Red Jacket, Seneca Sachem

Red Jacket photo Red_Jacket_2_zps92ee32c4.jpg

In 1830 Red Jacket, the most famous Seneca orator, died in New York at the age of 74. Seneca writer, historian, and archaeologist Arthur Caswell Parker described the deathbed scene this way:

“He murmured that his old comrades were around him, some chiding him for his mistakes and urging him to see that there was a task ahead.”


Red Jacket was born to the Wolf Clan (since the Seneca are matrilineal he belonged to his mother’s clan) and was given the name Otetiani (“He is Prepared”) and took the name Sagoyewatha (“He Causes them to be Awake”) when he became a chief. His English name, Red Jacket, came from the scarlet coat given to him by the English for fighting on their side during the Revolutionary War.

At the beginning of the Revolutionary War Red Jacket argued for neutrality, but the Seneca, Mohawk, Onondaga, and Cayuga-all part of the larger Iroquois Confederacy-decided to support England. He served with the British forces. During the war he served primarily as a dispatch courier.

During the Revolutionary War, animosity developed between Red Jacket and the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant. Brant alleged that during the Battle of Newtown in 1779, when the Seneca and the Mohawk were allied with the British, Red Jacket had killed a cow, then used the blood to claim that he had killed an American rebel. In the years that followed, Brant would contemptuously refer to Red Jacket as “cow killer.”

Red Jacket became the principal spokesperson for the Seneca following the Revolutionary War.

After the Revolutionary War, the United States assumed that since it had defeated the British it had earned the right to superimpose a series of treaties on the Indian nations. In 1784, American negotiators met with the Indian nations of the Iroquois Confederacy at Fort Stanwix. The Americans refused to recognize the Iroquois Confederacy (Six Nations) and insisted on dealing with each nation by itself. The American negotiators were aided by force of arms and by hostages to be used in negotiating the treaty terms. One notable leader was absent from the Fort Stanwix council: the Seneca sachem Red Jacket. According to Arthur Caswell Parker:

“Red Jacket remained aloof, not caring to face the humiliation that would be heaped upon his disorganized and distracted people.”

In 1791, the federal government held a council with the Iroquois Six Nations. The American emissary, Timothy Pickering, pressured the Iroquois to provide the United States with warriors for the Indian wars in Ohio. Pickering boasted of American military supremacy and unwittingly insulted the Iroquois. For the Iroquois, public councils were settings which were meant to nurture a friendly, peaceful frame of mind. Councils were to build consensus. This error created an opportunity for Seneca leader Red Jacket to utilize oratory and to create an image for himself as the conservator of hallowed traditions.

In 1792, Red Jacket was among a number of Iroquois leaders who met with President George Washington in Philadelphia. Here he received a large silver medal.

That same year, three Seneca chiefs-Red Jacket, Cornplanter, and Farmer’s Brother-attended a council in Ohio with the Shawnee, Miami, Delaware, and Wyandot in which they presented a peace proposal from the Americans. Shawnee leader Painted Pole reminded the Seneca that while the Iroquois were doing nothing, the Shawnee and their allies had defeated the American army twice. Ridiculing the Seneca, the Shawnee hurled the written copy of the American peace proposal into the fire.

In 1794, Red Jacket along with 50 other Iroquois leaders signed the Treaty of Canadaigua in which they ceded much of their land to the United States.

In 1801, the Seneca Council debated the possible sale of a strip of land along the Niagara River to the Americans. The prophet Handsome Lake opposed the sale on the grounds of revelations given to him by angels. His nephew Red Jacket, the speaker of the Seneca Nation, favored the sale. Handsome Lake accused Red Jacket of witchcraft and Red Jacket accused Handsome Lake of manufacturing his visions.

In 1802, a Seneca known as Stiff-Armed George got into a drunken fracas outside of a tavern. He was beaten and pursued, but then pulled a knife and stabbed two non-Indian men, one fatally. Reluctantly, the Seneca chiefs surrendered him to New York state authorities. According to Seneca leader Red Jacket:

“Did we ever make a treaty with the state of New York, and agree to conform to its laws? No. We are independent of the state of New-York.”

He then presented the state’s governor with a copy of the Treaty of Canandaigua which clearly placed the case in federal jurisdiction. However, the governor wanted to prove state jurisdiction over all of the Indians in New York and the federal government declined to intervene.

In 1805, Seneca chief Red Jacket responded to a Christian missionary’s proposal to convert his people:

“You have got our country, but are not satisfied; you want to force your religion upon us.”

He went on to say:

“We are told your religion was given to your forefathers and has been handed down from father to son. We also have a religion which was given to our forefathers and has been handed down to us, their children. We worship in that way. It teaches us to be thankful for all the favors we receive, to love each other, and to be united. We never quarrel about religion.”

He told the missionary:

“Brother, we do not wish to destroy your religion or take it from you. We only want to enjoy our own.”

War broke out between England and the United States in 1812. In New York, the Americans call together a council of the Iroquois nations. The Americans invite the Iroquois to join them in their war against the British. Seneca leader Red Jacket told the Americans:

“My people care more for peace than for war.”

According to Arthur Caswell Parker:

“Though Red Jacket argues for the neutrality of his people, he clearly declared their loyalty to the United States.”

Red Jacket argued against joining the British and urged his people to ally themselves with the Americans. When the Seneca declared war against the British, Red Jacket became a captain in the United States Army.

In 1816, the Iroquois Six Nations met with the Shawnee, Ottawa, and Wyandot in Ohio to discuss the possibility of the removal of the New York tribes to Ohio. Mohawk leader Joseph Brant felt that it would be a good idea for the Seneca to move to Sandusky where they could join with the Wyandot. Arthur Caswell Parker described the council:

“The chiefs of the Six Nations, long accustomed to the clothing of the white man, were once more dressed in their ancient costumes.”

Seneca leader Red Jacket addressed the council and reminded them that those tribes who recently sided with the British had lost a great deal. Red Jacket told them:

“We have always lost by taking up the hatchet. Even the British, upon whom we pinned our hopes, sold our land to the Americans after every war in which we were allied with them.”

Red Jacket spoke against selling land to the Americans:

“To command respect, you must possess extensive territory! Keep your holdings sufficiently large so that you may not be crowded on any side by the whites.”

In 1819, the Ogden Land Company, with the approval of the federal government, met with the Seneca to discuss buying their land. To watch out for the best interest of the Indians, the government appointed two agents to make sure that the Indians were not cheated or deceived. The Seneca chiefs-Little Billy, Red Jacket, Tall Chief, Young King, Two Skies, Infant, and Destroy Town-listened to the offer which was expressed in glowing terms about its benefit to the Seneca. One of the agents appointed by the government told the Seneca that the President James Monroe felt that it was in their best interest to sell their lands. The Seneca gave in and sold their land for 55 cents an acre and the land company quickly resold it for many times that amount. Arthur Caswell Parker wrote:

“Federal commissioners, delegated to prevent ‘cheating of the Indians,’ entirely forgot that they might have insisted upon a much higher compensation at a public sale, the profits of which could have been used to benefit these Indians for many years.”

In 1821, the Seneca tribal council convicted Kauquatou of sorcery. Acting on behalf of the tribal council Chief Tommy-Jemmy cut Kauquatou’s throat. In response, the state of New York prosecuted Tommy-Jemmy for murder. Red Jacket and Tommy-Jemmy’s court-appointed attorneys argued that the death of Kauquatou was not murder under New York law because it was a legal execution under Seneca law, on Seneca land, by the sovereign Seneca people. The circuit court referred the case to the New York State Supreme Court which noted that no law extended state murder jurisdiction over the Iroquois.

By 1824, Red Jacket was considered the leader of the Seneca Pagan Party which advocated traditional ways and which opposed both the Long House religion of Handsome Lake and European Christianity.

In 1827 Red Jacket traveled to New York City to talk with the Quakers about providing aid for his people. According to Arthur Caswell Parker:

“Red Jacket trusted few persons other than the stalwart Quakers, who could not be intimidated and who were quick to expose a fraud.”

However, the Quakers were involved with helping the Onondaga and did not have any resources with which they could respond to the Seneca request.

While in New York City, Red Jacket agreed to have his portrait painted by R. W. Weir, one of the noted artists of the city. In posing for the painting, Red Jacket dressed in a costume which he felt was appropriate: a caped coat with braid and tassels, a red sash, his Washington medal, and his pipe tomahawk.

In 1827, the Seneca deposed Red Jacket as chief because of his alcoholism and his inflexible political views. Part of the opposition to him stemmed from his involvement with the Pagan Party.

In 1829, Red Jacket once again asked the Quakers for aid. The Quakers provided the Seneca with both farm equipment and sound advice.

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Shown above is the Red Jacket Monument at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York. In 1884, Red Jacket’s remains were reburied at this cemetery. Against his wishes, Red Jacket was given a Christian burial.

Reclaiming Mohawk Land

The history of Indian nations within the United States has been one of loss of Indian land and sovereignty. There have been some attempts to reclaim those things.

In 1974, New York traditional Mohawk from the Caughnawaga Reserve in Canada and the St. Regis (Akwesasne) Reservation in New York occupied an abandoned 612-acre girls’ camp at Moss Lake, New York. The traditionals declared that they were re-establishing the Independent North American Indian State of Ganienkeh on their homeland. The Ganienkeh Manifesto called the occupation a means to

“regain lost pride, lost belief in humanity, and to offset escapes from reality like alcohol, drugs and suicides that are destroying the Indian people.”


The land occupied by the Mohawk had been purchased by the State of New York from the Nature Conservancy and was under the jurisdiction of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) because the land was within the Adirondack State Park. In response to the occupation the DEC filed suit in U.S. District Court seeking to validate the treaty under which the state claimed the land. The action was later dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

Moss Lake 17

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Photos from the Moss Lake occupation are shown above.

Non-Indian support for the Mohawk occupation of Ganienkeh resulted in the formation of a group called RAIN (Rights for American Indians Now) which formed chapters throughout New York State.

As the occupation continued, there were a number of instances of gunfire being exchanged between the Mohawk and non-Indians. The state police gathered evidence of three shootings by non-Indians and offered to prosecute, but the Mohawk refused to testify. In two other instances, a young man and a nine-year old girl were hit by gunfire from the Mohawk.

The state police attempted to enter Ganienkeh to investigate the shootings but were denied access. The police told the Mohawk that they had two hours to remove the women and children before the police were going to enter. A women’s meeting was held and the women said:

“We won’t send our children back to die of alcoholism and drugs on the reservation.”

The police did not attempt to enter.

Citing the Treaty of 1794 the Mohawk insisted that the police complaint must be made to the League of Six Nations (of which the Mohawk are members). Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons, speaking at a press conference, called upon President Gerald Ford to intercede in this dispute and to follow the treaty specifications. The Bureau of Indian Affairs replied to Chief Lyons that his demands based on treaty rights were groundless.

As a result of the shootings, COPCA (Concerned Persons of the Central Andirondacks) was formed in opposition to Ganienkeh.

In 1975, a group of non-Indian landowners in Moss Lake, New York file suit in state court against the state police and the Department of Environmental Conservation for not evicting the Mohawk from the girls’ camp which they were occupying. The judge ruled against the landowners.

After three years, the occupation ended. In 1977, an agreement between the State of New York and the Mohawk at Ganienkeh was reached after nearly 200 negotiation sessions. Under the agreement Ganienkeh was given two parcels of state land at Miner Lake. The Turtle Island Trust was established to receive the state land and to purchase additional private land for the Mohawk.

Initially 25 families moved to Ganienkeh and established a permanent non-reservation settlement. The founding of Ganienkeh is a rare instance in which indigenous people have reclaimed their land from a colonial power.  Today, Ganienkeh functions under the original Kaianerehkowa (the Constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy) without interference from the United States or Canada. They claim that they have a right to exist as a sovereign entity under international law. As a sovereign people they claim that they cannot be taxed by the State of New York or by the United States.

According to the community:

Ganienkeh is a branch of the original sovereign Kanien’kehà:ka Nation located within the sovereign traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka. Ganienkeh is NOT a reservation nor is it “recognized” as a “Tribe or Band” by the US or Canada. Ganienkeh does not accept funding from the United States or Canadian governments in any form and does not wish to be “recognized” as a “Tribe or Band” under any foreign law, to be such would be the highest form of insult imaginable.

At the present time, Ganienkeh’s economy depends on bingo (they have a 1,500-person hall) and the sale of cigarettes. They also operate a nine-hole golf course.

The Ancestors of the Iroquois

When the Dutch and the French, and later the English, began to enter into what would become New York State searching for trading partners in the seventeenth century, they encountered a large, well-organized alliance of tribes known as the Iroquois. The League of Five Nations, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy, was composed of five culturally and linguistically similar nations who had come together to promote peace among themselves.

Tribal Map

The map above shows the approximate location of the Iroquoian and Algonquian tribes when the Europeans first began to enter the area.  

The designation “Iroquois” was given them by the French and was most likely a French mispronunciation of a derogatory term used to describe them by enemy peoples. They call themselves Haudenosaunee which is often translated to mean “People of the Longhouse” and they symbolize their confederacy as a longhouse with five hearth fires.  The longhouse is symbolically seen as being oriented west to east, with the Seneca occupying the western door; then the Cayuga, the Onondaga, the Oneida, and, finally, the Mohawk occupying the eastern door.

Iroquois Map

The map above shows the relative location of the five nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Iroquois Longhouse

A drawing of an Iroquois longhouse is shown above.

Archaeologists have identified the ancestral Iroquoian culture in New York as the Owasco cultural tradition which began to flourish about 900 CE. The Owasco people were farmers whose lives centered on the raising of the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash. This vegetable diet was supplemented with a diversified subsistence of fish, game, and wild plants.

With agriculture, the Owasco people tended to be sedentary, living in villages, hamlets, and satellite camps. These ranged in size from a few dozen people to a few hundred people. At the beginning of the Owasco period, these ancestral Iroquois people built their villages in the fertile sites of their fishing grounds, on flood plains or just above on slightly higher terrain. Archaeologists have found numerous cache pits and remains of large vessels in these sites, which suggests that they had a stable and prosperous communal life.

The Owasco villages were made up of a number of longhouses. There was intense warfare between the communities: there was no over-arching political structure at this time.

The phase of Iroquois history called Carpenter Brook Owasco by archaeologists began about 1000 CE. This phase marked the beginning of a shift in settlement patterns from riverine villages to permanent towns located on hilltops.

In 1100 CE, ancestral Iroquoian people began to occupy the Maxon-Derby site. This site was an un-palisaded Owasco village which covered about two acres. It housed a maximum of 200 to 250 people. The people were living in small oblong houses with rounded ends. In addition to the small houses, there are two larger structures, about 60 feet in length, which resemble the later Iroquois longhouses.

By 1140, Owasco people were living at the Sackett site on Arsenal Hill near present day Canandaigua. This village covered more than three acres and was enclosed by an ellipsoidal ditch measuring 343 feet by 202 feet. The Owasco people dug the trench to a depth of two to three feet and to a width of seven to eleven feet. Within the village, the people were living in small wigwams. While there were no longhouses at the site, some of the features in the wigwams, such as narrow shelves or benches around the interior-are features which are found in later Iroquois longhouses.

In 1290, Owasco people established a village at the Chamerlin archaeological site. The village was surrounded by a palisade and contained longhouses which were up to 80 feet in length.

In 1300, the phase of Iroquois history called Oak Hill Iroquois by archaeologists began. During this time, Iroquois settlements were primarily permanent stockaded villages located in defensible sites. By this time, a pattern of village removals and resettlements had been established. Every 25 to 50 years, the villages would outgrow their sites, exhaust soil fertility and firewood, and would move two or three miles away.

In 1400, the phase of Iroquois history called Chance phase Iroquois by archaeologists began. In the Onondaga area there was a village resettlement which resulted in a larger village being fairly close to a smaller village. Having two towns fairly close to each other is a clear indication that they had some type of non-aggression pact and perhaps saw themselves as being part of the same nation and/or political entity.

In 1451, the Iroquois Confederacy-the League of Five Nations-was born when Deganawida, a Huron born of a virgin, crossed the great lake in a stone canoe and began to bring forth his vision of a great peace. Deganawida had a speech defect and had Hiawatha speak for him to the several Iroquoian tribes. As a result of their efforts, the Five Nations-the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk-met and buried the instruments of war and planted a pine tree of peace. The wampum belts recorded:

“I, Deganawida, and the union lords now uproot the tallest pine tree and into the cavity thereby made we cast all weapons of war. Into the depths of the earth, down into the deep underneath currents of water flowing to unknown regions we cast all the weapons of strife. We bury them from sight and we plant again the tree. Thus shall the Great Peace, Kayenarhekowa, be established.”

This was the alliance which the French, Dutch, and English encountered in the seventeenth century.

New Amsterdam and the Indians

As a part of their exploitation of the natural resources of the Americas, the Dutch West India Company laid out New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island in 1624. The company envisioned New Amsterdam as a transportation hub from which they could ship timber and furs from the area. In addition, it would serve as a hub for ships trading into South America and the Caribbean. To get colonists for this new venture, the company promised them land in exchange for six years of service to the company. However, the Dutch didn’t really own the land.  

In 1626, Peter Minuit negotiated with the Canarsee tribe to sell the company the entire island of Manhattan even though the Reckgawawanc have the northern part of the island.

While today’s popular history tells of Minuit buying the island for $24 worth of trade goods, the actual treaty has never been located. The deed on file in the New York State Library archives in Albany is an obvious fake. From an Indian perspective, what the Dutch purchased was simply a right to use the land in common with the Indians. Both the Dutch and the Indians understood that their agreement did not give the Dutch the exclusive rights to the land.

In 1626, the Susquehannock attempted to establish trade with the Dutch. However, the Algonquian-speaking tribes of the Delaware Valley objected and attempted to stop the trade.

The Dutch found that Staten Island was inhabited by the Raritan. The village of 80-90 people in 1628 was supported by agriculture, primarily raising corn.

While the Dutch East India Company’s interest in New Amsterdam was primarily commercial, there were missionaries living in the colony. One of these missionaries, the Reverend Jonas Michaelius who has been described as “the moodiest, bitchiest resident of New Amsterdam” wrote in 1728:

“As to the natives of this country, I find them entirely savage and wild, strangers to all decency, yea, uncivil and stupid as garden stakes, proficient in all wickedness and ungodliness, devilish men who serve nobody but the devil, that is, the spirit which in their language they call Menetto, under which title they comprehend everything that is subtle and crafty and beyond human skill and power.”

The 1626 treaty negotiated with the Canarsee was not the only effort by the Dutch to secure title to the land. These “land deals” were often misinterpreted by both sides. Since the Indians viewed land as something that was used, not owned, there was often land which was used by several different tribes. This created potential conflicts as the Dutch assumed they were buying ownership-meaning exclusive use rights-when they were actually buying only a right to use the land in common with other tribes. Thus, in 1630, Peter Minuit, on behalf of the Dutch West India Company, bought Staten Island from the Tappan. The records do not indicate how the Raritan who lived there felt about the sale, or even if they were involved.

In 1637, the Marechkawieck sachems Seyseys and Neumers sold land at Hell Gate to the Dutch.

In 1639, Mechoswodt, the chief sachem of the Massapequa placed the entire western half of Long Island under Dutch protection.

In 1640, a group of Matinecock tore down the coat of arms of the Dutch Estate General and substituted for it a fool’s head. The Dutch passed a resolution to-

“send a sloop with soldiers thither to bring said Indians under our obedience and contribution.”

In spite of the resolution, the Dutch did not launch an attack. Five years later, however, the Matinecock of Long Island signed a peace treaty with the Dutch. Under this treaty, both groups were to live in peace with each other.

In 1643, the Rockaway and the Merrick sold much of their traditional homeland near Hempstead to the Dutch. Many of the Rockaway were enraged at the sale and were hostile toward the Europeans.

In 1645, the Marechkawieck sachem Seyseys signed a peace treaty and deed which gave his people’s land in southwestern Brooklyn from Gowanus to Jamaica Bay to the Dutch.

In 1649, the Wiechquaesgeck, weakened by war and out-migration, sold their land to the Dutch. They then moved north to establish villages at Dobbs Ferry, New York and at Stamford, Connecticut.

Mattano, the sachem of the Nayack, under threat of Dutch attack, agreed in 1652 to sell tribal lands in Brooklyn, New York to the Dutch. The conditions of the deed required that the Nayack –

“remove immediately from the land now occupied by them, called Naieck, and never to return to live in the district.”

Following the sale most of the Nayack moved to Staten Island.

In 1655, about 600 Indians landed at the southernmost point of Manhattan Island and then attacked the Dutch settlement. At the same time, Indians raided other Dutch settlements and farms, killing several dozen Europeans and taking a number of hostages. In trying to make sense of this war, the Dutch blamed it on an incident in which a Dutch settler had killed a Munsee woman who was picking peaches in his orchard. Hence it was commonly called the Peach War.

In looking for a cause for the Peach War, the Dutch conveniently overlooked the fact that Dutch troops were attacking Swedish settlements on the Delaware River at this time. The Swedes had developed good trading relationships with the Susquehannock. Since the Dutch seemed intent on destroying this relationship, the Susquehannock, together with the Munsee, may have actually carried out the attacks as a way of protecting the Swedes whom they viewed as allies.

In addition to the Peach War, the Dutch also found themselves engaged in the Esopus Wars, so called because of the key role of the Esopus. These wars started when a war party of about 50 Indians attacked New Amsterdam and lasted until the English took over the colony. The Dutch viewed themselves as totally blameless in these wars and felt that the cause was the natural hostility of the natives.

In 1660, the sachem Tapusagh signed a peace treaty with the Dutch as the chief of the Rockaway, Canarsee, and Marsepyn. At the same time, the Massapequa sachem Tackapousha signed a peace treaty with the Dutch and agreed to provide them with warriors for their war against the Indian nations of the mid-Hudson River Valley.

In 1664, New Amsterdam was transferred from the Dutch to the English and became New York.

The Governor Kieft War

In 1639, the Dutch West India Company resolved to exact tribute from local Indians around New Amsterdam, stating that these Indians were under Dutch protection. Dutch governor Willem Kieft put the taxation proposal this way:

“Whereas the Company is put to great expense both in building fortifications and in supporting soldiers and sailors, we have therefore resolved to demand from the Indians who dwell around here and who heretofore we have protected against their enemies, some contributions in the form of skins, maize and seawan [wampum], and if there be any nation which is not in a friendly way disposed to make such contribution it shall be urged to do so in the most suitable manner.”

Dutch residents who had lived in the area long enough to know the Tappan, Hackinsack, Wickquaesgeck, and Raritan, told the governor that this was the wrong thing to do. The governor, oblivious to the Indian world view, had assumed that the Dutch had purchased the Indians’ land and that the Indians were now under Dutch protection. The Indians, however, did not view the goods they had received as the purchase price of the land, but as a gift which represented the agreement. Both the Indians and the long-time Dutch residents understanding that the agreement involved sharing the land and entering into a defensive alliance.

The following year, Dutch governor Willem Kieft launched an unprovoked attack against the Raritan on Staten Island, New York. This marked the beginning of the Governor Kieft War. The purpose of the war was to reduce the Indians to obedience to the Dutch and to levy tribute.  The presumed excuse of the initial punitive expedition was the theft of some hogs on a Dutch farm in Staten Island. In actuality, the thieves were Dutch, not Indian. Governor Kieft, however, sent a posse to a Raritan village and several Indians were killed. The Raritan responded by attacking the farm where the alleged theft had taken place, burning down the house and killing four farm hands.

Governor Kieft, seeing no Dutch culpability in the Raritan response, issued an edict:

“we have therefore considered it most expedient and advisable to induce the Indians, our allies hereabout, to take up arms.”

Ten fathoms of wampum (seawan) were offered to the friendly Indians for each head of a “hostile” Indian which they brought in. Furthermore, if they brought in the head of any Indians who attacked the farm, then this would increase to 20 fathoms. Soon, Pacham, an Indian from a tribal hostile to the Raritan, came to the guardhouse at Fort Amsterdam holding aloft a stick from which dangled a human hand. Pacham then declared to Governor Kieft that the hand belonged to the Raritan chief who had ordered the attack on De Vries’ farm. Kieft felt that his plan to use Indian allies against the Raritan had succeeded.

However, this did not end the war. The following year, the Raritan burned Dutch farmsteads on Staten Island, and captured a number of settlers in retaliation for the Dutch attack against them the previous year. The Dutch asked the Massapequa of Long Island to send war parties against the Raritan. The Dutch once again offered a bounty for the head of any Raritan person.

The war between the Dutch and the Indians soon spread to other tribes. In 1641, a twenty-seven-year-old Wickquasgeck man appeared at the home of Claes Swits. He had a few furs and indicated that he was interested in trading them for some duffel cloth. Since Swits knew the man (whose name is not recorded in the history), he let him in. The Wickquasgeck man then reached for an ax which was near the door and cut off Swits’ head. He then left having revenged the death of his people who had been killed in 1626. In response to this attack, governor Willem Kieft ordered a full-scale retaliation. Kieft felt that once again the Indians had shown that they could never be trusted. Extermination, according to Kieft, was the only solution.

Word of the Dutch war of extermination did not reach all Indians and in 1643, a group of Wecquaesgeek and Tappan sought refuge at Fort Amsterdam as they fled from a war party of Mahican. They did not know that Governor Kieft had argued for the extermination of all Indians who had refused to pay Dutch tribute. In the middle of the night, the Dutch soldiers massacred the sleeping Indians. The soldiers’ cruelty, described by Dutch planter Willem DeVries, included

“infants were torn from their mother’s breasts, and hacked to pieces in the presence of the parents, and the pieces thrown into the fire and in the water, and other sucklings, being bound to small boards, were cut, stuck, and pierced, and miserably massacred in a manner to move a heart of stone.”

About 80 Indians were massacred and the soldiers were rewarded for their services. Willem Kieft thanked them and congratulated them on their victory.

In 1644, the Mahican sachem Aepjen negotiated a peace treaty with the Dutch on behalf of a number of tribes, including the Wappinger and Wiechquaesgeck. Many of the Wiechquaesgeck felt that they could not endure the treaty with the Dutch and subsequently they left their homes and went to live among the Raritan in New Jersey.

In 1645, the Dutch held a council with the Indians in front of their fort at Manhattan. The Dutch wished to negotiate a firm and inviolable peace with the assembled Indian leaders which included Hackinsack leader Oratany, Tappan leader Sesekemu, Rachgawawanck leader Willem, Nyack leader Mayauwetinnemin, and Wickquasgeck leader Aepjen (also known as Eskuyas). At this time, more than 1,000 Indians had been killed in the war against the Dutch.

Both sides agreed to peace and to settle future disputes by discussion rather than violence. Twenty Indian leaders make their marks on the treaty. Aepjen signed the treaty as representing the Wappinger, Wiechquaeskeck, Sinsink, and Kichtawank. The next day, the Dutch ordered a day of general thanksgiving. Thus the Governor Kieft War ended.


The Dutch and the Indians

The Dutch, whose presence in North America was not of long duration (about 40 years), were interested primarily in trade and viewed Indians as something to be tolerated, like cold winters and hot summers. In general the Dutch appeared to have little interest in learning about the Indians and their culture. Like other Europeans, the Dutch never questioned the idea that Dutch culture was richer, stronger, more highly developed, and closer to God than the Indian cultures. From an Indian viewpoint, the Dutch were seen as not being hospitable for they gave few presents and charged for repairing guns.

Map New Netherlands

Regarding the Indians, the Dutch generally followed a policy of live and let live: they did not force assimilation or religious conversion on the Indians. Both in Europe and in North America, the Dutch had little interest in forcing conformity on religious, political, and racial minorities. They were not particularly interested in forcing Christianity upon the Indians.

The Dutch came to North America to make money and were not interested in imperial strategies. The Dutch were in the beaver business; therefore they were concerned with sustaining the Indian nations who were providing them with beaver pelts. They viewed the Indians as trading partners and therefore a source of wealth.

Between 1614 and 1624, it is generally estimated that the Dutch fur traders obtained about 10,000 beaver skins annually from the Connecticut Indians alone. To facilitate this trade, the Dutch traders began using wampum as a type of currency. They acquired wampum from the Pequots and Narragansetts in exchange for European trade goods. The Dutch then carried this wampum to Indians in the interior, exchanging it for furs.

In 1648, the Dutch estimated that 80,000 beaver pelts per year were passing through Manhattan on their way to European markets. In addition, they noted the growing importance of tobacco: Amsterdam was now the tobacco capital of Europe. The Dutch created a variety of tobacco blends to suite a range of prices and tastes. Tobacco grown in the English colony of Virginia was often shipped to Europe through the Dutch colony at Manhattan.

The Dutch fur traders, like those of the other European nations, were not renowned for their elegance and refinery. From a European perspective, their manners and honesty were often lacking. It was not uncommon for them to attempt to cheat the Indians. In spite of conflicts over this, dishonest trading practices did not lead to war as the trade was too profitable to both sides.

Among the items which the Indians, particularly the Iroquois, demanded in exchange for their furs were guns and the ammunition for them. The Dutch supplied their Indian trading partners with guns and with these guns, the Indians expanded their territory, often displacing tribes which did not have access to guns.

Another important trade item was alcohol. Officially, the Dutch enacted a number of laws designed to stop the liquor traffic with Indians, but these tended to be ignored. Since the Indians were willing to pay high prices for Dutch beer and brandy, there were many Dutch colonists who were willing to supply the demand without much regard for the consequences.

While the Dutch made some effort to be fair to the Indians when applying Dutch law to them, the Indians also learned that they could utilize the Dutch laws. One example of this was seen in 1647 when Harmen van der Bogaert, a Dutch barber-surgeon who was married with four children, was discovered  having sex with another man. He fled deep into Mohawk country, seeking refuge in a village where he had been befriended years earlier. The Dutch authorities, however, tracked him down. There was a shootout in a longhouse and, as a distraction, van der Bogaert attempted to burn the building down. He was captured and taken to Fort Orange. The Mohawk, knowing something of European law, sent a delegation to Manhattan to sue the West India Company for damages to their building and supplies. After hearing their case, Peter Stuyvesant concluded that the Indians are right. He ordered the sale of van der Bogaert’s property with the money from the sale going to pay for the company’s debt to the Mohawk.

With regard to religious conversion, only two ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church made any serious effort to convert Indians. They failed to make any converts.

Both the Dutch and the Swedes bought Indian land to legalize their occupancy in the eyes of other Europeans. They recognized the Indians’ ownership of the land and thus the legal necessity of buying land before appropriating it. In general, the Dutch tended to be fair when buying land and cases of fraud and high-pressure tactics were the exception rather than the rule. The Dutch bought the land around New Amsterdam before they needed it and the Indians continued to occupy it undisturbed for years after the purchase.

Part of the conflict with the Indians over land purchases stemmed from different views of the transactions. Indians viewed the land as community property which belonged to the entire tribe or band for their use in perpetuity. They did not view it as a commodity to be bought and sold. The Indians thus viewed land purchases as simply payments for temporary use, while the Dutch looked upon these as final sales. Conflict arose when the Indians demanded from the Dutch further payments or for them to vacate the land.

New Amsterdam

A drawing of New Amsterdam is shown above.  

The Dutch, the Indians, and Fort Orange

Henry Hudson sailed into New York harbor in 1609. He sailed past the island known to the local Indians as Manna-hata and then up the river which now bears his name to what is the present day city of Albany. Flying the flag of the Dutch East India Company, Hudson’s primary purpose was not to explore, but to make a profit by exchanging merchandise for furs.

As he began his trip upriver, he traded with a group of Indians (probably the Navasink who are related to the Lenni Lenape) in Sandy Hook Bay. The Indians approached the Dutch traders with an air of dignity, offering them corn bread and green tobacco. Then, suddenly, two canoes of Indians attacked the Dutch traders, killing one man and wounding two others. The attacking warriors were not Navasink, but from a tribe attempting to stop the Navasink from trading with the Dutch. As a result of this attack, the Dutch became suspicious of all Indians. They took two Navasink warriors as hostages even though the Navasink had attempted to establish good relations with the Dutch.  

A little farther up the river, Hudson traded with the Mohican, a tribe of about 6,400 people, for otter and beaver pelts. With this, he established the Dutch claim for the area which they called New Netherland. Hudson went ashore and later described the Mohican houses as being circular and made of bark. He wrote:

“The land is the finest for cultivation that I ever in my life set foot upon.”

On the trip back downriver, Indians again attacked and were driven off with the Dutch muskets.

In 1614, the Dutch established a trading post on Castle Island known as Fort Nassau. The trader, Jacob Elkens, learned both the Mahican and Mohawk languages.

Following Hudson’s return to the Netherlands and his descriptions of the wealth of the country that he saw, the Dutch West India Company was formed in 1621 to exploit the resources of the Americas and to establish a colony among the intelligent natives.

In 1624, the Dutch West Indian Company established a trading post and settlement, Fort Orange, on the western shore of the Hudson River. Located at a strategic crossroad linking the Iroquois and New England, Fort Orange would become a major trading post. At Fort Orange, the Dutch traders exchanged metal tools, cloth, glass beads, firearms, ammunition, and other European goods for furs.

With the founding of Fort Orange, the trading post of Fort Nassau on Castle Island was abandoned.

Map New Netherlands

Even by this time, the fur trade had negatively impacted the ecology of North America. One of the reasons for locating Fort Orange inland was that the beaver trade had already decimated the beaver in the coastal regions. The coastal fur trade was diminishing, and the Dutch traders had to move deeper into the back country in order to obtain furs.

The establishment of Fort Orange also had other consequences for the Indians. The new fort was located on lands claimed by the Mahican and the Mahican welcomed the Dutch trading post. To the north and west was Mohawk territory. Prompted by trading concerns, war soon broke out between the Mahican and the Mohawk.

When a group of about two dozen Mahican warriors under the leadership of Monemin approached the Dutch at Fort Orange and asked for their aid against the Mohawk, the Dutch agreed. It seemed to the Dutch that helping the Mahicans now would yield a firm ally in the future. About three miles from the fort, the war party, with six Dutchmen, was ambushed by the Mohawk. Four of the Dutchmen and 24 of the Mahicans, including Monemin, were killed. The Mohawk roasted and ate one of the Dutchmen.

The Mohawk drove the Mahican east and north of Fort Orange, thus gaining direct access to the Dutch traders. While the Mahican maintained their villages, gardens, and all other territorial rights east of the Hudson River, they lost their hunting territory to the west. This resulted in a migration of part of the Mahican population from their Hudson River villages to new hunting grounds. In 1629, the Mahican sold most of their land around Fort Orange to the Dutch West India Company. While some Mahican stayed in the area to work for the Dutch, many moved east to the Connecticut Valley or to western Maine.

In 1626, the Dutch West India Company sent explicit instructions on dealing with the Indians:

“He shall also see that no one do the Indians any harm or violence, deceive, mock, or condemn them in any way, but that in addition to good treatment they be shown honesty, faithfulness, and sincerity in all contracts, dealings, and intercourse, without being deceived by shortage of measure, weight or number, and that throughout friendly relations with them be maintained.”

In 1634, the Oneida, one of the nations of the Iroquois League, invited three Dutch traders from Fort Orange to their main settlement. The Dutch saw French goods and were told how favorable French trading terms were. The Dutch described the settlement as a castle with 66 houses enclosed within a double-palisaded wall which is 767 steps in circumference.  

In that same year, the Dutch trade with the Mohawk dried up due to the trading alliances between French and the nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. Dutch trader Harmen van den Bogaert traveled into the interior to seek out the Mohawk and to convince them that the Dutch would be better trading partners. The Dutch entered a number of Mohawk villages, finding the bark-covered houses up to 200 feet long with several hearths and set row-on-row in the manner of streets. The Dutch observed that some of the houses bore the signs of European contact: iron hinges, bolts, chains.

When the Dutch entered the most important Mohawk village, the Indian people formed two long lines outside the gate of the village. The Dutch passed ceremonially between the columns, and then through the elaborately carved entryway, to the house at the farthest end.

The Dutch met in council with the Mohawk who showed the Dutch the presents which the French had given them. However, the Mohawk indicated that they would prefer to maintain trade relations with the Dutch as they feared the Huron with whom the French were allied. The Mohawk offered the Dutch trading terms: each beaver belt was to be worth four hands of sewant and four hands of cloth. A hand of sewant (wampum) is a string of beads stretched from the outstretched thumb to the little finger. Van den Bogaert explained that he was not authorized to negotiate but would return in the spring with an answer.

The Dutch agreed to the Mohawk terms and the furs once again flowed into Fort Orange.

In 1635, a delegation of Onondaga, one of the five nations that made up the Iroquois Confederacy, met with Dutch traders at the main Oneida town. The Onondaga told the Dutch that their people were angered by the high prices and the business practices of the Dutch at Fort Orange. They told the Dutch that they were trading with the French because they could get better prices.

English traders from Boston began trading guns to the Mohawk in 1640 as a part of their efforts to lure them away from the Dutch. The Dutch responded by trading large amounts of guns and ammunition to the nations of the Iroquois Confederacy (of which the Mohawk were a member) and to the Mahican.

By 1645, the Mohawk were repairing their own guns and casting their own shot from lead bars purchased from the Dutch.

In 1649, the Dutch supplied the Iroquois with 400 guns and unlimited ammunition on credit and consequently the Iroquois attacked and destroyed the Huron. The Iroquois also destroyed the Tionontati and Nipissing. The survivors sought refuge among the Ojibwa and the Ottawa. Many historians feel that the Huron were exterminated as their sites were abandoned and their cultural structures destroyed. However, many of the Huron people survived and became a part of other tribes.

This marks the beginning of the westward expansion of the Iroquois and the displacement of many other tribes in the Great Lakes region. The Iroquois wanted increased hunting lands and the increase in furs for trade that would go with this expansion. They also wanted captives to replace their dead. This expansion displaced, both directly and indirectly, many tribes.

In 1664, the English colonists in New England attempted to incite a general war in the Hudson Valley. They tried to encourage the New England tribes to go to war against the Mohawk and to coordinate a general Indian uprising against the Dutch to coincide with an English invasion from Massachusetts.

The English took New York from the Dutch in 1664 and signed a treaty with the Mohawk. The Mohawk continued to trade with the Dutch traders at Albany who had remained to carry on their business under the English flag. The Indians generally felt that English goods were of better quality and sold at lower prices than French goods. This helped the Mohawk maintain their position in the fur trade and their close ties with Albany.

Fort Orange


Indian Justice in New York

( – promoted by navajo)

When one person kills another, it is often considered to be murder and certain legal sanctions can be brought against the killer. On the other hand, when an individual is killed on behalf of the government it is considered an execution and there are no legal sanctions against it. Indian nations had governments and laws long before the arrival of Europeans in North America. With the formation of the United States, there were at times conflicts between the traditional Indian law and that of the states. Part of this conflict was about jurisdiction: should murderers be punished under state law or tribal law.  


In 1801, George Peters, a member of the Brothertown tribe (a group of “praying” or Christian Indians who had moved to New York from New England), killed his wife with a club. He was arrested, tried, and convicted in state court. His conviction was appealed on the grounds of tribal sovereignty: the case should have been adjudicated at the tribal level rather than in state court. The State Supreme Court ruled narrowly that the state had murder jurisdiction over the Brothertown Indians because they were an especially small, weak, and vulnerable people unable to defend their autonomy. In other words, the state did not recognize the sovereignty of small groups of Indians.  The following year George Peters was hung, becoming the first Indian executed by the State of New York.

In 1802, a Seneca known as Stiff-Armed George got into a drunken fracas outside of a tavern. He was beaten and pursued, but then pulled a knife and stabbed two non-Indian men, one fatally. Reluctantly, the Seneca chiefs surrendered him to state authorities. According to Seneca leader Red Jacket:

“Did we ever make a treaty with the state of New York, and agree to conform to its laws? No. We are independent of the state of New-York.”

Red Jacket then presented the state’s governor with a copy of the Treaty of Canandaigua which clearly placed the case in federal jurisdiction. However, the governor wanted to prove state jurisdiction over all of the Indians in New York and the federal government declined to intervene.

The following year, Stiff-Armed George was found guilty of murder in a state court. The jurors, fearing that execution might lead the Seneca to seek revenge, recommended that George be pardoned. The governor suspended the sentence and recommended to the state legislature that George be pardoned. The legislature pardoned Stiff-Armed George provided that he leave the state and not return.


One of the crimes under traditional Iroquois law is that of witchcraft: using supernatural forces to cause harm to another person. The traditional punishment for witchcraft was death. In 1821, the Seneca tribal council convicted Kauquatou of sorcery. Acting on behalf of the tribal council Chief Tommy-Jemmy cut her throat. In response, the state of New York prosecuted Tommy-Jemmy for murder. Red Jacket and Tommy-Jemmy’s court-appointed attorneys argued that the death of Kauquatou was not murder under New York law because it was a legal execution under Seneca law, on Seneca land, by the sovereign Seneca people. The circuit court referred the case to the New York State Supreme Court which noted that no law extends state murder jurisdiction over the Iroquois.

In 1822, the state legislature in response to the murder trial of Seneca chief Tommy-Jemmy passed legislation giving the state sole and exclusive jurisdiction over murders committed within its boundaries. Tommy-Jemmy escaped execution because the new law could not be applied retrospectively to his killing Kauquatou.

Federal Law:

While the federal government was not involved in the early nineteenth century New York cases described above, by the end of the century the Supreme Court ruled that state criminal law did not extend over reservations. As a result, Congress passed the Indian Crimes Act which made murder on a reservation a federal offense.