James Fenimore Cooper.

Wyandotté; or, The hutted knoll online

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"I venerate the Pilgrim s cause,
Yft for the rt-d man clure t(i plead:
We bow to Heaven s recorded laws,
H turns to Nature for his creed." Sprague





Entered, according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1843, by


in the clerk s office of the district court of the United States, for tho
Northern District of New York.


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 oppres
sion, the cause had its evil aspects, as well as all
other human struggles. We have been so much ac
customed 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, how
ever, 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 per
nicious 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 delibe
rately 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 matter, 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 bel
ligerents. The war was on the frontiers, and these
fierce savages w r ere, 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 opera
tions of the interior rendered the services of such
allies desirable. In other respects, without pretend
ing 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 Chris
tian 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.



44 An acorn It ll from an old oak tree,
And lay on the frosty ground
*O, what shall the fate of the acorn be?*
Was whispered all around
Uy low-toned voices chiming sweet,
Like a floweret s hell when swung
And grasshop|)cr steeds were gathering fleet,
And the beetle s hoofs up-rung."


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 seem
ingly 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
co the natural face of the country. To him who is accus
tomed 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 Mo
hawk 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 ^suirfac^, e-mbracing to-day, ten counties at least,
a,nd. supporting a .rural population of near half a million of
cbuls, exelueiiEg the river: towns.

Afi who have 1 seeV 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 occa
sion 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 por
tion 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 eflbctually " 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 mo
narchical 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, con
tains 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 conces
sion 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 par
ticular, 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

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 har
dened 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, ar.d 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 dis
tinction was made, it exceeds our power to say j 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 tjlle^


fields of fnese 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 ter
ritory in question, under the care and supervision of an
ancient officer of the name of Willoughby. Captain Wil-
lough by, after serving many years, had married an Ameri
can 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 posses
sions, 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
1 ecome 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
groat 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
convocation 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."

VOL. I. 2


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 French
man 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
understood each other perfectly well, the former saw the
improbability of the latter s daring to trifle with him.

" U liere 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
twii^s, 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 Susquchanna."

" 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

" 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 moan 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 loo."

" 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 tho
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

Captain Wi Hough by 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 con
siderable distance. The adjacent mountains too, were ara
ble, 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 col
lected 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 tho
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 conse
quence 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," how-
ever. 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 tho
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 pos
session ; 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 expedi
tion 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, mis
taking it for the Otsego, they felled trees, hollowed them
into canoes, embarked, and, aided by a yoke of oxen that

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWyandotté; or, The hutted knoll → online text (page 1 of 39)