Treaty of Big Tree

My ancestor William4 (John3, John2, William1) SHEPARD was fortunate in that during his lifetime he partook in three major historical events in the history of our county and helped to affect their outcomes. He was one of the major players in the Revolutionary War, Shay’s Rebellion and the Big Tree Treaty, (which resulted in America’s legal possession of the western half of the State of New York).

The Treaty of Big Tree is not a well known event. I certainly don’t remember learning anything about it in my history classes, but its outcome helped to greatly enhance America’s land holdings and was possibly the incentive for many of my JOHN ancestors continued westward migration through the state of New York, on to Michigan, eventually ending in Wisconsin.

This particular treaty came about because Robert Morris needed money, badly.

Robert Morris was considered, apparently by many, to have been the richest man in America at the time. He had acquired a large majority of his riches by stealing them from the British during the Revolutionary War, although being a privateer during wartime was considered legal theft. His money making schemes after the war were relegated to land speculation, enough so that he ended up losing the majority of his wealth and ended up greatly in debt. This treaty was to be his last ditch effort to pay back those debts and get himself back on his feet again. Due to his ill health and his age he sent his son Thomas in his place to negotiate.

In 1791 Morris had acquired the rights to buy land from the Seneca, from Massachusetts, but the sale was contingent upon clearing the land title from the Senecas. It wasn’t until 1797 that he was ready to open negotiations to do so because he had sold much of the property to a group of Dutch bankers, but could not get his money until he cleared the land title.

After much correspondence with government entities, the date of August 20, 1797 was set for the start of this momentous event. The location, Big Tree, a small indian village, was chosen only because of its convenient location as a meeting place for everyone involved in the negotiations. The meeting place itself was in a large temporary shelter, that had been built for the occasion, in a meadow between Wadsworth’s cabin and a gigantic oak by the river.

A list of instructions was provided by Morris to his son proposing how the negotiations should start. One of the items on the list was: “the business of the treaty may be greatly propelled probably by withholding liquor from the Indians” but, it went on to suggest, “with the promise of its procurement after the treaty was signed.”1 [p18]

To prepare for the event provisions had to be made, and due to the large contingent expected to be at the treaty grounds,  a large herd of cattle, along with a huge amount of supplies needed to be on hand, all of which had to be transported to Big Tree over very bad roads.

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Items in provision list.1[p19]
A large majority of the American negotiators arrived late due to the inclement weather. Among this group was General William Shepard who had been appointed by the state of Massachusetts to represent the commonwealth.1[p20] They were all housed in log cabin that had been built by the Wadsworths.

There were over three thousand Seneca in attendance most of whom were reluctant to give up any more land to the “white man”, but they were looking forward to the “big kettles that would be hung”, that would provide “a feast of fat things”and the free rum. Many were merely curious about this extremely wealthy white man Mr. Morris who was to be there. They had been told he would be handing out many lavish gifts. Also in attendance was one of their leaders, Chief Red Jacket, who was regarded as the greatest orator of the whole six nations, and would be speaking on behalf of the Seneca along with several other notable Seneca chiefs and the Clan Mothers of the nation.

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On the first day Thomas Morris opened the negotiations by speaking first then William Shepard made his address, which went as follows:

     “Brothers, Your brother, the governor, and the executive Council of the state of Massachusetts, desirous that justice should be done to people of every color, and particularly to their brothers of the Seneca nation, have sent me with power to attend this treaty on their behalf.
And I shall make it my business to see that the negotiation between you is carried on upon principles of justice and fairness. Brothers, I am an old man, much accustomed to do public business for the state to which I belong. I have always observed when thus employed, that a spirit of harmony and conciliation was attended with happy effect among us, therefore, brothers, I hope that your mind will be united, And that the voice of one will express the sentiments of all. Brothers, I have now said all that I have to say to you at present. May the Great Spirit take you under his protection, and give wisdom and unanimity to your councils.”1

Over the course of the negotiations Wadsworth was generally in charge of the events of the day, however, on the 10th William Shepard oversaw the negotiations as Wadsworth had become ill and could not attend.

Because the Senecas had been cheated in questionable negotiations in an earlier treaty when they sold most of their land east of the Genesee, they were resolved that this wouldn’t happen again. Many people spoke and debates on both sides were instrumental in the negotiations became stalemated. A break was eventually called. The next day Morris offered more money, but Red Jacket made clear that the Indians had already lost much of their land and no amount of money could make them part with any more. Red Jacket continued to remain a sticking point in the negotiations as the rest of the Senecas listened to his silver-tongued oratory against any land giveaway. Another Chief, Cornplanter, asked Morris to check his Bible to see if the White Man’s Great Spirit directed them to intrude on Indian property.

Discussions stalled again when Red Jacket, and several other chiefs refused to sign the treaty. Morris then tried a new tact, outright bribery, and appealed to the Clan Mothers by promising to give Seneca women 60 cows, and annuities to some of the chiefs. This was a major motivator in ending the negotiations. After over two weeks of, sometimes, heated back and forth negotiations in the end it was bribery that sealed the deal, the treaty was signed September 15, 1797. [link to web page with transcription of treaty]

With the signing of the Treaty of Big Tree, Morris transferred the cleared land title to the Holland Land Company. The final result?

It “opened up the rest of the territory west of the Genesee River for settlement and established ten reservations, perpetual annuities and hunting and fishing rights for the Seneca in Western New York.”2

Now that the negotiations were finally over William Shepard went back home to the comfort of his hearth. Robert Morris died a short time later still poor. His greed led him to make bad speculations, which lost any profit he might have made on this endeavor.

There is much more of interest regarding this event, which I have, of course, heavily edited, including the book “A history of the Treaty of Big Tree…” see link below, which I used as one of my sources.


  1. A history of the treaty of Big Tree, by Livingston County historical society, Genesco, N.Y. [from old catalog]; 1897:Publisher [Dansville, N.Y.] Livingston County historical society.

DNA lessons…


I have a good sized list of blogs that I read to keep up with the field of genealogy. This list includes everything from software programs, research techniques, new databases, the law, even genetics.

One of my favorite blogs helps us genealogists try to understand how using DNA can enhance our family history research. I read it to try and understand what all the genetic testing results mean when it comes to our own genealogical background. Because even though I understand some bits, the whole subject can get confusing and overwhelming, what with yDNA, mtDNA, SNPs, STRs, haplogroups, markers, etc. Recently this blogger posted a link to some videos that were reintroduced to the internet. So I thought I would share them because I thought that they do a pretty good job of helping the beginner understand the basics of what all this DNA stuff means.

I recommend starting with the ‘Inherited DNA and Chromosomes’ list of videos, they are all pretty short only a couple minutes each, but they each do a pretty good job of covering the basics, with images that help the subject stick in one’s brain in any easy to consume manner. Enjoy!

A musical interlude…

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 2.09.11 PMThanks to my very generous nephew-in-law and his musical talents – I have an excellent update I can make to my Albany Burgesses Corps post.

As I mentioned in my little history of the Corps, they had a quick step written for the organization and played it at many a celebration. I approached my niece and her husband, because they do ‘music’, and I have zero musicality – although I am told my voice won’t break eardrums. Troy was finally able to make time in his busy schedule to put this ditty together for everyone’s enjoyment.

Bateaux’s Quick Step

 Of course now I want to know what the steps were to this little piece.

Thomas Cain, still a mystery…

For Christmas last year I took advantage of a sale going on at FTDNA and upgraded my cousin Robert Cain’s DNA results. I upped his yDNA to 111 markers, added the FamilyFinder test, (which will help find cousins), and had some refining marker tests done to suss out more precise information on his haplogroup.

Because Robert passed away a few years ago, his DNA is all we have left of him. And in honor of his memory. and generosity in helping us to find the origins of the CAIN line through DNA, (along with the possibility of his DNA going bad due to time), I wanted to do these tests.

Robert has many yDNA matches, however none of them are less than 5 markers off and none of them are the same surname. So our common ancestor is way, way, way back in time. His updated refined haplogroup designation is:


I added Robert’s yDNA results to the R1b Haplogroup Project a few years ago. Recently one of the group’s administrators provided me with a chart that shows Robert’s new place in this project. All the green cells show how his DNA is being refined until we get to the latest test results. Over time yDNA testing will get even more precise.

What does all this mean? Because the haplogroup R1b is such a huge pool of humans, refining the tests helps group results so that DNA matches are more manageable and more accurate. You can see that none of the group of men with Robert have the same last name. It is assumed that the common ancestor of these men was around about 1100AD, before last names really existed in historical documents. So we know who our CAIN ancestor is, just not his name or where he was from or anything else for that matter, just what his yDNA tells us.

To see the chart more clearly click here.

The FamilyFinder test, which finds cousins and other relatives, I had done on Robert’s DNA so that I could see where our DNA was matching. This also helps when comparing it to other relatives and cousins to see where we are matching on our Smith/Cain/Rosa lines. Here is an example:

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The solid blue/black is Robert, he is the base DNA being compared to. The orange is myself and the light blue is my dad. So you can see what DNA I inherited from the CAIN line that my Dad didn’t, and vice-versa. Ignore the gray bits.

I am not sure how many more tests I will be able to subject Robert’s DNA to, but for now this is a nice improvement on his results. So in a nutshell, we still don’t know the specific origins of Thomas Cain, but we are getting closer.


Nazis and secret bases in Greenland…

During WWII my grandfather Clarence Fredrick4 (Victor Hugo3, Fredrick William2, Ludwig1) John was too old to join as a soldier, being about 45 years of age. However, his expertise in road building, that he acquired working for the Forestry department in CCC camps in Wisconsin, was put to use in Greenland where he helped build runways for the military.

Clarence left his wife and 3 children for about a year to do his part to assist in the cause. Below is his SS Fairfax passenger list entry, after its arrival back in the US, at Boston at the end of December 1943.



During his time in and around Greenland he took, and had taken, many pictures to remember his time there. (Because of all the snow it is difficult to see the details in many of the pictures.) He put together an album of all these pictures so that he would have something to show the students in the Crandon Grade School, when he gave a talk to over 400 students with whom he shared his adventures.



Along with all the wonderful Inuit artifacts that he brought back with him and the stories of all he saw, there is one picture that he took that is important because of its historical military significance:

Photo taken by Clarence.


The mission was boringly named by Germans as the “German Greenland Expedition,” and it wasn’t their first attempt to establish radio stations in Greenland.

The US Navy haunted the coast of Greenland with the purpose of hunting and destroying secret radio and weather bases that were being set-up in various remote locations Greenland by the enemy. And it wasn’t until  many months after this particular event occurred that the US Navy revealed what had happened, for security reasons no doubt.

Early in 1943 this secret base had been discovered, in May it was bombed by Army Air Force planes, and in September it was finally wiped out by a Coast Guard-Army expedition. The Germans occupying the small base had evacuated. But two German soldiers were eventually taken prisoner, one who had been captured and one who stumbled, accidentally, into the hands of the Americans.

The base on an uninhabited small island off the east coast of Greenland, had a small contingent of men from the German Navy. It was discovered by a sledge patrol consisting of Danish hunters who kept an eye on the coast for the US Navy while hunting. The two groups engaged in a battle and two Danes ended up being taken prisoner, another was killed. However, there were survivors who managed to get away and report the discovery to the US soldiers. After the battle the Germans banded together a party and headed north with the intentions of attacking the Danish weather station there. With machine guns under the cover of night, they attacked, but most of the Danes managed to escape.

The German commander attempted to get one of the Danish prisoners to collaborate on a mission up the coast, but at the first opportunity the Dane overpowered the Nazi and after a 40 day trip back, delivered him to the Americans.

Not much was left of the base when the Americans were done bombing it, as can be seen in the pictures. The Germans were pretty persistent and continued making attempts to establish bases, as the Navy encountered several German air patrols and engaged them over the next few months.

Clarence must have been along for the ride when the US soldiers made a trip to the base to make sure it was destroyed. At no time is an exact location given, but it must have been pretty remote for it to take 40 days to get a prisoner back to your allies.

You can read the complete details in the article, which was published in November of 1943. Clarence had a small clipping of the event from another paper in his scrapbook. He didn’t see combat, but he did get to witness an exciting intrigue related to the war. Spies and secret bases oh, my!



A similar base discovery was filmed in 1944, so one can get a feel of what the Navy was doing when they found the bases and how the ships were getting around the frozen ice in the area at the time. While not the 1943 event, it is close enough for horseshoes.