Onandogas and Cayugas: Iroquois Chiefs Address the Governors of New York and Virginia (1684)

Cadwallader Colden (1688–1776), surveyor and later lieutenant governor of New York, recorded these arguments spoken by Iroquois chiefs. The Iroquois were certainly attempting to resolve difficulties caused by an ever-expanding colonial population, and were willing to form alliances with whichever power could guarantee their interests.

Brother Corlear,

Your Sachem is a great Sachem and we are but a small People; but when the English came first to Manhatan, (New York) to Aragiske (Virginia) and to Yakokranagary (Maryland), they were then but a small People, and we were great. Then, because we found you a good People, we treated you kindly, and gave you Land; we hope therefore, now that you are great, and we small, you will protect us from the French. If you do not, we shall lose all our Hunting and Bevers: The French will get all the Bevers. The Reason they are now angry with us is, because we carry our Bever to our Brethren.

We have put our Lands and ourselves under the Protection of the great Duke of York, the Brother of your great Sachem, who is likewise a great Sachem.

We have annexed the Susquehana River, which we won with the Sword, to this Government; and we desire it may be a Branch of the great Tree that grows in this Place, the Top of which reaches the Sun, and its Branches shelter us from the French, and all other Nations. Our Fire burns in your Houses, and your Fire burns with us; we desire it may be so always. But we will not that any of the great Penn's People settle upon the Susquehana River, for we have no other Land to leave to our Children.

Our young Men are Soldiers, and when they are provoked, they are like Wolves in the Woods, as you, Sachem of Virginia, very well know.

We have put ourselves under the great Sachem Charles, that lives on the other Side the great Lake. We give you these two white dressed Deer-skins, to send to the great Sachem, that he may write on them, and put a great red Seal to them, to confirm what we now do; and put the Susquehana River above the Falls, and all the rest of our Land under the great Duke of York, and give that Land to none else. Our Brethren, his People, have been like Fathers to our Wives and Children, and have given us Bread when we were in Need of it; we will not therefore join ourselves, or our Land, to any other Government but this. We desire Corlear, our Governor, may send this our Proposition to the great Sachem Charles, who dwells on the other Side the great Lake, with this Belt of Wampum, and this other smaller Belt to the Duke of York his Brother: And we give you, Corlear, this Bever, that you may send over this Proposition.

You great Man of Virginia, we let you know, that great Penn did speak to us here in Corlear's House by his Agents, and desired to buy the Susquehana River of us, but we would not hearken to him, for we had fastened it to this Government.

We desire you therefore to bear witness of what we now do, and that we now confirm what we have done before. Let your Friend, that lives on the other Side the great Lake, know this, that we being a free People, though united to the English, may give our Lands, and be joined to the Sachem we like best. We give this Bever to remember what we say

The Senekas arrived soon after, and, on the fifth of August, spoke to the Lord Howard in the following Manner:

We have heard and understood what Mischief hath been done in Virginia; we have it as perfect as if it were upon our Fingers Ends. 0 Corlear! we thank you for having been our Intercessor, so that the Axe has not fallen upon us.

And you Assarigoa, great Sachem of Virginia, we thank you for burying all Evil in the Pit. We are informed, that the Mohawks, Oneydoes, Onnondagas, and Cayugas, have buried the Axe already; now we that live remotest off, are come to do the same, and to include in this Chain the Cahnawaas, your Friends. We desire therefore, that an Axe, on our Part, may be buried with one of Assarigoa's. 0 Corlear! Corlear! we thank you for laying hold of one End of the Axe; and we thank you, great Governor of Virginia, not only for throwing aside the Axe, but more especially for your putting all Evil from your Heart. Now we have a new Chain, a strong and a straight Chain, that cannot be broken. The Tree of Peace is planted so firmly, that it cannot be moved, let us on both Sides hold the Chain fast.

We understand what you said of the great Sachem, that lives on the other Side the great Water.

You tell us, that the Cahnawaas will come hither, to strengthen the Chain. Let them not make any Excuse, that they are old and feeble, or that their Feet are sore. If the old Sachems cannot, let the young Men come. We shall not fail to come hither, tho' we live farthest off, and then the new Chain will be stronger and brighter.

We understand, that because of the Mischief that has been done to the People and Castles of Virginia and Maryland, we must not come near the Heads of your Rivers, nor near your Plantations, but keep at the Foot of the Mountains; for tho' we lay down our Arms, as Friends, we shall not be trufted for the future, but looked on as Robbers. We agree however to this Proposition, and shall wholly stay away from Virginia: And this we do in Gratitude to Corlear, who has been at so great Pains to persuade you, great Governor of Virginia, to forget what is past. You are wise in giving Ear to Corlear's good Advice, for we shall now go a Path which was never trod before.

We have now done speaking to Corlear, and the Governor of Virginia; let the Chain be for ever kept clean and bright by him, and we shall do the same.

The other Nations from the Mohawks Country to the Cayugas, have delivered up the Susquehana River, and all that Country, to Corlear's Government. We confirm what they have done by giving this Belt.

Coll. Bird, one of the Council of Virginia, and Edmond Jennings Esq; Attorney General of that Province, came with four Indian Sachems, (according to the Lord Howard's Promise) to renew and confirm the Peace, and met the Five Nations at Albany in September 1685.

Coll. Bird accused them of having again broke their Promise, by taking an Indian Girl from an English Man's House, and four Indian Boys Prisoners. They excused this, by its being done by the Parties that were out when the Peace was concluded, who knew nothing of it; which Accident they had provided against in their Articles. They said, the four Boys were given to the Relations of those Men that were lost; and it would be difficult to obtain their Restoration: But they at last promised to deliver them up.

The Senakas and Mohawks declared themselves free of any Blame, and chid the other Nations.

So that we may still observe the Influence which the French Priests had obtained over those other Nations, and to what Christian like Purpose they used it.

The Mohawks Speaker said, "Where shall I seek the Chain of Peace? Where shall I find it but upon our Path? And whither doth our Path lead us, but into this House? This is a House of Peace;" after this he sang all the Links of the Chain over. He afterwards sang by Way of Admonition to the Onondagas, Oneydoes, and Cayugas, and concluded all with a Song to the Virginia Indians.

The French Priests however still employed their Influence over the Onnondagas, Cayugas, and Oneydoes; and it was easy for them to spirit up the Indians (naturally revengeful) against their old Enemies. A Party of the Oneydoes went out two Years after this against the Wayanoak Indians, Friends of Virginia, and killed some of the People of Virginia, who assisted those Indians. They took six Prisoners, but restored them at Albany, with an Excuse, that they did not know they were Friends of Virginia. But Coll. Dungan on this Occasion told them, That he only had kept all the English in North America from joining together to destroy them; that if ever he should hear of the like Complaint, he would dig up the Hatchet, and join with the rest of the English to cut them off Root and Branch; for there were many Complaints made of him to the King by the English, as well as by the Governor of Canada, for his favouring of them. We have now gone through the material Transactions which the Five Nations had with the English, in which we find the English pursuing nothing but peaceable and Christian-like Measures; and the Five Nations (tho' Barbarians) living with the People of New-York, like good Neighbours and faithful Friends, and generally with all the English also, except when they were influenced by the Jesuites; at the same Time, one cannot but admire the Zeal, Courage, and Resolution of these Jesuites, that would adventure to live among Indians at War with their Nation; and the better to carry their Purposes, to comply with. all the Humours and Manners of such a wild People, so as not to be distinguished by Strangers from meer Indians. One of them, named Milet, remained with the Oneydoes till after the Year 1694; he was advanced to the Degree of a Sachem, and had so great an Influence over them, that the other Nations could not prevail with them to part with him. While he lived with them, the Oneydoes were frequently turned against the Southern Indians (Friends of the English southern Colonies) and were always wavering in their Resolutions against the French at Canada.

We shall now see what Effect the Policy of the French had, who pursued very different Measures from the English.

Source: Cadwallader Colden, The History of the Five Nations of Canada, 3rd ed. (London, 1755), vol. I, pp. 46–51.