History of Ontario Co. & Its People

Vol. 1, Pub. 1911  Pg. 21 - 35 

Kindly transcribed by Deborah Spencer.

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A Party of Pioneers from Massachusetts Enter the Genesee Country by an All-Water Route--Their Settlement at Canandaigua--Israel Chapin Appointed Indian Agent by President Washington--A Period of Apprehension--The Pickering Treaty of 1794. 

Into the Great Western Wilderness, as Central and Western New York was then called, early in May, in 1789, there came a little party of New Englanders, bent upon spying out the land and making homes and, mayhap, fortunes for themselves and their kin.  Loading their goods into bateaux at Schenectady, they paddled and poled their rude craft, against the current, up the Mohawk to Fort Stanwix (now Rome); then carried boats and goods over a portage of a mile to Wood creek; thence floated down this little stream to Oneida lake, and through the lake and down its outlet to the junction with the Oswego river; then up stream again toward Onondaga lake, into and through the Seneca river, Clyde river, and finally into the Canandaigua lake outlet.  At Little falls, the flat-bottomed boats and their contents were carried around by wagons.  They were again transported overland at the Fort Stanwix portage, and at Seneca Falls and Manchester there were yet other unloadings and carries. 

It was a picturesque and interesting, if an arduous, journey, and we may be sure that those who thus gained entry into the region through which SULLVAN’s army had ravaged 10 years before, found in the forest that bordered the streams, the glades and marshes, tinged with the varying greens of bursting buds, and lighted by the pussy willow and the shad bush, and in the beautiful lake into which they finally floated, a panorama that met their fondest anticipations.  Dr. Jabez CAMPFIELD, of the SULLIVAN expedition, had not overdrawn the attractions of the country when he set down in his journal that it was “equal to any in ye world.” 

Though this water route was deemed entirely practicable, or boatable, as it was expressed in a letter written at the time, having been explored by General CHAPIN and Agent WALKER the September previous, and a road having been cut yet later in the season, through the woods, for a carry around the rapids at Manchester, yet this is believed to have been the only part of immigrants who ever ascended through the outlet into the lake itself.  Boats thereafter came only as far as Manchester, and thence their contents were transported overland to Canandaigua.  Augustus PORTER, who had contracted with some of the purchasers of land to survey the same, and who came on 10 or 15 days later than the party above described, relates that it was a year of universal scarcity among the Indians.  Indeed, he says, they were almost reduced to starvation, owing probably to an unusual fall of snow the winter previous and the consequent scarcity of game.  Perhaps it was the flood following this snow that made the outlet, in the spring of 1789, unusually navigable.  

The leader of this party of pioneers, which included, also, Nathaniel GORHAM, Jr., Frederick SAXTON, Benjamin GARDNER, Daniel GATES, and a number of others, was Israel CHAPIN, of Hatfield, Mass., the man who was destined to become the strong man of the projected capital of the Phelps and Gorham purchase. 

Israel CHAPIN was of Welch ancestry, and belonged to a family that was numerously and prominently represented in Colonial life.

There were no less than 104 CHAPINS who served in the War of the Revolution.  Israel CHAPIN was born in Grafton, Mass., December 4, 1740.  He subsequently became a resident of Hatfield, in the same county.  As to his earlier years, little can be ascertained, but that they were such as to command the respect and confidence of his townspeople, is evidenced by the fact that from 1762, when he was only 22 years of age, to 1787, when he became interested in the Phelps and Gorham purchase, there was hardly a year but what he was elected to some town office.  When Paul REVERE carried the news from Lexington on a certain historic night, he was captain of a company of Minute Men who responded to the alarm, and though it does not appear that he stood among the embattled farmers at Concord the next day, it may be presumed that he wished he did. 

This irregular service lasted only seven days, but he enlisted in the Patriot army on the 27th of April, 1775.  He was at Saratoga at the surrender of Burgoyne, in 1777, and the same year attained the rank of Major.  In October of that year he became a Lieutenant Colonel, and, in February of the year following, Colonel in the Massachusetts militia; then he acted as Brigadier General, was in the campaign against Quebec, and was honorably discharged November 21, 1779. 

TURNER says that in addition to his services in the field during the Revolution, General CHAPIN was occasionally a sub-contractor, or agent of Oliver PHELPS, in purchasing supplies for the army.  On one occasion he was requested by Mr. PHELPS to obtain a “fine yoke of fat cattle for General WASHINGTON’s table.” 

Following the purchase of western land from the State of Massachusetts, April 1, 1788, General CHAPIN was appointed by the associates in the enterprise to explore the country, and upon the return of Mr. PHELPS from his journey to Kanadesaga and Niagara, in the early summer, and the purchase by Mr. PHELPS from the Indians of the tract between the Preemption line and the Genesee river (the so-called Phelps and Gorham purchase), he came into the country for the first time.  William WALKER, appointed to the office of local agent, was here also, and the two men, in September, explored the practicability of the outlet as a means of communication with the East, began the cutting of a road through the woods from Kanadesaga to Canandaigua and thence to the Genesee, started surveyors upon the work of mapping the tract, located the site of what was to become the village of Canandaigua, and erected a small log house there for the storage of supplies.  Then, as Agent WALKER reported, “the reason being so far advanced, and the difficulty of erecting buildings in any degree comfortable for ourselves, and the large number of purchasers who present themselves so great,” they decided to return east and wait until the next spring before establishing themselves on The Chosen Spot. 

The founding of the settlement at Canandaigua was made at a time of gravest danger.  Pressed further and further into the wilderness by the constantly augmenting influx of white settlers, the Indians were naturally restless.  As one of the squaws, permitted to participate in the Pickering Council, expressed it, they had been “pressed and squeezed together until it gave them a great pain at their hearts.”  Their passions were inflamed by the rum dealt out to them in the clinching of every bargain and the negotiation of every treaty, as well as in the purchase of their peltry.  They were confused by the conflicting claims of State and National governments.  They were dissatisfied with the amount of money received in payment for their lands.  They were urged by the unscrupulous lessees to repudiate their contracts with the whites, and they were made arrogant and unmanageable by news of the uprising of their brothers in the West. 

It was at this critical juncture, when council after council had been held without avail, and restlessness might at any time break out into open hostilities, that the Secretary of War, General KNOX, selected General CHAPIN, then the leading citizen of the settlement at Canandaigua, as the man for the hour, and appointed him to the office of Deputy Superintendent of the Six Nations.  His commission to this service was dated April, 1792. 

The letter from Secretary KNOX appointing General CHAPIN to this highly responsible position urged the latter to impress upon the Indians that it was the “firm determination of the United States that the utmost fairness and kindness should be exhibited to them.  That it was not only his desire to be at peace with all the Indian tribes, but to be their guardian and protector against all injustice.” 

In a subsequent letter of instruction, the Secretary wrote that it was the ardent desire of the President that a “firm peace should be established with the neighboring tribes of Indians, on such pure principles of justice and moderation as will enforce the approbation of the dispassionate and enlightened part of mankind.”  But, the Secretary concluded, “if the hostile Indians should, after having had these intentions of the Government fully laid before them, still persist in their depredations in the frontiers, it will be considered as the dictates of humanity to endeavor to punish with severity so incorrigible a race of men, in order to prevent other tribes in future from a like conduct.” 

How well the superintendent carried out the desires of the President, and how successfully he avoided resort to the alternative so emphatically set forth by the Secretary, may be understood from what follows. 

The first duty devolved upon Superintendent CHAPIN was to induce Joseph BRANT, the famous Seneca chieftain, to visit Philadelphia, then the seat of Government.  BRANT had refused to accompany a delegation from the Six Nations a short time before, deeming it beneath his dignity to go with a drove of Indians.  But he yielded to the urging of the Superintendent, came to Canandaigua, and from here he was escorted by Israel CHAPIN, Jr., and other attendants, via Albany and New York, to Philadelphia.  The wily BRANT, halting between his obligations to the British and his inclination to ally himself with the government of the United States, was careful to make no definite promises, and his visit failed of the purpose to secure his active influence in behalf of peace. 

Upon the return of the BRANT party, Secretary KNOX wrote the Superintendent regretting that he himself did not make the journey to Philadelphia, and adding:  “As you at present are regarded favorably, as well for your zeal as your economy, it will be expedient to you that these principles be manifest in all your future conduct, and while you continue to make the public good the rule of your action, you may proceed with confidence as you may depend upon support.”  That he did continue to make the public good the rule of his action is attested by the fact that he continued to the end of his life to have the support of the Government and that no word of disparagement or criticism of his work is to be found in the public archives. 

There followed a long period during which the Genesee country was in a state of constant apprehension.  Time and again the settlers were alarmed by the report that the Indians had gone on the war path.  Dreams of massacre disturbed the sleep of the people on many a night.  Through it all, the calm, imperturbable, strong figure of General CHAPIN held its way, and the settlement came to rely upon him as its defender, as he had been from the beginning its leading citizen.  His energy was unflagging.  His sagacity never failed.  Through his influence, conference after conference was held with hostile Indians at the West. He kept in closest touch with the Senecas near home, and by diplomacy, by his thorough understanding of their character, by asserting on occasion the strength of the Government he represented, by gifts and entertainment, he succeeded in foiling the machinations of British agents bent on fomenting trouble.  His home in Canandaigua was ever open to Indian deputations.  His door yard was the scene of almost daily councils, and his bread and meat and rum were dispensed freely.  He acted as arbitrator in every dispute that arose between Indians and white settlers.  But through all the anxious days the Superintendent succeeded in retaining the confidence and respect of the red men.  Large sums of public money--large for those days--passed through his hands, without suffering from attrition, and for all this and much more the General received the munificent annual salary of $500. 

He wrote the Secretary of War in 1793, giving it as his opinion that the establishment of a properly equipped school for the Indians west of the Genesee river might be of infinite service “both in conciliating the affections of the Indians and in laying the foundations for their civilization.”  He asked also for directions as to how far he should distribute to the Indians, and added:  “I am continually surrounded by a crowd of them *  *  *  They all expect to be fed from my table and made glad from my cellar.  Some instances, too, of clothing, I have not been able to deny.  I would suggest the idea whether a small store of provisions and goods to be distributed on necessary occasions might be a saving to the public.”  This suggestion was favorably acted upon by the Government, and a depot of supplies established in Canandaigua. 

The season of 1794 opened with particularly dark prospects.  Upon General CHAPIN, the Government depended for preserving the endangered peace and the people for their very lives.  Had it not been for him, it is probable  that there would have been a general desertion of the Genesee country.  His apparent confidence quieted the apprehensions of the people, but he better than any one else appreciated the danger.  In April he wrote the Secretary of War that he feared that the Indians, aroused by an inflammatory speech of Lord DORCHESTER, and by the declaration of another British agent that a second war between England and the United States was inevitable, were ripe for mischief.  “The expense of the Indians,” he continued, “increases with the importance they suppose their friendship to be to us.  However, you may be persuaded that I will endeavor to make use of all the economy I can.”  The letter closed:  “This part of the country, being the frontier of the State of New York, is very much alarmed at the present appearance of war.  Destitute of arms and ammunition, the scattered inhabitants of this remote wilderness would fall an easy prey to their savage neighbors, should they think proper to attack them.” 

In May of the same year, 1794, General CHAPIN wrote asking that 1200 or 1500 stand of arms be provided “for the inhabitants of the frontier.”  The State appointed commissioners to take necessary steps for defense.  Governor CLINTON recommended that a deposit be made at “Canandaqua in Ontario County,” of 100 weight of powder and a proper quantity of lead, etc., and the commissioners directed that a block house be erected here and furnished with a piece of cannon. 

General CHAPIN represented the National Government in a council with the restless Indians at Buffalo, June 15, to consider vexed questions growing out of the controversy over the western boundary, and as a result he urged the negotiation of a general treaty as the only means which could keep the Six Nations from joining the dangerous Indian confederacy in the West. 

To this letter from General CHAPIN, the Secretary of War replied:  “Your ideas of a conference are adopted.  It will be held at Canandaigua on the 8th of September.  Colonel PICKERING will be the commissioner, to be assisted by you in all respects.  Notify the Six Nations that their father, the President of the United States, is deeply concerned to hear of any dissatisfaction existing in their minds against the United States, and therefore invites them to a conference, for the purpose of removing all causes of misunderstanding and establishing a permanent peace and friendship between the United States and the Six Nations.” 

General CHAPIN lost no time in spreading the news of the proposed council.  He visited their villages in person and conferred with their chiefs, and he sent runners to Buffalo creek and to Canada to counteract British interference. 

The council which was finally assembled in Canandaigua as the result of these efforts was one of the most important ever held in the country.  It was certainly the most notable event in the earlier history of Ontario county, and as picturesque as it was notable.  The Government made ample provision for the council.  Great stores of food, trinkets, liquor and tobacco were gathered here.  General CHAPIN spared no effort to fulfill his promise to the Indians that he would “hang on big kettles.” 

Colonel Timothy PICKERING, selected by President WASHINGTON to act as the Commissioner in behalf of the Government, was one of the most distinguished men of the time.  A graduate of Harvard College, he had studied law, and had been active in the exciting events preliminary to the Revolution.  He led a Massachusetts regiment in that war.  At its close he had risen to the position of Quartermaster General.  In 1791 he became Postmaster General in President WASHINGTON’s cabinet; the year following his service at the council in Canandaigua he was appointed Secretary of War, and in December of the same year he was transferred to the State Department.  He also served several years in Congress. 

The assembling of the Indians here was retarded by their desire to learn the outcome of the contest then waging between General WAYNE and the hostilities in the West, but when the news came, as it did early in October, that WAYNE had been successful, the business of the council progressed with reasonable speed. 

Fortunately we have a graphic account of the proceedings of the Pickering Council by an eye witness, in the shape of the journal of William SAVERY, a member of the Society of Friends, present at the request of the Indians to see that they were fairly treated.  The council, which was to have opened early in September, was not fully organized until the 18th of the following month, and it continued in almost daily session until the 12th of November, when a treaty satisfactory to all parties was duly signed and the gathering dispersed. 

The treaty thus concluded brightened the two rusty places in the chain of friendship, as picturesquely described by the Indian orators.

It restored to the Senecas the land west of a line drawn due south from the mouth of Buffalo creek and now embraced in Chautauqua and portions of Cattaraugus and Erie counties.  This made their western boundary the shore of Lake Erie and the Niagara river, the Government only reserving the use of a strip along that river for a road between the lakes.  The Senecas on their part surrendered claim to the triangle at Presque Isle, which it appeared their chief CORNPLANTER had disposed of without authority, and without accounting for the proceeds, to the State of Pennsylvania.  They also had their annuity increased from $1,500 to $4,500, and there was distributed among them, at the conclusion of the council, goods valued at $10,000.  The result, as we know, was entirely satisfactory.  From that time on there was no serious disagreement between the whites and the people of the Six Nations. 

Throughout the Pickering Council, General CHAPIN was an important figure.  He occupied a seat of honor beside the Commissioner at every session.  His home was the center of abounding hospitality.  He was the recognized almoner of the Government.  It is not recorded that he made a single speech, but at every step his great influence over the Indians was exerted to bring their vacillation to an end, to keep them in good humor, to straighten out their grievances, and finally to secure their signatures to the treaty. 

As an instance of what was constantly taking place in the CHAPIN door yard during the progress of this council, the following is quoted from Friend SAVERY’s journal: 

“14th of the Tenth month--The party of Senecas, headed by the FARMER’s BROTHER, LITTLE BILLY, etc., having arrived, last evening, within four miles, were expected this afternoon; but having to paint and ornament themselves before their public entry, they did not arrive till 3 o’clock this afternoon.  The Oneidas, Cayugas, and Onondagas were drawn up, dressed, and painted, with their arms prepared for a salute, before General CHAPIN’s door.  The men able to bear arms marched in, assuming a good deal of importance, and drew up in a line facing the Oneidas, etc.  Colonel PICKERING, General CHAPIN, and many white people being present.  The Indians fired three rounds which the other Indians answered by a like number, making a long and loud echo through the woods.  Their commanders then ordered them to form a circle around the Commissioner and General CHAPIN; then, sitting down on the ground, they delivered a speech, through the FARMER’s BROTHER, and returned the strings of wampum which were sent them when they were requested to come to the treaty.  Colonel PICKERING answered them in the usual complimentary manner, and ordered several kettles of rum to be brought, after drinking which they dispersed, and went to prepare their camp.  Each chief delivered a bundle of sticks, answerable to the number of persons, men, women, and children, under his command, which amounted to 472.  They made a truly terrific and warlike appearance.”  The following day 1,600 Indians had assembled, and this number was afterwards increased. 

It was indeed a remarkable gathering of red men, including not only those noted, but also RED JACKET, the famous orator; CORNPLANTER, equally famous as a war chief; LITTLE BEARD, FISH CARRIER, CLEAR SKY, and many others.  Jemima WILKINSON was drawn to the settlement by the event, and with Colonel PICKERING, (The caption under the picture: This boulder monument, commemorating the council held by Colonel Timothy PICKERING and other representatives, of the United States Government with the Six Nations, at Canandaigua, in the summer of 1794, was erected in 1902 by Dr. Dwight R. BURRELL, an officer of the Ontario County Historical Society.  It is a granite boulder weighing approximately 30 tons, and is located on the Court House Square.), William SAVERY and others, was entertained by young Thomas MORRIS, Jasper PARRISH, as the official interpreter, was Superintendent CHAPIN’s most efficient coadjutor.

The conferences of the Indians, clad in all their savage finery, about the big council fires; the repeated adjournments made necessary by the drunkenness of the chiefs and sachems; the denouncing by Colonel PICKERING of a white man named JOHNSON as a British spy; the bursts of eloquence by RED JACKET and other gifted sons of the forest; their visits of ceremony upon each other and upon the distinguished officers of the Government; the busy life in the camps that were pitched in the woods surrounding the village and that consisted of rough tepees of bark and boughs; the horse racing, dancing, and other sports that filled in many of the leisure hours; the meetings for worship and praise conducted in the forest by the Godly Quakers on every First day; the falling of seven or eight inches of snow on the 25th of October; the killing of 100 deer in one day within a few miles of the village--these were some of the picturesque events of the great council. 

The treaty was written on parchment and signed in duplicate by about 50 of the sachems and war chiefs. 

In a letter to the Secretary of War in the month following the signing of the Pickering treaty, December, 1794, General CHAPIN wrote:  “My journey to LeBoeuf, I shall ever believe, was the means of preventing the Six Nations from lending their assistance to their Western brothers, as they term them; and in which I got my present sickness, from which I am fearful I shall never recover.  But, believe me, sir, to be useful to the frontier upon which I live and my country in general, has been the prevailing object of my pursuits.” 

The forebodings of the patriot in reference to his health proved too well founded.  He continued to decline until the 7th of March, 1795, when he breathed his last.  He was 54 years of age. 

The news of his illness and death was received with profound sorrow, not only throughout the region to whose interests he had devoted six strenuous years of his life, but at the National Capital also, where his services to the country were known and appreciated.  The Indians, too, grieved over his departure as that of a true friend.  At a council held in Canandaigua soon after his death, RED JACKET, made a speech, in the course of which, addressing Captain Israel CHAPIN, the General’s son, and Captain Jasper PARRISH, his interpreter, he said: 

“I wish you to pay attention to what I have to say.  We have lost a good friend; the loss is as great to us as to you.  We consider that we of the Six Nations, as well as the United States, have met with a great loss.  A person that we looked up to as a father, a person appointed to stand between us and the United States, we have lost, and it gives us great uneasiness.  He has taken great pains to keep the chain of friendship bright between us and the United States; now that he has gone, let us prevent that agreeableness and friendship, which he has held up between us and the United States, from failing. 

“Brothers, it has been customary among the Six Nations, when they have lost a great chief, to throw a belt in his place after he is dead and gone.  We have lost so many of late that we are destitute of a belt, and in its place present you with these strings of wampum. 

“Brothers, as it is a custom handed down to us by our fathers, to keep up the good old ancient rules; now we visit the grave of our friend, we gather leaves and strew them over the grave, and endeavor to banish grief from our minds as much as we can.” 

The chiefs then directed that a message be sent to the President informing him that the “person whom he had appointed for us to communicate our minds to, has left us and gone to another world.  He with greatest care communicated our minds to the great council fire.”  The message also asked that the General’s son, Captain Israel CHAPIN, be appointed to the office made vacant by the former’s death.  This was done, and the son faithfully carried on the work laid down by the father.


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