Cherokee Phoenix

From the Connecticut Observer

Published September, 30, 1829

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From the Connecticut Observer

That our forefathers purchased the lands of the Indians, that they thought themselve obliged, in conscience to do it, because the Indians owned the land, and that they gave a fair price, are points as well settled as almost any in the early history of our country.

1. They purchased the lands of the Indians. Mather says, 'That the English did not claim one foot of ground in the country, till they had fairly purchased it of the natives.' Neale says, 'none of the English were suffered to take an acre of land from the natives without giving them satisfaction for it.' Trumbull says that the planters of Connecticut, 'purchased of the respective Sachems and their Indians, all the lands which they settled excepting the towns of New London, Groton, and Stonington, which were considered as the peculiar seat of the Pequot nation,' and consequently, as properly falling to the English by the right of conquest. 'Indeed, says he, Connecticut planters generally made repeated purchases of the land.' On this point we might add the testimony of Hutchinson -- but it is unnecessary.

2. Our forefathers thought themselves obliged in conscience, to purchase the lands of the Indians, at a fair price, because they were the proper owners of the land. 'Our conscientious forefathers' never supposed 'they had as good a right to occupy the soil of America, as the natives.' This is a matter of record. Belknap says, 'Some of the scattered planters in the Bay Massachusetts, being desirous of making a settlement in the neighborhood of Piscataqua, and following the example of those at Plymouth, who had purchased their lands of the Indians, which they conscientiously thought necessary to give them a just title, procured a general meeting of the Indians.', etc. Hutchinson says, 'The country to which they themselves had removed, was claimed by independent princes. They therefore looked upon themselves obliged, and accordingly, as appeared by their records, actually had purchased, for valuable considerations, not only the soil, but the dominion, the lordship and sovereignty of those princes. Again: 'The first settlers of Massachusetts and Plymouth, were not content with this, [the plea that a small number of families laid claim to a greater part of the globe than they were capable of improving,] but made conscience of paying the natives to their satisfaction, for all parts of the country which were depopulated or deserted, and left without a claim.' There is no such a thing as mistaking this testimony. If it is true, it decides the point at once.

3. Our forefathers gave the Indians a fair price for their lands. This is shown by the authorities quoted above. We will add the testimony of Trumbull. 'In purchasing the lands and making settlements, in a wilderness, the first planters of Connecticut expended great estates. It has been the opinion of the best judges, who have had the most perfect acquaintance with the ancient affairs of the Colony, that many of the adventurers expended more, in making settlements in Connecticut, than all the lands and buildings were worth, after all the improvements which they had made upon them.' He further states that, 'This was the general opinion among men of extensive knowledge, in Massachusetts as well as Connecticut. Governor Hutchinson, in a manuscript which he wrote against the Stamp Act, observed, that land in the New England, at the time of its settlements, was of no value.' The first settlers did much for the Indians, besides direct payment for the lands. 'They suffered them to erect wigwams and to live on the very lands which they had purchased of them; and to cut their firewood on their uninclosed lands, for more than a century after the settlements began.' But we must take all the circumstances of the case into view, before we can judge correctly of the value of the lands, and what would be a fair price. Money was of far greater value than it is now -- there was uncertainty whether the investment would not be utterly lost, as it would have been, had the settlement miscarried, expensive wars were almost certain, before they could be secure in their possessions -- and the prospect that the population would become so dense as to give increased value to the lands, was very remote. When our Government purchase lands of the Indians, far onward towards the setting sun, it is now certain that the population will soon reach them. Not so when our fathers made their contracts for the Indians lands. Yet compare what they gave, in these circumstances, with the price given by our Government for Indian lands, and it will appear that we need not resort to the questionable principle of 'mayhew,' in defending their character. In the year 1821, the Government of the United States, had obtained from the Indians, 192,000,000 acres. The average price per acre, if we have calculated correctly, is just about one cent and a half. For 7,638,400 acres from the Choctaws, the Government paid, if we do not mistake, about two cents and a half per acre. For 50,269,440 acres bought of the Great and Little Osages, or ceded by them in 1818, a permanent annuity is paid by the United States, of $1500, making about half a mill per acre. The Kickakpoos, 'for many millions of some of the best land in the United States,' -- part of it lying on the Wabash -- receive an annuity of $2000. Yet, notwithstanding this low price, we think it has more than once been stated that it would have been better for the country, so far as dollars and cents are concerned, had the money paid for the lands been put out at interest.

At a time when there seems to be a disposition in a part of our countrymen to oppress the Indians, and to get hold of their lands, it is peculiarly desirable that the deeds of our forefathers, should not, through misrepresentation, be made to authorize what they most heartily disapproved.