Canasatego and the College

Canasatego and the CollegeAnother passage from the letter I wrote Peter Collinson on May 9, 1753. This contains a story I told more than once. I have added to it the official minutes of the same transaction, which I printed, which are rather different.

The little value Indians set on what we prize so highly under the name of learning appears from a pleasant passage that happened some years since at a treaty between one of our colonies and the Six Nations. When everything had been settled to the satisfaction of both sides, and nothing remained but a mutual exchange of civilities, the English commissioners told the Indians, they had in their country a college for the instruction of youth who were there taught various languages, arts, and sciences; that there was a particular foundation in favor of the Indians to defray the expense of the education of any of their sons who should desire to take the benefit of it. And now if the Indians would accept of the offer, the English would take half a dozen of their brightest lads and bring them up in the best manner.

The Indians after consulting on the proposal replied that it was remembered some of their youths had formerly been educated in that college, but it had been observed that for a long time after they returned to their friends, they were absolutely good for nothing, being neither acquainted with the true methods of killing deer, catching beaver, or surprising an enemy. The proposition however, they looked on as a mark of the kindness and good will of the English to the Indian nations, which merited a grateful return; and therefore if the English gentlemen would send a dozen or two of their children to Onondago, the great Council would take care of their education, bring them up in really what was the best manner, and make men of them.

A TREATY, Held at the town of Lancaster, in Pennsylvania, by … the lieutenant governor of the province [George Thomas], and … the commissioners for the provinces Virginia and Maryland, with the Indians of the Six Nations, in June, 1744. … Printed and sold by B. Franklin, at the new printing office, near the market. MDCCXLIV.

A commissioner from Virginia:

Our friend, [the interpreter] Conrad Weiser, when he is old, will go into the other world, as our fathers have done; our children will then want such a friend to go between them and your children, to reconcile any differences that may happen to arise between them, that, like him, may have the ears and tongues of our children and yours.

The way to have such a friend, is for you to send three or four of your boys to Virginia, where we have a fine house for them to live in, and a man on purpose to teach the children of you, our friends, the religion, language, and customs of the white people. To this place [i.e. the Brafferton School at the College of William and Mary] we kindly invite you to send some of your children, and we promise you they shall have the fame care taken of them, and be instructed in the same manner as our own children, and returned to you again when you please.

Canasatego, speaking for the Six Nations:

You told us … you had a great house provided for the education of youth, and that there were feveral white people and Indians’ children there to learn languages, and to write and read, and invited us to fend some
of our children amongst you, &c.

We must let you know we love our children too well to fend them so great a way, and the Indians are not inclined to give their children learning. We allow it to be good, and we thank you for your invitation, but our customs differing from yours, you will be so good as to excuse us.

[Later the same day, Canasatego made the following remarks, and though they do not regard the subject at hand, I thought them worthy of your notice.]

We have one thing further to say, and that is we heartily recommend union and a good agreement between you our brethren. Never disagree, but preserve a strict friendship for one another, and thereby you as well as we will become the stronger.

Our wise forefathers established union and amity between the Five Nations; this has made us formidable, this has given us great weight and authority with our neighboring nations.

We are a powerful confederacy, and, by your observing the same methods our wise forefathers have taken, you will acquire fresh strength and power; therefore, whatever befalls you, never fall out with one another.