"'Free and Open Roads:'

The Treaty of Kahnawake and the Control of Movement over the New York-Canadian Border during the Military Regime, 1760-1761,"

read before the Ottawa Legal History Group, 3 December, 1992.

1.0 INTRODUCTION

-in the late twentieth century, the word "treaty" is generally used to refer to an agreement, like Treaty 3, involving the surrender of land in exchange for some form of payment by the Crown

-the Treaty of Kahnawake, however, was a different kind of treaty, a treaty of alliance

-a treaty that was negotiated between equals, did not entail any loss of autonomy or resources, and involved reciprocal obligations and commitments from both Amerindians and Europeans

-in this Case, between the British and the Seven Nations of Canada

-the Seven Nations of Canada were the Amerindian communities of the St. Lawrence valley

-they formed a loose coalition, whose membership was not precisely defined, but which included the Mohawks of Akwesasne and Kahnawake, the Mohawks, Algonquins and Nipissings of Kanesetake/Oka, the Abenaki of Bécancour and Odanak; the Hurons of Jeune Lorette, and the Onondagas of Oswegatchie.

-of these communities, it was the Kahnawake, who lived in the village where the treaty was negotiated, that were most involved in commercial travel between Montreal and Albany

-I should add at this point that I generally refer to the various groups of Mohawks by the names of their communities, to avoid confusion between people from Akwesasne, Kanesetake, Kahnawake, and the Mohawk valley

-they are, however, all equally Mohawks

-so when I speak of the Kahnawakes, I use this word as a geographical rather than an ethnic designation.

-Using this expression is much the same as referring to Montréalais or Torontonians

-since the seventeenth century, the Seven Nations had been allied to the French

-during the Seven Years' war, they fought alongside the French against the British

-but they did so neither as subordinates nor as auxiliaries

-instead, they fought as independent allies, who waged a parallel war in pursuit of their own objectives

-when they withdrew from the war, the Seven Nations of Canada negotiated the Treaty of Kahnawake with the British

-the terms of this treaty covered a variety of issues which are of considerable historical interest, ranging from the release of prisoners to the formal establishment of alliance between the Seven Nations and the British

-one clause, however, dealt with an issue that is still contested in the courts today, the right of these Amerindians to cross the border between Canada and New York


2.0 BORDERS & BOUNDARIES

-Attempts by colonies and nation states to control movement across this border began in the seventeenth century

-Europeans, might disagree about the location of a boundary

-but they generally accepted the right of colonial and national governments to establish borders and to regulate movement across these frontiers

-Amerindians, on the other hand, were familiar with the concepts of territorial rights, and the right of a group to control movement through its territories

-But in the opinion of the Iroquois, all of the territory between the St. Lawrence and Mohawk Rivers, was Iroquois land,,

-they recognized neither the right of European governments to control movement within this territory nor the overlapping French and British claims to ownership of this land

-and in spite of the European claims, the Iroquois of the six nations and the laurentian valley moved freely throughout most of this territory even at the height of the seven years war

-indeed, most of the region was rarely visited or even unknown to Europeans

-only the major rivers and Lakes were suitable for commercial or military travel

-it was only here, along the Lake Champlain corridor, that the French built forts to attempt to control movement along this waterway

-the Iroquois, who claimed this land, were unable to prevent the French from constructing these forts

-The French, however, were equally unable to prevent free passage over the lake by these Amerindians

-during the French era, the Kahnawake exploited their location at the intersection of two rival mercantilist systems

-they carried freight in both directions over Lake Champlain for New York and Canadian merchants, as well as travelling to Albany to trade on their own account.

-During the Seven Years' war, commercial travel along Lake Champlain came to a halt

-the Kahnawakes, however, would seek to resume this activity after the end of Anglo-French hostilities in 1760


3.0 THE SEVEN YEARS' WAR

-now one of the more persistent myths in Canadian history is that Canada was conquered by the British during the Seven Years' War.

-at best, this is something of a half truth, that distorts as much as it reveals

-certainly the French in North America were defeated by Great Britain

-but to declare that Canada was conquered is to assert that the St. Lawrence valley was exclusively inhabited and controlled by the French

-this was not the case

-at the time of the British occupation, the St. Lawrence valley was divided between Europeans and Amerindians

-each had their own land, their own government, their own laws, and their own external relations

-the French and the Seven Nations had lived side by side since the seventeenth century, but remained distinct and autonomous communities

-the british, in 1760, acknowledged this reality by the different means through which they regulated their relations with the French and the Amerindians of Canada

-In the last years of the Seven Years' War, Great Britain defeated France in north-eastern North America.

-French armies were defeated in the field...

-French towns and forts were besieged and captured...

-French leaders formally surrendered, and ...

-French subjects were compelled to take oaths of allegiance to the British crown.

-the situation of the Seven Nations of Canada in 1760 was quite different.

-These nations were never defeated by the British.

-Nor was their conquest ever contemplated or attempted.

-Instead, British officials worked assiduously in the closing years of the war to persuaded the Seven Nations to renounce their alliance with the French

-Amerindian leaders skillfully deferred making a final commitment until the last days of the war, when it had become apparent that their French allies would suffer defeat.

-These negotiations occurred in two stages.

-on 18 August, 1760, the representatives of the Seven Nations met with Jeffery Amherst, Commander in Chief of the British forces in North America, and William Johnson, Superintendent of Northern Indians

-this meeting took place outside Fort Lévis, on the St. Lawrence river, between Montreal and Lake Ontario, which was then under siege by Amherst's army.

-At this point, the Amerindians agreed only to neutrality relative to the Anglo-French war they received in return general commitments to protection and friendship.

-more specific terms were discussed after the end of the campaign

-following the capitulation of Montreal on 8 September, 1760, a further round of negotiations transformed the relationship between the British and the Seven Nations from amicable neutrality to formal alliance.

-The terms of this alliance were negotiated between representatives of the Seven Nations and William Johnson on 15 and 16 September, at Kahnawake.

-the minutes of this conference were kept by Daniel Claus, who would shortly become the representative of William Johnson and the Indian Department in Canada

-he considered this treaty to be the equivalent for the Amerindians of the articles of capitulation of Montreal for the French, in both established a new relationship between these groups and the British

-It was quite different, of course, in that it involved alliance, not surrender

-it was at the Treaty of Kahnawake that the question of freedom of movement between Montreal and Albany was discussed

-under the terms of the new alliance, the Seven Nations were to be permitted free and unrestricted passage across the New York-Canadian border

-the expression opening a road often appears in treaty records as a metaphor for opening diplomatic relations

-in this case, both parties made it explicit that they meant the physical journey between Montreal and Albany carrying merchandise

-the Seven Nations were to be, in the words of William Johnson, "allowed to come to trade at Albany"

-This commitment was of considerable importance to the Kahnawakes

-their customary commerce between Montreal and Albany had been disrupted by the war.

-moreover, in 1760 and 1761 the St. Lawrence valley suffered severely from wartime shortages

-The Kahnawakes in particular were short of ammunition and provisions that could not be obtained in Canada, but were available in New York

-British willingness to allow the Seven Nations to cross the New York-Canadian border was also significant because the British, after the surrender of Montreal, did not treat the Lake Champlain corridor as a connection between two parts of the British empire, through which people and freight could move without restriction

-the border between Canada and New York was no longer an International frontier, but it was a region where all movement was tightly controlled by the British military authorities

-military permission was required to travel through the region for any purpose

-every person and every cargo passing north or south was stopped by the garrisons of Fort George, Fort Ticonderoga, and Fort Crown Point.

-only those possessed of a pass signed by the Lieutenant Governor of Montreal or the commander in chief was allowed to continue

-smugglers were arrested, and contraband seized

-furthermore, the presence of powerful garrisons in Montreal and New York, and the chain of outposts along Lake Champlain and Lake George, gave the British the power to enforce their policies regarding travel through the region

-the concession of freedom of movement over the New York-Canadian border was thus a significant action, not a mere formality

-with trade between Montreal and Albany now declared to be free and open, the Kahnawakes, long accustomed to taking advantage of price differentials between Canada and New York, might have been expected to seize new opportunities...

-both to once more carry freight for Montreal and Albany merchants, and to provide for their own needs

-in so doing, they would have been following their own long established economic practices

-however, when Kahnawakes attempted to travel to Albany, they found that in practice, the British authorities at Montreal had established dual policies regarding movement along the Lake Champlain corridor

-white, British merchants were encouraged and supported in establishing trade through this area

-the Kahnawakes, on the other hand, were prohibited from making any use of this route


4.0 THE BORDER

-Amherst, in fact, had a definite policy regarding the control of movement along the Lake Champlain corridor and across the New York-Canadian border.

-he planned to encourage commercial traffic between Montreal and Albany along this route.

-the day after the surrender of Montreal, Amherst wrote to the governors of every British colony in North America

-he informed them that shortages of provisions threatened his ability to support a garrison in Canada

-he therefore requested that they publicly announce that there was a ready market for provisions in Canada, and encourage entrepreneurs to take advantage of this opportunity.

-these traders were not only invited to make use of the Lake Champlain corridor, they were subsidized by the army

-in particular, they were provided with military transport

-bateaux and sloops, crewed by soldiers, were made available to british merchants to carry their goods along Lake Champlain

-when winter came and the Lake froze, the merchants were provided with sleighs

-As a result of these measures, along with economic opportunities and the enterprise of individual entrepreneurs, in 1760 and 1761, a flourishing traffic developed between Albany and Montreal.

-Yet at the same time as the army was encouraging and assisting white entrepreneurs to travel between Canada and New York, Thomas Gage, the lieutenant governor of Montreal, had embarked upon a deliberate campaign to eliminate the Kahnawakes from this commerce.

-Gage was not aware of the terms of the treaty of Kahnawake,...

-but as lieutenant governor, he controlled the issue of passes for travel to Albany

-he issued these passes freely to British merchants

-and when the first Kahnawakes applied, through Daniel Claus, for these travel documents, they too received passes signed by Gage

-subsequent requests, however, were rejected by the Lieutenant Governor.

-when questioned, Gage informed Claus that he would not tolerate what he described as "that contraband trade to be carried on as heretofore between the Albany people and caghnaway. Indians which was their only scheme of going down."

-Claus told Gage about the terms of the treaty, but the lieutenant governor remained inflexible

-Gage, acting on his own authority, had thus imposed a ban on all travel across the New York- Canadian border by the Kahnawakes

-The Kahnawake protested to the Indian Department

-Claus informed Johnson that as these Amerindians had been "told and promised that the road of peace & commerce should be free and open for them, they now think it hard to be debarred that liberty."

-Johnson responded by communicating the Kahnawake protests to Amherst, along with his own recommendation that the New York-Canadian border be opened to Amerindians, in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Kahnawake

-Amherst, for his part, immediately ordered Gage to cease to interfere with the movements of the Amerindians of Canada along the Lake Champlain corridor

-he authorized Johnson to assure the Amerindians that:

"whatever promises have been made, they shall be strictly adhered to, and so long as they behave well, they shall have full liberty for a free and open trade."

-Following Amherst's intervention, British restrictions upon travel by Amerindians over the border eased

-in 1762, Claus was able to inform Johnson that he had been told by Kahnawake representatives:

"That as you had made a road of peace & friendship from hence to albany at the first congress with the nations in Canada & lately cleared and mended said road from all obstructions they accordingly expected to make use of it quiet & uninterrupted."



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Copyright © 1992, 2001 D. Peter MacLeod

The bottom center image is a detail from David Rickman, Eastern Woodland Indians, middle of the eighteenth century, Department of National Defence.