TO THE IROQUOIS SIX NATIONS
the earliest days of the Pilgrims, Anglo-Americans tried
to convert the Indians to the Christian religion. In
1805, a number of Indian chiefs and warriors gathered
at Buffalo Grove in New York at the request of a member
of the Boston Missionary Society. The Seneca chief,
Red Jacket, made this speech. Although it had no bearing
on the drafting of the First Amendment, the speech details
early religious persecution in America.
Lewis Roca Rothgerber
Religious Institutions Group
AND BROTHER: it was the will of the Great Spirit that we
should meet together this day. He orders all things and
has given us a fine day for our council. He has taken his
garment from before the sun, and caused it to shine with
brightness upon us. Our eyes are opened, that we see clearly;
our ears are unstopped, that we have been able to hear distinctly
the words you have spoken. For all these favors we thank
the Great Spirit; and him only.
this council fire was kindled by you. It was at your request
that we came together at this time. We have listened with
attention to what you have said. You requested us to speak
our minds freely. This gives us great joy; for we now consider
that we stand upright before you, and can speak what we
think. All have heard your voice, and all speak to you now
as one man. Our minds are agreed.
you say you want an answer to your talk before you leave
this place. It is right you should have one, as you are
a great distance from home, and we do not wish to detain
you. But we will first look back a little, and tell you
what our fathers have told us, and what we have heard from
the white people.
listen to what we say. There was a time when our forefathers
owned this great island. Their seats extended from the rising
to the setting sun. The Great Spirit had made it for the
use of Indians. He had created the buffalo, the deer, and
other animals for food. He has made the bear and the beaver.
Their skins served us for clothing. He had scattered them
over the country, and taught us how to take them. He had
caused the earth to produce corn for bread. All this He
had done for his red children, because He loved them. If
we had some disputes about our hunting ground, they were
generally settled without the shedding of much blood.
an evil day came upon us. Your forefathers crossed the great
water and landed on this island. Their numbers were small.
They found friends and not enemies. They told us they had
fled from their own country for fear of wicked men, and
had come here to enjoy their religion. They asked for a
small seat. We took pity on them; granted their request;
and they sat down amongst us. We gave them corn and meat;
they gave us poison in return.
white people, brother, had now found our country. Tidings
were carried back, and more came amongst us. Yet we did
not fear them. We took them to be friends. They called us
brothers. We believed them, and gave them a larger seat.
At length their numbers had greatly increased. They wanted
more land; they wanted our country. Our eyes were opened,
and our minds became uneasy. Wars took place. Indians were
hired to fight against Indians, and many of our people were
destroyed. They also brought strong liquor amongst us. It
was strong and powerful, and has slain thousands.
our seats were once large, and yours were small. You have
now become a great people, and we have scarcely a place
left to spread our blankets. You have got our country, but
are not satisfied; you want to force your religion upon
continue to listen. You say that you are sent to instruct
us how to worship the Great Spirit agreeably to his mind,
and, if we do not take hold of the religion which you white
people teach, we shall be unhappy hereafter. You say that
you are right, and we are lost. How do we know this to be
true? We understand that your religion is written in a book.
If it was intended for us as well as you, why has not the
Great Spirit given to us, and not only to us, but why did
He not give to our forefathers, the knowledge of that book,
with the means of understanding it rightly? We only know
what you tell us about it. How shall we know when to believe,
being so often deceived by the white people?
you say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great
Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people
differ so much about it? Why not all agreed, as you can
all read the book?
we do not understand these things. We are told that your
religion was given to your forefathers, and has been handed
down from father to son. We also have a religion, which
was given to our forefathers, and has been handed down to
us, their children. We worship in that way. It teaches us
to be thankful for all the favors we receive; to love each
other, and to be united. We never quarrel about religion.
the Great Spirit has made us all, but He has made a great
difference between his white and red children. He has given
us different complexions and different customs. To you He
has given the arts. To these He has not opened our eyes.
We know these things to be true. Since He has made so great
a difference between us in other things, why may we not
conclude that He has given us a different religion according
to our understanding? The Great Spirit does right. He knows
what is best for his children; we are satisfied.
we do not wish to destroy your religion, or take it from
you. We only want to enjoy our own.
you say you have not come to get our land or our money,
but to enlighten our minds. I will now tell you that I have
been at your meetings, and saw you collect money from the
meeting. I cannot tell what this money was intended for,
but suppose that it was for your minister, and if we should
conform to your way of thinking, perhaps you may want some
we are told that you have been preaching to the white people
in this place. These people are our neighbors. We are acquainted
with them. We will wait a little while, and see what effect
your preaching has upon them. If we find it does them good,
makes them honest, and less disposed to cheat Indians, we
will then consider again of what you have said.
you have now heard our answer to your talk, and this is
all we have to say at present. As we are going to part,
we will come and take you by the hand, and hope the Great
Spirit will protect you on your journey, and return you
safe to your friends.
IV A Library of American Literature 36-38 (Edmund C. Stedman
and Ellen M. Hutchinson eds., 1892).