The Conference on Iroquois Research met last week in Oswego, New York. It included many excellent presentations. I gave a talk based on the AIC records for 1723-1725 entitled “The Sappony Prisoner: Servant, Captive, Runaway, or Chief?” It concerns a Sappony captive taken from Virginia to Kahnawake in 1723 and his subsequent fate.
Here is a pdf copy: Captivity_Paper .
The C.I.R. is evolving in very interesting ways. Check out the web page to learn about their work, including their journal, which just published a third issue. They also have a Facebook Page where you can see pictures of the conference and learn more about the presentations.
This is a map of Oswego in 1727, and a marker and plaque from the site of the fort built that year.
I kept thinking about the Iroquois of 1723, as well as the French and Anglo-Dutch traders. They used to navigate these waters in canoes like the ones now on display in the H. Lee White Maritime Museum, following the river up to Onondaga and Oneida. What would they make of the present day city?
In Library and Archives Canada digital copy of the original minutes, April 1723 starts here
On April 6th, the Onondaga diplomat Teganissorens (the commissioners spelled his name D’Canassore) came to Albany to discuss relations between the Five Nations and Virginia. He assured the Commissioners that the Five Nations would respect the peace agreement they had made with Virginia the previous fall and refrain from attacking Virginia’s native allies. By 1723, Teganissorens had had a long and successful career during which he helped to shape the relations between indigenous and colonial powers throughout the North Atlantic region. He was no longer young, and the journey from Onondaga to Albany was a lengthy one. His trip to Albany suggests that the treaty with Virginia had been called into question in a significant way.
The next entry in the Minute Book, an April 23rd letter to New York Governor Burnet, suggests that the issue was the Saponi man taken captive near Fort Christanna in Virginia by a raiding party from Kahnawake, the Mohawk community near Montreal, as described in the minutes for January and February. The commissioners told Burnet in their letter that they had still been unable to get him released. Perhaps Governor Spotswood of Virginia, who saw the Saponi captive as his own servant, had argued that keeping the prisoner violated the treaty and asked Governor Burnet to pressure the commissioners to force the Five Nations to use their influence with the Kahnawagas to have the captive returned.
Teganissorens reassured the English that the treaty remained in place, but if the captive was the issue, he either could not or would not force his return. The end of the letter finally reveals what is really going on. The captive has chosen to go to Kahnawake in Canada rather than return to his own country, and now he has been made a Sachim. The commissioners have sent orders to Kahnawaga for him to return, but they don’t expect him to do so. Apparently the captive, who remains anonymous, would rather be a chief at Kahnawake than work for Governor Spotswood.
From the Five Nations and Kahnawake point of view, he likely could be a valuable player in Iroquois negotiations with the Sapponis as well as the English. His proficiency in his own language as well as English could be an important asset. Perhaps he had even learned to read and write at Governor Spotswood’s school at Christanna, making him even more useful.
As often happened, the commissioners were caught in the middle of a delicate situation. Kahnawake and the Five Nations had the upper hand. All the commissioners could do was try to assure the English authorities that they had done everything they could to assert English sovereignty and get the captive returned. Their letter provides insights into the relations between Kahnawake and the Five Nations, as well as between the Five Nations, Albany, and the English government. As they explain, the residents of Kahnawake are part of the Five Nations. If they are treated roughly, the Five Nations will take offense. They may not react publicly, because they want to maintain good relations with Albany, where they obtain “bread & Cloathing.” But they will find “underhand” ways to injure English subjects in the “remotest part of the Government,” that is the areas distant from the centers of colonial control. The commissioners and their families frequented those areas. Without the support of the Five Nations, even Albany itself was still vulnerable to military attack and the loss of the fur trade.
The entry for Fort Christanna in the WordPress blog Native American Roots provides some interesting additional information. The fort itself was closed in 1718, but Saponi people continued to live in the area. Some of their children were “bound out” to local colonists. Perhaps this is how the captive became Governor Spotswood’s servant.
In Library and Archives Canada’s digital copy of the original minutes, January 1723 starts here
The minutes for January begin with the Albany Indian Commissioners and the Haudenosaunee (Five Nations) in the middle of negotiations with New England authorities, usually referred by the Five Nations to as “Boston” or “the Brethren of New England,” and the “Eastern Indians,” a coalition of Abenaki nations allied with New France. (“Abenaki” loosely translates as “Eastern Indians.”) Massachusetts and the Abenaki coalition were caught up in a conflict known by various names, including Dummer’s War,Gray Lock‘s War, and Father Rale’s War. The fighting had started a year earlier in 1722, triggered by conflicts over land, sovereignty, and Massachusetts’ attack on Father Sebastian Rale, a Jesuit priest who lived at the Abenaki town of Norridgewock on the Kennebec River in what is now Maine.
Massachusetts, supported by New York Governor William Burnet, wanted the Albany Commissioners to persuade the Five Nations (Haudenosaunee) to enter the war on Massachusetts’ side. The Haudenosaunee preferred to try to negotiate a peace. Albany also preferred peace. As they explain to Governor Burnet in a letter dated January 9, they do not want to get caught up in a war that might lead to retaliation on their own settlements by France and its native allies. For diplomatic reasons, however, neither Albany nor the Five Nations want to directly refuse the requests of Governor Burnet or the Massachusetts authorities. Their language in the minutes must be read with these complications in mind.
The initial entry is a report by Laurence Claessen (Van der Volgen), Albany’s main interpreter and on the ground liaison to the Five Nations during this period. He describes a recent trip by Haudenosaunee diplomats to Boston, where they tell the Boston government that the Eastern Indians have put themselves under the Five Nations’ protection and are required to remain peaceful under that arrangement. They assure Boston that New England has a valid case, and promise to destroy the Eastern Indians if they don’t stop fighting, but they ask for time to speak to them. They set up a meeting with the Governor of Massachusetts at Albany for the coming Spring. In an interesting footnote, “Hendrik,” a member of the Five Nations’ delegation, says that he talked to a minister at Boston who spoke “the Eastern Language” about coming to teach the Mohawks in their country. “Hendrik” is probably Tejonihokarawa (ca. 1660-1735), although he could also be Theyanoguin (ca. 1691=1755), who would have known “the Eastern language” because his father was Mohegan. The Albany Commissioners send this report to Governor Burnet and propose to work with the Five Nations on a diplomatic solution.
The second theme in January concerns a prisoner, a servant of Colonel Alexander Spotswood, the Governor of Virginia. He was taken prisoner in Virginia by “French Indians” from Canastoque & two from Fort Hunter, a statement that does not make sense since Fort Hunter at this period can only refer to the Lower Mohawk Town, Tiononderoga, in the Mohawk Valley at the mouth of Schoharie Creek. His captors are taking him to Kahnawake, the Mohawk community on the Saint Lawrence river, but they agree to meet with the Albany Commissioners. “Canastoque” is probably Kanesatake, near Montreal, although there was also a settlement of the Susquehannock nation at Conestoga on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania at this time.
The prisoner is identified as a Saponi Indian, but never identified by name, although he speaks good English. He tells the commissioners he is from “Christiana,” presumably Fort Christanna, where Governor Spotswood had settled the Sapponis on a reservation designed to educate them in English and incorporate them into colonial society. Governor Spotswood has requested the prisoner’s return, and the Albany Commissioners tell Governor Burnet they are trying to secure it. The nature of the prisoner’s servitude is never described. Is he a slave or an indentured servant? What claim of ownership does Governor Spotswood have to him, and how was it acquired? Has he been taken prisoner or liberated? For more on the Saponi (also spelled Sappony) Nation and their history, see http://www.sappony.org/index.htm and http://haliwa-saponi.com .