Historical Markers
Warren County [Indians] Historical Marker
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Warren County [Indians]

Allegheny National Forest Region


Marker Location:
County Courthouse, 4th Ave. at Market St., Warren

Dedication Date:
March 12, 1981

Behind the Marker

Oil on canvas portrait of Chief Cornplanter.
Cornplanter, by Frederick Bartoli, 1796.
The Iroquois chief knew that the time for war was over. The American Revolution had cost his people dearly, especially in the destruction of their homes and villages by the markerSullivan Campaign. Now it was time to cultivate peace with former enemies and make the adjustments necessary to survive in the post-Revolutionary world.

He traveled to Philadelphia to meet the leaders of the new nation. In a speech to President George Washington, he made clear his intentions: "The Game which the Great Spirit sent into our Country for us to eat is going from us. We thought that he intended that we should till the ground with the Plow, as the White People do. . . . We ask you to teach us to plow and to grind Corn . . . and above all that you will teach our Children to read and write, and our Women to spin and weave." A few years later, Quakers from Philadelphia began sending agents to his community, where they received his permission to establish model schools and farms.
Cornplanter's Seneca Nation release
Cornplanter's Seneca Nation release.

Cornplanter was a distinguished Seneca leader who spent his life embroiled in Indian-white relations along the western Pennsylvania-New York border. As a young warrior, he fought on the British side during the American Revolution, participating in the markerBattle of Wyoming. After the war, he took a conciliatory attitude toward the United States and became one of the Senecas" primary negotiators with the federal government, as well as with New York and Pennsylvania. He attended several of the post-Revolutionary treaties by which Pennsylvania acquired title to the remaining Indian lands within its borders.

In 1791, he received from the Pennsylvania government three land grants on the Allegheny River, just south of the New York border. Cornplanter sold two of these grants to white purchasers, but he made his home on the remaining one, and the small Seneca community there became known as Cornplanter's Town.
In this photograph, an Indian family poses outside a typical home on the Cornplanter Tract in the mid 1900s.
Cornplanter home with family

The post-Revolutionary period was a trying time for Cornplanter's people. The New York Seneca lost their original homelands in the Genesee Valley and moved to reservations at the western edge of the state or into Canada. Cornplanter's half-brother, Handsome Lake, experienced several visions that led him to preach a nativist religious message to Iroquois living in western Pennsylvania and New York, encouraging them to reject white ways. The "Code of Handsome Lake" is still practiced by some Iroquois today.
Chester Redeye, a resident of the Cornplanter Tract, circa 1950.
Chester Redeye, a resident of the Cornplanter Tract, Warren County, PA, circa...

Cornplanter took a different approach, believing that the survival of the Seneca rested on accommodating themselves to their more populous white neighbors. He encouraged Seneca men to adopt European-style farming and animal husbandry and Seneca women to learn spinning and weaving.

After Cornplanter died in 1836, the title to the Cornplanter Tract passed to his heirs. Although this land was never officially recognized by the state of Pennsylvania as an Indian reservation, for more than 150 years it served that purpose, the site of the only self-governing Indian community within the state. The Cornplanter Seneca maintained their cultural and kinship ties to the larger Seneca population in New York.

In 1959, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began construction of the Kinzua Dam, a hydroelectric power facility, downriver on the Allegheny from the Cornplanter Tract. The Seneca objected to the dam because they knew it would flood some of their homes and property, but the federal government proceeded with the project and provided relocation assistance for those people who would be displaced. Altogether, about 550 Seneca lost their homes, including those living on the Cornplanter Tract. Most resettled on other Seneca lands in western New York. The Cornplanter Seneca and their New York kin considered the Kinzua Dam a violation of treaty rights conferred to them during the Revolutionary era, and it remains a sore spot in Seneca relations with the federal government to this day.
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