Clinton, Town of Kirkland trace history back to the Oneidas

Published Jun 13, 2018 at 4:00pm

Prior to 1827, when the Town of Kirkland was formed, there were several Native American tribes which traveled through or lived throughout the southern-most region of Oneida County.

The tribe which had the largest impact, in terms of Kirkland history, were the Oneidas. Although the dates are unknown, the Oneidas originally lived by the northern shores of the St. Lawrence River, near Montreal, resettling upon the southern shore of Oneida Lake. After a period of time, the tribe moved south to Stockbridge around 1530. Although the Oneidas retained their residence in Stockbridge, their headquarters were relocated back to Oneida sometime before 1600, on the present site of Oneida Castle.

During the period of the American Revolution, the Rev. Samuel Kirkland, a Presbyterian minister/missionary, became close with Chief Skenandoa of the Oneida tribe. By an act of persuasion, Kirkland more or less aligned the Oneidas with the colonists during the war.

When the Revolutionary War ended, there was a large influx of white settlers into the Mohawk Valley. Daniel Coxe’s patent was granted in 1769, the “sixth division” of which included the Village of Clinton. The first settlers arrived in 1787.

In 1783, a convention of commissioners appointed by Congress informed the Oneidas that the land they had previously laid claim to would be “reserved for their sole use and benefit” because of their “friendship to the United States.” To ensure this promise, the Iroquois Confederacy was asked to Fort Stanwix in 1784 to rectify the treaty. The “line of property” passed through the Town of Kirkland at the foot of College Hill.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, missionaries of various denominations attempted to Christianize the native tribes living in the region with little to no success. In 1766, the Rev. Kirkland established a mission among the Oneidas, a residency which he maintained for the remainder of his life. In 1793, Kirkland founded a seminary on top of College Hill named Hamilton-Oneida Academy, later chartered as Hamilton College. It is well known that the academy admitted Oneida boys as well as white boys.

Kirkland died in 1808, followed by his friend Chief Skenandoa in 1816 at the age of 110. By his request, Skenandoa was buried next to Rev. Kirkland atop College Hill. Between the years of 1822 and 1833, the Oneidas sold what was left of their land in Oneida County. They were, in effect, forced to move to Green Bay, Wis., where they were offered a plot of land by the U.S. federal government.

Another tribe which traveled through Clinton, the Brothertown Tribe, comprised of Narragansetts, Mohegans, Montauks, Pequots, Naticks, and others, derived its name from decentralized tribes from New England, New Jersey and Long Island. To ensure their unfortunate removal, several of the Eastern state governments assisted in collecting these scattered tribes together. Offered sanctuary by the Oneidas, the Brothertown Tribe were noted as occupying the present Town of Marshall northwest of Waterville as early as 1763.

Their central village was located along the Oriskany Creek in modern-day Deansboro, with a portion of their reservation extending into the township of Kirkland. In the year 1821, feeling themselves pressed on all sides by white settlers, the Brothertown Tribe abandoned their land and moved to Green Bay to a tract of land which the Stockbridge Tribe had purchased from the Menominee and Winnebago tribes. Nothing remained of their settlements by the year 1825.

For many years prior to their removal, Thomas Dean, after whom Deansboro was named, was the commissioner of the state to manage their affairs. Members of the Brothertown Tribe were in the habit of visiting the Village of Clinton on the Fourth of July, spending the day shooting bow and arrow with locals.

The Rev. A. D. Gridley himself, an early settler of Clinton, duly noted in his 1874 book, “History of the Town of Kirkland,” that “Probably none will maintain that our dealings with (Native tribes) have in all respects been just and generous…nor can we withhold tears of sympathy over their melancholy fate.”

After being sent to Green Bay, the only thing left behind by the Oneidas was their “great central trail,” a well-beaten foot path handed down by generations for centuries. The path served as a natural line of travel between the Hudson River and Lake Erie.

All the information used to assemble this article came from the Rev. A. D. Gridley’s book, “History of the Town of Kirkland,” first published in 1874.

Michael Schneider, an intern at the Clinton Historical Society, wrote for the Clinton Courier as a student journalist from 2007-09.