Friday, January 30, 2009

New York Indian Removal: "Why did they Leave?"

New York Indian Removal, Part III: "Why did they Leave?"

Some of the Oneidas remain in New York to this day. [They are an Iroquois-speaking nation, not the Algonkian-speaking people that this blog ususally focuses on.]

Recent historians don't put much weight on Eleazar Williams' influence in the removal of the New York Indians. Nor do those same historians view the removal as being about doing Indians a favor by keeping them away from the white frontier. That may sound like a ridiculous rationalization to some people now, but it was based on real reports from well-meaning people like missionary John Sergeant [Jr.], who, in 1821 wrote that the Stockbridge Mohicans were

[S]urrounded by a white population many of whom are greedy after [the Indians'] money and property, and in a secret way contrary to the Laws of the state are constantly supplying them with a liquor called whiskey which is a great grief to the serious people, on which account many of the Indians are willing to remove to some distant country, if they can get away from the white heathen, as the whiskey traders are commonly called (quoted in a 2/1/2006 Mohican News article by Lion Miles).
According to Laurence Hauptman and L. Gordon McLester III, authors of Chief Daniel Bread and the Oneida Nation of Indians in Wisconsin, federal officials used "religious rhetoric," sometimes borrowed from accurate reports, such as the one you just read, to cover up what really pushed many, but not all of the New York Indians westward. As we will see, the real reasons were "land interests" and "national defense concerns"(page 32).

Hauptman and McLester tell us that by February of 1817, at least one federal Indian agent (Charles Jouett) felt that removing the New York Indians to the upper Midwest would "destroy British influence with the Indians north and west of the settlements," and also "free up rich agricultural lands in New York for white settlement."

Hauptman and McLester believe that the thought of being forced to leave their homeland was hurtful to all the New York Indians. Furthermore, they remind us that the Oneidas and the Stockbridges had fought for the colonies in the Revolutionary War (and again for the United States in the War of 1812). It appears that loyalty to the United States made no difference to the Monroe administration. They presented their policy of removal to the chiefs of New York's Native nations as inevitable.

The Stockbridge Mohicans, of course, had already been pushed out of their town in Massachusetts by the 1780's. I am of the impression that their leaders never intended to permanently reside among the Oneidas in New York. In the case of the Stockbridge Mohicans, the hurtful thing seems to have been that they were not allowed to make their long-anticipated move to live among the Delawares and other Algonkians at Indiana's White River.

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