You are here

American Indians in Colonial New York

Directions
The following questions are designed to test your ability to work with historical documents. As you analyze the documents, take into account both the source of the document and the author’s point of view.
 
Historical Context
Encounters between American Indians and European colonists in New York ranged from cultural exchange, trade, and alliance to conflict and outright war. While facing the reality of dominance by European powers and the loss of economic independence, many Indians nevertheless retained their core traditional values. They employed creative and at times unpredictable means to resist their colonial neighbors.

British colonial authorities mildly discouraged Indian slavery and on several occasions tried unsuccessfully to prohibit it. Early court cases and laws listing duties to be placed on Indian slaves imported into New York indicate that colonial authorities allowed enslavement of Indians to persist. Even freeborn American Indians had reason to fear being forced into slavery and petitioned the colonial council for protection as evidenced in the Sarah Robins case.

From the late seventeenth through the mid-eighteenth centuries, the French and English pressured the Iroquois to choose sides during frequent periods of imperial warfare. Iroquois leaders, distrustful of both powers, opted to maintain neutrality, often playing one side against the other. Still, individual Indian nations at times formed temporary alliances with one power or another.

The Oneida and Tuscarora Indians, influenced in part by the missionary work of Presbyterian
minister William Strickland, chose to fight alongside the patriot forces in the Revolutionary War. The Oneidas aided the rebels at the battles of Oriskany, Saratoga, and Barren Hill, in addition to sharing their corn with George Washington’s starving troops at Valley Forge.

 
Task Description
Using the information from the following documents, and your own knowledge of history, answer the questions in Part A that follow each document. Your answers to these questions will help you complete the writing assignment given in Part B.
 
Glossary
Deponent – a person making a deposition, or statement, especially in a court
Honorable fiscal –the fiscal in the Dutch colonies was like a prosecuting lawyer today
Declaration –a statement made in court
 
Part A: Instructions
Read and analyze each document and answer each of the questions in the space provided.
 
Part B: Essay
a. Using information and evidence from all of the documents to support your thinking, and using your own knowledge of history, write an essay that describes the ways that interactions between European settlers and American Indians changed over time. Your essay should be well organized and should include an introduction, at least three paragraphs, and a conclusion.

b. Using information and evidence from all of the documents to support your thinking, and using your own knowledge of history, write an essay describing the ways in which American Indians were able to use European colonial politics to their advantage. Your essay should be well organized and should include an introduction, at least three paragraphs, and a conclusion.

 


     Acknowledgement of war service, Oneida Indians
New York State Archives, NYSA_A0802-78_V15_070b
 
Document Description
Acknowledgement by Oneida Indians of receipt of 50 blankets from the people of the State of New York as a "gratuity" for warriors' service during the Revolutionary War, June 8, 1792.
 
Transcription
We the Subscriber Warriors of the Oneida Nation of the Indians being a deputation of Fifty of the Warriors of the said Nation appointed for that purpose do hereby Acknowledge to have received from the people of the State of New York fifty Blankets & Two Suits of Indian Clothing, the same being a Gratuity in Consequence of a promise made to the Said Warriors by Col. Willett, for particular services rendered by them when on an Expedition under his Command during the late War. As Witness our hands at Fort Schuyler the 8 of June 1792
Beech Tree +Saderykros +
Kay Dothe +Calondoda +
Ludwig + Peter +
Christian +Theothady +
Polis +Christian +
Big Bear Klinus +Kandaorthy +
William, Tomas Son. +Casqualaquay +
Agethyhunke +Kanough +
Karundawa + Shacanunghwas +
Canawagaink +Thepwansky +
Shelogadass +
Theoaadaas +
 
Questions
  1. In what year was this document written?
  2. Who wrote the document?
  3. What did the warriors of the Oneida nation receive from the people of the State of New York? Why?
  4. Can you think of any other reasons why the Oneida might have helped the patriots during the Revolution?
 

     British colonial council papers, Vol. 56, p. 96
New York State Archives, NYSA_A1894-78_V056_096
 
Document Description
Petition of Sarah Robins, a "free born Indian woman", to Governor Robert Hunter, ca. 1711. Robins asked for the governor's protection and legal assistance, as she had been threatened with slavery if she did not convert to Christianity.
 
Transcription
To his Excellency Robert Hunter Esq. Captain General and Governor in chiefe in and over Her
Majestys Province of New York and New Jerseys and of all the Territorys and Tracts of Land
Depending thereon in America and Vice Admiral of the Same
The humble Petition of Sarah Robins a Free born Indian Woman
Sheweth Unto your Excellency that your Petitioner is a Native of this Her Majestys Province and was born of free parents[,] hath lived great part of her time upon Long Island with one John
Parker of Southampton[,] and by him was turned over to One John Week of Bridgehampton on
the said Island who turned her over to Captain Robert Walters of the City of New York[,] but on
what Account she knoweth not[.] The said Robert Walters upon the first day of January last
caused your Petition[er] against her will to be Transported unto the Island of Madeira in Order to be there sold for a slave [. B]ut after her arrival in the said place upon her application to the
English Consul and declaring that she was a Free subject[,] the said Consul so procured that
Captain Peter Roland[,] who brought her into the said Island[,] should bring her back again to
this Colony[,] she having before refused to be made a free woman if she would have turned to
the Roman Catholik [sic] faith and be therein baptized[.] And your Petitioner being still in fear
that she may be further Imposed on and at some time or other Craftily conveyed to some other
part of the World under the Notion of a slave[,] she Doth therefore in most humble manner pray
that the said John Parker[,] John Week[,] or the said Robert Walters may be put to prove their
Title to her as a slave[. A]nd if they fail therein Then she humbly prays your Excellencys
Protection whereby she may be suffered to live quietly and safely in this her Native Country as a Free born subject of the same[.] And she as in Duty bound shall ever pray[.]
[Undated – ca. 1711]
[Punctuation has been added to this transcription for clarity.]
 
Questions
  1. In what year was this document written?
  2. Where was Sarah Robins from?
  3. Who were Sarah Robins’ first and second masters and where did they live?
  4. Where did Captain Robert Walters take Sarah Robins? Find it on a map. What did he plan to do with Sarah?
  5. What did Sarah ask his Excellency Robert Hunter, Esq. to do on her behalf?
  6. Why do you think Sarah asked for help at this particular moment when she had already been previously enslaved by two other men?
 

     Message from Native Americans to Acting Governor James DeLancey regarding hostilities
New York State Archives, NYSA_A1894-78_V080_017
 
Document Description
Message from the Mohawk and Canajoharie Indians desiring something may be done to remove their present apprehensions of danger, 1755. This message was delivered by Sir William Johnson (referred to as "Brother Warraghijagey") to Acting Governor James DeLancey (referred to as "Brother Goragh") through the colonial council.
 
Transcription
Mount Johnson February the 7th 1755
att a meeting of the Mohawks & Canajoharies Indians, Laurence a Mohawk & their first
Warriour stood up, and spoke in behalf of both Castles as follows

Brother Warraghijagey
When the news of your intention of going to New York reached our ears, Both Men, & Women mett together in Council and then concluded to embrace the favourable opertunity of sending a message by you to our Brother Goragh, which We now earnestly entreat you to deliver to Him with these strings of Wampum -

Brother Goragh,
When We had the pleasure of seeing you last summer at Albany, the air seemed to us pleasant, the sky pritty serene & clear. but to our great concern we now observe, thick, & heavy clouds arizeing on all sides, and driveing thisWay, which seems to portend a storm, Should it blow hard, we are very apprehensive of Danger, haveing no shelter, To you therefore Brother (in whose power it is to draw on, or disperse those Dark Clouds) We make known our fears, not doubting but You (Out of a Brotherly affection) will either remove them, and Ease the Minds of our old, & young people, or cover us from the pending storm.

four strings of Black Wampum

Verbatim as delivered to me
Wm Johnson
VERSO READS:
Mount Johnson Feb. 7, 1755
Message from the Mohawk & Cannajohary Indians desiring something may be done to remove
their present Apprehensions of Danger
Feb 28. Read in Council
 
Questions
  1. In what year was this document written?
  2. What war was taking place in America in this year?
  3. Who spoke the words recorded in this document? Who wrote them?
  4. Who was Brother Warraghijagey?
  5. Who was Brother Goragh?
  6. What did the speaker mean when he said, “to our great concern we now observe, thick & heavy clouds arizeing on all sides, and driveing this Way, which seems to portend a storm”?
  7. What did the speaker ask Brother Goragh to do?
  8. What did the speaker enclose as a gift for Brother Goragh?
 

     Declaration of Cornelis Cornelissen and other soldiers regarding the destruction of Jochem Pietersen Kuyter's house by the Indians
New York State Archives, NYSA_A0270-78_V2_099b
 
Document Description
Declaration. Cornelis Cornelissen, Jan Hageman and other soldiers, that the Indians set fire to and destroyed the house of Jochem Petersen Kuyter, with a burning arrow, the flame of which was like that of brimstone, and that the English soldiers hid in the cellar all the time. [1644]
 
Translation
Declaration of Cornelis Cornelissen and other soldiers regarding the destruction of Jochem
Pietersen Kuyter’s house by the Indians

Cornelius Cornelisz of Utrecht, aged 22 years, says that he stood sentry on the night of the 5th of March in front of the house of the said Jochim Pitersz, it being about two hours before daybreak, near the corn rick, about 50 paces from the barn, when he, the deponent, saw a burning arrow, the flame whereof was as blue as that of sulphur, coming from [a spot] about 20 paces from the house and passing between the dunghill and the cherry trees, which arrow fell on the thatched roof of the house, and owing to the strong wind the house soon got on fire and burned to the ground. Immediately after he heard the report of a gun from the same direction that the arrow came from. Also, that the English soldiers during the fire would not come out of the cellar, where they had been sleeping, and remained therein till the house was destroyed, so that they received no assistance whatever from the English.
 
Questions
  1. In what year was this document written?
  2. What happened to Jochem Pietersen Kuyter’s house?
  3. The title was added by Arnold Van Laer, the translator and editor of the original Dutch documents, in the early twentieth century. Who does the translator assume burned the house? What questions does this raise?
 

     Declaration of Jan Evertsen Bout and Claes Jansen regarding the burning of Jochem Pietersen Kuyter's house
New York State Archives, NYSA_A0270-78_V2_142d
 
Document Description
Declaration of Jan Evertsen Bout and Claes Jansen regarding the burning of Jochem Pietersen Kuyter’s house
 
Translation
Declaration of Jan Evertsen Bout and Claes Jansen regarding the burning of Jochem Pietersen
Kuyter’s house

Jan Evertsen Bout, aged about forty-four years, and Claes Jensz, baker, aged about thirty-six years, testify at request of Mr. Willem Kieft, director general of New Netherland, before the
honorable fiscal, that on the 7th of March last, we heard an Indian named Ponkes, say of his own free will in the Indian language (which we perfectly understood) that the Indians, our enemies, did not burn Jochim Pitersz’ house and that no Indian was ever heard to say so, although, as he said, whenever they have done any mischief, they boast of it, but that as far as the Indians know, the Dutch themselves burned and removed the house, for fear of being killed there.
 
Questions
  1. In what year was this document written?
  2. What happened to Jochem Pietersen Kuyter’s house?
  3. What do the Indians say about who started the fire?
 

     Declaration of Ponkes, an Indian of Marechkawick, regarding the burning of Jochem Pietersen Kuyter's house
New York State Archives, NYSA_A0270-78_V2_142f
 
Document Description
Declaration of Ponkes, an Indian of Marechkawick, regarding the burning of Jochem Pietersen Kuyter’s house
 
Translation
Declaration of Ponkes, an Indian of Marechkawick, regarding the burning of Jochem Pietersen
Kuyter’s house

Before me, Cornelius van Tienhoven, secretary of New Netherland, appeared Ponkes, an Indian of Marechkawieck, who has been among the Indians, our enemies during the war, and who on the 7th of March last, in the presence of Jan Eversen Bout, Fredric Lubberz and Cors Pitersen, inhabitants here, and before the honorable fiscal, voluntarily made a statement in his own tongue, which tongue and statement of the Indian above mentioned the aforesaid persons declare fully to understand. Wherefore they, the deponents, declare that on the 7th of March last they heard the statement made by the Indian, who said that the Indians, our enemies, did not set Jochim [Pie]tersz’ house on fire, the more so they inquired among themselves who might have done it and were not able to learn that those who burned the house were Indians, notwithstanding the fact that the Indians when they commit any outrage boast of it and think that they have done a good and great thing. All of which the deponents declare to have heard from the Indian in the Indian language, offering to confirm the same.
Done in Fort Amsterdam in New Netherland, the 9th of March 1645.
The deponents refused to sign in the presence of the council and the undersigned witnesses, in whose presence they acknowledged that they had heard the foregoing from the Indian. Done as above.
Phillipe du Treux
Willem Briedenbent, under-sheriff
Daniel Kaggen
Before me, who also understand the Indian language and likewise heard the same from
the Indian, Cornelius van Tienhoven, Secretary
[* Translations from Arnold Van Laer, trans.,
New York Historical Manuscripts: Register of the Provincial Secretary, 1642-1647
(Baltimore, Genealogical Pub. Co, 1974), 200-201, 297, 298.]
 
Questions
  1. In what year was this document written?
  2. What happened to Jochem Pietersen Kuyter’s house?
  3. What does the text tell us about why the Dutch might have assumed that the Indians started the fire?
  4. What is the meaning of the statement that, “the Indians when they commit any outrage boast of it and think that they have done a good and great thing”?