A. D. (Amos Delos) Gridley.

History of the town of Kirkland, New York (Volume 1) online

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habits of the people. For a time everything went on
smoothly. But lo ! in a few weeks his host died sud-
denly in the night. " What means this? " inquired the
superstitious red men. Some of his enemies avowed that
he had caused this death by magic ; others, that the
Great Spirit was angry because they had permitted the
strange teacher to come among them ; and they clamored
for his life. A council was called to consider this matter,
and held its sessions for six days. At first the result
seemed doubtful. On the third day, one of his friends,
apprehensive as to the issue, put a gun into his hands,
and led him into the woods, as if for hunting partridges,
but, in reality, to conceal him in a distant and secret hut
until the public excitement should pass over. At length,
after long deliberation, the missionary was acquitted, and
restored to general confidence. Several days after the
dispersion of the council, the chief took Mr. Kirkland
aside, and observed to him, quite naively, that " some
Indians were afraid of writing, as it would speak for a
great many years afterward, and that, whenever he wrote
to Sir William, therefore, it would be good for him to
call several of the chiefs together, and interpret to them
what he had written : this would please them, and make
their hearts glad." The young missionary was shrewd
enough to see that this speech was designed to prevent
his writing to Mr. Johnson an account of the late diffi-
culty. They were heartily ashamed of it.

A speech of one of the leading men in this council (as
afterwards reported to Mr. Kirkland) ran thus : " This
white skin whom we call our brother has come upon a
dark design, or he would not have travelled so many hun-
dred miles. He brings the white people's book. They


call it God's holy book. Brothers, attend ! You know
this book was never made for Indians. The Great Spirit
gave us a book for ourselves. He wrote it in our heads."
This speech became inflammatory as it went on, and
closed with a demand for the white man's blood. The
widow of the deceased was then called to testify whether
this priest did not carry with him some magical powders.
" Did he never come to the bedside, and whisper in your
husband's ear, or puff in his face ? " " No, never," replied
the honest woman ; " he always sat or lay down on his
own bunk ; and in the evening, after we were in bed, we
could see him get down on his knees and talk with a low
voice." Whether this testimony to his pious integrity,
or the fear of incurring Sir William's displeasure, had
most influence upon their decision, we care not now to

In March and April of the following year there was a
great scarcity of food among the Senecas and the adjoin-
ing tribes. Not only was their stock of corn exhausted,
but game of all sorts became scarce, and for a time noth-
ing but roots and nuts kept them from starvation. Ex-
peditions were sent out in various directions for supplies,
one of which, to the Mohawk Valley, headed by Mr. Kirk-
land, came back loaded with food and blankets. As soon
as he had mastered the language so as to speak it, he went
from village to village, instructing the people in religion.
He saw, indeed, that many suspicious eyes were fixed
upon him, and that in some breasts the old hatred was
still burning ; but he hoped to outlive this prejudice, and
so kept on at his work as if unconscious of danger. f~

A single incident, illustrating the cherished malignity
of some of the Indians, may nojt be out of place here. Re-
turning, one summer's day, from a neighboring settlement


on the lake shore, singing hyihns as he went, and talking
to his favorite pony, he espied an Indian skulking through
a neighboring thicket, and picking the flint of his gun, as
if preparing to fire. A moment's glance showed him that
this was one of h;s old enemies, — a vindictive and fero-
cious fellow, capable of any deed of savage cruelty. As-
sured that this man was intent on destroying his life, he
yet rode on, betraying no sign of fear. " Stop ! stop ! "
shouted the Indian. Mr. Kirkland replied, as if misun-
derstanding him, " I have been over on the other side of
the lake," meanwhile quickening his horse into greater
speed. Shortly afterward, he turned his head enough to
see that the murderer ha.d raised his gun to his shoulder.
In a moment more, he heard the snap of the lock. The
gun missing fire, the savage again bade him halt ; but he
pushed on, though expecting every instant to feel the bul-
let in his back. The click of the missing lock again
reached his ear, and now he spurred his horse into a full
run, and ere long reached home unharmed. What trans-
pired subsequently we are not informed, except that this
man, convinced that the Great Spirit loved the mission-
ary with a special love, and guarded him from impending
danger, came and humbly begged his pardon, and thence-
forward remained his stanch friend.

After Mr. Kirkland had spent a year and a half among
the Senecas, — a period full of hardship and danger, —
he returned to New England to receive ordination. Ar-
riving at Lebanon, he was formally set apart to the work
of the ministry, and was at the same time appointed In-
dian missionary under the charge of the Connecticut
Board of the Scottish Missionary Society. It will be ob-
served that he had pursued no prescribed curriculum of
theological study ; his teachers in divinity had been the


experiences of eighteen months among the sons of the
forest. Yet he had not wholly neglected books. No
small part of the load which he and his guides carried in
their knapsacks through the wilderness consisted of choice
treatises on Biblical learning. After his ordination, the
Missionary Board decided against his return to the Sene-
cas, and commissioned him, instead, to the Oneidas, who
were somewhat central among the Six Nations, and
seemed more willing than any other tribe to receive in-
struction. Mr. Kirkland, from first to last, regarded
them as the noblest portion of the confederacy. Brave
and fierce in war, they yet were generous, hospitable, and
benevolent in social life. Plainly, too, they were not
wanting in shrewd and nice discernment of character,
since they styled the white man " a &m/e-man," — in
allusion, doubtless, to the favorite recreation of our whit-
tling ancestors.

In July, 1766, Mr. Kirkland started for his new field,
and ere long arrived at Kanonwarohale, the principal vil-
lage of the tribe, situated near what is now known as
Oneida Castle. Intending to make this a permanent
residence, he built for himself a log-house, doing much of
the work with his own hands. He soon formed plans and
commenced labors for the good of his new parish, — plans
and labors which were not wholly in vain. Thus occu-
pied, he spent three years of useful activity, not sinking
under bodily privations and discomforts, nor discouraged
by the indifference or opposition of the natives, but toil-
ing onward with a cheerful faith, instructing the igno-
rant, restraining the vicious, and declaring to all the un-
known God whom they ignorantly worshipped. In the
spring of 1769, his hardships had so worn upon his health
that his friends urged him to rest awhile and to visit


New England. This was just what he needed. The
summer's recreation on his native hills restored him, and
before the autumn set in he was ready to return to his
post of duty. But is it strange that he now began to
think it not good for a missionary to be alone ? Several
years before this, his correspondence betrays, now and
then, a touch of the tender passion. To his friend, Dr.
Wheelock, he writes : "I thank you, reverend sir, for
the frequent mention of a certain name in your letters,
which is very agreeable in this rough, unhewn part of the
world ; and I can assure you the person would be much
more so, were I in a proper situation for the sweetest joy
of life. But farewell to that for the present." His
circumstances having now somewhat improved, he sought
and won in marriage the hand of Jerusha Bingham, a
niece of Dr. Wheelock.

Our narrative must not linger to follow the happy pair
in their boat-passage up the Mohawk River, and their
horseback tour through the woods to Oneida, his wife on
a pillion behind her husband. Nor can we dwell upon
his enlargement of his log-house to the dimensions of six-
teen feet square, making it quite a spacious and stylish
residence for the time and place. This, however, should
be said, that Mrs. Kirkland's presence among the Indians
was immediately felt, diffusing a spirit of order, industry
and purity on every side, and improving the dress and
maimers of both men and women. Her husband, too,
engaged in his work with new energy. His schools
flourished, intemperance was checked, the Sabbath was
better observed, and not a few persons appeared truly
reformed in heart and life. At this very day, there are
families among the descendants of the Oneida tribe at
Green Bay, Wisconsin, who trace back" the respectability


and virtue of their ancestors, to the labors of the mission-
ary at this period.

In the year 1770 Mr. Kirkland transferred his relations
from the Scottish Board of Missions to the London So-
ciety, whose correspondents resided in Boston. He also
now interested himself more in the material prosperity of
the Oneidas. A saw-mill, a grist-mill, and a blacksmith's
shop were built the same year, with a substantial school-
house and church. Then oxen were purchased, and farm-
ing utensils in considerable variety. During the next
year Mrs. Kirkland)! became the happy mother of twin
sons, whom the parents named George Whitefield and
John Thornton. The Indians were greatly rejoiced at
this event ; they adopted the boys into their tribe with a
gleeful ceremony, and gave them significant and high-
sounding names. The following summer and winter Mrs.
Kirkland spent at Stockbridge, Mass., intending to re-
turn in the spring. But when that season came, such
disturbances had arisen among the Six Nations, with the
prospect also of war between the Colonies and the mother
country, that Mr. Kirkland thought it prudent to pur-
chase a house for her in Stockbridge, where she could
remain with her children in safety.

Now begins a turbulent period in the life of our mis-
sionary. Sir William Johnson having died, his son,
Colonel Guy Johnson, was made Superintendent in his
stead. " Another king arose who knew not Joseph."
In every possible way he showed hostility to him and the
objects of his mission. A sturdy royalist, he tried to ar-
ray the Indians against the colonists. A bigoted Church-
man, he hated Mr. Kirkland's Puritanism, and reviled his
clerical pretensions before the natives, affirming that he
and all the otheY " New England ministers were not true


ministers of the gospel," and " that they held to dan-
gerous doctrines." " You Indians," he declared with
much warmth, " ought to pray only according to those
forms which the king has set forth in the prayer-book,
and you must learn the responses." The angry colonel
failed to carry his point. The natives summoned a coun-
cil, in which they resolved to send him a belt of wampum .
and a messenger to make a speech defending the mission-
ary and deprecating all interference with his work. At
the same time, they paid due respect to the position and
dignity of the colonel. This firm yet temperate and
reasonable course had the desired effect.

During the Revolutionary War. which now began, we
have no full or connected account of Mr. Kirkland's life.
His labors as missionary and teacher were much inter-
rupted by the efforts of the royalists to enlist the Indians
against the colonists. During this period of agitation, he
was often absent from Oneida, now serving as chaplain
in the Continental army, and then engaged by appoint-
ment of the government in endeavors to hold the Six Na-
tions in a state of neutrality. In this latter capacity he
took lono- iournevs in various directions to attend councils
among the different tribes. For a time his exertions
promised success, but the persistent efforts of Joseph
Brant, Colonel Johnson, and other British agents, were
too much for him. The Oneidas and Tuscaroras re-
mained firm ; but the Mohawks, Senecas and others
wavered, and then fell away. Every reader of American
history is familiar with that bloody page which recounts
the descent of St. Leger, at this time, from Oswego, with
a large body of Indians, attacking Fort Schuyler (now
Utica), and ravaging no small part of the valley of the
Mohawk. At these scenes of violence, the Oneidas and


Tuscaroras became greatly excited. Like all other
savages, they delighted in war. To keep the peace, as
the colonists desired, was the hardest thing that could be
demanded of them ; they wanted to fight on one side or
the other. After two years of impatient neutrality,
General Schuyler gratified them by allowing a few hun-
dred warriors, headed by the famous Oneida chief,
Skenandoa, to engage in certain special services. In the
years 1777 and 1778, we find Mr. Kirkland at one time
on short visits to his family ; again at Oneida, endeavor-
ing to cheer and control his people amid the troubles of
the times ; and again at various places, procuring infor-
mation from friendly scouts of the movements of the
enemy along our northern frontier. In 1779 he was
brigade chaplain with General Sullivan, in his campaign
on the Susquehanna.

On the return of peace, in 1784, he was reappointed a
missionary among the Oneidas. But he found, alas ! that
war had sown desolation in its track. It left the red men
poor, their habits of industry broken up, their morals de-
praved, and their schools and churches almost forsaken.
Yet he was not discouraged. He resumed his work with
hopefulness and ardor. In the course of a year the affairs
of his flock looked encouraging. The natives became
more intelligent, and showed a disposition to inquire
into, and an ability to understand, the leading truths of
Christianity. A Cayuga chief, who had heard favorable
reports of the white priest and his Bible, came sixty miles
to visit him. The origin of the christian religion, the
inspiration of the Scriptures, the law of God, the his-
tory of Christ, — such high themes were the subjects
of their conversation. The sagamore admitted that
Christianity was a pretty good sort of religion. But just


as lie was leaving, Satan put it into his heart to inquire
why, if the Bible was so good a book, it had been so long
withheld from heathen nations ; and this he followed up
with other questions of casuistry, — among the rest, that
old thorny perplexity, the origin of evil, — all produced
for the sake of debate and fault-finding. The missionary
replied to these inquiries in an able manner, but feared
that the chief went back to his tribe little benefited by
his visit.

A happier case was that of a venerable Indian, who had
been quite a Pharisee, and was accounted one of the
wisest men of his tribe, but who, after several discussions
with Mr. Kirkland, was convinced of the falsity and cor-
ruption of paganism and of the truth and purity of
Christianity, and then entreated his teacher to " come
and cast water on him in the name of Jesus." The con-
version of this leading man was the beginning of a
general reformation. For a period of seven months not
an instance of intoxication was observed. In the three
villages under Mr. Kirkland's care upwards of seventy
persons were believed to have become truly religious.
Not seldom did he see persons in his congregation
who had walked twenty and thirty miles to hear him

"When the troublous period of the Revolution was over,
Mrs. Kirkland had hoped to return to Oneida, to share
with her husband in his privations and labors. But the
want of schools and of suitable society for her children
detained her in Stockbridge year after year. One of her
sons, John Thornton, — a name afterwards to become
eminent in the Presidency of Harvard College, — was
sent to Phillips Academy, Andover, and thence, in due
time, to Cambridge. The twin brother JGeorge, was sent


to Dartmouth College. In the year 1788, when the
hopes and prospects of the family were very bright, the
mother was taken away, — a blow from which the chil-
dren, as well as the husband and father, were slow to re-
cover. In the summer of this year, Mr. Kirkland was
directed by the Missionary Board to perform a tour
among the other tribes of the confederacy, in order to as-
certain their real numbers, and to learn their desires in
reference to missionaries and teachers. In connection
with this, he was requested by the State government to
attend a council of chiefs and State Commissioners held
at Buffalo Creek, for the transaction of important busi-
ness. It was found that the Six Nations numbered about
4350, exclusive of the Mohawks, who had left the con-
federacy and settled north of Lake Erie ; also, that they
were not friendly to the proposal to send New England
missionaries among them ; at least, if any were sent, they
insisted on having only such as would baptize the children
of all parents, however ungodly. It would seem that
Mr. Kirkland's services as interpreter and mediator in the
council were highly valued by both parties. At the con-
clusion, " the chiefs unanimously returned him their
thanks for his friendly aid and advice." The commis-
sioners also voted that, " in consideration of the services
rendered .... by the Rev. Mr. Kirkland, two thousand
acres of land .... shall be appropriated and given
gratis to the said Mr. Kirkland, for the accommodation
of his sons, or for such other purpose as he may think
proper." 1 And at the close of this year, the State of New
York and the Indians conjointly made him a grant of
valuable lands in Oneida County amounting in all to
about 4760 acres. The tract, since known as Kirkland's

l This land lay in Ontario County.


patent, was two miles square, and lay on the west side of
what is now styled " the Property Line," its northeast
corner being just outside the present park of Hamilton

This year and the next find him busy in his appropri-
ate work, yet not without troubles. His meetings were
sometimes interrupted by noisy and drunken men. More
than once plans were laid to take his life. One morning,
a bloody tomahawk was found stuck in his door, an inti-
mation that he must soon leave the neighborhood, or
expect the tomahawk. French traders brought in Jesuit
priests to combat his teachings and assail his reputation.
But he bore his trials manfully, and his influence among
the people was strengthened under every attempt to
weaken it.

During the summer of 1789, several head men of the
tribe came to confer with him in reference to the con-
dition and prospects of their nation. Earnestly, and
sometimes tearfully, they spoke of their poor people, con-
trasting their lot with that of the whites. They coidd
not help seeing that the English were increasing in num-
bers and power, while they were becoming weaker ; and,
beholding this, they exclaimed, " The rivers and harbors
which once received only a few canoes of ours are now
crowded with the great ships of the white people !
Lands which our forefathers sold for a few pence could
not now be purchased of the whites for a hundred or a
thousand dollars ! Where we had only a few smokes
(wigwams), they have now great cities and lofty houses ! "
A lamentation which poetry has caught up and re-
peated :

" They waste us, — aye, like April snow,
In the warm noon, we shrink away :


And fast they follow, as we go
Towards the setting day, —
Till they shall fill the land, and we
Are driven into the western sea."

As they dwelt upon this theme, their breasts would
heave and their eyes flash with sorrowful indignation.
" Why this difference ? " they exclaimed, in tones of
piteous despair. " Does not the curse of Heaven rest
upon us for some old transgression, which we are power-
less to remove, and which prevents our reformation and
our prosperity ? " A strange superstition, indeed ; yet,
in these lamentations over their impending fate, what a
touch of nobleness ! Mr. Kirkland handled the matter
wisely. He unfolded the influence of ignorance/and vice,
and of knowledge and virtue, respectively, on individual
and national character ; and he showed that herein, and
not in any malediction of Heaven, lay the difference be-
tween the lot of the Indians and that of the whites. He
endeavored to cheer and encourage them, assuring them
that by diffusing intelligence, and by cultivating habits
of industry and virtue, they might hope to rise to a con-
dition of comfort and prosperity.

Among the records of the following summer, we note
intimations that he was then giving much thought to a
system of thorough education for the Indians of the Five
Nations. He even went so far as to draw out his " Plan "
in writing, and to submit it to the consideration of sev-
eral leading civilians. These gentlemen expressed their
approbation of his scheme, but did not think the time
quite ripe for its execution.

In the winter of 1791, the general government again
sought his aid in conducting a negotiation between
them and the confederacy, the design of which was to


strengthen their attachment to the government, and to
secure a more general introduction among them of the
arts of civilization. Washington felt a deep interest in
this movement, and General Knox wrote to Mr. Kirkland
more than once, expressing the high sense which the
government entertained of his services, and urging him,
if consistent with his other duties, to undertake tin's new
labor. A hostile feeling had lately sprung up against
the whites, and plans were maturing in secret to combine
the whole confederacy and the Western tribes against the
American government. Thanks to the missionary's
great personal influence and untiring exertions, this con-
spiracy was nipped in the bud. The Five Nations were
induced to remain firm in their adhesion to the govern-
ment, and eventually adopted some of the measures pro-
posed for their improvement.

Is it surprising that Mr. Kirkland now desired to
gather the separated members of his family under one
roof and under his own eye? With this in view, he
cleared several acres of his landed property near Oneida,
and built a house upon it. The removal of his effects
having been accomplished under the charge of his son
John Thornton, he plied his missionary work with all his
accustomed zeal. During this year some friendly hand
presented his educational scheme to Congress, and it met
with such favor that a yearly grant of $1500 was voted,
to aid in teaching the natives agriculture and some of the
useful arts.

In August, 1792, he attended the Commencement at
Dartmouth College, accompanied by an Oneida chief,
named Onondego, whose remarkable presence attracted
much attention. The trustees and faculty of the col-
lege paid marked respect to Mr. Kirkland during this


visit. On Commencement day, President Wheelock ad-
dressed Onondego from the rostrum. A part of his
response addressed to the graduating class ran as fol-
lows : —

" My young brothers, I salute you. My yery heart has been
gladdened by your pleasant voices. Although I understand but little
of your language, I see marks of wisdom, and an enlarged mind, in
many things you have said in your talks this day. This is the place
for enlightening the mind. . . .

" My young brothers, attend. In the world there are many
things* which cause tbe unwary to step out of the right path. Hear
what I say. Be watchful. Do not forget wdiat you have learned.
Never go out of the straight path. It has been marked out by the
instructions of your chief. . . . Let every step in your future life
. . . show that you love peace and the true religion ; and the Great
Spirit will bless you. The light begins to break forth a little among
us in yonder wilderness."

From Hanover they went to Boston and Cambridge.
At the college, the chief became quite a " lion " to the
undergraduates ; his grave and crisp remarks on what he
saw and heard pleased them not a little. The library,

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Online LibraryA. D. (Amos Delos) GridleyHistory of the town of Kirkland, New York (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 17)