Samuel W Durant.

History of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers online

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powers of in authority would seem to have been in
many instances rather advisory than executive. There were
no written records, but the wampum-keeper was expected to
preserve carefully the insignia of councils and treaties, with
which was connected everything of importance pertaining
to national afliiirs ; and these keepers familiarized them-
selves so perfectly with the meaning of the archives, so to
speak, that a minute and astonishingly accurate knowledge
of all important transactions was transmitted from genera-
tion to generation.

Tlie conquered nations were sometimes given the privilege
of uniting with their conquerors, and thi^s preserving their
individual existence, though their former nationality would
of course bo lost ; and it is said that, in the case of the
Erics and the Neuter nation, they were given the alterna-
tive of union or annihilation. By this peculiar process
there is no doubt the Iroquois kept their numbers (con-
stantly diminished by their incessant wars) up to an aver-
age standard, and probably increased them. At all events,
their empire increased and enlarged until, nominally, it
covered a territory equivalent to a million square miles.

f See League of the Inir[uuis, jiagc 71.



In summing up the peculiarities of this remarkable
league, Morgan uses the following language:

..." A blending of the national sovereignties into one
government was sought for and achieved by these forest
statesmen. The league made the Jfo-de'-no-sau-nee one
people, with one government, one system of institutions,
one executive will. Yet the powers of the government
were not so entirely centralized that the national independ-
ence disappeared. . . . The crowning feature of the league,
as a political structure, was the perfect independence and
individuality of the national sovereignties in the midst of
a central and all-embracing government, which presented
such a cemented exterior that its subdivisions would
scarcely have been discovered in the general transactions of
the league."

The Tribes. — The same writer states that each nation
was subdivided into eight tribes, arranged in two divisions,
and named as follows :

WoLP, Bear, Beaver, Turtle.
Deer, Snipe, Heron, Hawk.

But there seems to be some doubt about the precise num-
ber in a part of the nations, for in a foot-note a little
farther on, he says the Tuscuroras had seven, the Oiieidas
three, and the Molicncks three; and their traditions seem
to confirm the statement. Of the origin of these tribal
divisions very little is known. Tradition declares that the
Bear and Deer were the original tribes, and that the re-
mainder were subsequent subdivisions.

It is said that, to insure a perfect and self-perpetuating
structure, an indissoluble union, each of the tribes was sub-
divided into five parts, and one-fifth placed in each nation,
thus weaving the whole Confederacy together with the
closest ties of consanguinity. It was simply a league con-
structed upon family relationships, and probably the most
indestructible form of union ever devised by any people.

Mnriiage. — In order to perpetuate this remarkable
structure, a curious marriage relation was adopted. Mem-
bers of the Wolf, Bear, Beaver, and Turtle tribes, being
considered as brothers and sisters, were not allowed to in-
termarry, but they were free to choose partners from either
of the four remaining tribes. Whoever transgressed this
rule was held up to everlasting scorn and contempt. In
process of time, however, as circumstances changed, the
rigor of this law was somewhat relaxed, and marriage was
allowed with any tribe but thuir own, and this rule is
strictly adhered to at the present time.

One of the most remarkable features of the confederation
was the law which vested all rights, titles, and property in
the female line.

" By the opei'ation of this principle, also, the certainty of
the descent in tlie tribe of their principal chiefs was se-
cured by a rule infallible ; for the child be the son of
its mother, although not necessarily of its mother's hus-
band. If the purity of blood bo of any moment, the law-
givers of the Iroquois established the only certain rule the
case admits of, whereby the assurance might be enjoyed
that the ruling sachem was of the same family or tribe with
the first taker of the title."*

^- Morgan.

At all their councils the nations wore divided info two
classes, and arranged upon opposite sides of the council-fire.
The Onondaxjas, Moluncks, and Senecas, who were re-
garded as brothers, and fathers of the otlier nations, were
ranged upon one side, and the Oneidas and Cnyngas, and
subsequently the Tiiscaroras, who were likewise regarded
as brothers, but children of the others, upon the other side.

Order of precedence. — In enumerating the nations, for
some unexplained reason the Mohaivks were first named.
In the general councils they were styled Da-gd-e-o'-gii,
which is interpreted to mean " Neutral," and sometimes
" the Shield," which latter seems the more appropriate, on
account of their location. This designation finally became
their national title.

The Oiiouddgns were placed next in the order of pre-
cedence, and were known in the council by the title or
appellation of IIu-dJ-.SLni-no-ge-tii, which is translated to
mean " Name-Bearer," conferred in commemoration of the
fact that the Onotuhigas bestowed names upon the fifty
original sachems.

Next iu order were the Senecas, who were proud of
their national designation, 7/w-Han-)je-Ao'-o»?, or the "Door-
keepers." They were the hereditary guardians of the door
of the " Long House," and in the many wars waged with
the Iliirons and other Canadian nations, as well as with the
French, probably suffered more than the other nations.

The Oneida nation occupied the fourth place, but orig-
inally had no special appellation. At a comparatively re-
cent period the name Ne-ar-de-un-dar-go'-war, signifying
" Great Tree," was conferred upon them, it is supposed,
from some circumstance occurring at a treaty with the
people of Was-tuw, or Boston.

Among the 'five original nations the Coyugas occupied
the lowest rank, or at least were placed last in the list.
Their appellation in the council was So-uees'-ho-gwii-to-tcnr,
signifying " Great Pipe," said to have been bestowed be-
cause the leading Cayuga chief, at the great council which
formed the league, smoked a pipe of uncommon dimensions
and beautiful workmanship.

Blorgan states that the Tiiscaroras had no national desig-
nation in the councils of the league, but in another con-
nection he also states that they were called Dus-ga-o'-weh,
meaning " shirt-wearing people," a name which is said to
have been adopted by them before their expulsion from

The signification of the names of the different nations,
according to Morgan, is as follows : Gil-ne-ii' -ga-o-no, or
Mohmoks, signifies " the possessor of the flint," but the
real meaning is not certainly \inderstood.

The O-na-yute'-ga-o-no, or Oncidns, .signifies " the people
of the stone," or perhaps more literally " the granite people,"
from the fact that their territory extended into the region
of the primary formation.

O-nmi-diilil -ga-o-no, the Indian name of the Onondagiis,
is said to signify "the people of the hills," and it would
seem to have been very properly bestowed.

Guc'-u-gioeh-o-no, the name of the Cayngas, signifies
" the people of the nmcky land," in allusion to the marshy
region of their country.

Nun-da-wali'-o-no, the Seneca name, was the name of


their oldest village, situated upon a hill at the head of Can-
aiidaigua Lake, and literally means " the great hill people ;"
Nun-da-wdh' meaning " great hill," and the terminal syl-
lables o-no signifying "people."

Dus-ga-o'-wch, the name of the Tuscaroras, means "shirt-
wearing people," as before mentioned.

The Ojieidds, as heretofore shown, occupied a strip of
country which included the present territory of the county
of Oneida, and of about the same width east and west, and
extending north and south through the State. So far as
known, most of their villages were within the limits of the
county, their principal one, called Gii-no-a-lo'-hdle, being
located at what is now known as Oneida Castle, in Vernon
Township. They were very fortunate in the allotment of
territory, possessing as they did some of the finest agricul-
tural districts in the State, interspersed with beautiful
scenery. They occupied the head-waters of the streams
which flow into the Mohawk, Black, Susquehanna, and
Oswego Rivers, and controlled the " carrying-place" between
the east and the west. Their hunting- and fishing-grounds
extended from the Pennsylvania line to the St. Lawrence
and the Adirondacks, and from the centre of their domain
they could travel in their bark canoes' into the territory of
every one of the Six Nations. Geologically speaking, their
territory covered the outcrop of every formation, from the
Archican to the Permian, a feature not to be found perhaps
in any equal extent of country on the globe. Here are the
oldest formations of the earth's crust and the latest addi-
tions to the structure. Here are granite, and sandstone,
and limestone, and slates, and shales ; here are lime, and
salt, and gypsum, and clays, and roofing materials; and, over
all, a soil yielding bountifully of food for animals and men.
A richer country, naturally, can scarcely be found, and lying
as it does in the great highway of travel and commerce, it
would seem that under a beneficent form of government it
must continue for ages to be the " seat of empire."

In Volume III. of the "Documentary History of New
York" is the journal of Wetitworth Grecnhalgh, written
while on a journey through the Mohawk Valley, in May and
June, 1077. He relates that the llnqiiaes, or Muhawks, had
then four towns, Co-haa-i-a-ga, Caii-a-go-ra (_Caii-ago-
rh(i), Ti-oii-clo-gue, and a fourth, not named.

He estimates the Muhawlc fighting force at 300 men.
The Oiieidas then occupied a single town, located about
30 miles from the Mohawk River, and about 20 miles .south
of Oneida Lake, on a small river which runs into Oneida,
or Tcsh-i-rogiie, Lake. According to his description it was
then a newly-settled town, fortified by a double stockade,
and well calculated for defense against anything except

The Oiieidas did not seem to be cultivating the land very
extensively, and were accustomed to purchase their corn of
the Oiioiidijgas. Their village, or town, contained about
100 houses, and they could muster 200 warriors.

The Oiwndagas had one town, containing about 140
houses, and he estimates their warriors at 350. This nation
were cultivating the soil, and had abundance of corn. Tlieir
town was situated on a very large hill, and was not fortified.
The Cai-ou-gas {Cai/iigas) were occupying three towns,
altogether containing 100 houses, and had an estimated

fighting force of 300 warriors. Their villages were located
near Lake Tichero ( Cayuga), and were not at that time for-
tified. The Cayitgas also had plenty of corn.

The Senecas, or, as he wrote it, Seriecques, had four towns,
Caiiagora, Tiotohattoii, Caiiveiiada, and Kienthe. The
first two were located within 30 miles of Lake Frontenae
(Ontario), and the others farther to the southward.

Canagora, the largest town, and evidently the capital of
the nation, was, like Onondaga, located on a high hill, and
contained 150 houses. Tiotohatton was situated about 30
miles to the west of the first-mentioned town, and contained
120 houses, some of which were from 50 to 60 feet in
length, and contained 13 or 14 fires. Gauvenada contained
30 houses, and Kienthe about 24. This nation also culti-
vated their lands quite extensively along the Genesee River,
and had a large store of corn. He estimates their warriors
at 1000, making them by far the most powerful of the
nations, and mustering nearly as many warriors as all the
others combined.

The names given these nations by the French, according
to this writer, were as follows : Mohawlcs, Les Aniiiez ;
Oiieidas, Les Oiwi/anis ; Oiioiidagns, Les Muiitagneurs, or
OiiHOiitagues ; Cayiigas, Les Petaneurs ; Senecas, Les

The date of this visit was about 34 years previous to the
admission of the Tascarora nation, and about 23 years after
the first Jesuit missionaries had visited them.

The following additional particulars concerning the In-
dians who formerly resided, or at preset! t do reside, in the
county of Oneida, is taken from Hon. P. Jones' ''Annals
of Oneida County."

" Early travelers and writers speak of the Oiieidas as the
most polished, possessing the finest forms, and as being the
most prepossessing in manners and appearance of any of
the Iroquois tribes. Smith, the historian, quotes from a
letter written in 1748 by the Rev. Mr. Spencer, a mission-
ary among the Oiieidas at Oqiingo (formerly a village in
the town of Windsor, Broome County), as follows: 'The
dialect of the Oiieidas is softer than that of the other nations,
and the reason is because they have more vowels, and often
supply the place of harsh letters with liquids.'

" According to the tradition of Cusick, the Oiieidas first
settled upon one of the head-waters of the Susquehanna,
called Kaw-uaw-law-te-rnh, about ten miles south of Oneida
Castle. The earliest recollected residence of the Oiieidas
was upon the southern .shore of Oneida Lake, near the
mouth of the Oneida Creek. Here they constructed forti-
fications, remains of which have been found since the
country was settled by whites. From the last-named place
the Oiieidas removed to the neighborhood of the recent*
location of the Stone, in the present town of Stockbridge,
Madison County, to a place called Ca-nagh-tn-sagh-ga-sagli.
From similarity in the names, there is some reason for suppos-
ing that this is the location mentioned by Cusick in the tradi-
tion of the origin of the tribes. It is believed that their
removal to this place was before the formation of the Iro-
giiois Confederacy. Pyrlaus, a Dutch missionary among the
Mohawks at Fort Hunter, wrote, between 1742 and 1748,

» Wi'ittcn in lS."i1.



that the result of his best conjectures and information was
that the Iroquois league or confederacy was formed about
' one age, or the length of a man's life,' prior to the arrival
of the Dutch, in 1609,* which would fix the date at about
1530-35. The town of the Onddas at this place was in a
valley south of the commanding eminence upon which the
Sloiie rested, but in the immediate vicinity.

" The corn-hills upon their ancient fields are still (1851)
visible, although a new forest has grown up since those fields
were cultivated. Upon counting the rings showing the
annual growth of trees in this forest, we are taken back to
the year 1 550, showing that it is over 300 years since the
Oneulas ceased to cultivate those fields. The next remove
of the Oncidas was to Ca-vo-ii:a-lo-a,'f the site of Oneida
Castle. The signification of this name is ' enemy's head
on a pole,' and it is impelled in a great variety of ways by
diiferent persons. The Oneidas resided in this place when
the Dutch settled upon the Hudson, in 1609 (1613).

" The Iroquois all believed in witches, and about 1805 oc-
curred the last execution in Oiieidti for witchcraft. Two
women suffered for this supposed crime. Han Yost, an
Indian somewhat noted in the Revolution, was chosen exe-
cutioner, and he entered their lodge and tomahawked them
according to a decree of council.

" Celebrated Oneida Chiefs. — If the pages of history do
not show as long a list of most distinguished chiefs and
warriors of the Oneida nation as some of the others, it
is because the names and deeds of their great mf n have not
been preserved. Early writers upon the Iroqnuis speak of
the Oneidas as displaying the greatest talents in council and
diplomacy, while in prowess and courage they were the
equals of any of the Six Nations. According to tradition,
0-tat-sclieclc-ta was the chief or delegate from the Oneidas
who aided in forming the Confederacy of the Five (original)
Nations ; and the Good Spirit, who presided over and directed
their councils, addressed the Oneidas in concluding the
ceremonies : ' And you, Oneidas, a people who recline
your bodies against the eveilusting stone that cannot be
moved, shall be the second nation, hecanse you give wise
counsel.' In 1655, Atonelntochan is mentioned by the
French as a distinguished Oneida chief, who had visited
Canada and exerted 'a powerful influence among the Iro-
quois.' '

At the great Indian treaty at Fort Stanwix in the au-
tumn of 1768, the articles were signed on the part of the
Oneidas by Ca-nagli-qui-e-son., who must have been at the
time principal chief of the nation, for this was a very im-
portant treaty. lu August, 1775, a delegation from the
Six Nations held a conference at Albany with the Commis-
sioners for Indian affairs, General Philip Schuyler, Colonel
Wolcott, Colonel Francis, and Mr. Douw. At this confer-
ence Sevgh-na-gen-rat, an Oneida chief, spoke in behalf of
the Six Nations.

" Among the chiefs who aided in enlisting the Oneidas
in behalf of the Americans during the Revolution was one
who has usually worn the souhriquet of Plattcopf. He
was the junior of Slcanandoa, and is said not to have ex-

'*' Date of Hudson's voyage.

"I" Morgan gives this name G ii-no-alu' -hille, "head on a |iole."

erted an equal influence; but notwithstanding, by the fire
of his eloquence and the force of his reasoning, he often
bound the attention and swayed the passions of the Oneida
nation. British gold and ancient friendships often tempted
the cupidity and loyalty of the Oneidas, but were as often
met by the appeals and invectives of their orators, who
served the cause of truth and justice by a recital of the
wrongs, injuries, and rights of the colonists. Messrs. Kirk-
land and Dean kept these orators fully prepared with ma-
terials for their speeches.

" But the name which stands more prominently upon
the page of history, and which will be remembered until
the original (?) inhabitants of the country are forgotten, is
that of Slcanandoa, ' the white man's friend.' He was
born about the year 1706, but of his younger days little or
nothing is known. It has been stated, but upon what author-
ity the writer does not know, that he was not an Oneida by
birth, but was a native of a tribe living a long distance (o
the northwest, and was adopted by the Oneidas when a young
man. J In his youth and early manhood Skanandoa was
very savage and intemperate. In 1755, while attending
upon a treaty at Albany, he became excessively drunk at
night, and in the morning found himself divested of all his
ornaments and clothing. His pride revolting at his self-deg-
radation, he resolved never again to place himself under the
power of 'fire-water,' a resolution which it is believed he
kept to the end of his life. In appearance he was noble,
dignified, and commanding, being in height over six feet and
the tallest Indian in his nation. He possessed a powerful
frame, for at the age of eighty-five he was a full match for
any member of his tribe, either as to strength or speed of
foot, and his powers of endurance were equal to his size
and physical power. But it was to his eloquence and mental
powers that he owed his reputation and influence. His
person was tattooed or marked in a peculiar manner. There
were nine lines, arranged by threes, extending downwards
from each shoulder and meeting upon the chest, made by
introducing some dark coloring matter under the skin. He
was in his riper years one of the noblest counselors among
the American tribes; he possessed a vigorous mind, and was
alike sagacious, active, and persevering. As an enemy he
was terrible, as a friend and ally he was mild and gentle in
his disposition and faithful to his engagements. His vigi-
lance once preserved from massacre the inhabitants of the
little settlement at German Flats, and in the Revolutionary
war his influence induced the Oneidas to take up arms in
favor of the Americans.

" Soon after Mr. Kirkland established his mission (1706)

^^ Mr. Jones snys he mny have belonged to a tribe called Necitn'n-
gnae, who lived north of Mackinaw, but we are unable to find such
a tribe named. They are said to have joined the Iroqiioia in 1722.

Shenaitdoa was the head of an embassy which visited Col. Van
Schaiok at Fort Schuyler (Rome), in April, 1799, on the occasion of
the destruction of the Omnidaga villages. It is stated in Col. Stone's
Life of Brant, vol. i. p. 401, in a foot-note, that on the 9th of April,
1779, Congress passed a resolution granting captains' eonnnissions
to four of the OneithiB and TuaravoraK, and eight commissions as
lieutenants. A few of the commissions were subsequently issued.
The most of them served faithfully, and several were killed. Three
of the lieutenants deserted to the encm}', and exchanged their com-
missions for those of a like rank in the Briiish service.



at Oneida Skmiandoa embraced the doctrines of the gospel,
and for the rest of his life lived a consistent Christian. He
often repeated the wish that he might be buried by the side
of his old teacher and spiritual father, that he might ' go up
with him at the great resurrection ;' and several times in
the latter years of his life he made the journey from Oneida
to Clinton, hoping to die there.

" Although he could speak but little English, and in his
extreme old age was blind, yet his company was sought.
In conversation he was highly decorous, evincing that he
had profited by seeing civilized and polished society, and
by mingling in good company in his better days. He
evinced constant care not to give pain by any remark or
reply. Upon one occasion he was visited by a party of
young ladies, who found him at home, reclining upon a
couch. He was then bliud. After the introduction by
Miss Kirkland, who was one of the party, Shanandoa
aske], 'Are these ladies married f Upon being ai;swered
in the negative, he responded, '/« is well, for there are
many bad men.' Miss Kirkland, who had seen mucli of
the chief, said to her friends that if he had received an
affirmative answer he would probably have responded, ' It is
well, if you have got good husbands.' To Professor Norton,
of Hamilton College, upon receiving a similar answer, he
responded, 'It is lOcU ; tliere are many bad women!'

" To a friend who called upon him a short time before
his death, he thus expressed himself by an interpreter; ' I
am an aged hemlock ; the winds of a hundred years have
whistled through my branches ; I am dead at the top. The
generation to which I belonged have run away and left me.
Why I live the Great, Good Spirit only knows. Pray to
my Jesus that I may have patience to wait for my appointed
time to die.' An eloquence and beauty of sentiment which
have been admired by millions in many lands, and which
have been seldom equaled by the most eloquent and best
of ancient or modern times.

" After listening to the prayers road at his bedside by his
great-granddaughter, Skanandoa yielded up his spirit on the
11th of March, 1816, aged about one hundred and ten years.
Agreeably to a promise made by the family of Mr. Kirk-
land, his remains were brought to Clinton and buried by
the side of his spiritual father. Services wore attended in
the Congregational meeting-house in Clinton, and an ad-
dress was made to the Indians by Dr. Backus, president of
Hamilton College, interpreted by Judge Dean, and after
prayer, and singing appropriate psalms, the corpse was car-
ried to the grave, preceded by the students of the college,
and followed in order by the Indians, Mrs. Kirkland and
family, Judge Dean, Rev. Dr. Norton, Eev. Mr. Ayrcs, offi-
cers of the college, citizens.

"S/canandoa was buried in the garden of Mr. Kirkland,
a short distance south of the road leading up to the college.
A handsome monument stands in the college burying-ground,
with the following inscription :


" This monument is erected by the Northern Missionary Society,
in testimony of their respect for the memory of Skammiita, who died
in the peace and hope of the Gospel, on the llth of March, IS16.
Wise, eloquent, and brave, he long swnyed the councils of his tribe,
whose confidence and affection he eminently enjoyed. In the war

* The name is variously written.

which placed the Canadas under the crown of G-reat Britain, he was

Online LibrarySamuel W DurantHistory of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers → online text (page 5 of 192)