CELEBRATION OF THE FOURTH OF JULY, 1854,
AT REIDSVILLE, NEW YORK.
Interesting speech of JOHN W. QUINNEY, Chief of the Stockbridge Tribe of Indians.
Albany Free-Holder, July 12, 1854. [as re-printed in WISCONSIN HISTORICAL COLLECTIONS. Vol. IV (1859), pp. 313-20. Viewed in Wisc. Hist. Soc. 2017 then re-typed 2018 by A.G. Kastelle]
[abbreviated introductory commentary:]
There was a large gathering of the people, numbering about two thousand.
. . . .
The Stockbridge Indians once owned all the land on the Hudson river. There is no record of their having sold any part of the land constituting the manor of Rensselaerwyck. That part of Mr. QUINNEY’s speech which touches upon the manner in which most of the land was purchased from the Indians, contains too much truth. We presume that hardly one of the old Indian conveyances was fairly and honorably made. The whole of Saratoga County, and parts of Schenectady, Fulton, and Montgomery, were bought of two or three Indians, who had no power to convey, for a little rum, a few blankets, and trinkets, and these constituted the ground upon which the patent of KAYADEROSSERAS was granted. . . .
Mr. QUINNEY’s speech contains several hard hits. After speaking of the laws passed to legalize titles fraudulently obtained, he puts the following questions: “Will you look steadily at the intrigues, bargains, corruption and log-rolling of the present Legislatures, and see any trace of the divinity of justice? And by what test shall be tried the acts of the old Colonial Courts and Councils?”
Well and stoutly put. Who will answer them?
The last half of this speech is admirable. It is a bold, stern and manly protest against the uniform and persistent injustice which has been meted out to the Indian race. We hope to see it republished in all the newspapers of the country.
“It may appear to those whom I have the honor to address, a singular taste, for me, an Indian, to take an interest in the triumphal days of a people, who occupy by conquest, or have usurped the possession of the territories of my fathers, and have laid and carefully preserved, a train of terrible miseries, to end when my race shall have ceased to exist. But thanks to the fortunate circumstances of my life, I have been taught in the schools, and been able to read your histories and accounts of Europeans, yourselves and the Red Man; which instruct me, that while your rejoicings to-day are commemorative of the the free birth of this giant nation, they simply convey to my mind, the recollection of a transfer of the miserable weakness and dependance of my race from one great power to another.
My friends, I am getting old, and have witnessed, for many years, your increase in wealth and power, while the steady consuming decline of my tribe, admonishes me, that their extinction is inevitable — they know it themselves, and the reflection teaches them humility and resignation, directing their attention to the existence of those happy hunting-grounds which the Great Father has prepared for all his red children.
In this spirit, my friends, (being invited to come here,) as a Muh-he-con-new, and now standing upon the soil which once was, and now ought to be, the property of this tribe, I have thought for once, and certainly the last time, I would shake you by the hand and ask you to listen, for a little while, to what I have to say.
In the documentary papers of this State, and in the various histories of early events in the settlement of this part of the country by the whites, the many traditions of my tribe, which are as firmly believed as written annals by you, inform me that there are many errors. Without, however, intending to refer to, and correct those histories, I will give you what those traditions are.
About the year 1645, and when KING BEN (the last of the hereditary chiefs of the Muh-he-con-new Nation) was in his prime, a Grand Council was convened of the Muh-he-con-new tribe, for the purpose of conveying from the old to the young men, a knowledge of the past. Councils, for this object especially, had ever at stated periods, been held. Here, for the space of two moons, the stores of memory were dispensed; corrections and comparisons made, and the results committed to faithful breasts, to be transmitted again to succeeding posterity.
Many years after, another, and the last, Council of this kind was held; and the traditions reduced to writing, by two of our young men, who had been taught to read and write, in the school of the Rev. JOHN SERGEANT, of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. They were obtained, in some way, by a white man, for publication, who soon after dying, all trace of them became lost. The traditions of the tribe, however, have mainly been preserved; of which I give you subsequently, the following:
“A great people came from the North-West: crossed over the salt-waters, and after long and weary pilgrimages, (planting many colonies on their track,) took possession , and built their fires upon the Atlantic coast, extending from the Delaware on the south, to the Penobscot in the north. They became, in process of time, divided in to different tribes and interests: all, however, speaking one common dialect. This great confederacy, comprising Delawares, Munsees, Mohegans, Narragansett, Pequots, Penobscots, and many others, (of whom a few are now scattered among the distant wilds of the West — others supporting a weak, tottering existence; while, by far, a larger remainder have passed that bourne, to which their brethren are tending,) held its Council once a year, to deliberate on the general welfare. Patriarchal delegates from each tribe attended, assisted by priests and wise men, who communicated the will and invoked the blessing, of the Great and Good Spirit. The policy and decisions of this Council were every where respected, and inviolably observed. Thus contentment smiled upon their existence and they were happy. Their religion, communicated by priests and prophets, was simple and true. The manner of worship is imperfectly transmitted; but their reverence for a Great and Good Spirit — (whom they referred to by looking or pointing upwards,) the observance of feasts and fasts, in each year; the offering of beasts in thanksgiving and for atonement, is clearly expressed. They believed the soul to be immortal; — in the existence of a happy land beyond the view, inhabited by those whose lives had been blameless: while for the wicked had been a region of misery reserved, covered with thorns and thistles, where comfort and pleasure were unknown. Time was divided into years and seasons; twelve moons for a year, and a number of years by so many winters.
The tribe, to which your speaker belongs, and of which there were many bands, occupied and possessed the country from the sea-shore, at Manhattan, to Lake Champlain. Having found an ebb and flow of the tide, they said: “This is Muh-he-con-new,”—”like our waters, which are never still.” From this expression, and by this name, they were afterwards known, until their removal to Stockbridge, in the year 1730. Housatonic River Indians, Mohegan, Manhattas, were all names of bands in different localities, but bound together, as one family, by blood, marriage, and descent.
At a remote period, before the advent of the Europeans, their wise men foretold the coming of a strange race, from the sunrise, as numerous as the leaves upon the trees, who would eventually crowd them from their fair possessions. But apprehension was mitigated by the knowledge and belief, at that time entertained, that their original home was not there, and after a period of years, they would return to the West, from whence they had come; and, moreover, said they, “all the red men are sprung from a common ancestor, made by the Great Spirit from red clay, who will unite their strength to avert a common calamity.” This tradition is confirmed by the common belief, which prevails in our day with all the Indian tribes; for they recognize one another by their color, as brothers, and acknowledge one Great Creator.
Two hundred and fifty winters ago, this prophecy was verified, and the Muh-he-con-new, for the first time, beheld the “pale-face.” Their number was small, but their canoes were big. In the select and exclusive circles of your rich men, of the present day, I should encounter the gaze of curiosity, but not such as overwhelmed the senses of the Aborigines, my ancestors. “Our visitors were white, and must be sick. They asked for rest and kindness, we gave them both. They were strangers, and we took them in—naked, and we clothed them.” The first impression of astonishment and pity, was succeeded by awe and admiration of superior art, intelligence and address. A passion for information and improvement possessed the Indian—a residence was freely offered—territory given—and covenants of friendship exchanged.
Your written accounts of events at this period are familiar to you, my friends. Your children read them every day in their school book; but they do not read—no mind at this time can conceive, and no pen record, the terrible story of recompense for kindness, which for two hundred years has been paid the simple, trusting, guileless Muh-he-con-new. I have seen much myself—have been connected with more, and, I tell you, I know all. The tradition of the wise men is figuratively true, “that our home, at last, will be found in the West:” for, another tradition informs us, that “far beyond the setting sun, upon the smiling, happy lands, we shall be gathered with our FATHERS, and be at rest.”
Promises and professions were freely given, and as ruthlessly—intentionally broken. To kindle your fires—to be of and with us, was sought as a privilege; and yet at that moment you were transmitting to your kings, beyond the water, intelligence of your possession, “by right of discovery,” and demanding assistance to assert and maintain your hold.
Where are the twenty-five thousand in number, and the four thousand warriors, who constituted the power and population of the great Muh-he-con-new Nation in 1604? They have been victims to vice and disease, which the white man imported. The small-pox, measles, and “strong waters” have done the work of annihilation.
Divisions and feuds were insidiously promoted between the several bands. They were induced to thin each others’ ranks without just cause; and subsequently were defeated and disorganized in detail.
It is curious, the history of my tribe, in its decline, during the last two centuries and a half. Nothing that deserved the name of purchase, was ever made. From various causes, they were induced to abandon their territory at intervals, and retire further to the inland. Deeds were given, indifferently to the Government, or to individuals, for which little or no consideration was paid. The Indian was informed, in many instances, that he was selling one parcel, while the conveyance described other, and much larger limits. Should a particular band, for purposes of hunting or fishing, desert, for a time, its usual place of residence, the land was said to be abandoned, and the Indian claim extinguished. To legalize and confirm titles thus acquired, laws and edicts were subsequently passed, and these laws were said then, and are now called, justice!! Oh! what a mockery!! to confound justice with law. Will you look steadily at the intrigues, bargains, corruption and log-rolling of your present Legislatures, and see any trace of the divinity of justice? And by what test shall be tried the acts of the old Colonial Courts and Councils?
Let it not surprise you, my friends, when I say, that the spot on which we stand, has never been purchased or rightly obtained; and that by justice, human and divine, it is the property now of the remnant of that great people from whom I am descended. They left it in the tortures of starvation, and to improve their miserable existence; but a cession was never made, and their title has never been extinguished.
The Indian is said to be the ward of the white man, and the negro his slave. Has it ever occurred to you, my friends, that while the slave is increasing, and increased by every appliance, the Indian is left to rot and die, before the humanities of this model Republic! You have your tears, and groans, and mobs, and riots, for individuals of the former, while your indifference of purpose, and vacillation of policy, is hurrying to extinction, whole communities of the latter.
What are the treaties of the general Government? How often, and when, has its plighted faith been kept? Indian occupation forever, is, next year, or by the next Commissioner, more wise than his predecessor, re-purchased. One removal follows another, and thus your sympathies and justice are evinced speedily fulfilling the terrible destinies of our race.
My friends, your holy book, the Bible, teaches us, that individual offences are punished in an existence, when time shall be no more. And the annals of the earth are equally instructive, that national wrongs are avenged, and national crimes atoned for in this world, to which alone the conformations of existence adapt them.
These events are above our comprehension, and for wise purposes. For myself and for my tribe, I ask for justice. I believe it will sooner or later occur—and may the Great and Good Spirit enable me to die in hope.
WANNUAUCON, the Muh-he-con-new