THE 1800 WILLIAM CLAUS WAMPUM BELT HISTORY OF RELATIONS WITH OUR BROTHERS
Dr. Robert Venables
June 16, 2012
Chief Irving Powless Jr and Dr. Robert Venables (retired professor of Native American Studies at Cornell) have formed a relationship over the past 30+ years. They would like to share information about the belt returned to the Onondaga’s last week.
The William Claus Wampum Belt was originally longer than the belt returned to Onondaga in June 12, 2012. Originally, the belt also had the date “1800” woven into one end of its beaded design. The belt was described in 1901 by William M. Beauchamp in his classic study, Wampum and Shell Articles Used by the New York Indians. Bulletin of the State of New York, Vol. 8, No. 41. Albany, New York: University of the State of New York, 1901), 462:
A fine recent [that is, neither colonial or pre-white contact] belt, 47 inches long and six [inches] broad, with 18 rows of beads, mostly white. It has three triple diagonal bands of black beads, and letters and figures in black at one end. If this was considered the bottom there would be 1800, and M C beneath. It probably should be reversed and would then be W C 1800. Captain William Claus had then been recently appointed deputy general superintendent of Indian affairs in Canada, and it seems a belt used by him. It resembles the [Canadian Governor John Graves] Simcoe belt in material and construction, and has buckskin thongs. In the terminal fringes are a few blue and white beads, as large as marbles. This is a novel feature.
In 1985, the William Claus Wampum Belt was described in Francis Jennings, William N. Fenton, Mary A. Druke, and David R. Miller, eds., Iroquois Indians: A Documentary History of the Diplomacy of the Six Nations and Their League: Guide to the Microfilm Collection (Woodbridge, Connecticut: Research Publications, 1985), 417. Capitalization is in the original:
William Claus wampum belt. Interlaced with strands of buckskin; fringe made of white and blue round glass beads, ca. [about] 47 in. X 6 in. (18 rows). Belt was probably originally longer than it is now. ONONDAGA HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION, SYRACUSE, N.Y. ACQUIRED AFTER THE DEATH OF MR. ABRAHAM SHOEMAKER’S DAUGHTER. MR. SHOEMAKER, A DESCENDANT OF GEN. HERKIMER HAD HAD POSSESSION OF THE BELT FOR OVER 20 YEARS. [Nicholas Herkimer was the Patriot commander at the Battle of Oriskany, six miles east of Fort Stanwix, on August 6, 1777. Herkimer’s militia army was defeated, and Herkimer later died of his wounds.]
WILLIAM CLAUS (1765-1826)
William Claus served as Canada’s Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs from 1799 to his death in 1826, and the William Claus Belt was given to him in 1800 to honor his new appointment. Throughout his career, he met with many Haudenosaunee delegations, primarily Grand River and other Haudenosaunee living north of the Great Lakes. But Claus also met Haudenosaunee living south of the Great Lakes when these Haudenosaunee traveled into Canada. Thus, in addition receiving diplomatic belts, William Claus had many opportunities to accept wampum belts as gifts. The William Claus belt is undoubtedly one of those gifts, but whether the belt originated north or south of the Great Lakes is unknown.
William Claus was the grandson of Sir William Johnson, the colonial Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern Colonies. William Claus was the son of Sir William Johnson’s daughter, Ann, and her husband Daniel Claus, a trusted interpreter among the Haudenosaunee and a friend of Sir William. In 1777, during the American Revolution, William Claus, at about the age of thirteen, volunteered to serve in the King’s Royal Regiment. While still a teenager, he served with the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant during a 1782 raid on the Mohawk Valley. In 1796, he became the British representative to the Six Nations at Grand River, working from his post at Fort George, Niagara-on-the-Lake – immediately across from Fort Niagara. In 1799, he was appointed Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs for all of Upper Canada (now Ontario Province). During the 1790s and early 1800s, he disagreed with Joseph Brant over Brant’s contention that the Grand River Haudenosaunee could sell land to whites without the Crown’s supervision – meaning without the intervention of the Crown’s representative, William Claus. Claus was active in securing Canadian Haudenosaunee and other Indian nations as British allies during the preparations for the War of 1812 that began in 1807. Claus was also very involved in encouraging the followers of the Shawnee leader Tecumseh to resist United States expansion. These Indians were on both sides of the Great Lakes, and there were many Haudenosaunee on the south side of the Great Lakes as well as the north side of the Lakes who attended his conferences.
One of the most significant policies of the British Crown that was communicated to the Haudenosaunee and other Indian nations by all British agents, including William Claus, was to maintain the continuing validity of the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix. For example, with the support of William Claus, Francis Gore, the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada (now Ontario Province), met with Great Lakes Indians who were followers of Tecumseh. On July 11, 1808, during a meeting at Amherstburg, Upper Canada (now Ontario Province), Lieutenant Governor Gore emphasized that the Crown still held the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix to be “sacred.”
Claus negotiated with Canadian Haudenosaunee and other Indian nations before, during, and after the War of 1812. For example, at Grand River in June 1812, Claus addressed both Grand River Haudenosaunee and a delegation of Haudenosaunee from south of the Great Lakes. A white record of that meeting summarized what Claus said. Claus used the Haudenosaunee symbol the covenant chain: of holding arms or hands together, such as the Onondaga “dehudadnetsháus” meaning “they link arms” and Cayuga “teHonane:tosho:t” meaning “they have joined hands/arms.”
He told all the Indians to take hold of hands and hold fast and stand by the King. The United States talks loud, brags, and has a great mouth.
However, once war broke out between Britain and the United States, Haudenosaunee warriors decided to ally with one side or the other.
Until William Claus died in 1826, he continued in his position as Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs. At the same time, he held many other leadership roles in Canada’s government. In addition to all of his government activities, he was one of Canada’s leaders in the new movement in both Europe and the Americas to improve agriculture. His orchards, vegetable gardens, and flower gardens at Niagara-on-the-Lake became famous.
William Claus brief biography in James Sullivan, et al., eds., The Papers of Sir William Johnson (14 vols.; Albany, New York: University of the State of New York, 1921‑1965), XIII, xii.
Daniel Claus brief biography in James Sullivan, et al., eds., The Papers of Sir William Johnson (14 vols.; Albany, New York: University of the State of New York, 1921‑1965), I, 489 and passim.
Detailed life of William Claus in Robert S. Allen, “William Claus,” entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=2807
1808 Conference on the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix in John Sugden,. Tecumseh: A Life. New York: Henry Holt, 1997), 173. See also J. Leitch Wright, Jr., Britain and the American Frontier, 173-1815 (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1975), 147-149.
Onondaga language reference: Hanni Woodbury, Onondaga-English/English-Onondaga Dictionary (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), 1207.
Cayuga language reference: Francis Jennings, William N. Fenton, Mary A. Druke, and David R. Miller, eds., The History and Culture of Iroquois Diplomacy (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1985), 116.
1812 Grand River Conference: “Iroquois Conference at Grand River,” June 1812, in Charles M. Snyder, ed., Red and White on the New York Frontier: A Struggle for Survival: Insights from the Papers of Erastus Granger, Indian Agent, 1807-1819 (Harrison, New York: Harbor Hill Books, 1978), 47.