Cornplanter (c. 1740-1836)

Seneca chief.

Initially advocated Iroquois neutrality in the Revolutionary War; later allied himself with the British and became one of the foremost Iroquois military leaders. Negotiated peace settlements and treaties with Pennsylvania, New York, and the U.S. Congress (1784-97). Led delegations to Congress (1786) and President George Washington (1790-91) to protest American incursions onto Iroquois land. Represented the U.S. government in negotiations with the Ohio Indians (1792).

Son of John Abeel, a Dutch trader, and Gahhononeh, niece of a prominent Seneca chief. Half-brother of the Iroquois chief Handsome Lake. Twice married; several children. Also called Gyantwakia, John Abeel, and John O’Bail.

First letter in correspondence: June 30, 1787; John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography (24 vols., New York, 1999).

Notes: In spite of the notation “To the Cornstalk,” this letter was almost certainly intended for the Seneca chief Cornplanter (c. 1740-1836). The Shawnee chief The Cornstalk (1720-77) had died ten years earlier, and I have found no evidence that any other Indian chief called “The Cornstalk” was active in the 1780s. BF was an old man in 1787; he might easily have confused two similar- sounding names. Alternatively, BF might have been genuinely ignorant of the chief’s name. He had been abroad for most of the period 1764-85 and probably was not very well informed on Indian affairs during his absence.

Biographies of The Cornstalk appear in the DAB and American National Biography.

For additional information about Cornplanter’s representations to Congress in 1786, see Smith, Letters of Delegates, xxiii, 257, 270-2, Pa. Gaz., April 12, 1786, and Papers of the Continental Congress under “Cornplanter” (note that some of the communications listed here were addressed to Cornplanter under his English name, Abeel/O’Bail).

The date of this letter (June 30, 1787) puzzles me. Cornplanter seems to have lodged his protests mainly in the spring (March-May) of 1786, and a reply dated June 1786 would make more sense than one dated June 1787. I skimmed the minutes of the Supreme Executive Council for June 1787 and found that on 21 June 1787 (xv, 229), the SEC ordered that “silver gorgets” engraved with the Pennsylvania coat of arms be sent to chiefs of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Cherokee nations. These sound similar to the “Silver Medal” that BF sent Cornplanter. But there was no explicit reference to Cornplanter, the Seneca, or the Iroquois in the minutes for June 1787.