The Old New York Frontier/Part 2/Chapter 5

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The Old New York Frontier
Francis Whiting Halsey[edit]

Part 2. Missionaries and the French War (1650-1769)
Chapter 5. New Men at Oghwaga (1762-1763)[edit]

AFTER the fall of Quebec, when the English became masters of North America east of the Mississippi and north of Florida, other missionaries took up Hawley’s work. The Rev. Eli Forbes went down in June, 1762, having with him the Rev. Asaph Rice and an interpreter named Gunn, who is, perhaps, the missionary referred to by Brown as Gan. They went by the Mohawk to Canajoharie,[1] and thence to Cherry Valley, following the river to Oghwaga, now a town of three hundred inhabitants, chiefly Oneidas. Here they found Good Peter, and so impressed was Forbes with his character and work that he described him as the equal of any Englishman he knew in his Christian virtues and abilities. With their arrival we have a new chapter to chronicle in the missionary history of this valley.

[1] Meaning The Pot That Washes Itself, a reference to the circular gorge in the creek near its mouth.

  In addition to the Stockbridge school, New England in those times possessed an institution for Indian boys at Lebanon, where, in 1743 – five years before Spencer came down to Oghwaga – the Rev. Dr. Eleazer Wheelock had begun to teach Samson Occum. In 1759 Occum became an ordained minister, and then in 1761 went among the Oneidas as a missionary, with a letter from Johnson. He was sent out by the Boston commissioners, and perhaps visited Oghwaga. Dr. Wheelock’s success with this Indian and others – and Occum rose to considerable repute afterward as a preacher – induced him to receive Indian children from New York, and as reports from Mr. Hawley at Oghwaga reached him, his hopes and plans for the civilization of the red man assumed large proportions. He gained the ear of Johnson as well as his confidence through having as one of his students a youth who was afterward to write his name large in the history of this frontier – Joseph Brant. Dr. Wheelock’s school finally aroused the interest of nearly all the Colonial officials in America, who recommended it to their friends in England as "one of the noblest and most worthy objects of their Christian beneficence." The Rev. C. J. Smith was sent to England to solicit aid, and in time a total of about $47,500 was secured for the enterprise, the King heading the list with $1,000.

  Dr. Wheelock desired to secure a tract of land for an Indian educational institution, and many letters from him to Johnson have been preserved. His experience and his information had made him confident that a great work could be done among the Six Nations. Johnson, in 1763, wrote that the Oghwaga, Mohawk, Schoharie, and Canada Indians were "determined to live and die with the English," and that this was "due in great measure to the little knowledge they have acquired of our religion which I heartily wish was more known to them and the rest." In the same year Dr. Wheelock proposed that "a tract of land, fifteen or twenty miles square, or four townships, on the west bank of the Susquehanna river be given to form an Indian school." To this scheme Johnson was not favorably disposed; he thought the education of Indians could be best carried on in places remote from Indian influence – a view to which, after some further experience, Dr. Wheelock came round.

  Dr. Wheelock then proposed that something be done in the Wyoming country, where, he wrote, "I understand some of our people are about to settle on a new purchase on the Susquehanna: if it does not disoblige and prejudice the Indians, I should be glad, and it may be if that settlement should go on, a door may be open for my design on that purchase." Sir William said in reply that it would be "highly improper to attempt any settlement in their country as they (the Indians) are greatly disgusted at the great thirst which we all seem to show for their lands, and therefore I must give it as my opinion that any settlement on the Susquehanna may prove fatal to those who should attempt to establish themselves thereon, as the Indians have all declared, not only their greatest aversion thereto, but have all threatened to prevent such settle-ment." About this time Johnson wrote to the Lords of Trade that some of the missionaries had too often used their influence to get lands, and the Mohawks had lately told him "they apprehended the reason they had not clergy as formerly amongst them was because they had no more lands to spare."

  Dr. Wheelock at one period unquestionably had great faith in the possibility of elevating the red men. In 1762 he said that for several years faithful men had been at work in Oghwaga. "The Indians are in some measure civilized," he wrote, "some of them baptised, a number of them, in a judgment of charity, real Christians." They had a sachem who was "a man of understanding" and "entirely friendly to the design of a school." Dr. Wheelock thought there was opportunity for one hundred missionaries and as many interpreters on the Susquehanna and elsewhere. In the following year he reported that Samuel Ashpo (or Ashbow) had spent six weeks at Jeningo, "from which he was obliged to retreat on account of a rupture between the Indians and the English." This referred to the conspiracy of Pontiac. In March, 1763, Forbes and Rice went to Oghwaga. They gathered a church and set up two schools, one for adults and one for children. In September Forbes returned to Lebanon, taking with him four Indian boys, one of whom was eventually graduated from Dr. Wheelock’s school.