You are here

American Indians in Colonial New York

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.

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.

Essential Question
How does human migration impact culture and society?
Check for Understanding
Describe the relationship between the American Indians and colonial New York and explain how that relationship changed over time.

     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.
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 +

     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.
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
            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 but 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 and 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] 

     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.
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 this Way, 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 

     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]
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.
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.

     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

     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