J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, May 10, 2021

The Exchange between President Washington and Red Jacket

During George Washington’s first term as President, the War Department had primary responsibility for dealing with the Native nations living on land that the young U.S. of A. claimed.

Sometimes this went very badly, as in the Harmar Campaign of late 1790 and Battle of the Wabash in November 1791. Those were utter defeats of the small U.S. army in the Northwest Territory by a confederacy of Miamis, Shawnees, and Delawares. They made it imperative for President Washington’s administration to forge better relations with nearby Indian nations.

The Haudenosaunee or Iroquois was an ancient confederation which had split during the Revolutionary War but formed again afterward. Some of the Stockbridge community had moved into western New York and allied with them. The U.S. government wanted this confederation to serve as intermediaries with the other Native nations further west.

In March 1792, a delegation of about fifty Haudenosaunee men arrived in Philadelphia for talks with the U.S. government. Timothy Pickering handled the negotiations, with Secretary of War Henry Knox watching over his shoulder.

On 23 March, President Washington himself spoke to the delegation. At the end of his remarks he delivered a “large White belt” to the visiting diplomats.

On the same day, Washington wrote to the Senate to confirm his main goal was “that the chiefs should be well satisfied of the entire good faith and liberality of the United States…conditioned on the evidence of their attachment to the interests of the United States.” Feeling his way within the U.S. Constitution, he asked Senators for their “advice” on whether the Congress would agree to this provision:
The United States, in order to promote the happiness of the five nations of indians, will cause to be expended ann[u]ally the amount of one thousand five hundred dollars, in purchasing for them clothing, domestic animals and implements of husbandry, and for encouraging useful artificers to reside in their Villages.
On 31 March, a Seneca leader named Sagoyewatha or Red Jacket replied to Washington’s speech. As reported by the War Department, Red Jacket held up Washington’s belt and proffered another in returned. He declaimed:
The President of the thirteen fires, while continuing his Speech made also this remark. That in order to establish all his words for the best good of Your nation & ours—we must forget all the evils that were past, and attend to what lies before us, and take such a course as Shall cement our peace, that we may be as one.

The President again observed, That it had come to his ears, that the cause of the hostilities now prevailing with the Western Indians, was their persuasion that the United States had unjustly taken away their lands. But he assured us this was not the case. That it was not the mind of any of his Chiefs to take any land on the whole Island without agreeing for it. . . .

Now Brother, which you continue to hear in behalf of the United States let all here present also open their ears, while those of the five nations, here present Speak with one voice. We wish to see Your words verified to our Children & Childrens children. You enjoy all the blessings of this life: to you therefore we look to make provision that the same may be enjoyed by our Children. This wish comes from our hearts. but we add, that our happiness cannot be great if in the introduction of your ways, we are put under too much constraint.
Within the Seneca nation, Red Jacket was a traditionalist. He wanted the Senecas to be able to continue to live and worship as they had, not pressuring into adopting European ways. But all the Haudenosaunee at that conference wanted the Americans to respect their territories and independence.

In April, the Senate approved Washington’s proposal for annual grants to the Haudenosaunee. While this is sometimes labeled as a treaty, it was internal U.S. legislation, not signed by Indian delegates. Washington passed the news along, and Knox and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson formally affirmed the promise.

The 1792 meeting led to another conference two years later, when Pickering negotiated the Treaty of Canandaigua. Red Jacket was among the Haudenosaunee leaders who signed that document. It promised “perpetual peace and friendship,” affirmed Native land claims, and tripled the annual payment. The last provision is the only one the U.S. of A. has faithfully observed; each year the federal government supplies $4,500 worth of cloth to the Haudenosaunee.

TOMORROW: A remembrance of the 1792 meeting.


Dean Slone said...

Did (or will) the government give $108,358.77 worth of cloth this year or $4500 worth of cloth as agreed?

With inflation, it would take $108,358.77 today to buy the same amount of cloth that $4500 would have bought in 1794.

Inflation has eroded the purchasing power of $4500 such that $4500 today will only buy what $186.75 would have purchased in 1794. ($4500 * .0415)

Value of $4,500 from 1794 to 2021

$4,500 in 1794 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $108,358.77 today, an increase of $103,858.77 over 227 years. The dollar had an average inflation rate of 1.41% per year between 1794 and today, producing a cumulative price increase of 2,307.97%.

This means that today's prices are 24.08 times higher than average prices since 1794, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index. A dollar today only buys 4.15% of what it could buy back then.

Thanks to: https://www.in2013dollars.com/us/inflation

J. L. Bell said...

The U.S. government continues to provide $4,500 worth of cloth. That figure was never indexed for inflation. Nor, at the insistence of the Six Nations, has this become a monetary exchange—it’s still cloth. That reflects the Haudenosaunee position that the treaty is still in effect and the U.S. should observe all its terms.

Price inflation of course affects different goods differently. The spread of machine looms made woven cloth much cheaper in the nineteenth century than it had been before, so by 1850 $4,500 could presumably have bought much more cloth than in the 1790s. Overall inflation indeed lowered the purchasing power of the dollar over the last century. But the Haudenosaunee say the value of the treaty isn’t measured in dollars.