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- 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth
Colin Calloway, "Pen & In Witchcraft" July 14, 2013
Strawbery Banke Museum 300th Anniversary of the Signing of the 1713 Treaty of Portsmouth
Informal notes recorded by Stephanie Seacord, Director of Marketing, Strawbery Banke Museum, host of the
1713 Treaty Speaker Series made possible by a grant from the Roger R. and Theresa A. Thompson Endowment Fund
My experience teaching history is that few people know much about colonial history – really about much of anything before Mel Gibson – so we need to push back into Colonial history. The further back we get, that's where we need to go.
The tendency is to fit the 10-40,000 history of Native American culture into "American" history; but that strikes me as the tail wagging the dog. It should be the other way around: putting the US into the longer, deeper history of the continent to achieve a deeper and fuller understanding of America.
The story of treaties is one of turning Indian homelands into American real estate. Treaties are used as instruments of dispossession.
I don't even mention the 1713 Treaty in my book [Pen and Ink Witchcraft: Treaties & Treaty Making in American Indian History, 2013]; not that it was not important, but the US signed/made more than 400 treaties and ratified 370 of
them. The Indians also made treaties with Russia, with the Confederacy, with French, Spanish, Dutch and all of the British colonies.
From the beginning a treaty was the way of doing business on Indian terms. They are authoritative documents, legal documents. These treaties are foundational documents for the US.
But a treaty is just the end product, the written end product of a conversation intended to establish a relationship between the English (etc) and the Indians.
The other side is the wampum belt. The Indians would leave a treaty with copies of the written treaty and a wampum belt that documented what happened. The Haudenosaunee or Iroquois would keep the wampum (as we keep the
documents in the British Museum, etc.) at the Council in Onondaga. (Subsequently taken to the NY State Museum in Albany, then repatriated.)
For the Indians, a treaty was not all about acquiring land. It was about establishing a relationship, an alliance, a trade agreement. Eventually it was all about acquiring land.
And a treaty was not just a one-time thing. It was to establish a relationship that would grow into a chain of friendship that the parties needed to keep bright and shining. It was necessary to revisit and renew pledges, not just a matter of doing business and signing a document. A Treaty was humans pledging their faith to other humans.
North America is unique in diplomacy. The Indians had their own rituals and protocols. The treaties with Massasoit or the Wabanaki were not just a case of dealing with a handful of Indians. By touching the fingers [of these Indians] in the East, you were touching a network that stretched all the way across the continent through well-established connections.
Indian nations required diplomacy to maintain that network.
We talk about the Indian "warrior." But I suggest that if a colonial settler were lost in the woods of Pennsylvania – and they were often lost in those woods, even though the woods are crisscrossed with trails – he would be more likely to meet a messenger or a group of Indian delegates with wampum on their way to make or declare peace, than meet a warrior.
This hybrid diplomacy is unique to North America: where European and Indian traditions meet and mix; where Europeans learn the language of hybrid diplomacy and learn the value of wampum and how to read it, while
Indians learn to read and write English. There was an incentive for Indians to send their sons to Dartmouth to understand how these English thought and to learn how to read what they wrote down.
Usually the titles of my books come after many drafts or after I choose a title and my publisher says 'no you can't use that.' This is the first time I saw a phrase -- Pen & Ink Witchcraft – and wanted to write a book about it.
The title comes from a comment made by Egushawa, an Ottawa Indian who warned people to stay away from the treaty with the Americans at Fort Harmar [Ohio] in 1788, "knowing well that our elder brothers would require more of that pen and ink witchcraft which they can make speak things we never intended or had any idea of, even an hundred years hence." They understood that these treaties, seemingly dead and dusty documents have power, even if it's to come back and bite you.
Hybrid diplomacy produced documents with signatures saying that Indians pledged to honor what was written down. During the course of treaties, other things were recorded too. During long months of Iroquois councils, someone was recording [the proceedings] as best they would. The voices of the Indian people are in these records in spite of the myth that there are no records because 'Indians had no written history." This is a myth of lazy historians. The Indians, coming from an oral tradition, did have a means to preserve the past, just as we maintain important documents in a place like Rauner Library at Dartmouth where they are kept under temperature and humidity control. The Indians housed their records with as much care: they repeated the history, and passed it on from generation to generation.
At each treaty the next Indian speaker would repeat what the previous speaker had said. This was a deliberate exercise so that everyone remembered; meanwhile there were women madly stringing wampum belts to record the treaty.
And you'd often see a speaker spread out a wampum belt so he could read it the way I read my notes. It's a system that works.
In addition there were lots of treaties where many tribes show up, all speaking different languages. In 1763, after the Peace of Paris ending war between England and France – which won't play well in Indian country-- Sir William Johnson invited two dozen nations from Nova Scotia to Mississippi to a multinational summit. There were teams of interpreters along.
Interpreters were a sketchy bunch. Many of them were honest, reliable, sober people – although it was hard to find anyone who was all three at the same time. There were often strings of interpretations. In 1805, as Lewis and Clark were traveling across Montana, they needed to speak to the Salish. Clark spoke in English. Another member of the team translated to French so their French guide, the trader Charbonneau, could translate into Hidatsa.Sacajawea, his
wife, then translated that into Shoshone, her native language; and a small boy translated from that to Salish. And you can image the end result was like the game of 'telephone' – Clark said 'hello' and by the time it got to the Salish
he was saying 'your mother wears combat boots.' There was a good potential for everything to go wrong. Clark concluded that the Salish "left us well pleased" when probably they were just glad to go.
Treaties used words like sovereignty and submission, but trader John Long said basically. "You cannot get these people to submit to anyone." In 1727 the Casco Bay Treaty record offers the rare example of what generally happened: the native response was a point by point refutation of what the treaty made them say.
The English latched onto kinship language as the French had, calling the governor "Father." In use, Indian to Indian kinship references explained the networks. There was no suggestion of superior or inferior positions as happened with the English, leading up to the notion of the President of the United States as the "Great White Father." (Recently, when
Obama was ceremonially adopted by a Crow family, he commented "I will do my best as a Great White Father.")
Also, the Iroquois, Cherokee and several other nations, are matrilineal. The mothers matter. To an Indian child, the important male role model is his mother's brother, who is of the same clan. His father is less important. So when the English used the father/children language the Indian heard a hierarchy that did not signify – as usual, he was not going to do what 'his father' told him.
There were so many nuances and potential pitfalls for the people who relied on speaking at a treaty – who were then being translated. Instead of the black and white document the English believed must be right, it could be a fairy tale, a completely wrong version of what happened.
Europeans got many cultural elements wrong: giving gifts, for example. Now reduced to the expression "Indian giving," giving gifts was incredibly important in native societies. It was about an act of giving and sharing – not about what the gift was, but about the fact that receiving it established obligations. And there were occasions when gifts were returned or not accepted. According to one story, when Sir William Johnson met with the Mohawk chief Hendrick,
Hendrick said "I dreamed that you gave me your beautiful waistcoat." Johnson said, "And so you shall have it." A little later, Johnson met Hendrick in the street and said, "I dreamed you gave me all this land." And Hendrick replied,
"And you shall have it. But you and I will not dream together again."
A gift was a pledge of friendship, a relationship cemented with a gift. Protocol and ritual meant that gift giving showed yourself dependent on the giver and on a binding relationship.
In 1763 it all went horribly wrong. With the conclusion of war between England and France (what Churchill called the first World War), England needed to pay for the war. Their first idea was to make the colonies pay taxes (ultimately leading to the Revolution). Lord Jeffrey Amherst said: "well now that the war is over we can save money because we don't need to cultivate alliances with the Indians." So at the same time the French are leaving the garrisons that used to trade with the Indians, the English are making a clear declaration of hostility by withdrawing their support, gifts and trade as well. This ignites Pontiac's War, the resolution of which was to establish a barrier between the English settlers and the western Indians. This plays ok in London, but not in Virginia where land companies and investors like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry are looking west and speculating. It's a slap in the face, a barrier to western expansion.
I use this belt – a replica of no particular design – to show my students.
Wampum has power. At Iroquois conferences the Haudenosaunee recalled the story of the creation of their league , performing the condolence ceremony – "to clear your eyes to see, your ears to ear, your throat to speak" using strings of wampum to be of good mind and good hear "to get the heart and mind right to do what we're going to do."
Wampum was used as gift, diplomacy and currency. In one Dutch settlement, Indians were banned from buying white bread and cake because the settlers had no currency and the Indians had wampum and were buying up 'all the
In diplomacy, wampum lubricated diplomacy, setting the messaging. There are cases where treaty conferences were delayed or cancelled because the wampum had not yet arrived – how would they do business without that record of what was said. And at conferences there were often rows of women stringing beads that recorded what was said.
Indians who spoke at a treaty conference had tremendous oratorical skill and used body language, and metaphors. They were not spontaneous speakers. They delivered respectful, thought-out position statements and wanted to make it clear by presenting wampum belts, punctuating every point with another belt. The wampum was a record of what was said and a means of acceptance when exchanged, meaning "I heard what you said."
The most valuable mediators and interpreters were the ones who knew which words were important and how the whole thing worked. They could speak the language, know the kinship relations and know when not to say anything--to
listen respectfully. And how to handle wampum. People like George Croghan were those who facilitated – and profited greatly.
Wampum is an object with tremendous meaning and power. It was a document the Indians could read. If we can't, we are illiterate and must rely on what we're told. This was not a situation of one system of smart Europeans outwitting the Indians, but of two systems, one backed by power and one, increasingly, by deception. For the Indians, the idea of breaking a pledge cemented with wampum was unthinkable.
The same is true of smoking the calumet or peace pipe. In the Mississippi Valley some pipes carry even more significance: the red stone bowl and wood stem must be kept separate when not being smoked. Assembling the
pieces is a symbol of a sacred union and the smoke – blown to the four quarters and up and down is invoking spiritual oversight. The French said "the calumet has the power to stop an army of 10,000 men." It is a passport. Again, the
Indians could not conceive of breaking a treaty after smoking the pipe. And there may be something to the spiritual oversight: in one instance, after the Cheyenne chief Stone Forehead smoked a pipe with Custer he tapped out the ashes
and said 'If you break this pledge, something terrible will happen to you."
There were so many things going on that day in Portsmouth, 300 years ago, under a tent like this, on a hot day, with teams of speakers and frequent adjournment to talk through the issues and join in consensus. The goal of a treaty was to leave all of a good mind; but that's not always what happened.
Often the Indians left confused, disappointed. But in many cases, they reached across the gulf of cultures to achieve common understanding. With all the bloodshed, there were more treaties than battles, more words than weapons. There was an opportunity to change the course of history – or withstand the forces of change. Treaties were a profound testament – and increasingly, they were about the land.
What happened with the United States in 1783 was what happened with the British in 1763. The US has acquired land, but has no money. The Indians were not even mentioned in the Peace of Paris after the Revolution. The US must create a government by selling land – that it takes from the Indians.
American Indian diplomacy started to look more like American diplomacy – based on the right of conquest. At the Treaty of Fort Finney in 1786, a commissioner pushed a wampum belt off the table with his cane and then ground
it into the earth with his boot. Indians who were not there heard about the incident, and associated it with the 'pen and ink witchcraft' they had experienced before. When the US decided to dispense with the protocols and rituals of wampum they declared what kind of people they were – and did not qualify as human beings to the Indians, So the tribes decided not to do this treaty-making anymore and to negotiate as a confederacy of tribes against the 13 council fires of the States. They resolved to have the US make treaties 'with us all.' In 1791 the Indians destroyed the only army the US had.
But the US continued to use treaties to get the land – they made 26 treaties with the Potawatomis in the Great Lakes region alone – right up until 1871 when Congress declared an end to treaties and an end to any recognition of the sovereign relationships.
In 1867 at Medicine Lodge the US told the Indians they would be their guardians, the Indians as wards, living on the reservations, giving up their way of life. The Indians said "no thanks – on the reservation we grow pale and wither and die." So the commissioners negotiated terms that allowed the buffalo hunting "as long as the buffalo exist" knowing that the plan to exterminate the buffalo was already underway.
They also promised they would never take the land again, unless ¾ of the Indians agreed, and then drew up a fraudulent list of names to number the ¾. When the case went to the Supreme Court in 1901, the court ruled
that Congress has plenary power and can abrogate its own treaties.
But the 370 treaties that already existed are covered by Article 6 of the Constitution. They remain the law of the land. They still apply. They still matter.
The Indian people understand what was done. Their issue is not with the details of the treaties but with how they were used, broken and ignored. The sense I get from my Native American colleagues is that they want to re-establish the human-to-human relationships they were trying to establish 500 years ago – to recognize the best practices the US as a constitutional democracy should employ in relation to the 500+ tribal nations still here.
They want Treaty to be the basis for future understanding in the 21st century.