April 18, 2004

Native Americans in Dryden

The signs welcoming visitors to the Town of Dryden say "since 1797", dating it to the arrival of Amos Sweet, but George Goodrich, even while writing a centennial history based on that date, knew that there was activity here before. His chapter on "Indian Occupation" is generous in neither length nor opinion, but it brings Goodrich to the key point necessary for the rest of his story to proceed:

Thus it happened that the early pioneers of our town escaped all annoyance from hostile Indians, who had been effectually driven out of the country before any settlement was attempted.

Chapter II.

Indian Occupation.

Although there is no record that the town of Dryden was ever the site of any permanent Indian settlement, there is abundant evidence that the Indias occupied it as a hunting ground. The little flint arrowheads which are still found, especially along the banks of the streams and upon the shores of the Lake, are unmistakable proof of the presence of the Indians, and the chips of flint, the waste product of the rude manufacture of these arrowheads, and other implements of stone found frequently about the shores of the Lake, indicate that at some time they had there at least a temporary encampment. The nearest Indian villages of which we have any authentic account were the habitation of the Cayugas, near the present site of the city of Ithaca, and extending on both sides of Cayuga Lake to its outlet. Central New York, when first known to civilization, was the home of the "Iroquois," a term applied first to five and afterwards to six confederated Indian tribes, which included the Cayugas and is said to have constituted the most powerful force of Indians on the American Continent. We may perhaps claim some significance in the fact that the part of the territory which now constitutes the central and western part of the Empire State was once the home and hunting ground of the victorious Iroquois, the conquerors of all the neighboring tribes. It was said that such experiences had the New England tribes of Indians suffered from the Mohawks - the eastern branch of the Iroquois - that the very name of "a Mohawk" caused them to flee with terror. The Iroquois had recently conquered the Adirondacks of the north and the Eries and Hurons on the west, and after becoming known to white men, in one of their southern excursions, they rescued from their enemies the whole tribe of Tuscaroras of North Carolina, whom they brought home with them and adopted as the sixth branch of their nation.

The conditions and habits of these aborigines form an interesting study to those who have investigated the subject. The first white men to go among them, except occasional fur traders, were the missionaries of the French Jesuits, who for a century prior to the English occupation of their territory, had lived and labored among them in the vain effort to effect their conversion to their form of Christianity. These, like other American Indians, from the first seemed to take much more naturally to the vices than to the virtues of their white brothers and the sacrifices of those zealous men, who left their pleasant homes in France to live and work among the Indians of North America for their education and development in the Christian faith, were worthy of better success than resulted. But the reports which these French Catholic priests sent back to their native country of their experiences among them are now found carefully preserved in French monasteries, and constitute one of the most interesting and trustworthy sources of our knowledge of the actual condition in which the Indians were then found. The "relations" (as they are called) of one Father Carheil, who spent over twenty years of his life among the Cayugas, and who in the year 1672 describes Lake Tiohero (now Cayuga) and the beautiful county surrounding it, with its abundance of fish and game, have thus recently been resurrected and translated into English, throwing much light upon this subject so interesting to the antiquarian.

In the French and Indian wars, which preceded the Revolution, the Iroquois, in spite of the French priests, took sides with the English, and rendered efficient assistance in the conquest of Canada from the French. When the War of the Revolution followed between the English colonies and their mother country, the Iroquois at first decided to remain neutral, but the most of them were afterward persuaded to join their old allies, the English. This exposed the outposts of the colonies to a merciless enemy in the rear, and the frightful massacres of Cherry Valley and Wyoming were among the results. Fortunate it was for the early settlers of our locality that these bloody times passed before they ventured into the Western Wilderness.

To avenge these outrages and to punish the hostile Indians and drive them from the neighborhood of the advance settlements, an invasion of the Iroquois country was executed in 1779, known as "Sullivan's campaign," which, after a battle with the combined forced of Indians and Tories near Newtown (now Elmira), resulted in their complete defeat, followed by the subsequent overrunning of the Indian country and the destruction of their villages, including those along Cayuga and Seneca lakes. This campaign, forming a part of the Revolutionary war, planned by Washingtons and executed by Generals Sullivan and Clinton with a force of about five thousand men, detachments of which marched within a few miles of the town of Dryden, and perhaps within its borders, resulted in the complete humiliation of the fierce Iroquois, and opened the way for the subsequent purchase and settlement of this section of Western New York, over which up to that time they had absolute sway. With the exception of the Oneidas, who had remained friendly to the colonies, and a part of the Onondagas, whose descendants still remain on their reservation near Syracuse, the Iroquois were driven from this part of the state never to return in large numbers. Some took refuge in Canada and along the Niagara frontier, others, including a number from the Cayuga and Seneca tribes, were colonized in the extreme western part of this state, while most of the Cayugas were induced to make their homes in the Indian Territory, where their descendants now reside in considerable numbers. Thus it happened that the early pioneers of our town escaped all annoyance from hostile Indians, who had been effectually driven out of the country before any settlement was attempted.

Those readers who desire to follow more minutely the details of "Sullivan's Campaign" will find the journals of the officers of that expedition, with full explanatory notes and maps, given in a large volume recently published by the State, a copy of which can be found in the Dryden village school library.

Goodrich, George B. The Centennial History of the Town of Dryden, 1797-1897. Dryden: Dryden Herald Steam Printing House, 1898. Reprinted 1993 by the Dryden Historical Society. Pages 4-6.

(The Dryden Historical Society, which sells this book, may be reached at 607-844-9209.)

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