We learned in elementary school that Native Americans shared seeds and agricultural knowledge with pilgrims. Imagine, a pilgrim had never seen corn, squash or beans, the “three sister” plants cultivated and adapted by the first peoples of our continent. Subsequent events, broken land treaties, the Trail of Tears, and the expulsion of the Utes from our beautiful valley, force us to take a closer look at our own stories.
The ancestors of my father John Lawyer arrived in the United States in 1711. Johannes Lawyer and his wife Elisabeth traveled to New York with their five children as refugees from the French Catholic war against the Rhineland Lutherans, the Palatins. Among the surprising twists of history, a contingent of five Mohawk chiefs (part of the Haudenosaunee / Iroquois Confederacy) visiting London with British colonial officials, saw the plight of Palatine refugees living in tents during the cold London winter. The Mohawks gave them several thousand acres along the Schoharie and Hudson rivers. Queen Anne then paid for the German refugees’ way to “her” new colony because she wanted Protestant settlers to cultivate crops to support the armed forces of her empire.
The Lawyer family, who were part of this contingent, after a few years in New York, moved to upstate New York in 1718 and settled in a village, Lawyersville, in the Schoharie Valley in the current Cobleskill. Johannes Lawyer established a general store and traded with the local Haudenosaunee. He traded calico, rum, axes, and other supplies for the beautifully dried deer hides and furs that the Haudenosaunee brought him. Considered a righteous man, he was a surveyor of the city in the region and founded the first Lutheran church. He died in 1762 but his children and grandchildren stayed and established businesses, including a tavern and an inn.
In school, I learned that the Iroquois Confederacy of six tribes, including the Mohawks, had a formal agreement between them which was the basis of our American Constitution. The French gave the name “Iroquois”, meaning “serpent”, to the Haudenosaunee. Perhaps this is because the Haudenosaunee sided primarily with the British in the French and Indian War in the 1850s. The French and the British were vying for control of the Ohio Valley, a true traditional homeland. of the Haundenosaunee. The Europeans wanted to control the rich fur trade. It seems the Haudenosaunee were just trying to preserve their own culture and territory and hoped to side with whoever would treat them best.
Thayendanegea, or Joseph Brant (March 1743 – November 24, 1807). He was born to lead the Wolf Clan in Ohio, but came to New York City as a child with his mother after his father died. He was brought up in close association with the British and Germans in the area and was educated at the Wheelock Indian School of Connecticut, later established as Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He was considered quite bright and kind.
In 1778, the Mohawks joined forces with the British loyalists and attacked and burned much of Cobleskill, including the lawyers’ houses. Thayendanegea (Brant) led the ambush. The lawyers wrote to the American revolutionary forces asking for help and eventually received financial assistance. These complicated twists and turns of history are everywhere in our dealings with Native American peoples. People were on both sides trying to protect their families.
Lawyers have rebuilt themselves and become lawyers, judges, and representatives of state and federal governments. At least one grandson, Lambert, had slaves until New York City ended slavery in 1827. I have read this story over the past tumultuous years and have been saddened to learn that my ancestors owned slaves 200 years ago, grateful to the Haudenosaunee for helping our family and others. with a donation of land and by trade.
Time has shown that the indigenous peoples of this continent did not continue to prosper with the constant influx of European settlers occupying lands that were traditionally indigenous hunting and food grounds.
Since learning about this family history, I began funding a scholarship with equity and social justice for Native Americans and African Americans at Cobleskill State University of New York, where my ancestors were. gained a foothold on the American dream. I feel like I participated in the history and social inequalities of this country simply by being born white and descended from European settlers.
I cry and regret the heartbreak and horror that indigenous peoples and slave descendants have suffered for centuries and hope that if I can get enough money in the scholarship it will fund, to l future, many Native Americans and African Americans to follow their dreams of education. I have five years to upgrade the scholarship to endowment status. Anyone can contribute to the scholarship through the SUNY Cobleskill Education Foundation. The scholarship doesn’t have my name, just Equity and Social Justice # 1449. It is a tax deductible donation and the university sends out receipts.
College Advancement Office
Knapp Room, Room 228
Maybe other readers have looked for a way to support social justice for young people.