December 1971 | Volume 23, Issue 1
In the first years of the eighteenth century Peter Schuyler, mayor of Albany, was friend and protector of the Mohawk Indians. They camped familiarly in his parlor, dined at his table, and called him “Quider,” the Mohawk pronunciation of Peter. They were also lured into supporting Schuyler’s bold plans for the invasion and subjugation of French Canada. For the desultory War of the Spanish Succession, involving France and England, was being waged in Europe and on the high seas. In America it is remembered as Queen Anne’s War. It was marked by indecisive naval expeditions and by bloody border raids, like that against Deerfield, Massachusetts, in 1704.
In 1709 Peter Schuyler supported an invasion of Canada from a base in Albany. The invaders were stopped short of Lake Champlain by the difficulties of forest transport, the countermeasures of the French, and dysentery, the curse of soldiering. Schuyler subsequently concluded that the London Ministry must be persuaded to send massive aid for a properly equipped expedition aiming at the conquest of Canada.
Aware of the uses of picturesque publicity, Schuyler went to England with five Mohawk sachems. The dominant one was Thoyanoguen , commonly known as King Hendrick. He was tall and handsome; his complexion displayed “the shadowed livery of the burnished sun.” He was about thirty, a man of power among his people, an orator and diplomat, and a faithful friend of the English. King Hendrick was accompanied by his brother (or other close relation), John; by one “Brant,” grandfather of the famous Joseph Brant of the Revolutionary War; and by an inconspicuous figure known only by his Indian name, Etowa Caume or E-Tow-Oh-Koam . The fifth sachem died on the voyage and has left no mark on history.
The party sailed in the winter of 1709-10. In London they were handsomely lodged at The Crown and Cushion, in King Street, Covent Garden. Their host, Thomas Arne, an upholsterer and innkeeper, was kind and considerate. The Indians renamed him, in a Mohawk christening ceremony, Cataraqui , after the fort (the French Fort Frontenac) that has become the city of Kingston, Ontario. Sleeping for the first time in beds, they developed “a very great veneration for him who made that engine of repose,” says Dick Steele in the Tatler .
The “Four Kings,” as they were commonly termed, roused a great sensation. A contemporary pamphlet describes them as well shaped and muscular, all within an inch or two of six feet. Their complexions are brown, their hair black and long. “Their visages are very awful and majestick, and their features regular enough, though something of the austere and sullen.” However, their faces are disfigured by art, no doubt to inspire terror. They are generally affable; they “will not refuse a glass of brandy or strong liquors from any hands that offer it. They never sit on chairs or benches, but on their heels, which makes their knees, when they stand upright, bag out before. They feed heartily, and love our English beef before all other victuals.” They prefer English pale ales to the best French wines. Their health is good, as is proper for primitives; they know no gout, dropsy, gravel, or fevers.
Soon after their arrival they were conducted to St. James’s Palace for an audience with Queen Anne. As the court was in mourning for the Prince of Denmark, the Four Kings were dressed in clothes hastily confected by a theatrical costumer—black waistcoats, breeches, and stockings, yellow slippers, and over all a loose scarlet mantle, bound with gold galloon. Their hair was tied up, and they wore caps something like turbans.
They were presented to the Queen by the Duke of Shrewsbury. Their address to her was read. It was a plea for military assistance in conquering Canada and thus rendering the Mohawk secure and peaceful. It asked for missionaries to give instruction in true religion. After the reading the chiefs presented to the Queen several belts of wampum. The speech, with its studied quaintnesses (“As a token of our friendship we hung on the kettle and took up the hatchet. … Messengers crossed the great Water in great Canoes”), betrays the work of a sophisticated hand, no doubt that of Peter Schuyler.
Queen Anne was charmed by the sachems and referred their petition to her Ministry. She engaged them in conversation, through their interpreter, Peter Schuyler’s brother John. The chiefs offered to demonstrate their physical prowess by running down a deer and capturing it without a weapon. (There is no record that they were put to the test.) In return for the gift of wampum the Queen ordered a set of communion plates, with the royal cipher and coat of arms, for a projected Mohawk chapel. (The sacred vessels are now divided between the Mohawk reservations at Brantford, Ontario, and Tyendinaga, near Kingston.) The Archbishop of Canterbury presented to each of the chiefs a Bible nobly bound in Turkey-red leather.
The emissaries were then treated to the sightseeing tour granted to foreign potentates. They watched a review of the Guards in Hyde Park; they visited the Banqueting House and Chapel at Whitehall; they were taken on the Queen’s barge to Greenwich Hospital and the Woolwich Arsenal, where they, unmoved, heard a tremendous saluting cannonade. Equally unmoved, they listened to sermons in the city’s churches. They were guests of honor at a dinner tendered by the Board of Trade and were privately entertained by William Penn at the Taverne du Diable at Charing Cross, a surprising resort for a sober Quaker. They were delighted by a performance of Powell’s Marionettes at Punch’s Theatre; and a presentation of Macbeth was held up by the audience until the manager brought the Kings from their box to sit on the stage. And by the Queen’s order the Dutch artist John Vereist painted their portraits in “native” costume. A ballad was printed, sold, and sung by street-corner balladeers. It tells how one of the Kings, walking in St. James’s Park to take the air, sees troops of handsome ladies fair. Smitten by one lady’s graces, indeed “wrapt in scorching flames of love,” he sends to her a proposal of marriage, together with a gold and diamond ring. She refuses haughtily, since he remains a heathen. The poem ends, however, on a hopeful note. If the King will turn Christian, she will yield to him her hand.
Feted to surfeit and loaded with gifts, the Kings, with Peter Schuyler, sailed for home in May, 1710. Their mission had indeed some important consequences. It encouraged the Court to a more vigorous prosecution of the war against French Canada. It helped to bind the Mohawk to the English side in the century of conflict that was to follow. And it inspired a notable missionary effort. By royal order a combination military stronghold and missionary center was erected in the heart of the Mohawk country. This was Fort Hunter, near Amsterdam, New York.
It is a great pity that none of the envoys’ recollections of their English experiences and impressions, as told around Mohawk campfires, have survived.
King Hendrick remained a powerful and devoted friend of the English, eloquently championing their cause in tribal councils and promoting the Indians’ welfare in dealings with the Albany government. In the French and Indian War Hendrick, though in his mid-seventies, captained a strong force of his people. In the Battle of Lake George, on September 8, 1755, he led his tribesmen against the triumphing French. He was then a fat old gentleman and went mounted into the fray. A conspicuous target, he fell at the first fire. The rage of his followers helped to turn the tide of battle. We are assured that his loss was widely and deeply felt and lamented, even in Great Britain.
His statue, a fine example of commemorative sculpture, stands in the state park at Lake George.
In England the word Mohawk took on an evil connotation, through no fault of the Mohawks. A band of young gentleman rakes, in 1712, called themselves Mohocks. They amused themselves by “scouring the taverns,” smashing the furniture and throwing the waiters out of the windows, “beating the rounds,” i.e., invading the brothels and maltreating the inmates, as well as tossing old market women in blankets and generally making mischief, sometimes sanguinary. If King Hendrick heard this news from London, he must have been sincerely shocked.