Search billions of records on

The founding of the Iroquois League is estimated to be around the 15th century.
The original "Five Nations" of the Iroquois were the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca. The sixth
nation, the Tuscarora, was adopted by the Iroquois Confederacy about 1715 after being forced out of North Carolina.
During this early period the Iroquois freely roamed from New England to the Mississippi River and as far south as
Tennessee. By mid-1700 their main territory was New York State. They also occupied some parts of Ohio and
Pennsylvania as well.

The Iroquois Indians, throughout the centuries, had many foreign invaders to contend with. The Revolutionary
War, and what would follow, would prove to be the beginning of the end. The Iroquois would eventually lose the rights
to almost all the lands they had held for hundreds of years.

The Iroquois were skilled in the strategies of war. They did quite well holding their ground by playing these
foreigners against each other. They held treaties with each foreign power, then changed allies when it was to their
benefit. Always keeping the British and the French a little off balance as to which side they were really on. This kept
the balance of power between the British and French in check with the Iroquois with the most control. Each side was
aware it would be dangerous to have the Indian Nations against them.

This point in American history is too long to go into here so I will have to jump ahead a bit. After the British beat
the French, with the help of the Indians, there was still the British and now the American patriots to contend with. New
York State was a major battleground in early American history during the Revolutionary War. The Iroquois tried to
remain neutral believing it was a white man's war and it was best to let them fight it out amongst themselves. Their
position of aggressive neutrality was still upheld, but with certain conditions. The British and the Americans were to
keep their battles out of Iroquois territory; and they were not to interference with the travel by Indian hunters between
posts or forts to trade.

By 1775 most of the Mohawks had left for Ontario Canada. The unrest in the area had become too great. The
remainder of the Mohawks melded into the other nations, or, joined alliance with the British or the Americans. In the
fall of 1775 a council was held at Pittsburgh; and another held in July of 1776 at Fort Pitt with the Continental
Commissioners. It was reiterated what they had said before. The Iroquois would remain neutral, but neither the
British nor the Americans were permitted to even pass into the territory of the Six Nations. If either side inhibited
trade or travel, entered their territory or harmed their people the Iroquois Confederacy would rise against them.

The Americans however were becoming untrustworthy. The Continental Congress had already broken an
agreement held in Albany in August of 1775. Patriots had seized Oswego despite the Six Nations warnings to keep
their battles out of their territory, and had also captured Mohawk warriors. A Mohawk Sachem, Peter Nickus, who
had been wounded, was hacked to death by a patriotic white swordsman. Through all of this the Iroquois as a whole
had tried to remain neutral. It was becoming impossible, however, to keep the status quo. The Nations were
becoming split and choosing sides.

In mid year of 1777 a council was held at Oswego with the British. After being bribed with food, rum (which their
bodies were not accustomed too), and other gifts the British stated their case. It was explained to them the Americans
were like bad children in need of punishment. The British said the Americans would be easy to beat. The British also
made promises that they would never keep in regards to the Indians retaining their lands. After the Indians met in
private council it was decided to stand with the British against the American rebels.

Battles were numerous after the winter of 1777. The Iroquois suffered the brunt of the causalities harming their
way of life as well as their political structure. Many Sachems and Chiefs were killed. Sides had been chosen splitting
the Iroquois Confederacy and pitting brother against brother. Warriors from Oneida and Tuscarora sided with the
American rebels. Seneca, Cayuga, Mohawk and Onondaga Nations allied with the British.
Exaggerated rumors abounded of blood thirsty Indians committing gruesome crimes. Some of the warriors accused
weren't even at the battles where supposedly these crimes had occurred. Many of the stories of the horror of this war
are true such as the Iroquois attack on Cherry Valley. One must remember that this was a war and brutality was
committed on all sides. Not much was mentioned, even today, of the atrocities that were committed against the
Indians both physically and politically.
Finally, in 1779, George Washington (later dubbed "Town Destroyer" by the Iroquois) sent Major General John
Sullivan on what the history books refer to as an "expedition" through the territory of the Six Nations. His orders, to
destroy the area and take as many prisoners as possible. The British and their Indian allies were inflicting raid after
raid upon American settlements. In order to stop the British, the Americans and their Indian allies would have to inflict
a major blow to the Iroquois that had sided with them.

By the time Sullivan was through, over 40 Indian villages were destroyed along with their crops. Few Indians were
captured because they had fled before Sullivan's army reached them. What little had remained of the Mohawk village
had been destroyed as well as that of the Onondaga and Cayuga. The British as revenge then destroyed the Oneida
and Tuscarora villages. Only the two largest of the Seneca villages remained standing. Battles and raids raged, one
against the other, again after the winter of 1779. So it continued in 1780, 1781, and 1782. In 1783 the British finally
admitted defeat.

The war had been an expensive undertaking. This new "American" country was now in serious debt. Some soldiers
had not even been paid for their services. The Americans were not interested in another war with the Indians. They of
course still wanted the Iroquois land. This could be sold for cash so the economy could be stabilized. Soldiers could
also be paid in land grants.

Robert Morris, known as the financier of the American Revolution, was also interested in land speculation. His
support of the Revolution had left him in financial ruin and he was hoping to recoup some of his loss. In 1791 he
purchased from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts the lands in New York State that would later be know as the
Holland Purchase. Morris' debt became too much, however. His creditors were hounding him to the point that he
was afraid to answer his door. He had no choice but to sell his land as quickly as he could.

In 1792 and 1793 Morris sold this land to the Holland Land Company. There was one catch. The title to the
land, held by the Indians, would have to be extinguished. The deal with the investors from Holland was made on the
condition Morris would take care of this as soon as possible.

In 1796 after several delays Robert Morris wrote a letter to President Washington for help. Morris explained that
his delay was out of public consideration. That he was waiting for peace with the Indians before approaching them on
selling the rights to their land. Morris was confident that the time was now right and that he felt the Indians were
desirous of the sale. He asked Washington to appoint a commissioner to preside at a treaty with the Seneca Nation.
This way he could formally purchase the land in which he had already invested a large amount of money. This would
also solve the problem of the growing number of settler's squattering on the land, which if they did, might also disrupt
the peace with the Indians.

President Washington granted his request and sent Colonel Jeremiah Wadsworth to act as commissioner
representing the United States. Robert Morris, due to his own personal problems, sent his son Thomas and Charles
Williamson to act in his place as his attorneys. The event was to be held at Big Tree in what is now Geneseo in
Livingston County on August 28, 1797.

The council was attended by the above named parties as well as representatives of the Commonwealth of
Massachusetts and members of the Holland Land Company. On September 15, 1797 the Treaty at Big Tree was
signed. Fifty-two Iroquois Indians signed the treaty that day. Among them were Chiefs and Sachems of the Seneca
Nation who would be immortalized in American history. They included Blacksnake, Little Beard, Little Billy, Big
Tree, Destroy Town, Pollard, Farmers Brother, Cornplanter, Young King, Handsome Lake, and Red Jacket. The
sum of the sale was $100,000 plus the lands the Indians were allowed to retain for their home. Thus began America's
string of treaties, compromises, and broken promises with the Iroquois Nations.