Watching the final scene in the film based on James Fennimore Cooper’s gripping novel , I wondered ‘ were the Mohawk indians really gone without a trace ? ‘. As a boy , I had read about the famous fighting skills of this most successful of the red Indian tribes in the Iroquois confederacy . I knew that their territory was the north-eastern part of the United States, and that they expanded by crossing the Niagara river into southern Ontario. And that the Mohawk river – largest tributary of the Hudson river – flowed through some of the most beautiful country in the northern United States . And then one day , I found myself right in the middle of their land. This is how it happened ….
The Mohawks had a settlement on the south side of the river , which they called Ska-Nektadi (meaning ‘ beyond the pines ‘ ). It was to this location (bearing the name Schenectady since 1661) that the great inventor Thomas Alva Edison moved his Edison Machine Works eight years after inventing the light bulb. That was in 1887. The facility went on to become the General Electric Company . In 1996 I showed up to see what I could salvage from the equipment being jettisoned by GE in its on-going renovation program. I could use it in my company’s manufacturing facilities in India.
I was housed in the earliest trading post of the region , once the property of an agent – Alexander Glen – of the Dutch West India company . In 1658 this scotsman was the first to build a modest structure on the north bank of the mohawk river, to trade with the indian tribes of the Iroquois confederacy : Mohawk , Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca. That was brave of him! Braver still was the shipment of thousands of beaver pelts annually down the Hudson river through Indian territory to New Amsterdam ( now New York ) for export to Holland .
While the structure of the original trading post has been considerably expanded and modernized to form the imposing Glen Sanders mansion, much of the original setting has been retained, to the delight of aficionados like me . I was shown the steep dutch staircase in the Riverside hallway where a notch on the handrail bore testimony to the power of a tomahawk thrown by an Oneida indian in a fight with another. I believe that this was during the residency of Debra Glen – great grand-daughter of Alexander Glen – in the mid 1740’s. I was shown the carefully restored east cellar under the dining room , and wondered whether the name ‘Maqua room’ was inspired by the principal character of Cooper’s novel. I gazed on the Adirondack mountain range where the final battle in Cooper’s story was fought , and where the huron Maqua met his end .
Seated in the covered patio adjoining the Riverside Hallway ,and gazing across the Mohawk river towards the isle of the Mohawks ( one of the many isles on the river ), I was enchanted by the thick vegetation and pines on the banks. In my mind’s eye I could almost see the Indians arriving in their canoes to trade beaver pelts for guns , ammunition and other requirements. I found it difficult to reconcile the peaceful scene with the massacres that the indian tribes regularly engaged in, in this region and beyond, some 300-350 years earlier . I was told that one winter night in February 1690, Sault and Algonquin Indians, along with their french mentors attacked the stockade at Schenectady and massacred 60 english men, women and children and some of their Mohawk allies .
A few years later I had work in the town of Barrie on the western edge of Lake Simcoe in Ontario, Canada . To the north-west was the Georgian Bay and lake Huron . The Mohawks were here too ! I was told that the beautiful country between these lakes was once Huron territory. And that one terrible day in March 1649, when snow still lay thick on the ground, two thousand Mohawk and Seneca warriors crossed the frozen Niagara river, descended on the Huron villages ( called Kanata ), and scattered the Hurons for all time to come. Though wiped out, to me the Hurons appeared to be still present in this part of the country now called Canada.
The Mohawks were also there – in presence and in spirit . Not only in this region but also in the entire north-eastern United States. Though times have changed, I felt certain that we have not seen the last of the Mohicans. Not yet….
( The writer of this blog soon returned to his native country to find that exciting new on-going excavations there were throwing light on the adventurers and traders that were visiting the shores of India many, many centuries before the Dutch , French and English did . Their story is the subject of my next blog . Stay posted ).