Document Showcase: American Indians in Colonial New York

Document Showcase is a regular feature that highlights a topic from State history using records from the New York State Archives. Each Showcase includes sample documents, an historical sketch, and links to educational activities for classroom use. Click on the thumbnail images below to view the documents more closely.

Thumbnail of the Declaration of Cornelis Cornelissen and other soldiers regarding the destruction of Jochem Pietersen Kuyter’s house by the Indians
Thumbnail The Humble Petition of Sarah Robins a Free Born Indian Woman
Thumbnail of document: Oneidas receive 50 blankets for service during the Revolutionary War
Thumbnail of message from Mohawk and Canajoharie Indians

Historical Background

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.

Classroom Activities

Document-Based Questions and related activities on the Civil War, which are designed to meet New York State Education Standards

Native American classroom activities PDF icon

For More Information

New York State History Timeline, presented by the New York Department of Economic Development

Chronological list of treaties between the United States and Native Americans, presented by Yale University

Statutes of the United States concerning Native Americans, presented by Yale University

National Geographic video about the varied cultures and history of Native Americans

Questions?

Send questions or comments about the Document Showcase to the Public Programs Office of the State Archives by email at: ARCHEDU@mail.nysed.gov or phone (518) 474-6926.