Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory


Marlene Brant Castellano and wampum beltsMarlene Brant Castellano got our summer series of local history talks off to a great start with her examination of the local history of the Bay of Quinte from a Mohawk perspective.

Marlene used reproductions of two famous wampum belts to tell the story of the Mohawk people’s interactions with Europeans, beginning with the treaty represented by the Two-Row Wampum in 1613 with the Dutch. The two purple rows of the belt were intended to show the parallel courses of a European ship and a Haudenosaunee canoe, bound together by friendship, peace and respect. The other belt, the Friendship Belt, represents the Covenant Chain connecting the two peoples: a chain of silver which needs to be regularly polished by both groups in order to maintain its shine.

Marlene got the audience involved from the beginning, with questions about the importance of family roots and stories and what they mean to us. Until recently, formal education in Canada paid little or no attention to native people’s own histories, while the use of native languages was actively repressed for many years. Marlene noted that this has now changed and Indigenous children are now able to connect to their stories and language in a way that people of British descent may have taken for granted in the more Anglo-centric teaching of the past.

The stories associated with wampum belts have endured within these communities for hundreds of years, and Marlene explained that a thorough knowledge of their meaning and importance is a key part of being a chief. A chief, she noted, is an archivist, as well as a leader!

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One of the most prominent Mohawks associated with Deseronto was Dr Oronhyatekha (1841-1907), originally from the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford. He studied at the University of Oxford for a while and trained to become a doctor at the University of Toronto in 1867. He became involved in the Independent Order of Foresters and successfully transformed the finances of the organization. Oronhyatekha married Ellen Hill, a Mohawk from Tyendinaga Reserve. They had a house in Tyendinaga and the doctor also built properties on Foresters’ Island, which is situated in the Bay of Quinte, opposite Deseronto. These included ‘The Wigwam’, his elaborate summer residence; a hotel, and pleasure grounds. The postcard below shows the orphanage on the Island which Oronhyatekha constructed for the Foresters’ Order, and which operated from 1906 to 1907.

Imperial Order of Foresters' orphanage

Imperial Order of Foresters’ orphanage

[Postcard loaned for scanning by R.N. Goodfellow]

Oronhyatekha’s fame overshadows history’s awareness of his Mohawk colleague, Kenwendeshon, who was born in Tyendinaga on April 8th, 1855,  the son of Cornelius Maracle and Nancy Hill (a great-granddaughter of Deserontoyon). We have recently been in contact with a descendant of Kenwendeshon, who has been gathering information about his ancestor from a variety of sources, including the Kanhiote Library and the Legacy Center of Drexel University College of Medicine. He has kindly agreed to let us share the information he has obtained, to allow us cast some more light on this man, the first of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte to graduate from a university.

Kenwendeshon (also known as John C. Maracle) trained as a physician at the Eclectic Medical College of Pennsylvania and American University of Philadelphia (which has an intriguing history of its own), graduating in  1878. One of the items in the possession of Kenwendeshon’s descendant is a 1953 letter from the London Public Library which refers to a diary entry about an incident in 1874, when Kenwendeshon helped to turn the tide of a smallpox epidemic at the Moravian Indian mission at Fairfield (Moraviantown). The date is interesting, as he would only have been 18 at the time, and presumably unqualified: perhaps his association with Oronhyatekha began before he went to Philadelphia. Oronhyatekha had moved from Tyendinaga to London to begin a new practice in 1874, so may well have met the Maracles when he had been working in this area.

UPDATE, 25 May: Professor Michelle A. Hamilton of the University of Western Ontario has informed us that the epidemic was actually in 1879 and that Kenwendeshon left his practice in Syracuse, New York when Oronhyatekha asked for his assistance. Professor Hamilton also provided us with links to a file of digitized correspondence with the Indian Branch of the Department of the Interior held at Library and Archives Canada which details the response to the epidemic. Here is an example of the correspondence: a request from the Chief of the Moravian Indians to allow Dr Oronhyatekha to establish a temporary hospital “to isolate our small pox cases we have had four deaths six other cases local physicians refuse to come on the reserve”.

Telegram from Chief Stonefish, 21 May 1879

Telegram from Chief Stonefish, 21 May, 1879

A report from Oronhyatekha in this correspondence explains the circumstances of Kenwendeshon’s appointment:

…I have also employed a young physician who was formerly a student in my office & who himself has had the small pox to proceed to the reserve and be in constant attendance and to personally supervise the disinfecting of the clothing and houses of those Indians who have had the small pox.

[Professor Hamilton is currently co-writing a biography of Dr. Oronhyatekha with Keith Jamieson. This is going to be published by Dundurn Press in 2014.]

On November 20th, 1879 Kenwendeshon married Julia Hill Thompson in London and the couple had two children: Lillian, born in London in November 1880, and John Albert (Bert), born in Roscommon, Michigan, in August 1882. A note written in 1953 by Bert (reproduced below), suggests that Kenwendeshon worked with Oronhyatekha in London and Stratford before moving to Roscommon.

Note by Bert Maracle about Dr. Kenwendeshon

Note by Bert Maracle about Dr. Kenwendeshon

According to this note, Julia died in Roscommon when Bert was 14 months old (late 1884). We have not been able to track down a death record for her, but the two children were subsequently adopted into two different families, 400 kilometers apart. Lillian went to live with her mother’s two unmarried older sisters, Caroline and Georgina, and her grandmother, Henrietta Thompson, who lived in Queen’s Avenue, London, Ontario. Her brother, Bert, went back to Tyendinaga to live with his aunt, Susan in the household of his grandfather, Cornelius.

Kenwendeshon appears to have continued to working as a doctor  in Michigan: in Roscommon and, later, in Beaverton. He died in Beaverton on September 22, 1899 at the age of 44 and was buried at Christ Church in Tyendinaga. His mentor, Oronhyatekha, died eight years later.

Portrait of a Native American man on silk

This intriguing portrait on a fragment of silk belongs to a descendent of the Portt family who lives in Massachusetts. The six Portt brothers left Ireland in 1819 and settled on lands in Tyendinaga after the first surrender of a large part of the Mohawks’ original territory in 1820. One of the brothers, William, is described in a letter of 1835 as having learnt the Mohawk language. In the 1820s William Portt had been a schoolteacher for the Mohawk people and it seems from correspondence dating from that time that he often acted as a representative for the Mohawks’ interests. One of William’s brothers, John, was a Justice of the Peace, while another, James, served as a sergeant in the Hastings militia and lived to the remarkable age of 94.

The portrait was discovered in the binding of a Portt family photograph album and is only a few inches square and, as you see, very fragile. We don’t know who painted it or the name of the man it depicts, although it seems very likely that the subject is one of the Portts’ Mohawk neighbours. It is possible that this item is over 175 years old: an extremely rare visual record from Tyendinaga in the first half of the nineteenth century that we are thrilled to be able to show here. If you can add anything to our knowledge of the item or have any information about the Portt family that you’d like to share, please leave a comment.

Rev. Creeggan's communion set

In August the Archives was contacted by Avril Sullivan of Cranbrook, British Columbia, who had found an interesting item at a local garage sale. It was a boxed portable communion set engraved with the words “To Rev. J. Creeggan from the Guild Tyendinaga June 26, 1927”. Avril was willing to send the  box back to this area and wanted to know if it would be of value to the Archives.

Alfred Henry Creeggan was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1871 and was ordained as a deacon in the Anglican church in 1894. He was appointed to the Mission of Tyendinaga in 1903 and stayed there until 1927, with the exception of the period between 1914 and 1919, when he served as chaplain for the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War. He was appointed as the Rector of Gananoque in May 1927 and died there on July 16th, 1933. It seems that this set was a gift from the women of the Tyendinaga Guild (now the Mohawk Guild) on his departure from the parish.

Rev. Alfred Henry Creeggan

Photograph of Rev. Creeggan from the Journal of the Provincial Synod, 1919

We do hold some objects like this in the Deseronto Archives: notably some materials from the former Anglican church of St. Mark’s in Deseronto, but generally we collect written and photographic items rather than museum-type objects and our policy is only to collect materials relating to Deseronto. As the connection with the Parish of Tyendinaga was so strong in this case, we contacted The Venerable Bradley D. Smith, the current Rector, to see if the box might be better placed there.

Father Brad was able to explain the ‘J’ in the inscription: the Rector was known as ‘Jack’ when he lived around here. [It should be noted that Creeggan’s son was called Jack – and was also a clergyman, so perhaps the set is connected to him.] He also suggested that as the communion set was still in good condition, it could be used in the parish by those people who are licensed to administer Communion to parishioners who are unable to leave their homes. None of these licensed individuals currently own their own communion sets.

Avril Sullivan, the owner of the set, was delighted with this planned use of Rev. Jack Creeggan’s gift from the Guild and is sending it back to the parish where it was presented to him. Now the only mystery is how it ended up in British Columbia!

Inscription 'To Rev. J. Creeggan from the Guild Tyendinaga, June 26, 1927'

Doors Open, Deseronto Napanee 2011

Heritage buildings and sites throughout Deseronto, Napanee and the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory are going to be opening their doors to the public on May 28th. There’s a Google map of all the properties and you can follow the #DODesNap tag on Twitter for daily updates on the event during May.

As St. Valentine’s Day approaches, Deseronto Archives investigates a love story that began on the Mohawk Reserve (now known as the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory) one hundred years ago.

Tom LongboatOne of the most famous Canadian athletes of 1908 was Tom Longboat, a marathon runner with a string of successful races to his name. He was born in 1887 to Onondaga parents in the Six Nations of the Grand River Indian Reserve.

His first major race victory was at the 1906 Around the Bay Race in Hamilton, Ontario. In 1907 he won the Boston Marathon and the following year he went to London, England, to run in the Olympic Games. Unfortunately he did not manage to complete that marathon, as he collapsed after running 19 miles (30 kilometres) in hot and humid conditions.

Longboat turned professional in November 1908 and it seems to be at about this time that he met Lauretta Maracle, who was described by the New York Times as “an Indian school teacher” at the reserve near Deseronto. The Albuquerque Citizen has an intriguing report about the couple’s courtship (which manages to get Lauretta’s name completely wrong). They planned to marry at Massey Hall in Toronto, after a benefit performance on 28 December 2008. Lauretta was an Anglican and the New York Times noted on 20 December that Tom was to be received into the Anglican Church the next day.

A last-minute snag was reported in the same paper on December 27, under the headline ‘Ban on Longboat Wedding’. The Archbishop of Toronto, Arthur Sweatman, had written to Rev. Alfred H. Creeggan of Deseronto, who was due to conduct the ceremony and told him not to, as he believed that Tom’s conversion was too sudden and therefore unlikely to be sincere. Other Anglican ministers were also prohibited from presiding over the wedding, but the marriage did go ahead, although it is not clear who officiated.

The union between Tom and Lauretta was ill-starred, however, as Tom was reported missing, presumed dead, during the First World War and Lauretta married another man. On Tom’s return she decided to stay with her new husband. Shortly afterwards, Tom also married again, to Martha Silversmith, who was from his own Six Nations reserve.

There are no images of Lauretta available, but this photograph from Library and Archives Canada (C-014095), via the Wikimedia Commons site shows Tom in his prime (although his pose looks far from natural).