Benjamin Franklin, Pennsylvania, and the First Nations

Benjamin Franklin, Pennsylvania, and the First Nations

by Susan Kalter (Editor)


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British colonial relations with the native peoples of eastern North America

This is an annotated edition of the treaties between the British colonies and Indian nations, originally printed and sold by Benjamin Franklin. Last published in 1938, Benjamin Franklin, Pennsylvania, and the First Nations makes these important treaties available once again, featuring a simpler, easier-to-read format, extensive explanatory notes, and maps. A detailed introduction by Susan Kalter puts the treaties in their proper historical and cultural context. 

This carefully researched edition shows these treaties to be complex intercultural documents, and provides significant insight into the British colonists’ relationship with native peoples of North America. They also reveal the complexity of Benjamin Franklin’s perceptions of Native Americans, showing him in some negotiations as a promoter of the Indian word against the colonial one. Finally, the treaties offer an enormous wealth of linguistic, aesthetic, and cultural information about the Iroquois, the Delawares, and their allies and neighbors.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252030352
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 07/21/2005
Pages: 472
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Susan Kalter is an assistant professor of English at Illinois State University, Normal.

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Benjamin Franklin, Pennsylvania, & the First Nations

The Treaties of 1736-62


Copyright © 2006 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-252-03035-4


By the time Benjamin Franklin began to pay attention to the treaties that Pennsylvania colony was making with the Indian nations around its borders, the League of the Haudenosaunee was losing power. Western history has not successfully discovered how much prestige, influence, or dominance this original Iroquois Confederacy might have had with other nations prior to the arrival of European fishermen near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in the late fifteenth century. However, as far as postcontact power, the Iroquois reached their peak in the middle of the seventeenth century. At the beginning of this century, the intrusion of a European market into the established trading patterns of the St. Lawrence River Valley set off a series of trade wars. From 1649, when fighters from the Mohawk and Seneca nations destroyed the French-allied Huron confederation, until the 1660s, the Iroquois experienced the height of their regional hegemony. For quite a while longer, until France was defeated in the Seven Years' War, they and their allies would continue to be the main buffer between England and France in North America.

The strength and longevity of the League, along with its attentive diplomacy with the English and the French and their trading connections with other Indian nations, were what allowed the Iroquoisto continue to exercise significant influence in the region after 1700, despite their declining power. Although most Western experts believe that the League could not have been formed much earlier than 1450, Seneca-Wyandot scholar Barbara Mann argues convincingly that its origins were in the middle of the twelfth century. In correlating archaeological evidence with oral tradition, she demonstrates that the introduction of corn into the region later known as Iroquoia converges with the beginning of palisade building around 1000 C.E. and with evidence of cannibalism and warfare occurring around the same time. Because the traditions about the founding of the League say that it came into being to end internecine warfare that was characterized in part by cannibalism, the archaeological characteristics of this era should draw our attention as being a little bit more than coincidental.

The Ancient Origins of the Iroquois

The story of the founding of the League gives historical observers insight into the political and social values of the Iroquois nations. Unlike many of the traditions of other Indian nations along the eastern seaboard, Western attention to it and the lengthy political cultivation of the Anglo-Iroquois relationship has made it more available to outsiders. Although this availability has not always meant that readers of English would comprehend clearly its meanings and implications, we seem to be approaching lucidity in the centuries-long translation effort that has surrounded the story cycle of the League's founding.

To understand the resonance of the story for the Iroquois, Mann suggests, we must first grasp the connection between the League Cycle and the earlier Sky Cycle. The Sky Cycle stories are shared by several eastern Native American groups despite differences in language family, political history, and cultural practices, but it is not known how or when this came about. This cycle relates the arrival of the Iroquois's most ancient female ancestor on Earth. Because it commemorates a history several millennia old, Algonquin and Iroquoian origins might converge at some early date. Alternatively, contiguous groups might have acquired the story later, through inter-marriages, individual adoptees, membership in common political organizations, or in some other manner.

In the Iroquois versions of the Sky Cycle, Otsitsa the Sky Woman fell through a hole in the Sky World and landed upon the Earth. She literally landed upon earth because the earth animals joined together to create Turtle Island, or North America, for her after being alerted to her descent toward a formless ocean. The already pregnant Sky Woman then gave birth to Lynx, whose place in the Sky Cycle is often obscured or erased in its earliest recorded versions. While Lynx could conceivably be a recent addition to the story, Mann convincingly explains her early omission by the fact that missionaries were the first to record these stories. The elimination of an intermediate daughter between Sky Woman and the male Twins of tradition conforms the story more closely to Eve, Cain, and Abel while lending credence to the Western demonization of Sky Woman that apparently is not part of the original story. (Though it is a story of a fall, it is not The Story of the Fall.) Once Lynx had grown, North Wind courted her, assuming the shape of many different earth animals to woo her. The shape of the human male was finally successful, and soon Lynx became pregnant. Unfortunately, however, Sky Woman's daughter died in childbirth.

The most recent Iroquois interpretations of this event seem to rectify an accumulation of foreign and Christian ideas about Sky Woman and her two grandsons that have prevented our understanding the link between the Sky Cycle and the League Cycle. They reveal that concepts such as good and evil are cultural specific. In both story cycles, profound grief is a prominent force. Following Lynx's death, Sky Woman became wild with grief at the loss of her dearest companion, the only other unadulterated link to the Sky World that she had on Earth. She blamed Flint, the second twin to emerge from Lynx's womb, for Lynx's death. Because Flint was ugly to her, or Earth-like, while Sapling his twin was handsome and Sky-like, Flint was unloved by Grandmother. The loss of the mother-daughter relationship, a central component of traditional Iroquois culture, was not compensated by Flint's birth. This imbalance initiated a rivalry among the siblings, and much of the continuing work of creating the world begun by Grandmother and her beloved daughter resulted from this competition.

In many texts, Flint is known as the Evil Mind and Grandmother is portrayed simply as evil, but Mann tells us that these cultural substitutions do not allow us to grasp the more poignant phenomena that the story relates. Mentally off balance because his grandmother rejects him in her lingering grief, Flint should be thought of instead as the Wrinkled Mind. Also, because Christian interpreters were used to seeing women in roles in which they distanced all humankind from God, one of Grandmother's many names-Bad Medicine Woman-seemed to reflect a similar view of women by the Iroquois. However, Bad Medicine Woman may be translated also as Hard Luck Woman. Because her grandson Sapling is ultimately forced to bury Flint beneath a mountain to protect humanity from him, Sky Woman may certainly be understood as a figure constantly down on her luck. Unable to make up for the way the lingering irrationality of her mourning has set off an unfortunate chain of events, she must witness her grandson's passionate spirit hardening into insanity while the Twins are cut off from one another by the generations-long emotional gap created by Lynx's loss.

The Formation of the League of the People of the Completed Longhouse

Thousands of years later, as the Epoch of the League begins, the sacred story begun during the Sky Epoch resumes. To understand how such a thing is possible, we must understand North American concepts of reincarnation, which survived into the postcontact era. "Although widely recorded ... the reincarnation aspect of Haudenosaunee spirituality has been studiously ignored" or confused with Eastern, karma-based ideas, and then dismissed as a corrupting insertion of matter foreign to Native American cultures. Early in the eighteenth century, "Lafitau recorded the Haudenosaunee 'idea of metempsychosis, the palingenesis or rebirth, and successive transmigration of souls into other bodies after a long revolution of centuries.' ... Haudenosaunee concepts of reincarnation are emphatically not Asian, karma-based philosophies; there is no sense of return as punishment." Thus as the League Cycle recounts the story of how Deganawida brings peace to the warring nations of Iroquoia, listeners intimate with the Sky Cycle will recognize Deganawida's cosmic identity as Sapling, the Smooth Mind.

When Deganawida left the north shore of Lake Ontario, where he was born, his grandmother and mother saw him set off in a white stone canoe. The canoe is the first link of Deganawida to Sapling, who in the Sky Cycle traveled in an ice floe (white stone) shaped like a canoe to find land after the glaciers or white stone mountains of an ice age had receded. Deganawida arrived in Iroquoia at a time of great violence among the nations. With the introduction of corn to the Finger Lakes area, which probably came with the intrusive movement north of Iroquoian peoples from the western Susquehanna region of what is now central Pennsylvania, came a shift in the social power of men and women. Maize agriculture was becoming the basis of subsistence in an area where hunting and fishing had formerly filled this role. Because women were responsible for cultivation and men responsible for the predatory methods of food acquisition, men's social importance decreased. Mann hypothesizes that this demotion of hunting activities led to their exaggeration in a cannibal cult resistance to the novel social arrangements that had emerged with the growing dependence upon agriculture. As a symbolic variant of hunting, cannibalism was the logic of the earlier predatory system driven to the extreme. As a result, the warring that Deganawida encountered as he entered Iroquoia was a conflict between advocates (of both genders) dependent upon the older supremacy of hunting and advocates (of both genders) dependent upon the newer supremacy of planting.

Deganawida therefore visited first a woman who lived along a war road that ran from east to west. According to some, she was a member of the Neutral nation and lived in the region of Niagara Falls. She had a solemn obligation to feed the warriors who passed by, so Deganawida's negotiations with Jigonsaseh were aimed not at discontinuing this practice but at asking her to urge them, while they ate, to follow the path of peace. Jigonsaseh's condition for agreeing to this arrangement was that women in the League about to be formed should have the power to nominate leaders of the Confederacy and all its local and national governments. In this encounter between Deganawida and Jigonsaseh we are meant to see the reunion of Sapling with his reincarnate mother Lynx, who has reappeared to help resolve the problems caused by her death in the Sky Cycle. "The primary problem of the first Epoch was the premature removal of the Lynx, whose untimely death so embittered Grandmother that she rejected Flint, turning a minor sibling rivalry into a serious Sky dysfunction. Note that the thrust of the plot in the League Epoch is to repair the central problem of the first Epoch: the Lynx is restored. Jigonsaseh becomes a pivot of the plot, the great Peace Woman. She is not partisan, as Grandmother was, but works to reconcile Flint [Atotarho] and Sapling [Deganawida]."

At the time, a man named Atotarho was both a chief of the Onondagas (Onontakes) and a leader of the faction that was using cannibalism to terrorize the Cultivators. Deganawida journeyed next to Onondaga territory, but rather than confronting Atotarho immediately, he visited the home of the man whose name would become Hiawatha: He Who Combs. Hiawatha too had adopted cannibalism as a defense in these dark times, and Deganawida watched him as he carried home a human carcass to boil in his kettle. From the roof, he looked through the smoke hole into the kettle. Hiawatha below saw Deganawida's face reflected in the water but thought that he was seeing himself. Stunned by the wisdom and nobility of the visage, he resolved to abandon his cannibal activities. Deganawida then descended from the roof to eat with Hiawatha, a meal of deer signifying that the hunters would be included in the Great Peace in a reciprocal balance with the cultivators of corn. The two agreed that for the peace to take hold they must convert Atotarho, so they split up. Hiawatha took on the task of combing the snakes (madness) out of Atotarho's hair (mind), smoothing his Wrinkled Mind, while Deganawida journeyed to Mohawk country.

As Deganawida is undergoing a trial among the Mohawk (Kanienke) to prove to them the truth of his message, Hiawatha meets with tragedy. Here, the theme of grief so central to the Sky Cycle reemerges. Its outgrowths would eventually form the terrain upon which European diplomats would encounter and begin to comprehend Iroquois priorities in international relations. Having convinced the Onondaga people to accept the message of peace, Hiawatha could not persuade Atotarho. In one version of the story, as Hiawatha pursues negotiations with Atotarho, all three of his daughters and his wife die at the mercy of forces only implicitly, and yet quite evidently, linked to the mad, power-hoarding Onondaga chief. Bowed low by grief, Hiawatha finally retreated south. Finding shells at the bottom of a lake, he threaded them on strings to make the first wampum and, as he journeyed east, talked to himself about how with these strings he would console a person in grief such as his own. Upon reaching the edge of a Mohawk village, he was approached by Deganawida, who took up the word strings of condolence that would shape Iroquois diplomacy for centuries to come.

As ethnologist J. N. B. Hewitt once observed, the Ritual of Condolence that developed from this reunion of friends is remarkable for the psychological insight (and spiritual necessity) of its many stages. Perhaps the most striking words are those of the first, second, and third "articles" of the requickening part of the ceremony. In the first, the condoler, who reenacts Deganawida's role with Hiawatha, wipes away the mourner's grief in recognition that an excess of tears can blind the mourner to the world and his responsibility to live in it. In the second, the condoler clears the passages of the ears that have become obstructed from so much crying and caused the mourner to lose his hearing. "It comes to pass where a great calamity has befallen one's person that the passages of the ears become obstructed and the hearing is lost. One then hears not the sounds made by mankind, nothing of what is taking place on the earth." To lose one's hearing is again both literal and figurative: cutting one off from being able to listen to the words of sympathy from those around one and threatening to interfere with the mourner's ability to listen to reason, with respect to seeking retribution for the death, and restitution, as it may be offered by those who caused the death. In the third article, the condoler clears the obstruction from the throat of the mourner who is so choked up with sadness that he is unable to speak.

Literary scholar John Bierhorst recognizes that this symbolic clearing of obstructions might have yet a more heightened meaning in a society battling an unforeseen outbreak of cannibalism. "Now the enemy of society is not merely death itself, but the cult of death. The death of a kinsman [sic] may lead one into a state of depression, or 'insanity,' symptomized perhaps by an excessive veneration of the corpse (and cannibalism?) conducive to thoughts of suicide or, alternatively, murder. ... If murder, then the morbid cycle may be reinduced ... producing the vendetta, or blood feud, that inevitably rends the fabric of society." Apparently, Deganawida's efforts to prevent Hiawatha's grief and morbidity from casting him into a recidivist cannibalism succeeded. After performing this first wampum-based ceremony, he and Hiawatha traveled to the Oneida (Onenniote), Cayuga (Kayukwa), and Seneca (Sonontowane) and convinced them to take hold of the wampum belt of peace. Finally, with all five nations at their backs, the two approached Atotarho. They convinced this sole remaining holdout after much struggle-and by offering him the leadership of the Confederacy-to accept the Great Peace.

As the Iroquois moved out of this era, the Ritual of Condolence was increasingly adapted to diplomatic needs. Treaty councils would often begin with a performance of the Ritual of Condolence, and frequently its performance was linked to the death of a hereditary chief and the need to install a new one. However, as ethnologist Michael Foster has observed, the concepts surrounding the clearing of the senses after mourning may be closely associated with concepts surrounding the adjustment of one's mind to listen to one's partner in cross-cultural negotiation. The speaker who welcomed a delegation that has traveled a long distance would welcome them at the edge of the woods bordering upon the seat of the treaty. He would "'wipe the eyes' of the weary travelers ([because] their eyes are full of things they have seen on their journey, things which might have distracted them from their mission).... Next he 'clears their ears' of all the things they have heard on their journey, things which might cause them to alter the message.... Then he 'clears the obstructions from their throats' so that once more they will be able to breathe and speak normally.... It is manifestly obvious that the first three 'words'-eyes, ears, and throat-are the physiological organs of speech perception and production. They are the primary channels of communication." Thus, the performance of rites associated with the Condolence Ceremony may sometimes have occurred whether or not the death of a chief had preceded that particular treaty conference.


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