Saturday, July 11, 2009

John Sergeant III: Indian Agent

The Old Capitol Building in Albany, NY. Built in 1806-08. (Photograph from the Division of Visual Instruction Lanern [Lantern?] Slides, State Education Department, New York State Archives.)
In this blog I use the abbreviations "Sr." (for Senior), and "Jr." (for Junior), after the name "John Sergeant," to keep readers from getting confused. But in all the documents that I've ever looked at, I've never found any evidence to suggest that those abbreviations were used to distinguish between those two men during their lifetimes. The first John Sergeant died before the age of forty and his son John was too young to have any memory of his father.

But there is a third John Sergeant in Algonkian Church History. When Captain Hendrick Aupaumut refers to a "Mr. John M. Sergeant, Jr.," he is clearly referring to the grandson and not the son of the Stockbridge Mohicans first missionary.

Transcripts of a series of documents that were recently sent to me by the Harvard University Library system are about the man who we'll call John Sergeant III. Of this series of documents, the one which best explains the controversy at hand was written by "the undersigned chiefs and principal men of the Stockbridge tribe of Indians," [specifically "Chief HENDRICK AUPAUMUT, ELIJAH PYE, SAMPSON MARQUIS, THOMAS S. HENDRICK, AARON RONKJOOT [Konkapot?], ABRAM M'KOWN [Metoxen?], JOHN M. BALDWIN, JACOB JEHOIAKIM, [and] JOHN W. NEWCOMB"] and addressed to the legislature of the State of New York.

The Indians' letter is consistent with the other documents sent to me (including a letter written by a John Sergeant dated 1829, proving that he was the son of the Sergeant who died in 1824). Allow me to summarize the Stockbridge Indians' letter to the New York legislature.

The tribe needed the assistance of a white man to move west. They asked John Sergeant III to serve as their agent and he resisted, fearing he might impoverish himself as a result. (Apparently only whites could apply for loans at that time, plus there were travel and other expenses.) However, Sergeant was encouraged by state officials. Sergeant was appointed by Governor De Witt Clinton and worked on the tribe's behalf for four years. It was agreed that 500 acres was a fair payment, but by no fault of the Stockbridge Indians, the land designated for him went to somebody else. The papers sent to me, then, are all documents that vouch for Sergeant's honesty and advocate that the state pay him the money he was owed.

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