The Seven Nations of Canada Treaty of 1796

Weakened by their losses in the American Revolution, the Six Nations entered into a number of treaties with the victorious Americans who sought to use Iroquois land to pay their soldiers. Not only did Colonel Louis receive such a land bounty for his services, but he was also hired to assist the Americans in securing treaties with the Iroquois. His involvement eventually led to his alienation from his friends in Oneida and his return to Ahkwesáhsne.

Joseph Brant was then living at the new Grand River reserve in southwestern Ontario, now known as Six Nations. This community was where many of the pro-British Iroquois ended up after the war. Another faction of Mohawks lived at the Bay of Quinte north of Lake Ontario. Their reserve is now known as Tyendinaga. In the 1790’s, Joseph Brant and Captain John Deserontyon, a leader of the Bay of Quinte Mohawks, entered into negotiations with the Americans to sell what was left of their original territory in New York State.

Around that time, the Colonel Louis Cook and a small delegation from Kahnawà:ke journeyed to New York City to pursue a claim on behalf of the Seven Nations of Canada.

They were challenged in their claims by the delegates of New York State on the grounds that Joseph Brant and the Six Nations had already sold that land to them. Cook and his colleagues were angered by this claim but nevertheless accepted the terms of a treaty that set aside a tract of land for the Indians of St. Regis in exchange for their surrender of the rest of their claim. They also accepted a lump sum of money and a yearly annuity as terms of the treaty signed on May 31st, 1796:

At a treaty held at the city of New York, with the Nations or Tribes of Indians, denominating themselves the Seven Nations of Canada; Abraham Ogden, Commissioner, appointed under the authority of the United States, to hold the Treaty; Ohnaweio, alias Goodstream, Teharagwanegen, alias Thomas Williams, two Chiefs of the Caghnawagas; Atiatoharongwan, alias Colonel Lewis Cook, a Chief of the St. Regis Indians, and William Gray, Deputies, authorized to represent these Seven Nations or Tribes of Indians at the Treaty, and Mr. Gray, serving also as Interpreter; Egbert Benson, Richard Varick and James Watson, Agents for the State of New York; William Constable and Daniel M'Cormick, purchasers under Alexander Macomb:

THE agents for the state, having, in the presence, and with the approbation of the commissioner, proposed to the deputies for the Indians, the compensation hereinafter mentioned, for the extinguishment of their claim to all lands within the state, and the said deputies being willing to accept the same, it is thereupon granted, agreed and concluded between the said deputies and the said agents, as follows: The said deputies do, for and in the name of the said Seven Nations or tribes of Indians, cede, release and quit claim to the people of the state of New-York, forever, all the claim, right, or title of them, the said Seven Nations or tribes of Indians, to lands within the said state: Provided nevertheless, That the tract equal to six miles square, reserved in the sale made by the commissioners of the land-office of the said state, to Alexander Macomb, to be applied to the use of the Indians of the village of St. Regis, shall still remain so reserved. The said agents do, for, and in the name of the people of the state of New-York, grant to the said Seven Nations or tribes of Indians, that the people of the state of New-York shall pay to them, at the mouth of the river Chazy, on Lake Champlain, on the third Monday in August next, the sum of one thousand two hundred and thirty-three pounds, six shillings and eight-pence, and the further sum of two hundred and thirteen pounds six shillings and eight-pence, lawful money of the said state, and on the third Monday in August, yearly, forever thereafter, the like sum of two hundred and thirteen pounds six shillings and eight-pence: Provided nevertheless, That the people of the state of New-York shall not be held to pay the said sums, unless in respect to the two sums to be paid on the third Monday in August next, at least twenty, and in respect to the said yearly sum to be paid thereafter, at least five of the principal men of the said Seven Nations or tribes of Indians, shall attend as deputies to receive and to give receipts for the same: The said deputies having suggested, that the Indians of the village of St. Regis have built a mill on Salmon river, and another on Grass river, and that the meadows on Grass river are necessary to them for hay; in order, therefore, to secure to the Indians of the said village, the use of the said mills and meadows, in case they should hereafter appear not to be included within the above tract so to remain reserved; it is, therefore, also agreed and concluded between the said deputies, the said agents, and the said William Constable and Daniel M’Cormick, for themselves and their associates, purchasers under the said Alexander Macomb, of the adjacent lands, that there shall be reserved, to be applied to the use of the Indians of the said village of St. Regis, in like manner as the said tract is to remain reserved, a tract of one mile square, at each of the said mills, and the meadows on both sides of the said Grass river from the said mill thereon, to its confluence with the river St. Lawrence.13

The treaty that Louis Cook and his comrades signed is controversial to this day, with some rejecting the notion that he had any authority to sign such a document. (The treaty Brant and Deserontyon signed in 1797 is disputed on the same grounds.) Regardless of the questions that linger about the treaty itself, it has always been recognized by the governments of New York and the United States. Today the document is central to Ahkwesáhsne’s “American” land claim because it delineates the accepted boundaries of the reservation at the time it was signed. As we will see in later chapters of this history, some of the lands it preserved for our use were later alienated from our community under dubious circumstances.

13  Kappler, C. Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1904, vol. II, p. 45-46.

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