Seneca Chiefs Address George Washington (1790)
In 1790, Cornplanter, the chief of the Seneca nation, and two other chiefs sought redress from the supreme executive council of Pennsylvania for wrongs committed against the Seneca people by British colonists. The cheifs directly addressed Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Mifflin and President George Washington, who they referred to as the "Great Councillor of the Thirteen Fires" (the fires referring to the thirteen colonies). The chiefs knew how important it was to strengthen diplomatic ties with the newly formed United States. But they also demanded the rightful treatment of their people and the acknowledgment of existing land treaties, such as one signed in 1784 in Fort Stanwix, New York, between the United States and the six nations of the Iroquois League. The chiefs had to be especially strategic because they had fought on the side of the British during the Revolutionary War. The following selections from their list of grievances focus on their concerns about the disregard for the agreements about the use of land.
1 December 1790
To the great Councillor of the thirteen fires.
The Speech of the Cornplanter, Half-town and the Great-Tree chiefs of the Seneca Nation.
The voice of the Seneca Nation speaks to you the great Councillor, in whose heart, the wise men of the thirteen fires, have placed their wisdom. It may be very small in your ears, & we therefore entreat you to hearken with attention. For we are about to speak of things which are to us very great. When your army entered the Country of the Six Nations, we called you the Town-destroyer and to this day, when that name is heard, our women look behind them and turn pale, and our children cling close to the neck of their mothers. Our Councillors and warriors are men, and can not be afraid; but their hearts are grieved with the fears of our women & children, and desire, that it may be buried so deep, as to be heard no more. When you gave us peace we called you father, because you promised to secure us in the possession of our Land. Do this and so long as the Land shall remain that beloved name shall live in the heart of every Seneca.
We mean to open our hearts before you, and we earnestly desire, that you will let us clearly understand, what you resolve to do. When our chiefs returned from the treaty of fort Stanwix, and laid before our Council what had been done there our Nation was surprized to hear, how great a Country you had compelled them to give up, to you, without paying us any thing for it. Every one said your hearts were yet swelled with resentment against us for what had happened during the war: but that one day you would reconsider it with more kindness. We asked each other what we had done to deserve such severe chastisement.…
Your commissioners when they drew the line which separated the land then given up to you, from that which you agreed should remain to be ours did, most solemnly promise, that we should be secured in the peaceable possession of the lands which we inhabited, East, & North, of that line. Does this promise bind you?
Hear now we entreat you, what has since happened, concerning that Land. On the day on which we finished the treaty at fort Stanwix, commissioners from Pennsylvania, told our chiefs, that they had come there to purchase from us, all the Lands belonging to us within the lines of their State, and they told us that their line would strike the river Susquehanna below Tioga branch. They then left us to consider the bargain ’till the next day. On the next day we let them know, that we were unwilling to sell all the Lands within their State, and proposed to let them have a part of it which we pointed to them in their map.
They told us they must have the whole: That it was already ceded to them by the great King at the time of making peace with you, and was their own. But they said they would not take advantage of that, and were willing to pay us for it after the manner of their Ancestors. Our chiefs were unable to contend at that time, & therefore they sold the Lands up to the line which was then shewn to them as the line of that State. What the Commissioners had said about the land having been ceded to them at the peace our Chiefs considered only as intended to lessen the price, & they passed it by with very little notice; but since that time we have heard so much of the right to our lands which the King gave when you made peace with him that it is our earnest desire you will tell us what they mean...
Item Type | Speech
Cite This document | “Seneca Chiefs Address George Washington (1790),” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed November 28, 2023, https://shec.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/2912.