Jefferson County Historical Society: Native Americans

The History Center’s 2007―2008 award-winning exhibit, Native American Lifeways in Western Pennsylvania, showed evidence of five cultures that lived in this region centuries ago with conclusions about how they lived.

[Pictured: In 1954, Seneca Indians from New York visited E. M. Parker in Brookville. (JCHS Collection)]

The following article was submitted by Carole Briggs:

We know that the Iroquois Confederation came together sometime between 1450 and 1570AD (or perhaps as early as 900 according to some sources) under the legendary Hiawatha, and know that the five original Indian tribes of the Confederation were the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and the Seneca.

The Seneca were in this area, but four of the five Native American groups depicted in our exhibit predated the formation of the Iroquois Confederation. Who were they? What happened to them? Did they become part of the Confederation when it formed? A recent history of Pennsylvania includes a map showing Native American groups that existed around 1550. They are the Monongahelas to the south; the Eries, Susquehannocks, and Iroquois to the north; and the Munsees, Shenk’s Ferry People, and Lenapes to the east. In our area, the area east of the Allegheny River and south of the Clarion, are the words “Poorly Known Groups.”

The exhibit featured objects from the Allegheny Iroquois Culture (940—1525AD), Mead Island Culture (970—1300AD), Fishbasket Culture (1050—1250AD), Monongahela Culture (1109—1452AD), and McFate Culture (1450—1580AD).

We do know that when Joseph Barnett arrived with his family, there were very few Native Americans in this area. County historian Kate Scott quotes his daughter, “When we came to Port Barnett, in the spring of 1797, there were but two Indian families there. One was Twenty Canoes, and Caturah, which means Tomahawk. The two Hunts were here, but they were alone. Jim Hunt was on banishment for killing his cousin. Captain Hunt and Jim Hunt were cousins. Captain Hunt was an under-chief of the Munsey (sic) tribe. In the fall other Indians came here to hunt. I have forgotten their names, with the exception of two, John Jamieson, who had seven sons, all named John; the other was Crow, he was an Indian in name and in nature. He was feared by both the white and Indians. He was a Mohawk….”

When the colonists or rebels revolted against the British, the tribes of the Iroquois Confederation were told they could choose whom they would follow. Four fought with the British, and two, the Onondagas and Tuscarawas, with the colonists. Captain Joseph Brant, a Native American, led both Iroquois and British soldiers. After the Revolution, many of the Senecas who had fought with the British followed colonial loyalists into Canada, but one group settled around Buffalo, New York.

Might the descendants of those “Poorly Known Groups” have joined these Senecas? Perhaps. Or might they have traveled south and merged with the Monongahelas? Perhaps? Or north to the Mohawks? We do not know. Perhaps future archaeologists will provide the answer.

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To learn more about Jefferson County’s history, visit the Jefferson County Historical Center here.

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