American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Treaty Councils

In 1742, Pennsylvania officials met with Iroquois sachems in council at Lancaster to secure an Iroquois alliance against the threat of French encroachment. Canassatego, speaker (tadadaho) of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, spoke on behalf of the Six Nations to the Pennsylvania officials. He confirmed the League of Friendship that existed between the two parties and stated that "we are bound by the strictest leagues to watch for each other's preservation" (Colden, 1902, 2: 18–24)

Two years later, Canassatego would go beyond pledging friendship to the English colonists. At Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1744, the great Iroquois chief advised the assembled colonial governors on Iroquois concepts of unity:  

Our wise forefathers established Union and Amity between the Five Nations. This has made us formidable; this has given us great Weight and Authority with our neighboring Nations. We are a powerful Confederacy; and by your observing the same methods, our wise forefathers have taken, you will acquire such Strength and power. Therefore whatever befalls you, never fall out with one another (Van Doren and Boyd, 1938, 75).

Richard Peters described Canassatego at Lancaster as "a tall, well-made man," with "a very full chest and brawny limbs, a manly countenance, with a good-natired [sic] smile. He was about sixty years of age, very active, strong, and had a surprising live-liness in his speech" (Boyd, 1942, 244–245). Dressed in a scarlet camblet coat and a fine, gold-laced hat, Canassatego is described by historical observers such as Peters as possessing an awesome presence that turned heads whenever he walked into a room.

Benjamin Franklin probably first learned of Canassatego's 1744 advice to the colonies as he set his words in type. Franklin's press regularly issued Indian treaties in small booklets, which enjoyed a lively sale throughout the colonies, from 1736 until the early 1760s, when his defense of Indians under assault by frontier settlers cost him his seat in the Pennsylvania Assembly. Franklin subsequently served the colonial government in England.

Canassatego's admonition would echo throughout the colonies for many years. For example, colonial representatives called upon them some thirty years later at a treaty council near Albany.

After some preliminaries, the sachems and treaty commissioners began their deliberations in earnest on August 24, 1775, at Cartwright's Tavern in Albany, New York. On the next day, the treaty commissioners (who had specific instructions from John Hancock and the Second Continental Congress) told the sachems that they were heeding the advice Iroquois forefathers had given to the colonial Americans at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1744. At this point, the commissioners quoted Canassatego's words:

Brethren, We the Six Nations heartily recommend Union and a good agreement between you our Brethren, never disagree but preserve a strict Friendship for one another and thereby you as well as we will become stronger. Our Wise Forefathers established Union and Amity between the Five Nations . . . we are a powerful Confederacy, and if you observe the same methods . . . you will acquire fresh strength and power (Proceedings, n.d.).

The Americans then said that their forefathers had rejoiced to hear Canassatego's words, which sank

deep into their Hearts, the Advice was good, it was Kind. They said to one another, the Six Nations are a wise people, let us hearken to their Council and teach our children to follow it. Our old Men have done so. They have frequently taken a single Arrow and said, Children, see how easy it is broken, then they have tied twelve together with strong Cords—And our strongest Men could not break them—See said they—this is what the Six Nations mean. Divided a single Man may destroy you—United, you are a match for the whole World (Proceedings, n.d.).

In this statement, the commissioners were not merely engaging in diplomatic protocol to flatter the Iroquois; they were actually summarizing a historical process of assimilating Iroquois ideas of unity that was expressed in subsequent meetings and in the papers of some of the Founding Fathers (Benjamin Franklin, James Wilson, and Thomas Jefferson, for example). Indeed, the Americans talked of creating a government of federated unity as an alternative to colonial conquest. The Americans continued and thanked the "great God that we are all united, that we have a strong Confederacy composed of twelve Provinces." The American delegates also pointed out that they have "lighted a Great Council Fire at Philadelphia and have sent Sixty five Counsellors to speak and act in the name of the whole" (Proceedings, n.d.).

Bruce E. Johansen

Further Reading
"Proceedings of the Commissioners . . . to . . . the Six Nations, August 25, 1775 at Albany, New York." No date. Continental Congress Papers, 1774–1789. Washington, DC: National Archives (M247, Roll 144, Item No., 134).; Boyd, Julian. [1942] 1981. "Dr. Franklin: Friend of the Indian." In Meet Dr. Franklin. Edited by Roy N. Lokken. Philadelphia, PA: The Franklin Institute.; Colden, Cadwallader. 1902. History of the Five Nations. 2 volumes. New York: New Amsterdam Book Company.; Van Doren, Carl, and Julian P. Boyd, eds. 1938. Indian Treaties Printed by Benjamin Franklin 1736–1762. Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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