THE MOHICANS ... War Comes to Stockbridge
Onward Christian Warriors!
Jonathan Edwards' missionary period at Stockbridge would last from 1751 - 1757. The Edwards years were marked by war on two fronts; a bitter power struggle between rival families, and yet another conflict between England and France. The former was a fight for control of land, lives, and souls. The latter, a final struggle for control of an entire continent. The Mohicans of Stockbridge were both players and pawns of both.
Two years had passed since the death of the Calvinist minister John Sergeant. With no shepherd to guide them, the Stockbridge inhabitants fell prey to confusion, low morale, land disputes, and drink. They were in desperate need of direction and prayed for a new shepherd to come among them. The primary combatants on the homefront were the Williams and Woodbridge clans. Each faction postured itself for favor and influence and carried on a good old- fashioned, 18th century mud slinging contest. Both sides put forth nominees for the vacated position, but none were found acceptable. By early 1751, the sole candidate for minister of the Stockbridge congregation was the Woodbridge clan's nominee, the stern Puritan Jonathan Edwards. The congregation accepted their new shepherd through default, as they knew nothing of his growing reputation. The great revivalist took up his duties in Stockbridge that summer; his wife and children joined him the following winter. But trouble already brewed during his predecessor's reign was soon to erupt.
Despite the hostilities that plagued the settlement, there was an element of Rockwellian tranquility to be found at Stockbridge. Such was the picture painted by Edwards' daughter Esther in her journals. She describes with fondness and sincerity a pleasant, almost quaint settlement, replete with sledding, dancing, and close friendships between Mohican and colonial children. So constant was the companionship of the children of Stockbridge that many English children, including Edwards', were not only well versed in Mohican, but knew words and names in the Algonquian tongue that they knew no English for.
As idyllic the picture may have been through a child's eyes, there was nonetheless a storm of controversy on the horizon. The object of the dispute were the Stockbridge children themselves. Edwards' predecessor, John Sergeant, had laid the foundation for the conflict through his efforts to establish a boarding school. The impetus for such an endeavor, aside from the obvious motive of education, was a desire to offset the ever present "danger" the Christian Mohicans were vulnerable to; taverns, trading posts, fort life, lack of discipline among children, cultural tendency toward "idleness", and the increasing numbers of non-Christian Mohicans who were taking up residence at Stockbridge. Sergeant concluded the only way to set the Mohicans firmly rooted in Calvinistic doctrine was via education of their children. Edwards agreed and this daunting task, with all the accompanying unpleasantries, was his first inheritance as the new Stockbridge minister.
At the time of John Sergeant's death in 1749, framing had been completed for the new school building. To accomplish that, Sergeant had dug himself deeply in debt. Donations and funding had been slow to come, even though the project had the endorsement of colonial officials, private citizens, and the powers in London. Having already requested William Johnson's aid in promoting the ideals and advantages the school offered to the Mohawk, Johnson in turn sold the idea to Mohawk chief King Hendrick. Hendrick then prevailed upon Six Nations families to send their children to Stockbridge. By the year's end of 1751, 95 boys from Oneida, Tuscarora, and Mohawk villages were enrolled at the boarding school at Stockbridge. Curiously, financial aid for the school suddenly poured forth. It would be unfair to question the motives of the ministers at Stockbridge regarding their desire for a boarding school. It appears that both Sergeant and Edwards sincerely believed education was in the children's best interest. However, the opening of purses by officials and private citizens, both in New England and overseas, immediately upon the consent of the Iroquois to enroll their sons at the Stockbridge school does highlight one point; English charity was more abundantly given when colonial security was a fortunate dividend. This financial support illustrates rather pointedly how valued Iroquois support was by the English and how necessary they believed it was for securing peace along the frontiers.
Another advantage generated by the boarding school program was jobs. Quick to note and seize the opportunity was Ephraim Williams. In short order, he had "donated" a portion of his land to accommodate Mohawks while secretly ensuring the deed was recorded illegally, employed the poorly-suited, ill-tempered Martin Kellogg as instructor at the boys' school, successfully proposed a girls' boarding school under the tutelage of his own daughter Abigail (widow of John Sergeant), connived for and received the subsidy of the New England Company for the school which was to be run from Abigail's home, arrange a marriage between Abigail and the prominent Joseph Dwight, and have his new son-in-law appointed to the General Court as an overseer of the educational program. These scurrilous maneuvers afforded Williams and his clan control over nearly the entire school project, and that included management of funds. Jonathan Edwards was furious over the nepotic scheme, as were most of the Stockbridge population.
The corruption and mismanagement of the schools was as obvious as it was shocking. Soon there were accusations of ill treatment, lack of meaningful instruction, and students being utilized (under the guise of agricultural studies) as laborers on Kellogg's and Dwight's farms. Finally, after much complaint, a new instructor was sent from Yale to take over the duties of Kellogg. He refused to leave, Edwards refused his stay, and the Stockbridge inhabitants were caught in a nasty power struggle. The situation had gotten so out of hand that the Mohawk, by Hendrick's decree, removed their children from the school and withdrew from the settlement. Mohicans from other villages who had long been contemplating relocation to the New England town now turned instead to Moravian settlements, much to the chagrin of the Calvinists and the New England authorities. Finally, the school burned to the ground - rumored to have been through an act of arson, and the Stockbridge Mohicans themselves talked of disbanding. Unrest and uncertainty plagued the New England frontier. Colonials were terrified, the Mohicans disillusioned. The factional disputes and ceaseless back biting were taking a heavy toll on the Stockbridge community, but events were beginning to unfold that would make the raging factional wars pale in comparison. The intra-colonial conflict of France and England was about to erupt into open war.
Allied to the English .... No Matter What Occurred
"...our hearty and fast friends, ... willing to live or die with us, whether in peace or war."
- Samuel Hopkins on the Stockbridge Mohicans
At the onset of war in 1754, the English banked on the support of their Indian allies and covenant partners, the Mohawk and the Mohicans. So reliable was this support that it was the Stockbridges themselves who reminded the English delegates at the Albany Conference of the bonds between them (despite the cold reception they received). Recorded in the Colonial Documents is the following statement delivered by the Mohican delegates; "We view ye now as a very large tree, and we look round to see if there be any who endeavour to hurt it, and if it should so happen that any are powerful enough to destroy it, we are ready to fall with it." The quote is an accurate representation of Mohican sentiment. Though they often found themselves in the middle of intrigue and were not always treated with fairness or respect, these Stockbridge Indians were amazingly loyal. A Massachusetts committee, recognizing the necessity of the Mohican alliance, recommended that the Stockbridge Indians be officially received into military service with pay. The rate of pay was higher than many thought it should be and Abigail Williams did not hesitate to express her opinion that the Mohicans were not worth it.
The majority of the male population at Stockbridge enthusiastically signed on to the English cause. For the young men in particular, the war path offered them an opportunity to achieve the much coveted warrior recognition. At a time of great confusion, strife, and cultural limbo, such a possibility afforded a chance for a young Mohican to gain a sense of identity and purpose; a moment of order amidst confusion, however strange that may sound when one ponders the chaotic nature of war. But it makes perfect sense if considered in the proper cultural context; what worth or sense of purpose does a young man feel who is raised within a society that honors and praises the deeds of its warriors if he is denied the opportunity to prove his own prowess? Or, what worth has a warrior in a warrior society with nary a war?
There were some men who were not so eager to take up the hatchet, notably those who had been influenced by the Moravian missionaries. The pacifist doctrine of the Moravians had not fell completely on deaf ears. In addition to the few Stockbridge Mohicans whose warrior spirit had been somewhat tempered, there were the Moravian Mohicans and Delaware at Gnaddenhutten who had no inclination whatsoever to follow the English to war. Their steadfast adherence to the Christian life and Moravian teachings placed them in a dangerous predicament. They were surrounded by "hostile" Indians who were sure to express their displeasure with the "praying Indians", and would be suspicious of a possible English preference. A further complication was from the Iroquois who, along with William Johnson, pressured the Moravian Mohicans to remove themselves to the Wyoming Valley where their presence would serve a two-fold purpose; strengthen an anti-French Indian presence and serve as a handy buffer for English settlements. The Stockbridge Mohicans favored the move as well and thus sent a wampum belt to Gnadenhutten explaining the agreement that had been worked out in their name. The Mohican chief Abraham and the Delaware chief Teedyuscung felt bound to the agreement and subsequently led 65 of their Gnaddenhutten neighbors on a relocation trek up the Susquehanna River. Others refused to go. Gnadenhutten was thus a house divided, victims of political aims of the English, the Iroquois, and the Stockbridge Mohicans.
The next rivalry that surfaced was between William Johnson and Governor William Shirley. At issue was the question of who had authority over the Mohicans. Johnson claimed it was his jurisdiction since he had the expertise and was commander of the Iroquois recruits. Shirley countered that he was commander of all English forces and that Johnson's authority did not extend to the Mohicans who were not of the Six Nations and more importantly, resided within the boundaries of Massachusetts, not New York. Further disagreement arose over the structure of Mohican companies and pay rates. In the end, Shirley was accompanied by Stockbridges on his march to Niagara. The expedition proved fruitless from a military standpoint, eventually abandoned in September. It was, however, quite fortuitous for the Mohicans. Had they opted to follow William Johnson on his march up the Hudson Valley to construct an English fort and capture the French post at Crown Point, many of the Mohicans would probably have been killed. Johnson received news of a French detachment led by Baron de Dieskau, which was moving southward to interfere with the fort construction at the southern shore of Lake George (Fort William Henry). An English contingent was sent to engage the French force, but ran smack into an ambush. "The Battle of Lake George" followed the ambush. It was won by the English but at a cost that begs an answer to the question ... what price victory? Losses were high, both for the colonial militia and the Mohawk; 200 colonials dead, about 40 Mohawk.... including the aged Hendrick.
The demoralizing effect the "victory" had on the militia and the Mohawk was tremendous and the tactical objective of the expedition was not even realized. Fort St. Frederic did not fall to the English, Deiskau did. The capture of the French commander, though at first glance may seem a great achievement, was really a most unfortunate gain for the English. In a rich twist of fate, the loss of Deiskau was a blessing in disguise for the French cause, for his replacement was none other than the Marquis de Montcalm; a skilled officer who would lead the French-Canadian army into 3 years of victories. The irony then was that the English victory at Lake George enabled the war to continue, and the French, by losing the battle nearly won the war.
The Mohicans continued in their service to the English crown throughout the war. In 1756, a company of Stockbridge Mohicans was raised under the captaincy of one of their own, plus a Mohican Lieutenant and ensign. Their orders were to busy themselves "... annoying the enemy, taking prisoners and scalps, intercepting enemy convoys, destroying their cattle, burning their barns and magazines, 5 pounds sterling to be given for any Indian or French prisoner or scalp." Their abilities caught the eye of Robert Rogers, who it is said, "took a fancy" to the Mohicans. The resulting relationship brought the Mohicans into service as a special forces company, practitioners of guerilla warfare. The Stockbridge warriors became valued members of Rogers' Rangers. Though the Stockbridge Indians had been walking the path of Calvinistic domestication for quite some time, they had apparently not lost their touch when it came to matters of war.
Rogers sent a company of Mohicans to Fort William Henry in 1756, another group accompanied him to Fort Edward. From these two bases, the Mohicans frequently set out on reconnoitering missions, from Canada to the Hudson Valley. The activities and fighting prowess of the Mohicans during the war was vital to England's success. They were everywhere; scouting, raiding, harassing, and fighting. Mohican loyalty, though sorely tested, proved constant and reliable. They remained an important and lasting component of the British Army to the end.
Mohican Warriors: A Special Forces Unit
A typical Stockbridge Indian during the French and Indian War was no ordinary soldier. He brought with him special skills that were wisely used by those officers and militia commanders who had sense enough to recognize their value. He was a frontier scout, a stealthy hunter, a trained warrior, and a furtive raider. He was used to reconnoiter, steal, harass, terrorize, and kill. His expertise made him a bounty hunter of captives and enemy scalps; a member of an elite fighting force; a mercenary. It was abilities such as these that earned the admiration and respect of men like Robert Rogers, and it was these very qualities that caused Rogers to push for the inclusion of Mohicans within his Ranger companies.
What a Mohican was not; he was not at all like the typical colonial enlistee. He lacked the discipline necessary to army life. His cultural background precluded him from accepting orders from officers in the manner they were issued to colonial soldiers. He abhorred work details, and proved unreliable on an open battlefield. The same "faults" that proved to be thorns in the sides of missionaries, were maddening to English officers. A Mohican warrior would no sooner engage himself in digging trenches than he would plow a field, which was in his mind women's work. Many an officer thought them lazy, insolent, unpredictable, worthless, petty, demanding, and idle. Of course, many a Mohican thought these same English officers to be stupid, arrogant, witless, and cowardly.
How does one reconcile these opposing opinions of the Stockbridge Indians as warriors, or even as men? As might be expected, the answer is found in that oft repeated arena .... cultural perceptions and misperceptions. A Mohican, for instance, looked upon thievery as an honorable accomplishment. If he could successfully take from another, he was proud of his deed. That was part of a cultural element that was rooted in no lesser an objective than survival. To a New England Calvinist, however, stealing was a loathsome sin, evidence of savage heathenism. And military demands? To an English officer the Mohicans' refusal to accept orders without question or reluctance to participate in grueling physical labor illustrated the Indians' laziness. It wasn't true, of course. Physical stamina, responsibility for other's well being, and generosity were in no way lacking among the Mohican population. It boiled down to a clash of mores. One man's virtue is another man's vice. Many European/Indian conflicts originated in this simple truth. While English officers found it difficult to comprehend, many frontier colonials, such as Robert Rogers, grasped the cultural aspects or qualities much better. The latter was then enabled to appreciate the skills and expertise of their Mohican allies. Conversely, a Mohican had great difficulty understanding what exactly made an Englishman tick. He found them perplexing, strange, and in many ways, silly. The Mohicans could not understand why the English carried on warfare in the manner they did; it was senseless, strange, and far too time consuming. Each was irritated and baffled by the ways of the other.
A Stockbridge Indian, employed by the British army, was not seeking a free ride, unearned pay, or looking to shirk his duties. He was carrying on in a manner he was accustomed to. He fulfilled his obligations as he saw them, in a way he believed to be sensible. He was confident in who he was; a hunter, a warrior, a man. The same can be said for the English. They too were pursuing their objectives by the most reasonable course as they saw it. European perspectives hindered an acceptance of Mohican ways, and likewise, Mohican perspectives were obstacles to their ability to understand the English.
This then, the differences of culture and the inability and unwillingness to grasp the other's ways, was the root of much trouble and bad blood between the two. In the final analysis, however, it would seem that the alliance between the English and the Stockbridge people was beneficial to both. Through many trials and tribulations, clashes, injustices, good times and bad times, war and peace, the alliance remained intact. From the initial covenant between the colonials and the Mohicans, dating back to the 17th century, to the early days of the republic, the Mohicans remained steadfast in their loyalty. And that lasting of the Mohicans is what should be remembered and honored.
Next in the History Pages Series: THE HURONS ... Allied To The French
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