Thursday, January 29, 2009

Eleazar Williams

New York Indian Removal, Part II: Eleazar Williams

New York State was the home of the Iroquois Six Nations. Did they actually want to leave their home? Generally speaking, they didn't, but one man of mixed race was able to persuade a few of the younger chiefs of each tribe that moving west would be a great opportunity. That man was Eleazar Williams.


There is a picture of Rev. Stephen Williams in my post of 1/25/09 ("The Housatonics Accept a Mission"). When Stephen Williams was still a boy, he and his family were taken captive by the Mohawks in the Deerfield [MA] raid of 1704. Some Deerfield residents, including Williams' mother, were tomahawked to death (Frazier, 17), others were released, but Stephen's sister, Eunice, was adopted by the St. Francis Mohawks[Frazier says she was five at the time, another account says she was seven] . Use this link to learn more about the Deerfield raid.

Although she was given a number of opportunities to return to Deerfield (with her family), Eunice Williams began to speak and think in the Iroquois way, and married one of the Indians in her village. Her husband took the Williams name. You can read more about Eunice Williams here and here.

Eleazar Williams, a slick character, if not an all-out charlatan, was the great-grandson of Eunice Williams. Although Eleazer would later claim not to remember the first twelve or thirteen years of his life, most historians believe he was born and raised among the Mohawks (his parents were St. Regis Mohawks with "white blood"). As a teen, he attended Moor's Charity School (the one which began with Eleazar Wheelock teaching Samson Occom). His Canadian connections led to work as a spy for the United States in the War of 1812 (see Ellis, 418-419).

In his later years, Eleazar Williams claimed he was the lost Dauphin of France.

Eleazar Williams made a tour of the Iroquois Six Nations in 1816 and was well received by the Oneidas. Williams then obtained the blessing of Bishop Hobart to become the Oneidas' lay minister. When Williams began his work, an estimated four-fifths of the Oneidas belonged to the Pagan Party. But after only a few weeks of Williams' efforts, that party made a formal renunciation of "Paganism" and declared Episcopal Christianity to be the one true faith (see Ellis, 420).

Great influence over a tribe of fifteen hundred Indians would be enough to satisfy most, but Eleazar Williams had a strong desire for power. He came up with a scheme, a "Utopian dream of an Indian Empire"(Abel, 311).

Although Williams claimed that the plan of an Indian state was his original idea, it was pretty much the same idea that Rev. Jedidiah Morse had also come up with. By 1818 Williams was promoting the idea of moving all Indians in New York State, as well as many in Canada, to the region of Green Bay in what is now Wisconsin. There they would form a grand confederacy. As Albert Ellis describes it, Williams got a few young men from each of the Iroquois Six Nations to subscribe to his plans by "holding out dazzling prizes of future glory and aggrandizement"(page 421). Satisfied that he could exaggerate the support his scheme had from the other New York Indians, Williams went to Washington over the winter of 1818-1819 to take part in the federal government's plans to remove the New York Indians westward.

1 comment :

Jeff Siemers said...

A friend of mine lives on Lost Dauphin Road in suburban Green Bay. He told me that Eleazar Williams' bones were recently dug up and DNA testing showed that he did not have royal blood. If anybody can find written documentation of that, I'd like to see it.