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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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 8 of 192)
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He commenced his mission work about the first of
August, 1766, and continued it, with only occasional inter-
ruptions, for over forty years. In the following November
he erected a dwelling, cutting and hewing the timber and
digging the cellar with his own hands. He cultivated a
garden ou the same gnmnd, afterwards occupied for a
similar purpose by Hon. Timothy Jenkins.

Intemperance was then, as now, the besetting sin of the
Indians ; and they managed in some way to procure the
" fire-water" of the unprincipled white man, who cared
nothing for the consequences to the besotted native if he,
by the debasing traffic, could increase his gains. This
demoralizing habit Mr. Kirkland early set himself to ex-
terminate from among the people where he had chosen his
life lot. Under his energetic influence eight of the chief
men were appointed to seize all the intoxicating liquors
which could be found, and destroy or otherwise dispose of

About eighty casks of rum were accordingly seized and
offered for sale, but with the teachings of the missionary, and
the terrible results of its use before their eyes, not an indi-
vidual was found to purchase the baneful article, and it was
probably disposed of in a summary manner.

His efforts among the savages were eminently successful,
and many families and individuals were converted to Chris-
tianity; but his usefulness was circumscribed by his pov-
erty The first pecuniary aid which he received from the
home society in Scotland was in 1769, when an order
drawn upon John Thornton for £100 was sent him, and
James Blain, of Scotland, also sent him £oO.

" In the spring of 1769, his health having failed him, he
took a short respite to regain it. He spent the .summer in
Connecticut, and on the loth of September of that year he
was married to Jerusha Bingham, the daughter of a re-
spectable farmer. She was indeed an excellent woman, and
well fitted by her good sense and devout heart to become
the wife of a missionary. Shortly after his marriage he
returned to his post, aooonipanied by his wife. As it was
necessary to enlarge his house from ten to sixteen feet
square, he left Mrs. Kirkland in the family of General
Herkimer, on the Mohawk, until he could accomplish it.
This being completed, he removed her to her new residence
in the latter part of December. Mrs. Kirkland's influence
was soon felt in introducing order, neatness, industry,
purity, and devotion among the Oneida women.

"In 1770, Mr. Kirkland visited Boston, where he was
taken under the patronage of the Boston Board, at a salary
of £100 a year as their missionary, and £30 additional in
consideration of his great pains and expense in learning the
principal dialects of the Six Nations. Through the aid of
the Boston Board, seconding the exertions of the Indians,
a, saw- and grist-mills, and a blacksmith-shop
were erected, and farming utensils purchased in the course
of a few year,s. The progress of a portion of the nation in

acquiring the habits and arts of civilized life, as well as in
Christianity, was rapid. The correspondence of this period,
between Mr. Kirkland and the society in Scotland, shows
that his missionary services were highly appreciated by the

" Early in the summer of 1770, Mrs. Kirkland started,
on horseback, for the residence of her mother, in Connec-
ticut, but was unable to proceed any farther than General
Herkimer's, at the foot of Fall Hill, on the Mohawk.
Here she remained several weeks, and on the 17th of Au-
gust gave birth to twin sons, named by their father after
his esteemed friends, George Whitefield and John Thornton.
During her illness she received letters from the celebrated
George Whitefield, full of Christian consolation. As soon
as her strength permitted she returned to Oneida, to the
great joy of the Indians, who immediately adopted the boys
into the tribe, giving George the name La-go ne-osf, and
John that of A-gaa-o-nis-ka, that is, Friir Face.

" Mrs. Kirkland passed the winter of 1772-73 in Stock-
bridge, Mass., and a-s the turbulent times preceding and
continuing during the Revolution now commenced, she did
not return to Oneida until after the peace of 1783."*

Mr. Kirkland purchased a small farm in Stockbridge
upon which he placed his family, while he himself con-
tinued his labors at Oneida. His endeavors were uninter-
mittingly directed to keeping the Indians neutral during
the contest, and he was in a great degree successful with
the Oneidas and Tiiscaroros, who not only mostly remained
neutral, but the former furnished a respectable body of
warriors, who, under Skenandoa, rendered efficient service
to the Americans.

The Mohawk chief, Tkay-en-dan-e-gea, well understood
the influence which Mr. Kirkland wielded on the side of
the colonies, and became apprehensive that he might even
control the whole body of the Six Nations. The chief was
the secretary of Colonel Guy Johnson, who had succeeded
his father-in-law, Sir William Johnson, as Superintendent
of Indian Affiiirs ; and he set himself to procure the re-
moval of the missionary from his position, notwithstanding
the friendship that existed between them. A correspond-
ence took place between Guy Johnson and the missionary,
in which the latter defended his position most valiantly,
and succeeded in rallying almost the entire Oneida nation
to his support, which compelled Johnson to abandon his
scheme of a forcible removal. It is said by Colonel Stone,
in his " Life of Brant," that the chief wsis so anxious for
the removal of Mr. Kirkland that he instigated a dissolute
sachem of the Oneidas to prefer charges against him.

In the mean time the Provincial Congress of Massachu-
setts had taken steps to open negotiations with the Six
Nations, with the view of securing their influence on the
side of the colonies. To this end they opened a correspond-
ence with Blr. Kirkland, and addressed a letter to him, of

which the following is a copy :

"Concord, April 4-, 1775.
"To THK Kev. Pamuel Kn;KHNn:

"Sir, — The Provincial Congress linve tliought it l)eoes.=ary to niX-
drc-ss the sav;hcio of the Mti'mu'lc tribe, with the rest of llie Six Na-
tions, upon the sulijeet of the oontrovcrs.v between Great Britain and
the Aniei-ican colonies. Wo are induced to lake thi.s munsure, as we

■^ Jones' Annais.



hiivo been informed thut those who arc inimical to us in Ciinada have
been tsuupcring with those nations, and cn:leavoring to attach tliein
to the interest of those who are attempting to deprive us of our inea-
tiniiible rights and |>ri\ilegefi, and to subjugate the eolonics to arbi-
trary power. From a confidence in your att.tehtncnt to the cause of
liberty ami your country, wo now transmit to you the enclosed ad-
dress, and desire you will deli\'er it to the sachem of the Muhuicki
triba, to be oommunieatod to the rest of the Six Nations; and that
you will use your influence with them to join with ns in the defon^o
of our rights; but if you cannot prevail with them tu take an active
jiiirt in this glorious cause, that you will at Ica^t engage them to
stand neuter, and not by any means to aid and assist our enemies;
an I as wc are at a loss for the n;inie of the sachem of the Molnnrk
tribe, we have left it to you to direct the address to him, in such way
as you may think proper."*

Though Mr. Kirkland was not forcibly removed from
his mission, he was, by Johnson's influence, prevented from
returning to the Oneida town. The following letter from
Mr. Kirkland to the committee at Albany gives an insight
into the situation at that date, and shows that he already
anticipated the result which was brought about through
Guy Johnson in the spring of 1775 :

"CiiERRY Vai,i.rv, .Tanuary 9, 1775.
" GEXTLE■^(EX, — I am much embarrassed at present. You have
doubtless beard that Colonel Johnson has orders from government to
remove the dissenting missionaries from the Six Nations till the dif-
ficulties between Great liritain and the colonies are settled ; in conse-
quence of which he has forbidden my return to the people of Oneida.
lie has since given encouragement that I may revisit them after tlio
Cungre-:? is closed; but, to be plain, I have no dependence at all on
his promises of this kind. ][e iippears unrt-asoniibly jealous of me,
and has forbidden my speaking a word to the Indians, and threatens
me with confinement if I tran-^gress. All he has against me I suppose
to be a suspicion that I have interpreted to the Indians the doings
of the Continental Congress, whleh has undeceived them, and too
much opened their eyes for Colonel Johnson's purposes. I confess to
yuu, gentlemen, that I have bjen guilty of this, if it be a transgres-
sion. The Indians found out that I had received the abstracts of
said Congress, and insisted upon knowing the contents. I could not
deny them, notwithstanding my cloth, though in all other respijcts I
have been extremely cautious not to meddle in matters of a political
nature. I apprehend that my interpreting the doings of the Congress
to a number of their sachems ha."^ done moi'c real good to the cause of
the country or the cause of truth and justice than £.300 in presents
would have effected. "f

Mr. Kirkland was appointed by Congress at some period
of the Revolutionary war a chaplain in the array, and
served at Fort Stanwix, and other posts in the vicinity. He
was chaplain of the fort at the time of its siege by St.
Leger, but was not present, being absent on di^tached ser-
Tice. In 1779 he was chuplain of one of the brigades in
General Sullivan's army which laid waste the country of
the hostile portion of the Six Nations, and continued with
the army until late in the autumn, when he made a visit to
his family at Stockbridge, Mass. Subsequent to this expe-
dition, wliile the war lasted, he was stationed mostly at
Gd-no-a-lo'-lidlc (Oneida Castle) and Fort Stanwix.

In 1784 he returned to his labors as a missionary among
the Oucidtts, under the auspices of the Boston Board of
Missions for the rf n tish society, with the latter of whom
his connections appear to have been amicable even duritig
the war, though they refused to pay him a salary while he
was under a commission as chaphiin fi-om the Continental

■ Stone's Life of Brant, [>p. i


t Ibid., 11. 01.

In Octobor, 1784-, he atteiidud a greut council of the
Six NiUions, held at Fort Stanwix, at which coinmissioners
of the United States were present, and negotiated a treaty
by whii-h the Six Nations ceded all the country east of a
line drawn from Johnson's landinir-place on Lake Ontario,
and keeping four miles east of the carrying place between
that lake and Lake Erie to the mouth of 2h-Iio-se-ru-ruii, or
Buffalo Creek, and thence south to the north line of Penn-
sylvania, and down the Ohio, to the United States. Mr.
Kirkland acted as interpreter at this treaty, and rendered
other valuable services.

In 1786 a great religious awakening occurred among
the Oneidas, and some seventy persons made profession of
a belief in the Christian religion. The excitement con-
tinued for several months, and it is said that for the space
of two-thirds of a year subsequently not an instance of
drunkenness was known in the village. But this event was
very near proving dis;istrous to the missionary, for the
Pagan portion of the nation were greatly annoyed, and ulti-
mately much exasperated, and finally laid a plan to take his
life, in which they were frustrated by the Christian party,
and the Pagans were eventually subdued and forced to beg
his pardon. During the years 1786-87 it would appear
from his jourruils that his labors were eminently satis-
factory to the home society in Scotland.

During the residence of his family in Stockbridge, Mass.,
he had four children born to him, — Samuel, Jerusha, Sally,
and Eliza.

In January, 1788, while he was on a visit to his family,
his wife sickened and died. " She was an excellent woman,
wife, and niotlicr. This was a severe blow to the mission,
to the missionary, the husband, and the father, and his
plan of removing his family to Oneida the following spring
was frustrated ; he therefore rolurnod, solitary and alone,
to his labors."!

In the summer of 1788 he visited among the Indians of
the Confederacy, journeying as far west as Buffalo Creek,
and was present at a treaty held there in that year. He
had interviews during the council with every branch and
village of the Six Nations, and renewed many interesting
acquaintances, some of them going back to 1765. From
information gathered during this trip, he estimated the
population of the Six Nations, exclusive of the MukawJcs
who had settled on the Grand River, in Canada, at 4350.
Here he also had an interesting interview with Joseph Brant,
the acknowledged leader of the Six Nations, in which the
chieftain informed him that he had been trying to unite
the Indians in an independent confederacy. He stated
that a delegation from the Six Nations had visited twenty
tribes, who had sent belts announcing compliance with his

The principal object of the council held at Buffalo Creek
was the extinguishment of the Indian title to a tract of
6,14:J:,000 acres, familiarly known as the Genesee country,
and covering all the western portion of the State, and equal
to one-fil'th of its entire area. This immense region was
claimed under colonial titles by the State of Massachusetts,
and was confirmed to that State, subject only to the Indian

X Jones.



title and tlie right of govenimont of the State of New York
in J 786. The entire tract was subsequently sold by the
State of Massachusetts to Messrs. Oliver Phelps and
Nathaniel Gorhani for $1,000,000. For his services at
this important treaty Messrs. Phelps and Gorham after-
wards, in April, 1792, deeded Mr. Kirkland a tract of
2000 acres in Ontario County ; located, according to Mr.
Jones, in town 7, range 7, of the Phelps and Gorhani tract.

" In December, 1788, the State of New York and the
Indians (OneiJas), conjointly, made a grant to Mr. Kirk-
land and his two eldest sons of large and valuable tracts of
land in the neighborhood of Oneida, amounting in all to
about 4750 acres.''*

In August, 1788, Mr. Kirkland resumed his labors among
the Onei'dan. About this period a series of incidents oc-
cun-ed, which interfered to a considerable extent with his

In the spring of 1789 a French Catholic priest (said to
have been a Jesuit) came to Oneida, and located near the
lake. He claimed to be acting under the direction of the
French ambassador at New York. He was accompanied
by a notorious Freijch adventurer, named Peter Penet,-|-
and the two very toon gathered quite a party among the
natives favorable to their interests. Matters wont on until
a serious feud between the " French" and "American'' par-
ties resulted; and although Blr. Kirkland carefully avoided
meddling with the Frenchmen, the ill feelings engendered
rose to such a point that serious trouble was anticipated.
Mr. Jones, in his Annals, relates the following incident :
"The author of this work ('Annals of Oneida County')
recollects of hearing, when but a small lad, his father state
that this quarrel at one time bad risen so high that nineteen
Indians of one party and twenty of tlie other, all armed
to the teeth, met with the determination to settle the
matter by trial of battle, and for this purpose they liad
chosen a large room, where they had all met, and were
about to commence their murderous contest, which, had
they proceeded with their purpose, would have eventuated
in the almost entire extermination of the whole party, so
equally balanced were they as to strength and numbers,
when Mr. Kirkland by some means heard of the meeting
of the parties and its object, and at once went to them and
obtained admission. He then proceeded in one of his
most glowing speeches to depict the wickedness and folly
of shedding each other's blood, and with such effect upon
his savage auditors tliat they were induced to forego the
work of slaughter."

During these difficulties each party, it seems, had written
Governor Clinton, who returned the following sensible
reply, which was translated and delivered to a full council

of the nation :

"New YoiiK, Sept. 12, 1789.
" Bi!OTHEK.s, — I have received your letters, and shall give you
an answer. Mr. Penet is only to be considered among you as an
adventuring merchant, pursuing his own interest. He holds no

*' In the memorial volume of Hamilton College, page O."?, in a foot-
note, it says, "Mr. Kirkland's Patent was two miles square.'' This
" Patent" could not have inoUulcd the whole of his grants from the
government and the Indians, as two miles square (four square miles)
would give only 2500 .acres.

f See chapter on land titles.

office, nor does he sustain any public character in this country. He
attempts to deceive you, therefore, when he says he is sent by the
King of France and the Marquis La Fayette to transact business
with you. You ought not to listen to his speeches, nor pay any
attention to his dreams. |

" The King of France is our good ally, and he has an ambassador
here (whom you saw with me at Fort Stanwix last fall) to transact
business and maintain friendship with the United States ; but he
has nothing to do with any particular State or the Indians residing
in it. You must not, therefore, believe Mr. Penet when he says he
is sent among you by the ambassador. I believe the priest now
among you came at the request of Mr. Penet and his friends. They
have a right to worship God in a manner most agreeable to them;
but I approve of your determination to adhere to your old minister,
for I fear the preaching of different doctrines among you will only
serve to perplct and puzzle your understandings; and divisions,
either in respect to your temporal or spiritual concerns, may prove
dangerous to your welfare and prosperity.

" Brothers,— I am happy to hear you are firmly united as to our
late agreement, and you may bo assured that it will be faithfully
adhered to on the part of the State.

"Let me exhort you to sobriety and industry, for it is this alone,

by the blessing of the Great Spirit, that can secure to you comfort

and hn]>piness.

"I am your friend and brother,

"GnouGE Cmxtox."

This letter had a salutaiy effect upon the Indians, for it
satisfied them of the character of Penet, and thwarted, to a
good degree, his .speculative operations. The sole purpose
of his location among the Oiieidns was to favor his own in-
terests, and he very cunningly introduced tlie priest for his
own special advancement among them.

In January, 1791, Mr. Kirkland made a short visit to
his children in Mas.sachusetts, but soon returned to his post
in the wilderness. Durhig this year a difficulty of long
•standing between the Wo!/ tribe and the Turtle and Bear
tribes, said to have been caused by the intrigues of the
French traders, was settled peaceably by Mr. Kirkland. In
a letter to General Knox, then Secretary of War, he advised
the sending of Captain Hcndrick, a Stockbridge Indian,
upon a peace mission to the Western tribes. The suggestion
was accepted and the captain sent to endeavor to preserve
peace among them. But the effort proved unsuccessful ;
war followed, and the bloody defeat of St. Clair occurred in
November following.

In January, 1792, at the request of General Knox, Mr.
Kirkland attended a council of the Six Nations, held at
Geneseo, on the Genesee River, now the county-seat of
Livingston County. The object of the council was to in-
duce the Confederacy to send a delegation of their principal
men to Philadelphia, then the seat of government for the
United States.

This object was accomplished by Mr. Kirkland after
surmounting many difficulties, and in the latter part of
March, of the same year, a delegation of forty reached

" Mr. Kirkland's conduct was entirely approved by the
War Department. Indeed, the credit of bringing this large
representation of the Six Nations to the seat of government
is due, and the success attending the measure attributable,
mainly to his efforts and influence with the Indians. Its

\ Penet pretended to have dreamed that the Oiieidut gave him a
tract of laud ten miles square. It was afterwards given him in
Jefferson County, and is still known as " Ponot Square." This man
Penet will appear again in the subject of land titles.



results were highly important, for there had been previously
a strong disposition among the Six Nations, with the excep-
tion of the Oneitlds, to make common cause with the West-
ern Indians in their hostility to the United States. Had
they done so, the frontiers of New York and Pennsylvania,
instead of the territory northwest of the Ohio, would have
been the seat of savage warfare and barbarity. Such a
calamity was averted by the visit to the seat of government
of so many cliiefs.

" Mr. Kirkland returned to Oneida about the middle of
May, rejoicing in being able to return to the immediate
duties of his mission, but with a consciousness that he had
been in the way of his duty, and had rendered some service
to his country, to the Indians, and to the cause of human-

In October, 17'Jl, Jlr. Kirkland renioved his family to
the land granted him by the Indians and the State.

" After his return from Philadelphia, in May, 1792, he
spent the summer in the discharge of his mi.ssionary duties,
and in superintending the measures adopted by government
for the instruction of the Indians in agriculture and the
arts of civilized life. Additional oxen, plows, and other
farming implements were puroha.scd : nd distributed. ""t"

In August of this year he attended the Commencement of
Dartmouth College, taking along with liim an Oneida chief
named Onondaga, but called by the whites " Captain John."
In the course of the exercises. President Wheclock addressed
the captain, to which he replied, and in closing his remarks
addressed the graduating class in a manner worthy the
most profound scholar in the land.

In October, 1792, he had the misfortune to injure one
of his eyes while riding through the forest between Clinton
and Oneida; and, in December following, bis cyasigbt and
general health became so seriously aflFectcd that his pliysi-
cians advised him to consult experienced oculists in New
York and I'biladelpbia. He was the more willing to make
the journey, as it promi.sed him the opportunity of maturing
a plan to which he had already given much thought. This
was the establishment of a high school or academy in con-
nection with his mission, to be located near the boundary
line between the whites and Indians, where each could par-
take of its advantages.^ The school was established in
1793, and was the last important public business of his

The Penet party managed to produce considerable trouble
at Oneida, and in 1794 undertook to have Mr. Kirkland
superseded. The Rev. Drs. Belknap and Slorse were ap-
pointed a committee by the board to investigate the matter,
who, after a careful examination, reported in his favor, and
the board thereupon dismissed the complaint.

In 1795, Mr. Kirkland was severely injured by the
stumbling of his horse, being thrown upon the ground with
great violence. From the effects of this accident he suffered
for a number of years, and never fully recovered from them.
In 1797 the connection between Mr. Kirkland and the
missionary society in Scotland was dissolved, and the society
ceased, to a great extent, its operations in America.

* Jonos. ■\ Jones' Annals.

X Sec History of Hamilton College, in tlic chapter devoted to

In the years 1S05-6 additional misfortunes overtook him
in the death of his sons, of whom his youngest — Samuel —
died in Boston, in the former, and Greorge W. in Jamaica,
in the latter year.

He continued his labors at Oneida, so far as his health
permitted, through life. The church at that place, so long
as he survived, considered him as their missionary and pas-
tor ; but the toils and exposures in tlie wilderness for forty
years had produced their legitimate result, and the fiithfnl
teacher had literally worn himself out in the service of the
cause which he loved. We quote from Mr. Jones : " In
oni; of his last communications to the society he says,
' Whether I hold the office (of missionary) or not, while I
live and have capacity for service I nmst do much of the
duty. I know their language and manners: I love them,

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 8 of 192)