ALLEGANY PIONEER LIFE
In 1805 Mr. And Mrs. Philip Church Journeyed from Bath to Belvidere on Horseback
"Visit to Caneadea"
An Article by Angelica Church Hart - Read at a meeting of the Catherine Schuyler Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, held at “Sunnycroft” the summer home of Mrs. Frank Sullivan Smith at Angelica c.1905.
“The old order changeth, giving place to new.”
Thus it was said by one of the greatest of English poets, and if this is felt to be true amid the conservatism and gradual changes of the Old World, how much more strongly must we of the New World feel it, where, in the comparatively short period of a century, “the wilderness” has been made “to blossom as the rose,” the forests leveled to make place for crowded cities, the continent overrun with wonderfully rapid means of transportation, as “the pent up stream of life” from either lands rushes westward in the mighty march of civilization.
In the cataract like haste of this our day, and time, when we pause to look back upon the infancy of our country the contrast is startling, and we hardly can believe it is the same. It had so short a childhood, and grew so rapidly that we wonder it did not outgrow its strength. But the echoes of its early events and experiences come to us with an ever deepening interest “tinging the sober twilight of the present with color of romance,” and calling upon us not to forget “the noble men (and women) their names remembered or forgotten, who first explored through perils manifold, the seas, lakes, rivers, mountains and forests of this New World,” and those who later, “pledged their sacred honor,” and gladly hazarded their lives to preserve for her a free and honorable place amid the nations of the earth.
Among the episodes of chiefest interest in the history of the settlement of our country, are those of the intercourse between the white men and the Indian tribes, though, in most cases, it brands the former with a stain of lasting dishonor. Upon the treatment of the Indians by the people of our land we need not dwell! Whatever they may have become in the West through evil communications of their conquerors, or however cruel they may have been originally in their savage state, the Seneca Tribe, one of the Iroquois or six nations, who found their habitations in the primeval forest of Western New York, as far as their relation with my family were concerned proved themselves to be loyal and friendly always. They were the playmates of my father and aunts and uncles, calling them by Indian names, teaching them various rude arts, the following of trails, and the secrets of the forest.
I have been requested by our Regent and it is my pleasure today to give you a little account of the early experiences in this part of the country where we are now assembled, of “one not farther off in blood from me than grandmother, whose name is well known to you all, and whom I believe several of you knew personally, which I never did. She is well known to me however by family traditions and portraits still in our possession, which have taught us to look upon her as a type of true Christian womanhood, and as a lady of mingled graciousness and dignity.
The following account of her first coming as a fair young bride to Western New York and her intercourse with the Indians, has been sent to me recently from my aunt in England, the youngest and only surviving of my grandmother’s daughters.
Anne Matilda Stewart was born of Irish parentage in Londonderry, Ireland, on July 22nd, 1786, and was baptized in the Earl of Bristol’s Chapel. She came to this country with her parents as an infant in a sailing vessel, while on board was seized with a severe attack of measles. A sailor passenger on board took a great fancy to her and would walk up and down the deck with her, till she would not be quiet with anyone else. Upon arriving in America, her parents made their home in Philadelphia where she was brought up, confirmed by Bishop White who also admitted her to her first communion, and by whom she was married to Philip Church on February 4, 1805.
After their marriage, the young couple made a pioneer journey to Belvidere, coming as far as Bath by coach and traveling the rest of the way on horseback. Stopping for the night at a little hotel in Hornellsville, then the only house there, my grandmother found upon talking to the landlord that he was Mr. Hornell who years before, had carried her about on the ship, her mother having told her about him, and he remembered all the circumstances of the voyage and her parents and herself.
We can picture what a cheering coincidence this must have been to the young bride about to enter the strange and untried wilderness where lay her future home. When she left Bath, she must have felt she was bidding farewell to civilization, for Belvidere, whither she and her husband were bound, lay deep in the illimitable forests forty miles from Bath, were the nearest post office and doctor (I remember often having seen old family letters whereon the inscription reads “Mrs. Philip Church. Angelica near Bath, U.S.A.) for this village was settled and named before Belvidere. The whole scene, as we look back upon it, seems a romantic and striking illustration of Tennyson’s graceful lines upon the departure of “The Sleeping Beauty” with the “Fairy Prince.”
“And on her lover’s arm she leant
And round her waist she felt it fold.
And far across the hills they went
In that new world which is the old.
Across the hills and faraway
Beyond their utmost purple rim.
And deep into the dying day
The happy princess followed him.”
In such a journey as that, however, all is not romance! The next day accompanied by Mr. Robert Morris, they proceeded on their way along the narrow bridle path, for there was no road, and when within five miles of their destination, her horse, catching his foot in the root of a tree, fell and threw her from the saddle. Very weary and exhausted this overcame her and she burst into tears, and she used to say she never should forget the expression of sympathy on the faces of the two gentlemen as they helped her up. Mr. Morris administering a restorative from his flask saying “this is too great a trial for a young lady of nineteen”. This remark roused her pride, and she mounted her horse with smiles instead of tears, and the little party rode on till they finally reached the “White House,” which had been built to receive them. There they had to sleep on straw beds on the floor, the pack horses with the bedsteads not having arrived, and the rats from the forests running about them rather disturbed their slumbers, while many a night afterwards their nightly serenade was the chorus of wild wolves which found their haunts in the solitude of those wooded hills. A Quaker cook had preceded my grand parents from Philadelphia, and a flock of sheep together with plenty of fish and game furnished them with sufficient food during their stay, for they did not at that time intend to make the place their home, having come only to open the settlement of the tract of land, and they returned to New York for the birth of their eldest child, Angelica, on February 4th, 1806. This day was always kept in the family as the double festival of their wedding and her birthday.
In the spring of that year, the parents of my grandfather determined to go and pass the summer with their son and daughter-in-law at the “White House”, which was, by the way, the first house built in Allegany County. By this time a rough road for carts had been cut through the forest, but they all still mounted their horses to ride over, and they sent on before them a French cook and several maids with provisions, groceries and wines. This cook must have been especially made for such an experience, for it is told of him that instead of being distressed, he was delighted with the opportunity of catching his own fish and killing his own game, and having a whole sheep to cook. Under such pleasing domestic circumstances we are not surprised to hear that the life proved so attractive to my grandfather’s parents that they commenced to build as a summer residence for themselves, the present Belvidere house, making the brick and find the stone on the place, and sawing the timbers in a pit by hand, importing the workmen from New York and Albany.
But, alas, the failure of my great grandfather through the French spoliation claims changed all that, and after the hot contest for the gold plate (now in possession of the Lexon family in New York) was ended, my grandparents were obliged to settle down on their landed estate and made the wilderness their future home. So, ”man proposes and God disposes.”
In the year 1812, my grandfather went to England to receive a government appointment promised him by C. James Fox, but Mr. Fox died before my grandfather reached England, so that was not possible. He remained in England during all the war of 1812, for he could not get home while it lasted and until peace was declared, neither could he get money from home and his family have heard him describe the utter wretchedness of his feelings at finding himself in London far away from those he loved and without money. He was able, however to borrow some from a friend and sell a farm in Suffolk, which had been left to him as a legacy by his aunt, Matilda Church, Mrs. Panther. It was during his absence when the present Belvidere house was completed.
My grandmother and her sister, Miss Stewart, were sitting on the piazza in front of the house one hot morning in June, with not sufficient breeze to stir even a leaf, when they saw coming up the drive in single file three Indians and two squaws in full Indian costume of blankets wrapped about them, leggings and moccasins of dear skin embroidered with beads and the squaws carrying their papooses on their backs. It was an Indian’s custom to walk into your house without knocking as if it was his own, so they walked up the steps, stood before the ladies, and one of them taking from his side a big knife from his leather case, made diverse gyrations with it as if cutting something. The ladies hearts were sinking not a little, but my grandmother motioned them into the dining room, where the breakfast table was set, and on it a loaf of bread which the Indian seized and made motions as if cutting and eating it. She understood and taking the loaf from the table gave it to him and sent for one for each of the men, which exhausted the supply. The piano was open and my grandmother suggested to her sister to play for them. They had never heard one and looked at each other while she was playing and laughed and, contrary to their usual custom, showed great pleasure, and when she left it, went and touched it themselves and laughed audibly; a very rare thing for an Indian to do, so indeed it proved that “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.” Then they departed as silently as they came, with no adieux and carrying their loaves under their arms. It need hardly be said to the great relief of their hostesses! From that time they have often come for “Aqua” (bread) and “Quish Quish” (pork) which was always given, filling the bags they brought, and at the maize (corn) harvest they came regularly even till my youngest aunt was grown up, put up their evergreen covered shanties under some large trees, made fires in the evening in the corn fields, where they would roast the ears of maize and eat them to their heart’s content, and moved to other quarters when the corn was gathered in. They never stole anything or begged, but asked for what they wanted as a feudal claim, a right to the produce of the land that once was theirs, and my grandfather never allowed them to be refused anything or be molested in their temporary homes. My father and aunts and uncles used to spend hours in these “camps” as they called their leafy bowers, and the young children would teach them to make baskets and cut out figures on potatoes to be smeared with indigo and stamped on the baskets, laughing merrily whenever they made mistakes, and my youngest aunt tells me that when she tried to chop chips with a hatchet they would be convulsed with amusement.
There were two chiefs who always came, Shongo, a War chief, and Hudson. The former had no wife or she was dead, but Hudson had a wife and children, and there was an Indian called Canascroga, and the Canascroga squaw was my aunt Elizabeth’s “Gochee” or special friend, and her papoose my aunt’s particular playmate. Even now she can remember his pretty gypsy-like face and how Canascroga tried to teach my aunt basket making, and bead embroidery and the cutting of potato stamps, in which latter art she excelled, fashioning figures grotesque enough to suit a savage. She remembers equally well, (though now past her threescore years and ten) many of their customs and how, in addition to several words of their language they taught her to count their limited number of ten on their fingers, to be repeated again and again if a higher number was to be expressed.
In the midst of their camp was always hung a big gypsy three legged kettle, on a wooden crane over a continual fire, which was always full of a white greasy looking mixture with various floating pieces. These they took out with a long curious wooden fork whenever they were hungry. Plates did not form a part of their camp utensils, but they used cups of different sizes cut out of large and small squashes. The custom of the Indian is well known to all who have read the various works of prose and poetry in which this interesting race so prominently figure, and we may feel a natural curiosity as did my aunt to know where the squaws could have got the artistic and skillfully made ornaments of silver they used to wear sewn on the front of their calico short gowns, in the shapes of circles and triangles, and triangles and circles with the center filled with some device. Possibly they might have been medals of distinction.
When the Indians were removed from the Caneadea Reservation in the Allegany Reservation the Chief Hudson, presented my Aunt Elizabeth as they were leaving their yearly encampment at Belvidere, one afternoon when she was in the camp, with the pipe he was smoking and told her that it was a stone carved by Shongo, the War Chief,in a likeness of himself and which he had always smoked. She has the pipe now in her home in England, but has lost the hollow willow wood stem that was originally a part of it. When Hudson was dying he requested his wife to bring my aunt the pipe he had smoked since, and she walked the long distance and gave it to her with the message. My aunt has both the pipes. She was never adopted formally by the Indians, but they gave her the name of “Teonwishtau,” which they interpreted “done on purpose,” and acted it out in pantomime. An Indian picked up a dead branch and drew it after him a long way, longing furtively behind and said “done on purpose.” My grandfather, Philip Church they had a great respect for, because he could beat them at running, and they called him “Chinewany.” The Great Chief. My Aunt Angelica they named “Augeguaqua” or Bright Eyes, and a friend of the family “Sedestia” The Morning Star. But they adopted my grandmother, the circumstances of whose adoption are as follows: In the year of 1812 during my grandfather’s absence and the war with England, the Indians came to Belvidere and asked my grandmother and her sister to attend their New Year feast, which invitation she determined it would be polite to accept. So on the eve of the New Year she had a large lumber sleigh filled with barrels of pork and flour, bundles of blankets, and a quantity of glass beads of all colors, and colored ribbons. Her coachman was a Negro 6 ft. 2in. “Big Jim,” as he was called, having for his livery a blue coat with large brass buttons.
When they arrived at Caneadea, the nearest Indian village, about 12 miles from Belvidere , they found a wigwam clean out, some straw in one corner covered over with hemlock boughs very thickly, a buffalo robe thrown over it and another buffalo robe to cover them, a fireplace dug out of the ground at one end and a seat made all around it by the earth, upon which they could sit and their feet be on a level with the fire, where huge green logs were heaped so as to last all night.
The ladies had taken their own food with them cooked, so every thing promised to be as comfortable as possible for them had not their minds been filled with a certain amount of apprehension in regard to the conduct and mode of entertainment by their strange hosts. So when my grandmother and great aunt had laid down all dressed on their evergreen couch, they called in Big Jim to sit by the fire and keep watch. Of course like a Negro he was soon fast asleep, but they never closed their eyes.
The night wore slowly on, and the light from the great fire illuminated the wigwam, and as midnight drew near my grandmother saw the canvas of the tent slowly pushed aside and an Indian walked stealthily in and straight up to Big Jim. Her heart was in her mouth for she expected to see him scalped, but the Indian only leaned over him, touched the brass buttons and looked well at them, and in a few moments, which to her seemed ages, he departed as stealthily as he had come, and she knew that it was the bright buttons that had attracted him to the wigwam, and no evil intent, but it is needless to add, that Big Jim was the only one in the wigwam who slept that night.
The next day the war chief took her out into an open space, where on a high kind of gallows hung a spotlessly white dog decorated with white ribbons. She was placed in a seat before it while the Indians in full dress joined hands and danced around, uttering a low guttural wail. Then the squaws in full dress did the same. Then the war chief Shongo brought his daughter and an interpreter, and told her that they were going to make her a squaw of “The Seneca Tribe” and adopt her as a daughter and that his daughter was to take her name and be her “Gochee” or friend and they would give my grandmother the name of “Yenunkeawa” or “The Head of the City,” and told her if the British soldiers came near or molested her in any way, to let her Gochee or friend know and the Indians would at once come to her rescue and defend her. Then the dog was taken down and burnt, a religious rite for the New Year and, after having distributed to them the content of her sleigh, she returned home feeling quite sure of their sincerity in their promises of protection. Her belief in them was fully justified, for they were faithful unto the end to her. When, under the command of Commodore Perry, the gallant and decisive battle of Lake Erie was fought in September, 1813, the Indians became aware of it thru their wonderfully developed sense of hearing. Placing their ears to the ground they were able to distinguish by means of vibration, sounds from great distances which no white man could hear, and the far off boom of cannon on the Lake was audible to them, through many miles inland in their forest dwellings.
Knowing that my grandfather was absent in England at that time and that the daughter of their adoption was alone and unprotected, the chief and his warriors, in full battle array hastened to Belvidere where they explained to my grandmother that “Indians hear big guns shooting away off on great water. Chinewany, the great chief (my grandfather) not here, Indians come to protect Yenunkeawa from British soldiers.; whereupon they stood on guard all around the house and were kept informed by fleet footed runners from the shores of Lake Erie how the battle progressed, and there remained until they felt sure no further danger threatened Yenunkeawa and her family.
About the year 1850, my grandmother had a very severe illness, which confined her to her bed most of the winter, and at last, when she became convalescent, and was able to be placed upon the sofa in the drawing room on one morning as she lay there her daughter Elizabeth, sitting beside her reading aloud, the door opened and in walked the chief, an interpreter, two Indians and four squaws. They helped themselves to chairs in a semi circle before her sofa, then the chief arose and spoke in the Indian tongue for a moment or two, the interpreter standing beside him, and at a pause the interpreter would begin. “He said – Indians very sorry paleface so sick, come to tell ‘Yenunkeawa” so, she is their Gochee, they her Gochee, they hope the Great Spirit will cure her and when the ice melts, and the rivers flow, and the green leaves show and the flowers come ‘Yenunkeaw’ will be well.” This and much more which my aunt cannot now remember and the squaws would bow their heads and utter a guttural assent sounding like “Yah Yah”. She was so taken up with the stately gestures of the Chief Shongo and the musical flow of his language that she lost the matter of the speech, which lasted with the interpretation nearly twenty minutes. Then each of her visitors came up and looked at my grandmother, and she smiled at each (she never knew them to shake hands) and they departed in their customary silent way. In the spring she grew worse and was only able to lie on the couch in her bedroom, and one afternoon her Gochee came noisily into her bedroom alone, looked at her, knelt down before her, and laying one hand on her arm, raised the other to heaven and said “The Great Spirit come to her.” With a few more words in Indian, and rising, walked quietly away. It was really full of solemnity as if commending her soul to God. This strangely beautiful interview was her last with her faithful friends the Indians, though she lived for a few years afterwards. “The Great Spirit” has indeed come to them all since then, and with the old generation has passed the early romance. The bodies of Indians and whites alike were laid to rest in their wilderness home, which they would not recognize transformed into this smiling cultivated landscape that has taken the place of the virgin forest.
But we need not stand by their graves to remember those pioneers whose simple courage and perseverance have made our country what it is, for their memory lives on in our hearts and in our history. Well may we be proud of such and hold their names in veneration, not because of any position or distinction or worldly fame, not because of what they did of which now we reap the benefits, and because of what they were, from which we may take example. If we wish to imitate them let us do so in their character, for that alone will last throughout eternity, when history shall have fulfilled its mission and positions are prefermets shall be seen in their real relations and worldly estates and honors shall have banished forever more away.
We find, in their lives, what made them truly great, was their simplicity, their Christian courtesy to all men of whatever rank or station, their high sense of honor, their spirit of reverence. Do we find these woefully lacking in the youth of our days? Perhaps then the Daughters of the American Revolution may be set to serve a patriotic purpose, while influencing the young to appropriate all that is good and excellent in their time (for we have no reason to say “the former days are better than these,”) not allowing them to forget and urging them to imitate whatever of righteousness of grace and of glory have decked the deeds and lives of the generations that have gone before. And for ourselves, shall we be proud of our descent? Nay, thankful rather, for no merit of our own has placed us where we are. It concerns us so to live in our generation that those that are to come may be able to look back upon and up to us, even as we to those whose memory we delight to honor, for there is a profound meaning in the old French motto “Noblesse Oblige,” which is more often acknowledged than put into practice.
All advantages create obligations and with every additional privilege comes an additional responsibility so as “Daughters of the American Revolution,” we stand here today “the heirs of all the ages, in the foremost files of time,” let us remember that “of those to whom much is given shall much be required.”
This article was cut out of an unknown, undated newspaper and has been kept safe within the archive collection of the Cartherine Schuyler D.A.R. Permission has been given to republish it on this website, with Thanks to the Chapter.