Further Land Transactions and the Appointment of Trustees
In the early 1800’s, the State of New York sought to purchase some of the lands reserved to the St. Regis Indians in the treaty of 1796. Historian Franklin B. Hough documented the actions of the state and federal governments in his A History of St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties, New York:
On the 9th of April, 1801, a law was passed making it lawful for the governor to cause a treaty to be holden with the St. Regis Indians, for the purpose of extinguishing their right to a tract of a mile square at the mill on the Grass river, and for that purpose to appoint an agent on the part of the state, and procure the appointment of a commissioner, on the part of the United States, to attend the holding of such treaty. Provided that the consideration to be paid the said Indians for the said tract, shall not exceed a permanent annuity of two hundred dollars. A sum not exceeding $500 was appropriated to defray the expense of holding this treaty.
The surveyor general was directed to cause the meadows reserved to the use of the said Indians, upon Grass river, and which had been disposed of by the state, to be surveyed, and the quantity ascertained, and to report the same to the legislature at the next session.
It was further made lawful for the agent to extinguish the right of ferriage, belonging to the said Indians over the River St. Lawrence, adjoining their reservation, for such reasonable annuity as they may deem proper.
The future payments of the annuity stipulated with the said Indians, was directed to be made at the town of Plattsburgh, in the county of Clinton. The act referred to makes a provision for the patenting by the state to William Gray, of two hundred and fifty-seven acres of land, including the mill on the Salmon river.
The president of the United States, by a message making sundry nominations, and addressed to the senate, February 2, 1802, recommended the nomination of John Taylor of New York, to be a commissioner to hold a treaty between the state of New York, and the St. Regis Indians.
He was led to this, from having received a communication from the governor of New York, purporting that the St. Regis Indians had proposed ceding one mile square, including the ferry, to the state of New York, and requesting a commissioner to be appointed on the part of the United States, to sanction the business, which it was proposed should be accomplished during the ensuing winter at Albany.
(American State Papers, Indian Affairs, vol. I, p. 565.)
In 1802, agents were appointed to treat with the St. Regis Indians for the sale of their mile square, and meadows. The following communication made to the Assembly by Governor Clinton, March, 15, 1802, contains the results of their negotiations. It was first reported to the senate.
Gentlemen:“I now submit to the Legislature, the report of the agents appointed to treat with the St. Regis Indians, for the extinguishment of the mile square, and the meadows on Grass river. I also present to you a petition from those Indians, praying among other things, for legislative provisions, to enable them to lease a part of their lands, to establish a ferry across the St. Regis river, and to apply the income to the support of a school for the instruction of their children. It may be proper to observe, that as the petitioners have uniformly evinced a warm attachment, to the state, and have made uncommon advances towards civilization, they have a claim to the attention of the Legislature, arising as well from principles of policy, as benevolence. They discover an anxiety to return home as soon as possible, but at the same time are unwilling to leave this city, until the result of their application to the Legislature is known.”
Hough included the petition of the St. Regis Indians in his account of the early 1800’s. This document identified several individuals who would serve as “deputies” empowered to act on behalf of the tribe:
“To our great and Honorable Brother, John Jay, Governor of the State of New York:
We, the chiefs and warriors of the village of St. Regis, have sent the bearers, Colonel Louis Cook, Jacob Francis, Peter Tarbell, as deputies, and William Gray as interpreter, to act and settle all business for us that may concern this state, or us, the above mentioned village, or any individual belonging to this state.
Firstly, we beg you brother, to order means to have our meadows on Grass river, surveyed, and the number of acres contained there, to have as many acres cleared near our village, within the reservation made to us by this state, and then to have the use of the meadows on Grass river, till such time as those lands will be fit to mow grass on.
Secondly, brother, we wish to inform you, that at the west end of our meadows, on Grass river, we have one square mile of land, likewise reserved to us by the state, with a saw mill in the centre of mile square, for which Amable Foshee is bound to pay us the sum of two hundred dollars per year, as long as he keeps it in his custody, and we are not satisfied with his usage to us.
Thirdly, brother; there is a route that leads from Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain, crosses the Chateaugay river, and comes straight to the village of St. Regis, where there ought to be a ferry kept for the accommodation of the public, and the use of this ferry is like to create quarrels and disputes:
Now brothers in order to prevent all these disagreeable contentions, we wish to propose to you, for to take one hundred acres, and the privilege of the ferry, and where there may be a good potash works erected for those people who wish to give us two hundred and fifty dollars, as a yearly rent.
Fourthly, brother, we wish to inform you, that there are nine miles between houses, however the route runs through our reservation, and we mean to rent a part of our lands, in order to make it convenient for travelers, and as some benefit to ourselves and children, who may follow us, and we began to inform all our brothers who may see fit to rent the lands of us, that we expect they will pay their rents according to contract, as you have law and justice in your power, and we are not acquainted with our brother white people’s laws.
Fifthly, brother, there is a request from your sisters of the village of St. Regis, the women of families, which is, that you pity them, and send them a school master, to learn their children to read and write.
Brother, your compliance to these requests will cause us ever to pray your welfare and happiness, who remain your brothers, chiefs, and their wives in the St. Regis.”
Witness, WILLIAM GRAY.
Accordingly, two laws were enacted, relating to these people, at the ensuing session of the Legislature. The first was passed March 8, 1802. which provided, “that it shall be and may be lawful for his Excellency the Governor, and the Surveyor general, to treat with the St. Regis Indians for the extinguishment of their claim to the mile square, and the meadows on Grass river, ceded to them in the year 1796, on such terms as they shall deem most condusive to the interests of the state, or to purchase the same from the individuals to whom it has been granted by the state before it was ceded to the said Indians, in case the latter purchase can be made on more favorable terms than the extinguishment of the Indian claim.
That in case the said lands can not be purchased of the said Indians, or of the said patentees at a reasonable price, his Excellency, the Governor, shall represent the same to the Legislature that further provisions may be made respecting those claims.”
The meadows were subsequently purchased of the patentees for the Indians.19
As Hough points out, there would also be legislative action to determine who the state would negotiate with for the lands in question:
During the same session, an act was passed, relating to the St. Regis Indians, March 26, 1802, as follows:
“Be it enacted by the people of the state of New York, in Senate and Assembly, That William Gray, Louis Cook and Loren Tarbell, belonging to the tribe of the St. Regis Indians, be and they are hereby appointed trustees for the said tribe, for the purpose of leasing the ferry over St. Regis river, with one hundred acres of land adjoining, and also one mile square of land on Grass river, within their reservation within this state, for such term of time as they shall judge proper, not exceeding ten years, and it shall and may be lawful for the said trustees, to apply the rents and profits of the said ferry and lands for a support of a school for the instruction of children of the said tribe, (of which the said trustees shall have the superintendence,) and for such other purposes as the said trustees shall judge most conducive to the interests of the said tribe, and the powers hereafter invested in the said trustees, may be exercised by them or any two of them.
And be it further enacted, That it shall be and may be lawful for the said St. Regis Indians, on the first Tuesday of May next, and on the first Tuesday of May in every year thereafter, to hold a town meeting on their said reservation, within the state, and by a majority of male Indians above, twenty-one years of age, to choose a clerk, who shall keep order in such meeting, and enter in a book to be provided by him for that purpose, the proceedings of the said meetings.
And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for the said tribe, at any such meeting aforesaid, to make such rules, orders and regulations, respecting the improvement of any other of their lands in the said reservation, as they shall judge necessary, and to choose trustees for carrying the same into execution, if they shall judge such trustees to be necessary.
And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for the said William Gray, Louis Cook, and Loren Tarbell, to procure a bell for the church belonging to the said tribe, to be paid for out of their annuity.
And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for the person administering the government of this state, to cause to be sent to the said tribe at the place where their annuity is paid, two suits of silk colors, one with the arms of the United States, and the arms of this state as a gratuity, and to draw a warrant on the treasury for the expense of the same.”20
Two of the trustees, Louis Cook and William Gray, died in the War of 1812, prompting the remaining trustee, Loren Tarbell, to petition for replacements.
Albany 16, February, 1818.
To his Excellency, Governor Clinton, of the state of New York:
The Chiefs of the St. Regis Indians, by their petition, most respectfully approach our excellency, to shew, that in March 1802, a law was passed for the benefit of our tribe, appointing the trustees, namely: William Gray, Louis Cook, and Loren Tarbell, to manage and improve their affairs. From that period until the late war, they continued happy amongst themselves, but the war having produced a feeling of opposite interests in the tribe, they became divided almost equally in number, of young men, having your old chiefs, with their adherents steady in the cause and interests of the United States. In course of the war, their trustee, William Gray, was taken prisoner at St. Regis, and carried to Quebec, where he died a prisoner of war. Their other trustee, Colonel Louis Cook, after being actively engaged with General Brown, near Buffalo, died at that place. Since his death, your excellency’s petitioner, Loren Tarbell, the surviving trustee, taking to his private council Peter Tarbell, and Jacob Francis, old chiefs, in whom the tribe have full faith, has continued to act as for the whole, and has the satisfaction of assuring your excellency, that the trust reposed in him, has been discharged conscientiously, and with full regard to justice.
Now your excellency’s petitioner, growing old, and desirous to be relieved in part from the responsibility which he has felt in the discharge of his duties, humbly prays your excellency to get a law passed, appointing the above mentioned Peter Tarbell and Jacob Francis, to his aid, to fill the vacancies occasioned by the death of the former trustees, and confirming the acts of your petitioner done in conjunction with the latter, since the death of the former trustees.
And your petitioner will as in duty bound ever pray &c.
Loren Tarbell (singed by his mark)
William L. Gray, Interpreter.21
Chiefs Peter Tarbell and Jacob Francis were appointed trustees by an act passed on April 3rd, 1818. By 1824, Peter Tarbell was part of a delegation sent by the St. Regis Indians to sell their mile square tract on the Grass River and the mill thereon. The other men were Thomas Williams (who had signed the 1796 treaty on behalf of Kahnawà:ke) and Lewis Doublehouse. They carried with them a power of attorney signed by 11 “chief warriors of the tribe called St. Regis Indians.” They also presented the following petition:
To the honorable the Legislature of the state of New York, in senate and assembly convened.
We the undersigned, chiefs and warriors of the St. Regis tribe of Indians, humbly represent to your honorable body, that our old chiefs that were appointed as trustees are all dead, except one, who is old and unable to transact public business. We therefore earnestly pray that your honorable body, will appoint Thomas Williams, Mitchell Cook, Lewis Doublehouse, and Peter Tarbell, as trustees to oversee and control the affairs of the St. Regis Indians.
Done in general council at St. Regis, this ninth day of March, 1824.22
The following memorial was also presented to the legislature:
At a public council or town meeting, of the chiefs, head men, and warriors, of that part of the St. Regis nation, or tribe of Indians, which claim the protection and countenance of the state of New York, and which receive annuities from, and held lands under the authority of the said state; assembled on this 31st day of May, 1824, on their reservation lands, in the said state, it is unanimously resolved, that in order to put an end to all quarrels for power, we will not henceforth encourage any other individuals to be chiefs, or trustees, except Thomas Williams, Mitchell Cook, Lewis Doublehouse, Peter Tarbell, and Charles Cook; and we do hereby fully authorize, and empower them to transact for, and on behalf of our said tribe of American St. Regis Indians, all manner of business which they may deem for the general good…23
These “American St. Regis Indians” also submitted a declaration of allegiance, signed by 45 individuals:
Know all whom it may concern, that we, whose names are hereto annexed, do solemnly declare ourselves, to belong to the American Tribe of St. Regis Indians, that we owe no fealty to the British government, nor receive any annuities or benefits from the same; that we were friendly to the United States during the late war, and have continued to be so since, and that it is our fixed determination, to establish and continue our residence within the limits of the said United States, the protection and countenance, and especially of the state of New York, we hereby claim for said tribe. In witness of all which we have hereto caused our names and seals to be affixed this 31st day of May, in the year 1824, within our reservation lands, in the state of New York, done in duplicate one copy to be kept by our chiefs, and one copy to be delivered to the governor of the state of New York.24
By September 23, 1825, when 840 acres of land on the east
the St. Regis River were sold to New York State, the names of Thomas
Tarbell, Louis Tarbell, Battice Tarbell, Jarvis Williams, and William
L. Gray (the son of the late William Gray) had been added to roster of
“chiefs and trustees” acting on behalf of the St. Regis Indians.25
19 Ibid, p. 152-154.
20 Ibid, p. 154.
21 Ibid, p. 161-162.
22 Ibid, p. 163.
23 Ibid, p. 163.
24 Ibid. p. 164.
25 Ibid. p. 165.