Page images

descended to us in this distorted fable. Of these ancestors, the turtle was deemed the most honourable. A method, therefore, 'must be devised for deriving their genealogy from this dignified source. With this scheme were obviously connected the dogmas of their religion; just as other nations have united their own with the origin of nations. The task in this place was certainly a difficult one; but the performance of it was indispensablc. Some man among them, distinguished for wisdom and authority, was probably induced to undertake it, and made up the mass out of the creed and traditionary tales of the nation. What these would not supply, he furnished from his own fancy.

It is not a mere effort of the imagination to find, even in this monstrous mixture, some remains of real history. The story of the Chaos, and the darkness by which it was covered ; of Paradise, and the happiness with which it was replenished; is not ill told, at the beginning of this narrative, if we suppose an Indian to be the narrator. The existence of the Deluge is distinctly marked, and the deliverance of the human race from its devastation. A few other facts may also be distantly discerned by a critical examiner.

I will only add, that the Oneidas pretend, even now, to point out the place where their ancestors emerged from the ground; and that they themselves at the present time assign a very different reason why they denominate different bodies of their tribe the clans of the turtle, bear, and wolf; viz. that when they first emerged from the ground, they were a collection of savage beast-like beings, and assumed these appellations, therefore, to exhibit their own views of their original character. You cannot but perceive, however, that this explanation is a complete contradiction to the whole spirit of this story, and to all that pride, which is the predominant attribute of our nature in general, especially as it exists in savages. It is, therefore, only an attempt of Indian philosophy to explain what to them seemed otherwise inexplicable.

Mr. Deane informed me, that the mythology of the Oneidas, that which has been here recited, is, with some variation of circumstances, the mythology of all the Six Nations.

I am, Sir, &c.


Government of the Iroquois. Sachems.

Laws of the Nation.

Customs and


The government of each tribe of the Iroquois is lodged in the council of that tribe, consisting especially of the men whose years, exploits, wisdom, and eloquence, have given them peculiar weight in the eyes of their brethren. OBdinarily this council regulated by their decisions the internal affairs of the tribe. But if the warriors refused to be governed by their determinations, the council had no coercive power to constrain obedience, and the matter in question took its own course,

In difficult cases, however, although the warriors refused to be governed by the decisions of their councillors, yet there was a remedy. The 'sachems requested the women of prin cipal reputation to assemble in a council by themselves, and to advise the warriors to desist from such enterprises as they were preparing to undertake against the advice of the men. If the women opposed the enterprise, the warriors always gave it up, because the opposition of such a female council to any public undertaking was regarded as a bad omen*.


* “ Our ancestors considered it as a great offence to reject the counseis of their women, particularly of the female governesses. They were esteemed mistresses of the soil. Who, said our forefathers, bring us into being; who cultivate our lands, kindle our fires, and boil our pots, but the women?

They intreat, that the veneration of their ancestors in favour of women be not disregarded, and that they may not be despised. The Great Spirit is their Maker.

“ The female governesses beg leave to speak with that freedom allowed to women, and agreeably to the spirit of our ancestors. They intreat the great chief to put forth his strength, and preserve them in peace, for they are the life of the nation.”

Discourse of the Hon. Mr. Clinton, App. No. ii, p. 80, 81.

The sachems had no coercive power.

The sachemdom was hereditary, but the descent was always on the female side only. The son of a daughter, whenever there was one, succeeded to the title.

Influence in the tribe was always that of merit; the man of the greatest talents and efficiency being the most powerful man, whatever might be the family from which he derived his origin.

Hunting, fighting, eloquence, and prudence in council, were the only means of personal consequence; and a descendant of the sachem blood has rarely been a man of much importance. In these respects the customs of the Iroquois differed entirely from those of the Mohekaneews, among whom the descent was reckoned on both sides, and the sachem, as such, had commonly more influence than


other man. The daughters of sachems married plebeians without any hindrance or disgrace; and a young hunter of reputation was always regarded as a proper match for any woman.

Women in various instances have been no less distinguished for eloquence than men.

Witches and wizards were condemned by a public council, and were then publicly knocked on the head. After their execution, they were sometimes burnt, and at other times buried. These were the only criminals who were publicly punished ; nor were any other persons publicly tried.

Murderers were put to death by the avenger of blood; usually a near relation of the deceased.

Incontinence and theft were never punished, yet they were not characteristically lewd.

Marriages were often contracted for children by their parents ; but the intended husband might refuse to take the intended wife, without any disgrace.

The age at which young men usually married was about twenty-eight.

Ordinarily they do not appear to have been much affected by the passion of love.

The husband usually built the weekwam, and provided meat for the family. The wife furnished the vegetable food. The wife made baskets, and the husband the other domestic utensils. The men made, also, their canoes and weapons.

The men oppressed the women by forcing them to labour, and to carry burthens.

Labour was despised by the men.

The separation of a married pair was not esteemed disgraceful, either to themselves or their children, if they had before openly lived together. If the woman had been before married, and had had children by her former husband, these children, in case of a separation, went with her.

The women discovered no fear of the men.

The Iroquois regularly professed friendship to each other ; and every one had those whom he called his friends.

They never quarrelled with each other, unless when they were intoxicated ; and at times became intoxicated, that they might quarrel without any disgrace, it being considered as a scandalous thing for a man to quarrel when he was sober.

A drunken man was not regarded as responsible for his actions, or as being a moral agent.

They treated their old people, that is, such as bad become incapable of doing the business of life, with very little respect, and neglected even their parents, in their old age, to an extreme degree. The daughters of Skenando, the present sachem of the Oneidas, are very dutiful to him. This is an uncommon, perhaps a singular fact. His son is very undutiful. They live at times to a great age.

Skenando is supposed to be not far from one hundred and twenty years old*.

The following account of the death of this chief, published in the Utica Patriot of March 19th, 1816, cannot fail of being acceptable to my readers. In a few particulars it is abridged.

Died, at his residence near Oneida castle, on Monday, the 11th inst., Skenando, the celebrated Oneida chief, aged 110 years, well known in the wars which occurred while we were British colonies, and in the contest which issued in our independence, as the undeviating friend of the people of the United States. He was very savage, and addicted to drunkenness in his youth, but by his own reflections, and the benevolent instructions of

* “ In the year 1755, Skenando was present at a treaty made in Albany. At night he was excessively drunk, and in the morning found himself in the street, stripped of all his ornaments, and every article of clothing. His pride revolted at his self-degradation, and he resolved that he would never again deliver himself over to the power of strong water.

Suicide is often committed by both sexes, particularly when they have been severely reproved by their parents. The same

the late Rev. Mr. Kirkland, missionary to his tribe, he lived a reformed man for more than sixty years, and died in Christian hope.

“ Fro at hment to Mr. Kirkland, he had always expressed a strong desire to be buried near his minister and father, that he might (to use his own expression) “ go up with him at the great resurrection.” At the approach of death, after listening to the prayers which were read at his bed-side by his great-grand-daughter, he again repeated the request. Accordingly, the family of Mr. Kirkland having received information by a runner that Skenando was dead, in compliance with a previous promise, sent assistance to the Indians, that the corpse might be conveyed to the village of Clinton for burial. Divine service was attended at the meeting-house in Clinton, on Wednesday, at two o'clock, P.M. An address was made to the Indians by the Rev. Dr. Backus, president of Hamilton college, which was interpreted by Judge Deane of Westmoreland. Prayer was then offered,


appropriate psalms sung. After service, the concourse, which had assembled from respect to the deceased chief, or from the singularity of the occasion, moved to the grave in the following order :

Students of Hamilton college,



Mr. Kirkland and family,
Judge Deane, Rev. Dr. Norton, Rev. Mr. Ayre,
Officers of Hamilton college,

Citizens, “ After interment, the only surviving son of the deceased, self-moved, returued thanks through Judge Deane, as interpreter to the people, for the respect shown to his father on the occasion, and to Mrs. Kirkland and family for their kind and friendly attention.

“Skenando's person was tall, well-made, and robust. His countenance was intelligent, and displayed all the peculiar dignity of an Indian chief. In his youth he was a brave and intrepid warrior, and in his riper years one of the ablest counsellors among the North American tribes, possessed a vigorous mind, and was alike sagacious, active, and persevering. As an enemy he was terrible : as a friend and ally he was mild and gentle in his disposition, and faithful to liis engagements. His vigilance once preserved from massacre the inhabitants of the little settlement at German Flats. In the revolutionary war, his influence induced the Oneidas to take up arms in favour of the Americans. Among the Indians he was distinguished by the appellation of the “ White man's friend."

“ Although he could speak but little English, and in his extreme old age was blind, yet his company was sought. In conversation he was highly decorous, evincing that he bad profited by seeing civilized and polished society, and by mingling with good company in his better days.

“ To a friend, who called on him a short time since, he thụs expressed

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »