First People in the Valley
The earliest inhabitants of this Susquehanna River valley were here more than 400 years ago. A 1614 map drawn by Dutch traders shows the existence of a village spelled Ogehage. Over time- and many different spellings- it became known as Onaquaga, "Place of Wild Grapes" or "Place of Hulled Corn Soup". The evidence of great antiquity in the valley comes from numerous and valuable trinkets and other artifacts unearthed by shovel and plow over the past several centuries.
Onaquaga was on the land of the Oneida Indian, one of the Five Iroquois Nations, whose territory ran north and south through the center of what would become New York State. The main village was several miles south of here at the base of a small mountain on the eastern side of the river. This early Indian crossroads settlement on the well-travelled Susquehanna River was one of the southern-most Iroquois villages and an active place of trade. Historical documents indicate that Sir William Johnson-prior to becoming Britain's Superintendent of Indian Affairs- established a trading post at Onaquaga in about 1739.
Well-worn trails led out from the main village in all directions, including the "Old Warriors Trail" from Onaquaga down to Capouse Meadow (now Scranton). Onaquaga was strategically located at the shortest distance between the Susquehanna River and the Delaware River to the east, broadening its reach and influence in the region.
The Onaquaga Indians of the 18th Century were primarily Oneidas, but by the 1750s the village was described by an observer as a melting pot "where many of the Six Nations who had become disgusted with the politics of their several cantons were in the habit of settling". The Tuscarora came into the valley around 1715 after being driven out of North Carolina and created smaller settlements to the north and south of Onaquaga. Shortly after this they became the Sixth Iroquois Nation.
Missionaries Come into the Valley
In the late 1740s, an effort was made by Christian missionaries from New England to set up a mission station at Onaquaga. Although it did not succeed, young Indians from the village did attend the mission school at Stochbridge, Massachusetts, bringing them to the attention of its head, Rev. Jonathan Edwards, who decided to initiate a second mission to Onaquaga in 1753 led by Rev. Gideon Hawley. His interpreter was Rebecca Kellogg Ashley, who as a young girl had been taken captive during the French and Indian Raid of 1704 at Deerfield, Massachusetts, and sent to a Mohawk settlement in Canada south of Monteal. She did not return to New England for 25 years and in that time acquired an extraordinary knowledge of Indian language that served her well in missionary work. Rebecca remained at Onaquaga after Rev. Hawley left in 1756 and died here the following summer. The Onaquaga Indians called her Wausaunia meaning the bridge-and deeply mourned her death. She is the first known white woman to have lived in this region.
The mission station at Onaquaga lasted 25 years- with the exception of periods of conflict like the French and Indian War- ending in 1777. It became an important and sometimes controversial outpost and was the only permanent mission ever established among the Iroqoius.
Among Christian converts was Peter Agwrondougwas- Good Peter- Chief of the Oneida Indians at Onaquaga in the years leading up to the American Revolution and considered one of the greatest and most revered orators of the Oneida Nation. He was to witness a time of profound importance in the history of Onaquaga. When the Fort Stanwix Treaty Line was laid down in 1768, British Territory and Indian Territory were divided in a way that left Onaquaga on Oneida Land but nearly surrounded by colonial frontier settlements. In this strategic location, Onaquaga would become the hub of the Border Wars just as Colonial America was going to war with England.
A Valley in the Conflict of War
The gathering storm of war was upon Onaquaga bt the summer of 1777. Pro-British Mohawks displaced by the treaty of Stanwix were coming here in great numbers, and although many of the Oneida and Tuscarora at Onaquaga had resolved to remain neutral in the War for Independence, they eventually sided with the rebellious Americans and it is believed many left the valley and went north. The British were very persuasive in getting many Iroquois to take arms against the patriots, particularly along the New York frontier where they were engaged in on-going land use wars with settlers. More important to Onaquaga at the time was the presence of Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant- head of the Iroquois Confederacy during the American Revolution- who washer establishing a base of operations with the British from which the Tories and Indians could conduct raids against patriot settlements.
Joseph Brant was no stranger to Onaquaga. As a young Mohawk of promise from Canajohorie who came to the attention of Sir William Johnson, he was educated at Wheelocks' Indian Charity School in Connecticut (forerunner to Dartmouth College), converted to Christianity, and with an excellent command of Native and English languages, he was to take part in a mission to Onaquaga in 1763. Pontiac's War put an end to the mission, but Brant found himself at Onaquaga in the following year, and in 1765 he married the daughter of an Onaquaga chief. Although this was not his primary home, Brant at one time lived here and described in his own words what it was like: At Oghwaga I owned another farm with a comfortable house of squared logs, a flourishing orchard of Apple, pear and peach trees, fifty acres of cleared land and fifteen to twenty head of live stock. Also I owned a small island in the river on which improvements were begun.
By the summer of 1778, Onaquaga had become infamous for its raids, particularly the Wyoming Valley Massacre led by Loyalist Colonel John Butler. In early September, Governor George Clinton wrote to General George Washington: Anaquaga is a considerable Indian Settlement not far distant from Frontier Settlements and the Pricipal Place for Rendvouz for the Enemy, and I am persuaded unless it can be destroyed & the Enemy thereby obliged to retire further Back into the Country that no force however formidable will be able to protect us ag't their practices.
In late September of 1778, the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment, under the command of Col. William Butler, set out from Fort Defiance in the Schoharie Valley on an expedition against Onaquaga. According to Butler's journal, they reached their destination on October 8th and took Possession of the Town about 11 o'clock at Night without interruption; the Enemy having that day left the Town in the greatest confusion.Of Onaquaga, he wrote It was the finest Indian Town I ever saw; on both sides of the River, there was about 40 good houses, Square logs, Shingles & stone Chimneys, good Floors, glass windows &c.&c. In the absence of Brant and his warriors, who were conducting a raid to the Southeast in the Mamakating Valley, Onaquaga was burned to the ground with no resistance, as were smaller Indian villages along the river. Crops were destroyed, fruit trees cut down and livestock killed. A similar fate awaited the settlement Unadilla a few days later.
The total destruction of his principal bases of operation at Onaquaga and Unidilla was a bitter reality for Joseph Brant and proved to be a turning point in the frontier conflict for both sides. Brant, no longer in position to defend these strongholds and hold onto the ancestral land of his people, went on the offensive and attacked Cherry Valley, exacting a terrible revenge for his losses. He returned to Onaquaga several times more in the following years, but in its ruined state, it was never to be the same. By late summer of 1779, the historic Sullivan-Clinton Expedition was underway. A combined army of some 5,000 Continental soldiers completely destroyed 40 Indian towns in Western New York, effectively ending the Iroquois civilization there and assuring the British no longer had a formidable ally in the People of the Longhouse.
New Beginnings in the Valley
The Revolutionary War came to an end in 1781 with a final peace treaty between the British and Americans following in 1783. A meeting took place at Fort Herkimer in June 1785 to settle the fate of the Onaquaga Valley. Good Peter took part in it, determined to make one last attempt to hold on to the homeland of his people. He reminded Governor Clinton that the Oneida and Tuscarora had remained neutral or sided with the colonists in the war, but in the end he would not prevail. New York purchased large tracts of land west of the Fort Stanwix Line, effectively forcing the remaining Indians at Onaquaga to vacate the land. Within months, the first American settlers were arriving in the valley.
The earliest settlers came from Connecticut; most of them soldiers who fought in the War of Independence. Some migration can be traced back to the missionaries sent here as part of the Indian Mission School from Connecticut and Massachusetts. Still others moved up from the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania. The first to arrive here were John Lamphere and his young family from Watertown Connecticut, in 1785. They settled north of the present Village of Harpursville, and were joined the following year by Lemuel and Nathaniel Badger and Casper Spring. About the same time, John Doolittle and his family settled on Onaquaga land along the west bank of the river in what is now North Windsor. He was followed by David Hotchkiss and his sons, who bought 2,000 acres of land and helped found the present Village of Windsor. Putnam Catlin was among the early inhabitants of Old Oquaga, where his son George Catlin, famous Indian painter, grew up. Most noteworthy of the early settlers was Robert Harpur who retired to his namesake village in 1795 after serving NYS Deputy Secretary of State for 15 years and being granted, for his extraordinary services, more than 15,000 acres of land in what would later become the Town of Colesville.
These settlements along the Susquehanna River collectively known as as Old Oquaga, were the earliest in the recorded history of what would become Broome County. John Doolittle's son David, born in North Windsor in December of 1786, is the first white child to be born in Broome Count.
The earliest pioneers lived under extremely difficult circumstances, coming into a densely-forested wilderness with little more than a covered wagon and a team of horses. They endured severe floods and famines, like the historical "Pumpkin Freshet of 1794" when the Susquehanna River rose much above its usual height and swept away the farm produce from nearly all the fields along its banks, including thousands of pumpkins. A great scarcity of food followed, causing much suffering. Major Josiah Stow took it upon himself to collect a bushel of wheat that all the families in the area had contributed to and proceeded to journey on foot to the nearest gristmill (present day Unadilla) to have it ground into flour. On his return trip, Stow purchased a quarter pound of tea- a rare luxury for these pioneers. A shortcake was made from the flour using bear grease for shortening and teas was steeped in a kettle and served in wooden bowls passed around, but to these stoic people, it was a sumptuous feast - a thanksgiving celebration.
Any ruins or final remains of these original settlements are long gone, but the countryside retains its rural character, making it easy to imagine why both the Onaquaga Indian and the early American pioneer chose this beautiful place to live.