In their first conference with Governor John Montgomerie in October 1728, the Haudenosaunee are recorded as saying they were glad the new Brother Corlaer was “a wise and prudent Man.” Perhaps this was more than the language of diplomatic flattery. Montgomery does seem to have gone farther than his predecessors in responding to one of the long standing complaints of the Six Nations, who had been trying for years to stem the destructive flow of alcohol into their country. In February, after the Six Nations reminded them of Montgomerie’s agreement, the Commissioners of Indian Affairs issued a proclamation to all traders and others forbidding the transportation of strong liquor to any place in or near the “upper castles” (towns) of the Six Nations. Only Oswego was exempt, as agreed to at the conference. On the other hand, their use of the term “upper castles” suggests that at the very least Fort Hunter, and probably other Mohawk and Oneida communities, were not protected.
In Library and Archives Canada’s digital copy of the original minutes, the entry for February is here on p. 281.
Governor John Montgomerie’s first conference with New York’s native allies began on October first. The records contain two versions. What was probably the official version begins on page 299a of the records and is printed in DRCHNY volume 5, beginning at 5:859. Another version, likely a first draft, begins on page 263 of the records. It is worded a little differently but the sense is the same.
Land at Oswego for the English to Raise Food, Evidence of Haudenosaunee Orchards?
The Haudenosaunee sachims welcomed the new governor in a meeting held before the conference opened. They expressed sorrow over the death of King George I and celebrated the succession of George II in a speech that is interesting because it uses metaphors related to the cultivation of fruit trees, including grafting branches and covering roots, suggesting that these techniques may have been part of their practices during this period. The conference opened the next day with a speech by the new governor, who described his difficult five-month journey across the Atlantic before conveying greetings from the new King of England and renewing the covenant chain in his name.
Governor Montgomerie then asked to have land at Oswego marked off for the English to raise food for the troops. The Six Nations (Haudenosaunee) agreed to this idea, naming Laurence Claessen as the best person to assist with measuring and marking the land. They refused to say how much land they would provide, explaining that they needed to consult with people not present at the conference before they could give a figure. No mention was made of a sale and no deed was signed. The orders given to Laurence Claessen after the conference ended instruct him to carry out a precise survey of “as Large a Tract of Land at Oswego as possible you Can” and bring it back to the commissioners.
A Compromise on Alcohol
Besides discussing the land, the parties renewed the Covenant Chain with each other, exchanged gifts including wampum, and went over issues familiar from previous conferences. The Haudenosaunee asked the new governor to prevent traders from bringing alcohol to their country because it was leading to violence and even murders. He insisted that the traders needed to bring rum to refresh the soldiers at Oswego and asked them not to molest the traders. Eventually they agreed to the use of alcohol at the Oswego Trading House and Montgomerie agreed to forbid the English to take it to the communities of the Six Nations. The Haudenosaunee also asked that the traders sell pure rum rather than mixing it with water. It is possible that the illness that still afflicted the troops at Oswego was related to problems with Oswego’s water supply which could affect rum if the tainted water was used to dilute it.
Who Defends Fort Oswego Against the French?
The governor also asked the Haudenosaunee to protect Fort Oswego against possible French attacks. They responded that it was their understanding that it had been constructed to protect them rather than for them to protect. Eventually they agreed to assist with its defense, acknowledging their experience with French attacks. They urged the English both to make sure that the traders bring guns and ammunition to Iroquois and to keep military supplies on hand at Albany in case of need. Both sides promised to support each other and boasted of their military prowess.
The governor also urged the Haudenosaunee not to join the French and their allies in the war against a “Remote Nation,” probably meaning the Meskwaki (Fox). They asked for cheaper prices for goods and requested Joseph Van Size and Hendrick Wemp to work as smith and armorer in their country, adding that the French smith there was old and going blind.
Anglo-Dutch Farmers Encroach on Schaghticoke Lands
Governor Montgomerie renewed the Covenant Chain in a separate conference with the Schaghticoke and River Indians, for which they thanked him. He urged them to bring back those of their nation who had moved away, but they explained that it was difficult because they had less and less land at Schaghticoke to plant on. They told him that recently their European neighbors had planted on the Scaghticoke’s land, allowed their cattle to destroy Schaghticoke crops, and carried off corn from their fields. The governor asked for the names of the trespassers so he could punish them.
In Library and Archives Canada’s digital copy of the original minutes, the entry for the draft version starts here on p. 263.
The Commissioners of Indian Affairs maintained a regular correspondence with authorities on the Massachusetts frontier, with whom they shared intelligence about the French. In September the commissioners sent Thomas Ingersoll to Northampton to pass on a paper to Colonel John Stoddard “Relating this Governor from Canada by two of our Sachams Indians.” The records include a somewhat confusing version of the cover letter but not the paper itself, so we do not know what it said.
Problems at Oswego
The next entry is a deposition taken on September 28th before the Mayor of Albany at the commissioners’ request. It is sworn to by four people: Jacobus S. Planck, William Hogan Junior, Symon Veder, and Sybrant Van Schaick. The deponents accused an officer at Oswego, Lieutenant John Price, of drinking to excess and causing trouble for the commanding officer, Captain Nicolls. Apparently there was a possibility that Price was going to assume the command of the garrison. The deponents said he was “no fitt person” for the post.
The garrison was once again in great need of food and the Assembly’s allowance of funds for the year had not provided enough to cover the costs. Moreover illness was still a problem and the sick men were unable to transport goods to Oswego after the Palatines brought them past the Oneida Carrying Place. The commissioners resolved to hire people from the city and county of Albany to assist with transporting goods and to ask Governor Montgomery to covern costs in excess of the allowance from the Assembly.
Montgomerie quickly agreed to put up the money. The commissioners immediately wrote to the Justices at the Palatine settlement of Burnetsfield asking them to “Impress men and horses to Ride Over the Carrying Place the Batoes and Provisions which are Sent up” for the garrison. They also wrote to Captain J. Roseboom at Schenectady to retrieve any bags belonging to the public that might be there and sent three men to Oswego with provisions for the immediate relief of the garrison.
The commissioners also agreed with sixteen named individuals and “three men out of the fort” to go up to Oswego in a bateau to assist with transporting provisions. Each man was paid 4 pence a day and given a gallon of rum, but left to travel “on [his] own diet.” Every two men were required to bring back a boat. Oswego would provide an income for local Dutch and Palatine families but there is no mention of employing the Oneidas or Mohawks living at or near the carrying place. Horses were now used to carry boats as well as goods past the carrying place, suggesting that roads were improving.
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.
In Library and Archives Canada’s digital copy of the original minutes, the entry for May starts here on p. 259.
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.