Fort Oswego if any Indian nation attacked it, but the English and the French would have to fight it out on their own if a conflict broke out between them. Teganissorens said that the messengers were about to set out when he left home. The commissioners told them about the death of King George I and the succession of King George II, Laurence’s mission to stop the excursion against the Flatheads, and recent letters exchanged between the governors of Canada and New York.
The commissioners posted three Indians (not named) to Lake St. Sacrement (Champlain) to find out what the news was from Canada. As they wrote to the governor, it made them uneasy that no Indians from Canada had been to Albany, suggesting that the French order not to come there was effective and the French might be planning some mischief.
Fort Oswego continued to have problems. The river was still low. It was expensive to transport provisions and some soldiers had deserted and were in custody. The commissioners thanked Governor Burnet for his support in maintaining the garrison, to which he had sent bedding and provisions. They kept him informed him about the situation and promised to send him an accounting of expenses as soon as possible. At the request of the Palatines who had the contract for delivering provisions to Oswego, Johan Jurch Kast and Johan Joost Petri, the commissioners sent six men to repair the road at the Oneida Carrying Place. Captain Holland went to Schenectady to see the soldiers when they finally embarked in ten batoes along with five men assigned to stay at Oswego, where they would be employed to transport provisions.
In Library and Archives Canada’s digital copy of the original minutes, the first entry for September 1727 starts here on p. 202.