Thursday, November 27, 2014

NOVEMBER 27, 1814

200 years ago today there was no formal recognition of Thanksgiving as a holiday in the Indiana Territory. November 26 was the date that George Washington had recommended be a national day of "thanksgiving and prayer" in a proclamation issued in 1795.  The text of this proclamation is found at the following link.  Many of the New England colonies had a tradition of a Thanksgiving holiday.  Some of the states followed the lead of President Washington in recognizing a special day for Thanksgiving. The date kept migrating around the early American calendar.  President James Madison declared on November 16, 1814 that the day of Thanksgiving was to be January 12, 1815. Thanksgiving as we celebrate it today was not a national holiday until President Lincoln proclaimed in 1863 that the last Thursday of November should be the holiday.  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made it the 4th Thursday of November in 1941 although Texas held out for the last Thursday of November until 1956.

200 years ago in Washington County, Indiana Territory, the traditional roles of the Pilgrims and the Indians for the first Thanksgiving were reversed.  History records that the Plymouth Colony had a difficult first year and that the next year's harvest at least met basic levels of sustenance with the aid of the Wampanoag Indians who trained the Pilgrims in various agricultural methods. After the fall harvest, the Pilgrims invited the Wampanoags to a feast of Thanksgiving in recognition of their assistance in assuring the colony's survival.  In November of 1814, Captain James Bigger of the Indiana Militia was stationed near Vincennes.  On November 22 a group of 20 Delaware Indian men led by Negomin came to Vincennes seeking food and supplies as their families were in a state of destitution. Captain Bigger gave them some salt and other necessities from the militia storehouse.  He then ordered them to go to Sand Creek where it joins the Driftwood Fork of White River to await further relief.  The Sand Creek site was where the local militia led by Henry Dawalt had a skirmish with Indians after the Pigeon Roost Massacre which resulted in the death of John Zink. This location was in the extreme northeast corner of Washington County as its boundaries existed in 1814 about 10 miles from Vallonia and remote from any settled land in Washington, Clark and Jefferson Counties.
Captain Bigger who was Clark County settler immediately consulted Judge Benjamin Parke who was a resident of Vincennes and had been active in negotiating Indian treaties for the US government in recent years,  Parke was familiar with Negomin as he was one of the Delaware leaders who had "touched the quill" to indicate his signature on the Greenville Treaty signed on July 22, 1814.  Judge Parke suggested that Captain Bigger immediately send a dispatch by courier to Governor Thomas Posey at his home in Jeffersonville to apprise him of the circumstances of Negomin and his group of Lenni Lenape.  Governor Posey received the dispatch on November 26 and sent a letter to Secretary of War James Monroe for authority to name an agent to assess the needs of the Indians and to then provide them with appropriate assistance.  Toussaint DuBois who was a fur trader and militia member in Vincennes was asked by Posey to assume this duty but he declined as he could not read or write.  He agreed to act jointly with Judge Parke if the latter would do all of the paperwork required for this government commission.

DuBois and Parke visited the Sand Creek encampment and verified the extreme state of need of Negomin and his band.  The Delaware/Lenni Lenape had been friendly to the American incursion into the Indiana Territory.  Consequently, they were not trusted by some other tribes who had allied with the British in the frontier campaign of the War of  1812 while not being entirely trusted by the average American settler either. After the Pigeon Roost massacre of September 1812, Governor Harrison had ordered the Delaware/Lenni Lenape Indians in this area removed to the Indian Agency at Piqua, Ohio for their general safety.  After Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of Thames in October of 1813, the threat of a multi-tribe alliance with the British no longer existed.  The Delaware Indians who had previously lived in the Indiana Territory were released from the Piqua agency and left to fend for themselves with their former trade networks fragmented.  With more and more settlers competing with them for hunting and gathering resources, they quickly fell into an impoverished condition,

Parke and DuBois determined that the immediate need of the Delaware was warm clothing and a gunsmith to repair their dilapidated firearms. Once their firearms were repaired, then the Delaware could hunt more to provide meat, fur and hides for their own needs and to trade for tools, domestic goods and clothing. Parke and DuBois talked to Indiana Militia leaders and several settlers about any safety concerns they may have about arming these Indians and found no general concerns about frontier security,  This was reported to Governor Posey who then wrote again to Secretary of War Monroe seeking authority for the recommended relief.  Governor Posey specifically asked Monroe to review this matter of concern with President Madison.  Monroe eventually authorized the appropriation of funds to provide some limited relief including contracting with gunsmiths to work on the guns of these Delaware encamped in the northeast corner of Washington County, Indiana Territory in the winter of 1814/1815.

One wonders what Delaney [see post of August 17] thought about all of this as he continued to subsist in the Knobs and valley named after him. Whether any of the remnants of the Delaware bands of Old Ox and Highland were part of the Sand Creek encampment is not known. In less than 10 years, the Delaware/Lenni Lenape who had settled in the uplands and glacial till plains north of the Ohio River and had lived off of the abundance provided by the Blue River and the Driftwood/Muscatatuck River basins had become wards of the United States government.

                                         FIRST THANKSGIVING AT PLYMOUTH, MA

                                                INDIANS AT TRADING POST

                            SAND CREEK/DRIFTWOOD ENCAMPMENT NOVEMBER 1814

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