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Wyandotté;

or,

The Hutted Knoll.

A Tale.

Complete in One Volume.

By J. Fenimore Cooper.

1871.


"I venerate the Pilgrim's cause,
Yet for the red man dare to plead:
We bow to Heaven's recorded laws,
He turns to Nature for his creed."

Sprague.


Preface.


The history of the borders is filled with legends of the sufferings of
isolated families, during the troubled scenes of colonial warfare.
Those which we now offer to the reader, are distinctive in many of
their leading facts, if not rigidly true in the details. The first
alone is necessary to the legitimate objects of fiction.

One of the misfortunes of a nation, is to hear little besides its own
praises. Although the American revolution was probably as just an
effort as was ever made by a people to resist the first inroads of
oppression, the cause had its evil aspects, as well as all other human
struggles. We have been so much accustomed to hear everything extolled,
of late years, that could be dragged into the remotest connection with
that great event, and the principles which led to it, that there is
danger of overlooking truth, in a pseudo patriotism. Nothing is really
patriotic, however, that is not strictly true and just; any more than
it is paternal love to undermine the constitution of a child by an
indiscriminate indulgence in pernicious diet. That there were
demagogues in 1776, is as certain as that there are demagogues in 1843,
and will probably continue to be demagogues as long as means for
misleading the common mind shall exist.

A great deal of undigested morality is uttered to the world, under the
disguise of a pretended public virtue. In the eye of reason, the man
who deliberately and voluntarily contracts civil engagements is more
strictly bound to their fulfilment, than he whose whole obligations
consist of an accident over which he had not the smallest control, that
of birth; though the very reverse of this is usually maintained under
the influence of popular prejudice. The reader will probably discover
how we view this master, in the course of our narrative.

Perhaps this story is obnoxious to the charge of a slight anachronism,
in representing the activity of the Indians a year earlier than any
were actually employed in the struggle of 1775. During the century of
warfare that existed between the English and French colonies, the
savage tribes were important agents in furthering the views of the
respective belligerents. The war was on the frontiers, and these fierce
savages were, in a measure, necessary to the management of hostilities
that invaded their own villages and hunting-grounds. In 1775, the enemy
came from the side of the Atlantic, and it was only after the struggle
had acquired force, that the operations of the interior rendered the
services of such allies desirable. In other respects, without
pretending to refer to any real events, the incidents of this tale are
believed to be sufficiently historical for all the legitimate purposes
of fiction.

In this book the writer has aimed at sketching several distinct
varieties of the human race, as true to the governing impulses of their
educations, habits, modes of thinking and natures. The red man had his
morality, as much as his white brother, and it is well known that even
Christian ethics are coloured and governed, by standards of opinion set
up on purely human authority. The honesty of one Christian is not
always that of another, any more than his humanity, truth, fidelity or
faith. The spirit must quit its earthly tabernacle altogether, ere it
cease to be influenced by its tints and imperfections.


Chapter I.

"An acorn fell from an old oak tree,
And lay on the frosty ground -
'O, what shall the fate of the acorn be?'
Was whispered all around
By low-toned voices chiming sweet,
Like a floweret's bell when swung -
And grasshopper steeds were gathering fleet,
And the beetle's hoofs up-rung."

Mrs. Seba Smith.

There is a wide-spread error on the subject of American scenery. From
the size of the lakes, the length and breadth of the rivers, the vast
solitudes of the forests, and the seemingly boundless expanse of the
prairies, the world has come to attach to it an idea of grandeur; a
word that is in nearly every case, misapplied. The scenery of that
portion of the American continent which has fallen to the share of the
Anglo-Saxon race, very seldom rises to a scale that merits this term;
when it does, it is more owing to the accessories, as in the case of
the interminable woods, than to the natural face of the country. To him
who is accustomed to the terrific sublimity of the Alps, the softened
and yet wild grandeur of the Italian lakes, or to the noble witchery of
the shores of the Mediterranean, this country is apt to seem tame, and
uninteresting as a whole; though it certainly has exceptions that carry
charms of this nature to the verge of loveliness.

Of the latter character is the face of most of that region which lies
in the angle formed by the junction of the Mohawk with the Hudson,
extending as far south, or even farther, than the line of Pennsylvania,
and west to the verge of that vast rolling plain which composes Western
New York. This is a region of more than ten thousand square miles of
surface, embracing to-day, ten counties at least, and supporting a
rural population of near half a million of souls, excluding the river
towns.

All who have seen this district of country, and who are familiar with
the elements of charming, rather than grand scenery it possesses, are
agreed in extolling its capabilities, and, in some instances, its
realities. The want of high finish is common to everything of this sort
in America; and, perhaps we may add, that the absence of
picturesqueness as connected with the works of man, is a general
defect; still, this particular region, and all others resembling it -
for they abound on the wide surface of the twenty-six states - has
beauties of its own, that it would be difficult to meet with in any of
the older portions of the earth.

They who have done us the honour to read our previous works, will at
once understand that the district to which we allude, is that of which
we have taken more than one occasion to write; and we return to it now,
less with a desire to celebrate its charms, than to exhibit them in a
somewhat novel, and yet perfectly historical aspect. Our own earlier
labours will have told the reader, that all of this extended district
of country, with the exception of belts of settlements along the two
great rivers named, was a wilderness, anterior to the American
revolution. There was a minor class of exceptions to this general rule,
however, to which it will be proper to advert, lest, by conceiving us
too literally, the reader may think he can convict us of a
contradiction. In order to be fully understood, the explanations shall
be given at a little length.

While it is true, then, that the mountainous region, which now contains
the counties of Schoharie, Otsego, Chenango, Broome, Delaware, &c., was
a wilderness in 1775, the colonial governors had begun to make grants
of its lands, some twenty years earlier. The patent of the estate on
which we are writing lies before us; and it bears the date of 1769,
with an Indian grant annexed, that is a year or two older. This may be
taken as a mean date for the portion of country alluded to; some of the
deeds being older, and others still more recent. These grants of land
were originally made, subject to quit-rents to the crown; and usually
on the payment of heavy fees to the colonial officers, after going
through the somewhat supererogatory duty of "extinguishing the Indian
title," as it was called. The latter were pretty effectually
"extinguished" in that day, as well as in our own; and it would be a
matter of curious research to ascertain the precise nature of the
purchase-money given to the aborigines. In the case of the patent
before us, the Indian right was "extinguished" by means of a few
rifles, blankets, kettles, and beads; though the grant covers a nominal
hundred thousand, and a real hundred and ten or twenty thousand acres
of land.

The abuse of the grants, as land became more valuable, induced a law,
restricting the number of acres patented to any one person, at any one
time, to a thousand. Our monarchical predecessors had the same
facilities, and it may be added, the same propensities, to rendering a
law a dead letter, as belongs to our republican selves. The patent on
our table, being for a nominal hundred thousand acres, contains the
names of one hundred different grantees, while three several parchment
documents at its side, each signed by thirty-three of these very
persons, vest the legal estate in the first named, for whose sole
benefit the whole concession was made; the dates of the last
instruments succeeding, by one or two days, that of the royal patent
itself.

Such is the history of most of the original titles to the many estates
that dotted the region we have described, prior to the revolution.
Money and favouritism, however were not always the motives of these
large concessions. Occasionally, services presented their claims; and
many instances occur in which old officers of the army, in particular,
received a species of reward, by a patent for land, the fees being duly
paid, and the Indian title righteously "extinguished." These grants to
ancient soldiers were seldom large, except in the cases of officers of
rank; three or four thousand well-selected acres, being a sufficient
boon to the younger sons of Scottish lairds, or English squires, who
had been accustomed to look upon a single farm as an estate.

As most of the soldiers mentioned were used to forest life, from having
been long stationed at frontier posts, and had thus become familiarized
with its privations, and hardened against its dangers, it was no
unusual thing for them to sell out, or go on half-pay, when the wants
of a family began to urge their claims, and to retire to their
"patents," as the land itself, as well as the instrument by which it
was granted, was invariably termed, with a view of establishing
themselves permanently as landlords.

These grants from the crown, in the portions of the colony of New York
that lie west of the river counties, were generally, if not invariably,
simple concessions of the fee, subject to quit-rents to the king, and
reservations of mines of the precious metals, without any of the
privileges of feudal seignory, as existed in the older manors on the
Hudson, on the islands, and on the Sound. Why this distinction was
made, it exceeds our power to say; but, that the fact was so, as a
rule, we have it in proof, by means of a great number of the original
patents, themselves, that have been transmitted to us from various
sources. Still, the habits of "home" entailed the name, even where the
thing was not to be found. Titular manors exist, in a few instances, to
this day, where no manorial rights were ever granted; and manor-houses
were common appellations for the residences of the landlords of large
estates, that were held in fee, without any exclusive privileges, and
subject to the reservation named. Some of these manorial residences
were of so primitive an appearance, as to induce the belief that the
names were bestowed in pleasantry; the dwellings themselves being of
logs, with the bark still on them, and the other fixtures to
correspond. Notwithstanding all these drawbacks, early impressions and
rooted habits could easily transfer terms to such an abode; and there
was always a saddened enjoyment among these exiles, when they could
liken their forest names and usages to those they had left in the
distant scenes of their childhood.

The effect of the different causes we have here given was to dot the
region described, though at long intervals, with spots of a semi-
civilized appearance, in the midst of the vast - nay, almost boundless -
expanse of forest. Some of these early settlements had made
considerable advances towards finish and comfort, ere the war of '76
drove their occupants to seek protection against the inroads of the
savages; and long after the influx of immigration which succeeded the
peace, the fruits, the meadows, and the tilled fields of these oases in
the desert, rendered them conspicuous amidst the blackened stumps,
piled logs, and smooty fallows of an active and bustling settlement. At
even a much later day, they were to be distinguished by the smoother
surfaces of their fields, the greater growth and more bountiful yield
of their orchards, and by the general appearance of a more finished
civilization, and of greater age. Here and there, a hamlet had sprung
up; and isolated places, like Cherry Valley and Wyoming, were found,
that have since become known to the general history of the country.

Our present tale now leads us to the description of one of those early,
personal, or family settlements, that had grown up, in what was then a
very remote part of the territory in question, under the care and
supervision of an ancient officer of the name of Willoughby. Captain
Willoughby, after serving many years, had married an American wife, and
continuing his services until a son and daughter were born, he sold his
commission, procured a grant of land, and determined to retire to his
new possessions, in order to pass the close of his life in the tranquil
pursuits of agriculture, and in the bosom of his family. An adopted
child was also added to his cares. Being an educated as well as a
provident man, Captain Willoughby had set about the execution of this
scheme with deliberation, prudence, and intelligence. On the frontiers,
or lines, as it is the custom to term the American boundaries, he had
become acquainted with a Tuscarora, known by the English
_sobriquet_ of "Saucy Nick." This fellow, a sort of half-outcast from
his own people, had early attached himself to the whites, had acquired
their language, and owing to a singular mixture of good and bad
qualities, blended with great native shrewdness, he had wormed himself
into the confidence of several commanders of small garrisons, among
whom was our captain. No sooner was the mind of the latter made up,
concerning his future course, than he sent for Nick, who was then in
the fort; when the following conversation took place:

"Nick," commenced the captain, passing his hand over his brow, as was
his wont when in a reflecting mood; "Nick, I have an important movement
in view, in which you can be of some service to me."

The Tuscarora, fastening his dark basilisk-like eyes on the soldier,
gazed a moment, as if to read his soul; then he jerked a thumb
backward, over his own shoulder, and said, with a grave smile -

"Nick understand. Want six, two, scalp off Frenchman's head; wife and
child; out yonder, over dere, up in Canada. Nick do him - what you
give?"

"No, you red rascal, I want nothing of the sort - it is peace now, (this
conversation took place in 1764), and you know I never bought a scalp,
in time of war. Let me hear no more of this."

"What you want, _den_?" asked Nick, like one who was a good deal
puzzled.

"I want land - _good_ land - little, but _good_. I am about to
get a grant - a patent - "

"Yes," interrupted Nick, nodding; "I know _him_ - paper to take
away Indian's hunting-ground."

"Why, I have no wish to do that - I am willing to pay the red men
reasonably for their right, first."

"Buy Nick's land, den - better dan any oder."

"Your land, knave! - You own no land - belong to no tribe - have no rights
to sell."

"What for ask Nick help, den?"

"What for? - Why because you _know_ a good deal, though you own
literally nothing. That's what for."

"Buy Nick _know_, den. Better dan he great fader _know_, down
at York."

"That is just what I do wish to purchase. I will pay you well, Nick, if
you will start to-morrow, with your rifle and a pocket-compass, off
here towards the head-waters of the Susquehannah and Delaware, where
the streams run rapidly, and where there are no fevers, and bring me an
account of three or four thousand acres of rich bottom-land, in such a
way as a surveyor can find it, and I can get a patent for it. What say
you, Nick; will you go?"

"He not wanted. Nick sell 'e captain, his own land: here in 'e fort."

"Knave, do you not know me well enough not to trifle, when I am
serious?"

"Nick ser'ous too - Moravian priest no ser'ouser more dan Nick at dis
moment. Got land to sell."

Captain Willoughby had found occasion to punish the Tuscarora, in the
course of his services; and as the parties understood each other
perfectly well, the former saw the improbability of the latter's daring
to trifle with him.

"Where is this land of yours, Nick," he inquired, after studying the
Indian's countenance for a moment. "Where does it lie, what is it like,
how much is there of it, and how came you to own it?"

"Ask him just so, ag'in," said Nick, taking up four twigs, to note down
the questions, _seriatim_.

The captain repeated his inquiries, the Tuscarora laying down a stick
at each separate interrogatory.

"Where he be?" answered Nick, taking up a twig, as a memorandum. "He
out dere - where he want him - where he say. - One day's march from
Susquehanna."

"Well; proceed."

"What he like? - Like land, to be sure. T'ink he like water! Got
_some_ water - no too much - got some land - got no tree - got some tree.
Got good sugar-bush - got place for wheat and corn."

"Proceed."

"How much of him?" continued Nick, taking up another twig; "much as he
want - want little, got him - want more, got him. Want none at all, got
none at all - got what he want."

"Go on."

"To be sure. How came to own him? - How a pale face come to own America?
_Discover_ him - ha! - Well, Nick discover land down yonder, up
dere, over here."

"Nick, what the devil do you mean by all this?"

"No mean devil, at all - mean land - _good_ land. _Discover_
him - know where he is - catch beaver dere, three, two year. All Nick
say, true as word of honour; much more too."

"Do you mean it is an old beaver-dam destroyed?" asked the captain,
pricking up his ears; for he was too familiar with the woods, not to
understand the value of such a thing.

"No destroy - stand up yet - good as ever. - Nick dere, last season."

"Why, then, do you tell of it? Are not the beaver of more value to you,
than any price you may receive for the land?"

"Cotch him all, four, two year ago - rest run away. No find beaver to
stay long, when Indian once know, two time, where to set he trap.
Beaver cunninger 'an pale face - cunning as bear."

"I begin to comprehend you, Nick. How large do you suppose this pond to
be?"

"He 'm not as big as Lake Ontario. S'pose him smaller, what den? Big
enough for farm."

"Does it cover one or two hundred acres, think you? - Is it as large as
the clearing around the fort?"

"Big as two, six, four of him. Take forty skin, dere one season. Little
lake; all 'e tree gone."

"And the land around it - is it mountainous and rough, or will it be
good for corn?"

"All sugar-bush - what you want better? S'pose you want corn;
_plant_ him. S'pose you want sugar; _make_ him."

Captain Willoughby was struck with this description, and he returned to
the subject, again and again. At length, after extracting all the
information he could get from Nick, he struck a bargain with the
fellow. A surveyor was engaged, and he started for the place, under the
guidance of the Tuscarora. The result showed that Nick had not
exaggerated. The pond was found, as he had described it to be, covering
at least four hundred acres of low bottom-land; while near three
thousand acres of higher river-flat, covered with beach and maple,
spread around it for a considerable distance. The adjacent mountains
too, were arable, though bold, and promised, in time, to become a
fertile and manageable district. Calculating his distances with
judgment, the surveyor laid out his metes and bounds in such a manner
as to include the pond, all the low-land, and about three thousand
acres of hill, or mountain, making the materials for a very pretty
little "patent" of somewhat more than six thousand acres of capital
land. He then collected a few chiefs of the nearest tribe, dealt out
his rum, tobacco, blankets, wampum, and gunpowder, got twelve Indians
to make their marks on a bit of deer-skin, and returned to his employer
with a map, a field-book, and a deed, by which the Indian title was
"extinguished." The surveyor received his compensation, and set off on
a similar excursion, for a different employer, and in another
direction. Nick got his reward, too, and was well satisfied with the
transaction. This he afterwards called "sellin' beaver when he all run
away."

Furnished with the necessary means, Captain Willoughby now "sued out
his patent," as it was termed, in due form. Having some influence, the
affair was soon arranged; the grant was made by the governor in
council, a massive seal was annexed to a famous sheet of parchment, the
signatures were obtained, and "Willoughby's Patent" took its place on
the records of the colony, as well as on its maps. We are wrong as
respects the latter particular; it did not take _its_ place, on
the maps of the colony, though it took _a_ place; the location
given for many years afterwards, being some forty or fifty miles too
far west. In this peculiarity there was nothing novel, the surveys of
all new regions being liable to similar trifling mistakes. Thus it was,
that an estate, lying within five-and-twenty miles of the city of New
York, and in which we happen to have a small interest at this hour, was
clipped of its fair proportions, in consequence of losing some miles
that run over obtrusively into another colony; and, within a short
distance of the spot where we are writing, a "patent" has been squeezed
entirely out of existence, between the claims of two older grants.

No such calamity befell "Willoughby's Patent," however. The land was
found, with all its "marked or _blazed_ trees," its "heaps of
stones," "large butternut corners," and "dead oaks." In a word,
everything was as it should be; even to the quality of the soil, the
beaver-pond, and the quantity. As respects the last, the colony never
gave "struck measure;" a thousand acres on paper, seldom falling short
of eleven or twelve hundred in soil. In the present instance, the six
thousand two hundred and forty-six acres of "Willoughby's Patent," were
subsequently ascertained to contain just seven thousand and ninety-two
acres of solid ground.

Our limits and plan will not permit us to give more than a sketch of
the proceedings of the captain, in taking possession; though we feel
certain that a minute account of the progress of such a settlement
would possess a sort of Robinson Crusoe-like interest, that might repay
the reader. As usual, the adventurers commenced their operations in the
spring. Mrs. Willoughby, and the children, were left with their
friends, in Albany; while the captain and his party pioneered their way
to the patent, in the best manner they could. This party consisted of
Nick, who went in the capacity of hunter, an office of a good deal of
dignity, and of the last importance, to a set of adventurers on an
expedition of this nature. Then there were eight axe-men, a house-
carpenter, a mason, and a mill-wright. These, with Captain Willoughby,
and an invalid sergeant, of the name of Joyce, composed the party.

Our adventurers made most of their journey by water. After finding
their way to the head of the Canaideraga, mistaking it for the Otsego,
they felled trees, hollowed them into canoes, embarked, and, aided by a
yoke of oxen that were driven along the shore, they wormed their way,
through the Oaks, into the Susquehanna, descending that river until
they reached the Unadilla, which stream they ascended until they came
to the small river, known in the parlance of the country, by the
erroneous name of a creek, that ran through the captain's new estate.
The labour of this ascent was exceedingly severe; but the whole journey
was completed by the end of April, and while the streams were high.
Snow still lay in the woods; but the sap had started, and the season
was beginning to show its promise.

The first measure adopted by our adventurers was to "hut." In the very
centre of the pond, which, it will be remembered, covered four hundred
acres, was an island of some five or six acres in extent. It was a
rocky knoll, that rose forty feet above the surface of the water, and
was still crowned with noble pines, a species of tree that had escaped



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