Delaware County NY Genealogy and History Site


by Jay Gould - 1856


Indian Character - Suppositions of the origin of the Race - Enumeration of the Six Nations, who formerly owned a large portion of the State - Their union in cases of emergency - Date of the administration of the Tuscaroras into the Confederacy - Power and influence of the Iroquois - Success in battle - Agriculture prosecuted to some extent - Love of war - Torture of their victims - Weapons of warfare - Introduction of fire-arms among the Indians - First settlement at Albany - Estimate of the number of Indians east of the Mississippi at that period - Number of distinct languages - Enumeration of the different Tribes - English Settlements in 1664 - Conquest of New Netherlands by the English - Its capture - Dutch again obtain possession of it - Its final restoration to the English the following year - English conciliate the favor of the Indians by presents - Early Missionaries among the Indians - Information derived of the Indians respecting the Susquehanna Country - Indians desire the English to establish trading posts on the Susquehanna - Jealousies of New York in relation to Penn's trading with the Indians - Final adjustment of the difficulty.

"Swift flee the dark forms on the wings of the wind,
Nor leave at their castles one soul of their kind.

There is something peculiarly interesting - I may say fascinating - in the contemplation of Indian character, to every lover of history. The only written record of the sayings and doings of the red men, is that delineated by his inveterate enemies, the white men; but notwithstanding, the brave, generous, and noble characteristics of his race, still shine forth in their unassuming dignity. There is a mystery, an unsolved problem, beneath whose vortex lie concealed the past history and future destiny of his race. The data of his origin is yet - if indeed it ever is to be solved - a mystery. We can trace him back definitely but to a comparatively recent period, and tradition with her fabulous tongue goes not much farther. The most probable hypothesis is, that the Aborigines came over by Behring's Straits, and gradually spreading eastward and southward, until in the lapse of ages they had peopled the whole western hemisphere. Their aggregate numbers cannot definitely be known, as no census has been taken, and there are doubtless many tribes inhabiting the unexplored interior of the Great West, of whose numbers we can form no idea. In North America, at the outbreak of the Revolution, they are estimated to have exceeded three millions. Since that period they have been rapidly decreasing; many powerful tribes have become extinct, while but scanty remnants of others remain. In our own State, but a few hundred souls are left, who are provided for by the State government. They are principally descendants of the Six Nations, but constitute but a meagre representative of the courage, fortitude, and prowess, which has so characterized their ancestors. And the historian, whose duty it is to view with impartial and candid judgment the acts and actors of the past, cannot do less than to pay a passing tribute to the native Indian.

At the time the Dutch landed at Albany, in 1620, New York was possessed by Five Confederate Nations, or tribes, and their dependents. Their names were the Mohawks, who occupied the country westward from Albany, and south of the Mohawk river to the German Flats, a distance of ninety miles; the Oneidas, still farther westward, through whose territory ran the division line of 1768, referred to in the previous chapter; the Onondagas, the Cayuga, and the Senecas, whose territory lay still farther to the west and south. Although distinct and powerful tribes, and who acted separately in matters pertaining only to themselves, yet, in cases of emergency, a confederacy or congress of the chiefs and braves of each respective nation assembled around the common council fire, where the great question was debated in a committee of the whole, and where they listened to, and waxed patriotic, from the harangues of their untutored but truly eloquent brethren. It was this council that declared war and ratified peace.

This confederacy carried terror to all the surrounding nations, none of whom could compete with them in battle, or equal them in fortitude and courage. In the arts, too, they far outstripped their tawny brethren. They did not live entirely by hunting and fishing, but paid a good deal of attention to agriculture. They cultivated patches of Indian corn in the most fertile districts of their territory. Grapes grew in abundance along many of the principal rivers, and hoary apple trees may now be seen in many parts of the State, from whose boughs the Indian, when in the zenith of his power, plucked its choicest fruit to regale his own appetite or that of his simple, confiding sweetheart.

The Indian nature is peculiarly susceptible of excitement - the giddy war-dance and the battle-field are to him theatres of fascination; he seeks rather than avoids them. He takes delight in inflicting torture, and in the excruciating pains of his captives; he makes it his study to inflict the greatest amount of pain before death ensues - the stake, with its slow fire - skinning alive - scalping - and the gauntlet, are all familiar modes of punishment.

Their weapons of defense are the bow and arrow, the war club and the scalping knife. In the use of these messengers of death they are well skilled. With the simple bow and arrow, the wily Indian easily captures the shyest animal of the forest - the faithful arrow speeds with unerring aim, and leaves no report or volume of smoke behind to reveal his hiding-place. In this way he often captures a number of animals, whereas the report of a rifle would give a timely warning, and the otherwise easy prey would make good their escape.

The use of firearms was unknown to the Aborigines. The simple weapons I have described had been their armory for ages. The rifle, therefore, was to him a source of inexplicable mystery and awe - the quick flash - the lightening speed it gave the leaden ball, and the shrill report and smoke that followed, were unsolved problems in his mind. To the celebrated navigator, Samuel Champlain, is the introduction of fire-arms among the Indians accredited. In 1608, Champlain founded a settlement of French upon the present site of the city of Quebec, in Eastern Canada. At that period a fierce and bloody war was raging between the Algonquins, the Montages, together with the Hurons in alliance, against their powerful enemy, the Iroquois nation. Impelled by his restless spirit, Champlain, in an unlucky moment, joined these tribes against the Iroquois. He furnished the Algonquins with arms and the munitions of war, and it is even asserted that he headed the beleagued force and mingled in the hottest of the fight. A change now came over the tide of battle, and the Iroquois heretofore uniformly victorious, were now defeated in numerous pitched battles. The booming musketry and the thundering cannon sent their showers of iron hail into their ranks with terrible devastation and death, and disheartened and dismayed, they were obliged to evacuate the ground they had so lately won.

About this time a settlement was made at Albany, on the Hudson, and trading houses were erected to open communication with the Indians. The vanquished Iroquois seized this opportunity with avidity, and bringing their choicest furs, exchanged them for fire-arms and other munitions of war. The contest was now renewed upon equal footing, and the Five Nations soon regained their former ascendancy; and not content with the chastisement they had inflicted upon their combined foes, they turned now to deal out the measure of their revenge upon the French settlements, whose inhabitants and governor had been so instrumental in their reverses four years before. They continued to harass the French settlements, and held the bloody tomahawk extended over Quebec for a period of nearly a hundred years.

The number of Indians east of the Mississippi, although, as we before remarked, not definitely known, are not supposed to have exceeded two hundred thousand at the time the first settlements were effected by the whites upon their shores, and although the various historians have attributed to them a vast number of dialects, yet radically distinct, there are only eight. The Algonquin, which was the language of a vast number of tribes, was spoken in variated forms from the Carolinas in the south to the St. Lawrence on the north. They are thus enumerated by the antiquarian:

The Micmacs, who inhabited Nova Scotia, and a few adjoining islands, and who lived principally by fishing, in Newfoundland.

The Abenakis, who inhabited the upper counties of the Penobscot, Kennebec, and Androscoggin rivers, in Maine.

The Echemins, who had by numerous conquests possessed themselves of the whole Atlantic coast, from Passamaquoddy bay to the mouth of the Kennebec river. They were particularly fond of sailing and other aquatic sports; from which characteristic the neighboring tribes gave them the appellation of Canoe-men.

The Sokokis lay still farther south, principally in the valley of the Saco. Adjoining them on the south and west, were the Pawtuckets, who included within their territory the river Merrimac and most of its tributaries.

The Massachusetts occupied the territory around the bay of the same name. South of them lay the Pokanokets, a branch of which tribe dwelt on the island of Martha's Vineyard; they also occupied Bristol county, in Rhode Island.

The Naraghansetts occupied the part of Rhode Island west of Naraghansett bay, Rhode Island, and a number of smaller islands in he vicinity. The Naraghansetts surpassed in civilization any of the neighboring tribes.

The Pequods inhabited the eastern past of Connecticut, and acted in conjunction with the Indians on the eastern extremity of Long Island.

The Mohegans, or Mohicans, held their council fires in the valley of the Connecticut and upon the banks of the Hudson.

The Scatacooks, or Manhattans, occupied the interior territory between those rivers. They were also scattered among the Mohicans.

The Lenni Lennape, occupied the greater portion of New Jersey, and in the valleys of the Delaware and Schuykill. They are subdivided into the Minsi and the Delawares, and constituted a dependency of the Six Nations.

The Nanticokes inhabited the territory around the Delaware and Chesapeake bays.

The Acomacs lived on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake, adjoining the Nanticokes. Some writers have given this tribe a place in the Powhattan Confederacy.

The Powhattan Confederacy, comprising more than thirty different tribes, occupied the entire lowlands of Virginia, a territory of over 800 square miles.1

The Monahoaks and the Monacons occupied the territory west of the Powhattan Confederacy, and together numbered as many as fifteen different tribes.

The Pamlicos, Shawnese, Miamis, Illinois, Ohios, Chippeways, Menomonies, Sacs, Foxes, and the Kicapoos, who occupied portions of the territory east of the Mississippi, all spoke the Algonquin language.

The Sioux dialect was spoken principally by the Mississippi Indians.

The Wyandot, next to the Algonquin, was the most common language east of the Mississippi. It was spoken by many powerful tribes, amongst which were the ;Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas, in the north; and by the Chawans, Nottaways and Tuscaroras in the south. The latter tribe having been unsuccessful in a contest with the Carolina Indians, were driven from their territory, and emigrating northward, were kindly received by the Five Nations and incorporated into the Confederacy.

The Cherokee language was principally confined to the southern tribes. The remaining dialects were the Uchee;, the Natchez;, the Mobillian and the Yamassee, which were spoken only among the southern Indians.

The English settlements in 1664 reached as far north as Maryland on the south, and included Massachusetts and Connecticut on the north. At this period, Charles the second conceived the bold idea of uniting these detached settlements by an offensive conquest. He accordingly made a grant to his brother, James, the Duke of York and Albany, of New York and New Jersey, reaching to the Connecticut river in the east, a part of which territory was then in the peaceable possession of the Dutch.

In August of the same year three armed vessels appeared in the harbor of New York, and demanded the surrender of the town to the English crown. The demand of the English commander was clothed in persuasive and respectful language, offering the most favorable terms to all who were peaceably disposed. As the Dutch were in no condition to offer a successful resistance, and being withal peaceably inclined, they adopted the alternative, and Governor Stuyvesant was obliged to capitulate. Accordingly, Colonel Nichols, the English commander, immediately assumed the government of the colony, and raised for the first time, the colors of his native country upon the island of Manhattan.

This accession of territory gave the British exclusive control of the Atlantic coast, from Maine on the north to Florida on the south. The English remained in peaceable possession of their newly acquired territory until 1673, when, through the treachery of the English commanding officer,2 the Dutch again obtained possession of their territory, but which they permanently restored to the English crown by the treaty of 1674.

The importance of conciliating the favor of the Indian tribes, and of preserving the amicable relations existing between them and their predecessors in power, the Dutch, was not overlooked by the English, who succeeded them in the government of New York. In this scheme they were not unsuccessful. A system of negotiations was established through agencies appointed by the crown with the Iroquois and other neighboring tribes. Valuable presents, implements of agriculture, art, and war, together with articles of clothing, were freely distributed amongst them with the most satisfactory results. Missionaries were sent to instruct and civilize them - to plant the standard of the white man's God in the rude uncultivated soil of the Indian's soul. Traders, with their stores of notions, penetrated far into their territory, and carried on a successful and lucrative traffic, in exchange for their goods receiving furs and other Indian commodities. From these two sources were derived all the information of the vast unexplored wilderness in the interior portions of the State - of its lakes, its rivers, and the mighty ranges of mountains that traverse its surface, except what was gleaned from the natives themselves, until the expedition fitted out by the colonists in 1779, under the command of General Sullivan, which will be referred to in a subsequent chapter. This expedition penetrated several hundred miles into the Indian territory, to inflict a salutary chastisement in retaliation of the depredations and cruelties to which the frontier settlements had been subjected for a long period before. The eminent success of this expedition fitted out as it was, under the fostering spirit of the great Washington, and the comparative cloak which for a time it threw around the unprotected pioneers, occupies already, as it deserves, an eminent page in our national history.

The earliest missionary to the Iroquois nation, of whom the histories I have perused give any clue, was a Frenchman, Father Simon Le Moine, who commenced, at the instigation of the French Government, in 1674, a journey to their country. The real object of this visit cloaked as it was under the guise of propagating the standard of religion, was nevertheless to obtain a knowledge of their strength, of the situation of their strongholds, and if possible, to effect a reconciliation between them and the Indians. He was a Catholic priest, and first planted the standard of his faith on Lake Ontario. He was successful in his negotiations with that powerful confederacy, which, as stated in the previous part of this chapter, had carried on a bloody war against the French settlements in Canada in retaliation of the fatal error of Champlain. A treaty of peace was concluded, and permission given to found a French settlement in the south side of Lake Ontario.

In 1683, three Indians were examined by the commissioners of the British Government at Albany, in relation to the Susquehanna country, and gave a description of it as follows:

"That it is one day's journey from the Mohawk castles to the Lake whence the Susquehanna river rises, and then ten days' journey to the Susquehanna castles - in all eleven days.

"One and a half day's journey by land from the Oneida to the Kill, which falls into the Susquehanna river, and one day unto the Susquehanna, and then seven days to the Susquehanna Castles - in all nine and a half's journey.

"Half a day's journey by land and one by water from Onondaga, before we arrive at the river, and then six days' journey from the river.

"From Cayuga one day and a half by land and by water, before arriving at the river, and then five days from the river.

"From Sinnekas' Four Castles three days by land and two days by water ere arriving at the river, and thence five days from the river - in all ten days, which is easy, they conveying their packs in canoes from the river."

During this interview the Indians expressed a strong desire that some traders should come and establish themselves on the Susquehanna, to buy their furs. It being, as they represented, much nearer than Albany, as well as much easier of access - as they might then convey themselves and packs by water - whereas they are now compelled to bring every thing hither upon their backs.

About this period, Philadelphia began to attract attention as a trading post. It had been established but the year before (1682,) and now contained one hundred houses, and rapidly growing. The guiding spirit of the miniature colony was the renowned Penn - a Quaker - a man possessing untiring energy of mind; of broad and liberal views - he was eminently calculated to ingratiate himself into the favor of the Indian tribes. To this he paid early attention: he had hardly set foot on American soil, ere he commenced a friendly intercourse through the medium of trade, with the Indians in the neighborhood of his settlement; an intercourse which the following year he attempted to extend to the Iroquois nation, and thereby divert the Indian trade from Albany. To consummate more effectually his intended design, he dispatched a commissioner combining the necessary requisites of sagacity and address, to purchase the Susquehanna territory.

The announcement of Penn's intention, spread the greatest consternation throughout the northern trading posts, particularly at Albany, where it was received with a spirit of marked resentment. Trade with the Indians being their only support, any attempt to divert it away would naturally excite their indignation, and they accordingly exerted themselves to frustrate the plans of the designing Quaker. The territory in question was claimed by the Cayugas and Onondagas, who had four years before conveyed it by promise to the Governor of New York, who at this particular crisis, convened the chiefs of these two nations in a treaty at Albany. The result of this conference was the confirmation of the original purchase, by a sealed instrument. Such is a brief sketch of the origin of the Susquehanna titles, and our limits will not in this place allow us to glance at the various controversies and conflicting claims that afterwards proved serious sources of agitation to the early settlers. The reader is referred to an interesting article in the Documentary History of the State, entitled "Susquehanna Papers;" and also to a small volume published in 1796, by Croswell, in Catskill, entitled "Susquehanna Title Stated and Examined." Both articles are well worth a perusal.

Having glanced at some of the prominent features that stamp the early history of our common country; and rendered a passing notice to the character of the Aborigines, who were the original proprietors of this soil, we are now prepared to enter upon a more limited field of discussion, and although we may at times digress from our prescribed limits it is to preserve unbroken and unimpaired the common chain that connects us with the past.

End of Chapter II


  1. Mr. Jefferson computed the number of the Powhattan warriors at 2,500, or the total population at 8,000.

  2. Captain John Manning. See Documentary History of N.Y.

Index to History of Delaware County by Jay Gould

Welcome Page of the Delaware County NY Genealogy and History Site
a service of the Delaware County Historical Association located at 46549 State Highway 10, Delhi, NY 13753

Online since 1996 - created and managed by Joyce Riedinger