Speech to the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania

Image: Peace Pipe Gifted by George Washington. (New York) New York State Museum. http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/about/press/state-museum-displays-18th-century-tomahawk-recently-returned-museums-collections
What was Cornplanter’s purpose in this speech in Philadelphia? What were his complaints? What is the significance of him calling the white leaders in attendance “fathers” rather than “brothers”?
Which Indian leaders of later eras lodged complaints similar to those of Cornplanter? How do they differ? Consider Address at Cooper Union and Testimony before Senate Select Committee.

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Cornplanter (c. 1745–1836), known as a great orator, was a chief among the Seneca, one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois. He was the son of a Seneca mother and a Dutch trader from a prominent family, Johannes Abeel. He fought as a war chief for the French against the British and American colonists in the Seven Years’ War, taking part in the defeat of General Edward Braddock at Fort Duchesne (present-day Pittsburgh). During the American Revolution, he initially preferred that the Haudenosaunee remain neutral. Like most members of the Six Nations, however, he was eventually drawn into the conflict on the side of the British, fighting alongside Joseph Brant (1743–1807;). As a result, George Washington ordered an expedition under General John Sullivan (1740–1795) to destroy Haudenosaunee settlements and property, earning Washington the Seneca name Conotocaurius, “Town Destroyer.”

The lengthy speech reprinted here was delivered years later in Philadelphia, where Cornplanter had traveled to meet with President Washington and officials from the government of Pennsylvania. The Supreme Executive Council was the
collective executive of the state that existed under Pennsylvania’s first state constitution. In his speech to the council, Cornplanter related the mistreatment of his people and asked for relief.

Note two things about the speech. Cornplanter referred to himself as Obeale, a form of his father’s surname, which led to confusion that his father was Irish rather than Dutch. He also referred to the leaders of the government as “Father,” a term that seemed to imply subservience, rather than the more common “Brother.”

—Jace Weaver

Cornplanter, “Listen to Me, Fathers of the Thirteen Fires,” in Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania: From the Organization to the Termination of the Proprietary Government, vol. 16 (Harrisburg, PA: Theo. Fenn & Co., 1853), 501–506, https://www.google.com/book s/edition/M inutes_of_the_Provincial_Council_of_Pen/PSQUAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0.

The Fathers of the Quaker State, Obeale, or Cornplanter, returns thanks to God for the pleasure he has in meeting you this day with six of his people.

Fathers: Six years ago I had the pleasure of making peace with you, and at that time a hole was dug in the earth, and all contentions between my nation and you ceased and were buried there.

At a treaty then held at Fort Stanwix between the six nations of Indians and the Thirteen Fires,1 three friends from the Quaker State came to me and treated with me for the purchase of a large tract of land upon the northern boundary of Pennsylvania, extending from Tioga to Lake Erie, for the use of their warriors. I agreed to sale of the same, and sold it to them for four thousand dollars. I begged of them to take pity on my nation and not buy it forever. They said they would purchase it forever, but that they would give me further one thousand dollars in goods when the leaves were ready to fall, and when I found that they were determined to have it, I agreed that they should have it. I then requested, as they were determined to have the land to permit my people to have the game and hunt upon the same, which request they complied with, and promised me to have it put upon record, that I and my people should have that privilege.

Fathers: The Six Nations then requested that another talk might be held with the Thirteen Fires, which was agreed to, and a talk afterward held between them at Muskingum. Myself with three of my chiefs attended punctually, and were much fatigued in endeavoring to procure the attendance of the other nations, but none of them came to the council fire except the Delawares and the Wyandots.

Fathers: At the same treaty the Thirteen Fires asked me on which side I would die, whether on their side, or the side of those nations who did not attend the council fire. I replied, listen to me fathers of the Thirteen Fires, I hope you will consider how kind your fathers were treated by our fathers, the Six Nations, when they first came into this country, since which time you have become strong, insomuch that I now call you fathers.

In former days when you were young and weak, I used to call you brother, but now I call you father. Father, I hope you will take pity on your children, for now I inform you that I’ll die on your side. Now, father, I hope you will make my bed strong.

Fathers of the Quaker State: I speak but little now, but will speak more when the Thirteen Fires meet, I will only inform you further, that when I had finished my talk with the Thirteen Fires, General Gibson, who was sent by the Quaker State, came to the fire, and said that the Quaker State had bought of the Thirteen Fires a tract of land extending from the northern boundary of Pennsylvania at Connewango River to Buffaloe Creek on Lake Erie, and thence along the said lake to the northern boundary of Pennsylvania aforesaid. Hearing this I run to my father,2 and said to him, father have you sold this land to the Quaker State, and he said he did not know, it might have been done since he came there. I then disputed with Gibson and Butler, who was with him about the same, and told them I would be satisfied if the line was run from Connewango River through Chatochque Lake to Lake Erie, for Gibson and Butler had told me that the Quaker State had purchased the land from the Thirteen Fires, but that notwithstanding the Quaker State had given to me one thousand dollars in fine prime goods which were ready for me and my people at Fort Pitt, we then agreed that the line should be run from Connewango River through Chatochque Lake into Lake Erie, and that one-half of the fish in Chatochque Lake should be mine and one-half theirs.

They then said as the Quaker State had purchased the whole from the Thirteen Fires, that the Thirteen Fires must pay back to the Quaker State the value of the remaining land. When I heard this my mind was at ease, and I was satisfied.

I then proposed to give a half mile square of land upon the line so agreed upon to a Mr. Hartzhorn who was an ensign in General Harmar’s3 army out to a Mr. Britt, a cadet who acted as a clerk upon occasion, and who I well know by the name of Half-Town, for the purpose of their settling there to prevent any mischief being committed in future upon my people’s lands, and I hoped that the Quaker State would in addition thereto give them another half mile square on their side of the line so agreed upon for the same purpose, expecting thereby that the line so agreed upon would be known with sufficient certainty and that no disputes would thereafter arise between my people and the Quaker State concerning it. I then went to my father of the Thirteen Fires and told him I was satisfied, and the coals being covered up I said to my children you must take your course right through the woods to Fort Pitt. When I was leaving Muskingum my own son who remained a little while behind to warm himself at the fire was robbed of a rifle by one of the white men, who I believe to have been a Yankee. Myself with Mr. Joseph Nicholson and a Mr. Morgan then travelled three days together through the wilderness, but the weather being very severe they were obliged to separate from me, and I sent some of my own people along with Mr. Nicholson and Mr. Morgan as guides to conduct them on to Wheelan.

After I had separated from Mr. Nicholson and Mr. Morgan, I had under my charge one hundred and seventy persons of my own nation, consisting of men, women, and children to conduct through the wilderness through heaps of briars, and having lost our way, we with great difficulty reached Wheelan. When arrived there being out of provision I requested of a Mr. Zanes to furnish me and my people with bacon and flour to the amount of seventeen dollars, to be paid for out of goods belonging to me and my people at Fort Pitt. Having obtained my request, I proceeded on my journey for Pittsburg, and about ten miles from Wheelan my party were fired upon by three white people, and one of my people in the rear of my party received two shot through his blanket.

Fathers: It was a constant practice with me throughout the whole journey to take great care of my people, and not suffer them to commit any outrages or drink more than their necessities required. During the whole of my journey only one accident happened which was owing to the kindness of the people of the town called Catfish, in the Quaker State, who, while I was talking with the head men of the town, gave to my people more liquor than was proper, and some of them got drunk, which obliged me to continue there with my people all night, and in the night my people were robbed of three rifles and one shotgun; and though every endeavor was used by the head men of the town upon complaint made to them to discover the perpetrators of the robbery, they could not be found; and on my people’s complaining to me I told them it was their own fault by getting drunk.

Fathers: Upon my arrival at Fort Pitt I saw the goods which I had been informed of at Muskingum, and one hundred of the blankets were all moth eaten and good for nothing, I was advised not to take the blankets, but the blankets which I and my people then had being all torn by the briars in our passage through the wilderness, we were under the necessity of taking them to keep ourselves warm; and what most surprised me, was that after I had received the goods they extinguished the fire and swept away the ashes, and having no interpreter there I could talk with no one upon the subject. Feeling myself much hurt upon the occasion, I wrote a letter to you Fathers of the Quaker State, complaining of the injury, but never received any answer. Having waited a considerable time, and having heard that my letter got lost, I wrote a second time to you Fathers of the Quaker State and then I received an answer.

I am very thankful to have received that answer, and as the answer intreated me to come and speak for myself, I thank God that I have this opportunity, I therefore speak to you as follows. I hope that you, the Fathers of the Quaker State, will fix some person at Fort Pitt to take care of me and my people. I wish, and it is the wish of my people if agreeable to you that my present interpreter, Joseph Nicholson, may be the person, as I and my people have a confidence in him, and are satisfied that he will always exert himself to preserve peace and harmony between you and us. My reasons for wishing an interpreter to be placed there, are that often times when my hunters and people come there, their canoes and other things are stolen, and they can obtain no redress, not having any person there on whom they can rely to interpret for them and see justice done to them.

Fathers of the Quaker State: About a year ago a young man, one of my tribe who lived among the Shawanese,4 was one of a party who had committed some outrages and stolen a quantity of skins the property of David Duncan, being at Fort Pitt, was seized by the white people there who would have put him into confinement and perhaps to death had not some of the chiefs of the Seneca Nation interfered and bound themselves to the said David Duncan, who insisted upon satisfaction, for payment of the sum of $530 for the said skins so stolen, upon which the young man aforesaid was released and delivered up to them.

Fathers of the Quaker State: I wish now to acquaint you with what happened to one of my people about four years ago, four miles above Fort Pitt: A young man who was married to my wife’s sister, when he was hunting, was murdered by a white man. There were three reasons for his being killed: In the first place he had a very fine riding horse; secondly, he was very richly dressed, and had about him a good deal of silver; and thirdly, he had with him a very fine rifle. The white man invited him to his house, to light from his horse, and as he was getting off his horse, his head being rather down, the white man struck him with a tomahawk on the head and killed him, and having plundered him dragged him into the river. Upon discovery of the murder, my people, with Mr. Nicholson and Mr. Duncan, had a great deal of trouble, and took a great deal of pains to find out the person who had committed the murder, and after three days’ searching, they discovered him.

Father of the Quaker State: About five years ago, one of my chiefs, name Half-Town, was sent to Fort Pitt to deliver up into your hands your own flesh and blood who were taken in the war, and before he returned two horses were stolen from him by the white people. Now, Fathers, I will inform you of another accident which happened to my people last winter, fifteen miles below Fort Pitt. My nephew, with a hunting party, being there, was shot through the head in Mr. Nicholson’s camp, the particulars of which Mr. Nicholson, who is here present, can inform you.

Well, Fathers, I beg of you once more not to let such bad people be alongside of me. And, Fathers, you must not think I or any of my people are bad or wish evil to you and yours, nor must you blame us for the mischiefs that have been committed by the other nations. Fathers, consider me and my people, and the many injuries we have sustained by the repeated robberies, and in the murders and depredations committed by the whites against us.

It is my wish and the wishes of my people to live peaceably and quietly with you and yours, but the losses we have sustained require some compensation. I have, with the consent of my people, agreed to receive from you $830 as a satisfaction for all losses and injuries I and my people have sustained, and this being paid me by you, to enable me to satisfy such of my people as have sustained those losses and suffered those injuries, we shall, I hope, in future live peaceable together, and bury in the earth all ill will and enmity to each other.

Fathers of the Quaker State: I have now had the pleasure to meet you with six of my people. We have come a great way, by your desire, to talk with you and to show to you the many injuries my nation has sustained. It now remains with you to do with me and my people what you please, on account of the present trouble which I and my people have taken for your satisfaction, and in compliance with your request.

Fathers, having come this great way at your request, and as it is necessary for some of us to remain here to talk with the Thirteen Fires when they meet, I have concluded to send back four of my people, and to remain here myself with Half Town and my interpreter, Mr. Nicholson, until that time, which I hope you will approve of. But should you not approve of it, I must be under the necessity of returning with the whole of my people, which will be attended with a considerable expense.

Fathers of the Quaker State: You have now got the most of our lands, and have taken the game upon the same. We have only the privilege of hunting and fishing thereon. I, therefore, would make this further request, that a store may be established at Fort Pitt for the accommodation of my people and the other nations when they go out to hunt; and where they may purchase goods at a reasonable price. For, believe me, Fathers, you yourselves would be frightened were you to know the extravagant prices we are obliged to pay for the goods we purchase.

There is a man (Esquire Wilkie) in Pittsburg, who has taken a great deal of pains to serve my people, and has pitied them; my people, when there, are very kindly treated by him, and give him a great deal of trouble, but he thinks nothing of it; he is the man my people wish should have charge of the store.

Fathers of the Quaker State: I have heard that you have been pleased to present to me a tract of land, but as yet I have not seen no writings for the same; well, Fathers, if it is true that you have given me this tract of land, I can only thank you for the same, but I hope you will also give me tools and materials for working the same.

Fathers of the Quaker State: Five years ago, when I used to be with my present interpreter, Joseph Nicholson, he took care of me and my people. Considering his services and the difficulties he underwent in his journey from Muskingum to Fort Pitt, the Six Nations wished to have him seated upon a tract of land of six miles square, lying in the forks of Allegany River, and Broken Straw creek, and accordingly patented the same to him,5 this being the place where the battle was fought between my people and yours, and where about thirty of my people were beaten by him and twenty-five of your people, and where he was shot through the thigh. Now, Fathers, it is my wish, and I tell you it is the wish of the whole Six Nations, in behalf of whom and myself I request that you would grant and confirm to our brother and friend, the before named Joseph Nicholson, the aforesaid tract of land, as described in our patent or grant to him.

This, Fathers, is all I have to say to the Quaker State, and I hope you will consider well all I have mentioned.

  1. 1. The thirteen United States.
  2. 2. Possibly a reference to a government official.
  3. 3. Josiah Harmar (1753–1813).
  4. 4. The Shawnee.
  5. 5. A land patent is a grant of land.
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