Teach PA History
Cornplanter and the Fate of His Land
What to Know
Teaching Time
2 50-minute sessions
Grade Level
Middle School
  • Arts and Humanities
  • Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
  • Geography
  • History
Historical Period
  • Colonization and Settlement - 1601-1760
  • New Nation - 1761-1800
  • Post-WWII Pennsylvania - 1946-1974
  • Contemporary Pennsylvania - 1975 to Present
In 1796–the year Frederick Bartoli completed the portrait of Chief Cornplanter which your students will interpret in this lesson–Chief Cornplanter was at the height of his influence with the Seneca and with the new United States of America. He had fought with the British in the recently ended American Revolutionary War and had proven himself a strong war chief in several battles. The Seneca, however, as allies with the British, had lost the war. The British had negotiated a separate peace with the new nation, the United States of America, and made no provision for their Native American allies. As one of the chief negotiators, Cornplanter believed that the Seneca must make peace at any cost. During these negotiations, the first of which was the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784, the Seneca were forced to concede vast amounts of their native lands to the Americans to secure a lasting peace. The Americans respected Cornplanter for his honesty, principles, and ability as a negotiator. He made many personal allies including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Mifflin. He would later be rewarded with land in Pennsylvania that was to remain in his family for "perpetuity." As time unfolded, however, this was not to be. Cornplanter's land, located in the Allegheny Valley near the Pennsylvania/New York state line, became the subject of a controversial land rights court case in the late 1950s when the United States Army Corps of Engineers made plans to build a dam downriver for flood control. This dam would effectively flood 10,000 acres of Cornplanter's land and force the relocation of 550 Seneca families. In a Supreme Court ruling, the Army Corps of Engineers was given permission to go ahead with the project based on "the right of eminent domain." The Seneca relocated to New York and the Kinzua Dam is now a presence in the Allegheny Valley, providing flood control, hydroelectricity, and recreation. In this lesson your students are going to explore the following questions: • Who is Cornplanter? • Why was he given a tract of land? • Where was this land? • What happened to the land? • To what extent did the Supreme Court decision provide justice?


Students will be able to: 1. Interpret Cornplanter through a work of art. 2. Understand Cornplanter's contribution to Pennsylvania history. 3. Locate Cornplanter's tract of land. 4. Comprehend different perspectives of the controversial building of the Kinzua Dam (and through this example, larger land/water rights issues). 5. Use primary sources to effectively argue a perspective. 6. Work cooperatively as a group to prepare debate points. 7. Decide which perspective with which they were persuaded to agree.

Standards Alignment

  • Arts and Humanities

    9.2.8. A. Explain the historical, cultural, and social context of an individual work in the arts.
    9.2.8. D. Analyze a work of art from its historical and cultural perspective.

  • Geography

    7.1.6. B. Describe and locate places and regions.
    7.3.6.B. Describe the human characteristics of places and regions by their cultural characteristics.
    7.4.6. A. Describe the impacts of physical systems on people

  • History

    8.1.6. B. Explain and analyze historical sources.
    8.2.6. A. Identifies political and cultural contributions of individuals to Pennsylvania history
    8.2.6. B. Identify and explain primary documents, material artifacts and historic sites important in Pennsylvania history from Beginnings to 1824
    8.2.6. C. Identify how continuity and change have influenced settlement patterns (e.g. Development of towns)
    8.2.6 D. Identifies conflicts and cooperation among social groups and organizations in Pennsylvania history from beginnings to 1824
    8.3.6. A. Identify and explain the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to United States history from Beginnings to 1824
    8.3.6. B. Identify and explain primary documents, material artifacts and historic sites important in United States history from Beginnings to 1824.
    8.3.6. C. Explain how continuity and change has influenced United States history.
    8.3.6. D. Identify conflict and cooperation among groups.

  • Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening

    1.1.8. D. Identify basic facts and ideas in text using specific strategies.
    1.1.8.G. Demonstrate after reading understanding and interpretation of both fiction and nonfiction text, including public documents.
    1.2.8.A. Read and understand essential content of informational texts and documents in all academic areas.
    1.6.8. A. Listen to others.
    1.6.8. C. Speak using skills appropriate to formal speech situations.
    1.6.8. D. Contribute to discussions.
    1.6.8. E. Participate in small and large group discussions and presentations.

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