Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
February 12, 2000 - Issue 03

By Catherine Davids
U Michigan-Flint


My Mom, Ruth, was born and raised in Grove City, located in the northwestern area of Pennsylvania. Her father's family were among the first white settlers. Ruth spent the last years of her life compiling histories about the family for a history. When Ruth died, my sister and I put all her documents into a box. This past weekend I pulled the box out, sorted, organized, and began reading. I would like to share a particular history involving Cornplanter and the Seneca people. This is a rather lengthy history, but I hope it is worth reading. There were several accounts and so I have put them together to hopefully create a brief history. Most of the information was taken during an interview, but some came from property deeds, and other legal documents, given to Ruth by her Uncle Sam. She wrote it out by hand, and then transcribed it by typewriter at a later date. Please feel free to pass this history on to others.

Catherine Davids
Flint Michigan

April 11, 1783: Official end of the American Revolution
June 24, 1783: Congress relocates from Philadelphia to Princeton to avoid angry & unpaid war veterans
July 8, 1783: Supreme Court of Massachusetts abolishes slavery in that state
October 7, 1783: The Virginia Supreme Court grants freedom to slaves who served in the American Revolution

The government could not pay the revolutionary war veterans so, in 1783, an Act was passed by the legislature setting aside certain lands lying north and west of the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers called "donation lands" for the exclusive benefit of the soldiers who served in the Revolutionary Army. The soldiers were furnished with certificates of their service. This Act was passed the year before the final extermination of the Indian title to the lands was begun. A treaty of 1784 had brought the territory within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth but because whites were not moving to the area the Indian people were fairly secure. These lands were surveyed into tracts of 200, 250, 300, and 500 acres, for the convenience of officers and soldiers according to the amounts due them. Previous to the year 1788, the whole northwestern portion of Pennsylvania was included in Westmoreland County. On September 24, 1788 the legislature authorized the formation of a new county to be called Allegheny, out of portions of Westmoreland and Washington Counties. From this time until 1800, the region now comprising Mercer County was part of Allegheny County.

This area of Pennsylvania was first occupied by the Six Nations: Seneca, Oneida, Mohawk, Onandaga, Cayuga, and Tuscorora who were taken in around 1712 when driven from North Carolina, by the whites. Between 1781-1758 the French passed through the region journeying between the Ohio River and Lake Erie, but they had not made an attempt to possess the lands from the Indian people. In Mercer County the Deleware, Seneca, and Erie people were most prevalent. A Seneca named Cornplanter was the best-known leader. Cornplanter had three villages, and the largest consisted of nearly 80 lodges in Mercer County. Some lodges were 50-70 feet long, but most were 20-25 feet in length. Cornplanter's other two villages were at Big Bend at the Shenango River, and at Pine Swamp in Jackson Township. There were thousands-and- thousands of Indian people living there at that time. There was plenty of game: bears, wolves, deer, foxes.

White settlers adopted the Indian style of clothing and were taught by the Seneca and Delaware how to make buckskin clothing. They also learned how to make moccasins of deer skin for the winter and everyone went barefoot in the summer. The Indians also taught the settlers how to tap maple trees and to make maple- sugar candy. I (Ruth) remember being a child and watching Jake McDowell make this candy for me and my brothers. The Indian people and whites got along quite well until the land divisions started and whites began pouring into the territory around 1810-1820. Most of the whites were ex-revolutionary soldiers. There were also a lot of homesteaders who agreed to use the land while fulfilling certain requirements. An unwritten but understood requirement was to get rid of the Indians. After a time the whites cleared the land of its forests and began farming flax and raising sheep for wool. They made a home-spun cloth of linsey- woolsey on spinning wheels and looms.

In 1796 the four Uber brothers (John, Michael, Abraham, and Simon) came from Westmoreland County and settled in Mercer County. They were among the first white settlers to the area. Most of these first white settlers were war veterans and were overwhelmingly German and Dutch.

This story was told to Ruth Margaret Uber (who was age 24) on Wednesday, March 1, 1933 by Serena Uber McDowell (b. 9-1-1850, d.10-28-1950, age 100) and her husband Jake (died age 96) and Samuel Uber (b. 3-23-1873, d.1963, age 90). Serena, Jake, and Sam heard these stories, many times, from Guy Uber (b.1802, d.1895, age 93). [These ages are not uncommon on my Mom's side of the family.]

This event took place sometime around 1822-1823 when relations with Cornplanter's people had become very tense because their land continued to be taken from them according to the ongoing rewriting of the treaties and legal documents. Guy Uber was about 22 years old when this happened.

Peter Uber II had a son named David who had two children named Amy and Simon (named for his grandfather, one of the original settlers in 1796).
Peter II made the trip from Findley to visit his family in Mercer County and found that an Indian uprising had occured and that his two grandchildren had been adopted by the Seneca who would keep the children until the land dispute was settled. The uprising consisted of a few Seneca coming along and taking the children away by hand. No force was used because the children knew the Seneca. Guy said that Amy escaped one night (a few days later) and walked down a stream so that the Seneca could not track her (a method she learned from them) and a few days later she was found by Peter II who had organized a search party. Amy spent more time trying to find her way home than she did being adopted. Guy noted that within days the rumor was spread throughout the territory that Amy had been "brutally tomahawked," but in fact Amy was in perfect health and had been treated very well during her one or two days of adoption. Even people who knew the truth continued to tell this lie which was repeated as fact in the churches.

Simon was raised by the Seneca. In his late teens Simon returned to visit his family but quickly became discontented and returned to the Seneca. Guy said that Simon talked about Cornplanter and the other men as being very smart, and kind while the Uber's did not do much except to pray over Simon. He said Cornplanter had given him to a good couple who had raised him. Simon returned a year or so later to introduce his Seneca wife but the young couple was treated badly and they only stayed one or two nights. Guy said Simon loved the Seneca people and that he was a deeply religious man following the teachings of a man named Lake. When Simon and his Seneca woman left...they never returned and Uber family members never saw them again. Over the years he sent word when children were born but he never brought them to the Ubers' and the Ubers' never made an attempt, that anyone is aware of, to visit him at his Seneca home which was in a village, on the Allegheny River.

Ruth asked Serena why the Uber's had made no attempt to rescue Simon after having found Amy wandering about in the woods. This is what she was told: the Uber's were dower/dedicated Presbyterians with hints of Puritanism. They spent a lot of time praying and on Sundays were in church practically all day. Simon rebelled against this while Amy was a real fire-and-brimstone girl. Uncle Sam said the Seneca probably turned Amy loose because she was a pain and the Uber's didn't look for Simon because it was a relief to have him gone. Serena said some of the capture stories got to be very famous and were taught in schools, but they were mostly made up or exaggerated. Both Sam and Serena said that the Indian people didn't hurt children.

That is the end of this particular story. I have looked through Ruth's papers for more but there isn't anything else.

Learn more about the Iroquois and Chief Cornplanter at these sites:


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