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Treaty of Big Tree


Major treaty opened Genesee region to peaceful settlement


Treaty of Big Tree
Hemlock artist David Thalen's watercolor commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Treaty of Big Tree depicts four of the key players in the negotiation. Pictured clockwise from lower left ar: Philip Ken-jock-e-ty, Chief Red Jacket, Jeremiah Wadsworth and Thomas Morris. Photo courtesy of Havilah Toland.

The convocation's expenses were Morris' responsibility, and he ordered 1,500 rations of beef, 1,500 rations of flour and extensive gifts in proportion. He could not come to the meeting himself, claiming poor health, but in reality he had overextended his credit in land speculations and was besieged by creditors in his Philadelphia mansion.

Shortly after the treaty was signed, Morris spent a protracted period of time in debtors' prison, to the dismay of President Washington and the Congress, which considered him a hero for his leadership role in financing the Revolution.

By Aug. 20, the Senecas had arrived in great numbers at the slopes below the present Village of Geneseo in what is now Livingston County, where a temporary structure for the meeting had been prepared.

The whites were more dilatory. Young Thomas Morris, acting as his father's agent, did not arrive until two days later, followed by Col. Jeremiah Wadsworth, the federal commissioner appointed by President Washington; Israel Chapin, superintendent of Indian Affairs; various representatives of Massachusetts and New York; interpreters and onlookers. Most of the whites seemed to have stayed during the negotiations in the cabin of William and James Wadsworth near the temporary meeting structure.

Finally, the negotiations opened Aug. 28, although by then young Morris had distributed food, warned about “troublemakers,” and apologized for the officials' delay in showing up “due to bad weather on the roads.”

At the official opening Red Jacket, already a major spokesman for his people at age 39, chided the whites for their delayed appearance, while acknowledging receipt of their invitations to the meeting.

The state and federal commissioners then spoke and promised fair proceedings. Young Morris read an extended speech from his father, pledging “nothing but fair, open and honest transactions” for the purchase of the Senecas' lands.

There was no response from the Indians, in keeping with their custom of conferring among themselves to achieve unanimity before committing themselves to anything.

Nearly all of Aug. 29 was consumed in this way, but late in the afternoon Red Jacket, reopening the proceedings, noted satisfaction with what Thomas Morris had transmitted from his father. Red Jacket also noted that in the previous day's speeches something had been held back: the price the Senecas were being offered for their lands.

Morris said he was ready to proceed, but because of the lateness of the hour all agreed further deliberations would be carried over to the next day.

On Aug. 30, Morris spoke artfully again, saying the Indians would have more money than ever before; that they could reserve lands to protect each of their villages, and that they could keep all hunting and fishing rights. He did not specify how much his father was offering.

After a pregnant pause, the Indians observed that if he had no more to say, they would consult. This they did, the whole next day, without response.

On the morning of Sept. 1, Farmer's Brother, a cool-headed and much respected chief, came to Morris and said someone had been selling whiskey to the Indians and there was much disorder. The lives of the whites were in danger.

Morris advised him to find the barrel of whiskey and smash it, which he did. Red Jacket and others who had participated in the libation fought bitterly over this waste, and a meeting that day was out of the question.

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