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Gaiänt'wakê, Kaintwakon [1]
Chief Cornplanter, portrait by Frederick Bartoli, 1796
Seneca leader
Succeeded byEdward Cornplanter
Personal details
Bornbetween 1732 and 1746
Canawaugus (now part of Caledonia, New York)
Cornplanter Tract, Pennsylvania
Resting place Corydon, Pennsylvania
RelationsBrother, Half-Town; half-brother, Handsome Lake. Uncle, Guyasutha. Nephew, Governor Blacksnake.
ChildrenHenry Abeele, Edward Cornplanter
ParentsAliquipiso/Gahonnoneh (Seneca), Johannes Abeel (Dutch)
Known forWar chief during the French and Indian War. Fought with British during American Revolutionary War. Known for his diplomacy. Opposed liquor; worked with Quakers to bring farming to the Seneca. His home, the Cornplanter Tract, was flooded by Kinzua Dam.
Nickname(s)John Abeel, John O'Bail

John Abeel III (born between 1732 and 1746–February 18, 1836), [2] known as Gaiänt'wakê (Gyantwachia - ″the planter″) or Kaiiontwa'kon (Kaintwakon - "By What One Plants") in the Seneca language and thus generally known as Cornplanter, was a Dutch-Seneca war chief and diplomat of the Wolf clan. As a chief warrior, Cornplanter fought in the French and Indian War and the American Revolutionary War. In both wars, the Seneca and three other Iroquois nations were allied with the British. After the war Cornplanter led negotiations with the United States and was a signatory of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784). He helped gain Iroquois neutrality during the Northwest Indian War.


In the postwar years, Cornplanter worked to learn more about European-American ways and invited Quakers to establish schools in Seneca territory. Disillusioned by his people's poor reaction to European-American society, he had the schools closed and followed his half-brother Handsome Lake's movement returning to the traditional Seneca way and religion. The United States government granted him about 1500 acres of former Seneca territory in Pennsylvania in 1796 for "him and his heirs forever", which became known as the Cornplanter Tract.

After Cornplanter's lineage died off, the tract was planned by the federal government to be flooded as the site of a man-made reservoir after 1965 by completion of the Kinzua Dam on the Allegheny River. The remains of Cornplanter, his descendants, and an 1866 monument to him were relocated. Most of the remaining residents were forced to relocate to the Allegany Reservation of the federally recognized Seneca Nation of New York; they lost much of their fertile farmland.

Early life

Cornplanter was born between 1732 and 1746 at Canawaugus (now in the Town of Caledonia) on the Genesee River in present-day New York State. He was the son of a Seneca woman, Gah-hon-no-neh (She Who Goes to the River), and a Dutch trader, Johannes "John" Abeel II. [3]

The Dutch had settled in the area generations before, and Cornplanter's father, an Albany fur trader, was part of an established family. The Abeel family name was sometimes Gaelicized to O'Bail and O'Beal or anglicized to Abeele. John Abeel II (1722–1794) was connected to the Schuyler family, leaders in business and politics. The grandfather after whom he was named, Johannes Abeel I (1667-1711), was a trader and merchant who built up links with the indigenous people along his trade routes, and who served as the second mayor of Albany, later the capital of New York. The younger John Abeel was a gunsmith and was gladly accepted into the Indian community to repair their guns.

Cornplanter was raised by his mother among the Seneca. His Seneca name, Gaiänt'wakê (often spelled Gyantwachia), means "the planter," and another variation, Kaintwakon, means "by what one plants." As the Seneca and other Iroquois nations had a matrilineal system of kinship, Cornplanter was considered a member of his mother's clan, the Wolf Clan, which included many leaders in the relations between settlers and Indians, and gained his status from them. [4] Males of the Wolf clan had a traditional function as war chiefs.

War chief

Cornplanter first became known as war chief of the Seneca when they allied with the French against the English during the French and Indian War (part of the Seven Years' War between the European nations). He was present at Braddock's defeat. [5]

During the American Revolution, both Cornplanter and his uncle, Chief Guyasutha, wanted the Iroquois nations to remain neutral.[ citation needed ] He believed the Iroquois should stay out of the white man's war. "War is war," he told other Iroquois. "Death is death. A fight is a hard business."[ citation needed ] Both the British and the American Patriots had urged the Iroquois nations to stay neutral.[ dubious ]

Both sides initially told Indians that there was no need for their involvement. When the fighting between the Colonists and the British heated up, however; both sides tried to recruit the Iroquois as allies. The British offered large amounts of goods, specifically rum and other goods, and built on their long trading relationship. The Iroquois League met together at Oswego in July 1777, to vote on their decision. Although Guysutha and Cornplanter voted for neutrality, when the majority of chiefs voted to side with the British, they both honored the majority decision. Because of the status of the Seneca as war chiefs among the Iroquois, most of the Iroquois Confederacy followed suit. Still, bands often made their own decisions as the people were highly decentralized. The Iroquois named Sayenqueraghta and Cornplanter as war chiefs of the four nations that allied with the British: the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga and Cayuga.

Cornplanter joined forces with the Loyalist Lt. Colonel John Butler and his rangers at the 1778 Battle of Wyoming Valley in present-day Pennsylvania. They killed many settlers and destroyed their properties, in what the rebel Americans called the Wyoming Massacre.

Fighting on the frontier was fierce. Patriot forces under Colonel Thomas Hartley burned the Seneca village of Tioga. In reprisal, Cornplanter and Mohawk war chief Joseph Brant participated in the 1778 Loyalist-Iroquois attacks led by Captain Walter Butler and Butler's Rangers in Cherry Valley, New York. The Americans called these events the Cherry Valley Massacre. During this offensive many unarmed patriot civilians were killed or captured. During this campaign, Cornplanter's men happened to capture his father Johannes Abeel after burning his house. Cornplanter, who had once gone as a young man to see Abeel, recognized him and offered apology. He invited Abeel to return with the Seneca or to go back to his white family. When his father chose the latter, Cornplanter had Seneca warriors accompany him in safety.[ citation needed ]

After the victories of the Loyalist and Iroquois forces, commander-in-chief General George Washington commissioned Major General John Sullivan to invade Six Nation territory throughout New York and destroy Iroquois villages. At the Battle of Newtown, Sullivan defeated Iroquois and British troops. But Sullivan and his army of 5,000 men caused greater damage in their scorched earth campaign. They methodically destroyed Iroquois villages, farms, stored crops and animals between May and September 1779 throughout the Iroquois homeland (upstate and western New York). [6] Cornplanter, along with Brant, Old Smoke, and Lt. Colonel John Butler, fought a desperate delaying action in order to allow the escape of many refugees, both Native and non-Native, who went to Canada. Surviving Iroquois suffered terribly during the following months in what they called "the winter of the deep snow." Many froze or starved to death. Cornplanter and Seneca warriors continued to fight with the British against the Patriots, hoping to expel the colonists from their territory.

Post-Revolutionary War years

With Britain's final defeat in the war, Cornplanter recognized the need for a positive diplomatic relationship with the fledgling government of what the Iroquois called the "Thirteen Fires." He became a negotiator in disputes between the new "Americans" and the Seneca, as well as other indigenous tribes. He was a signatory of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784), although this treaty was never ratified by the Iroquois. He also participated in later meetings with both presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. [4]

After the American Revolution, Native Americans west of the Allegheny Mountains mounted a resistance to the European-American settlers in the Northwest Indian War in Ohio and Indiana, hoping to repulse the Americans. Cornplanter kept the Iroquois neutral in this conflict. In addition, he tried to negotiate with the Shawnee on behalf of the U.S.

In 1790, Cornplanter and his brother Half-Town (also a chief) traveled to Philadelphia to meet with President George Washington and Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Mifflin; they were protesting the current treatment of their people. Cornplanter and Half-Town extracted an agreement from Washington and Mifflin to protect Iroquois land. [7]

Cornplanter made many trips to the cities to strengthen relationships and talk with those who were interested in his people. He tried to learn the ways of the European Americans, as he saw it necessary for future relations between the Haudenosaunee and Americans. He was impressed by the beliefs and practice of the Quakers. He invited them to educate his son and develop schools in Seneca territory. He and his half-brother, the religious leader Handsome Lake, strongly opposed the use of liquor among the Seneca.

During the War of 1812, Cornplanter supported the American cause, convincing his people to do so as well. At one point he offered to bring two hundred warriors to assist the U.S., but his offer was refused.

He allowed Quakers into his village to help the Seneca learn new skills when they could no longer rely on hunting or the fur trade as a way of life. He also encouraged men to join the women working in the fields to help increase their farming economy. Quaker Run was developed as one of the first white settlements in Western New York; it is now abandoned and part of Allegany State Park.

Eventually, Cornplanter became disillusioned with his relationship with the Americans. To help fight the drunkenness and despair suffered by many Indians, his half-brother Handsome Lake preached that the Iroquois must return to the traditional way of life and take part in religious ceremonies. Cornplanter felt his people were poorly treated by the Americans.

He heeded Handsome Lake's prophecy that they should return to tradition and turn away from assimilation to white ways. He burned his military uniform, broke his sword, and destroyed his medals. He closed the schools but did not completely break relations with the Quakers; he retained a relationship of love and respect with them. Cornplanter also occasionally expressed his disdain for white men; upon taking a short ride on the first steamboat to navigate the upper Allegheny River, Cornplanter, while generally impressed with the boat, quipped that "white men will do anything to avoid using their muscles." [8]

Cornplanter Tract

In gratitude for his assistance to the state, the federal government gave Cornplanter a grant of 1,500 acres (6.1 km2) in Pennsylvania in 1796 along the western bank of the Allegheny River (about three miles (5 km) below the southern boundary of New York state), allotting it to him and his heirs "forever". [4] By 1798, 400 Seneca lived on the land, which was called the Cornplanter Tract or Cornplanter Grant (Cayuga: Gyonǫhsade:gęh [9] ). In 1821 Warren County, Pennsylvania tried to force Cornplanter to pay taxes for his land, which he protested on the basis that the land had been "granted" to him by the U.S. government. After much talk, the state finally agreed that the Cornplanter Tract was exempt.


Cornplanter was a younger half-brother to Handsome Lake (Sganyadai:yo, ca. 1735-1815), a Seneca religious leader of the Iroquois. He was uncle to Governor Blacksnake (Thaonawyuthe, ca. 1760-1859), [10] a Seneca war chief. Like Cornplanter, Thaonawyuthe had an exceptionally long life for a man of his times.

Cornplanter married and had children. His son Henry Abeel (spelled Henry Abeele in federal documents) was an interpreter present at the Treaty of Canandaigua negotiations. In the winter of 1790, Cornplanter spent a year in Pennsylvania, during which he attended several Quaker gatherings. He was not converted by these gatherings, but he was impressed enough to send Henry and his other children to the Quaker school the following year. This sparked a continuing relationship between Cornplanter and the Quaker community.

Cornplanter's descendants typically used the last name Abeel (or variants thereof) during his lifetime. By the 20th century they had generally begun using the surname Cornplanter and continued to be prominent members of the Seneca community. Much of the Abeel/Cornplanter family died as a result of the 1918 flu pandemic. [11] Artist Jesse Cornplanter was his last known direct male descendant (1889–1957). [12]

Cornplanter Monument

Cornplanter died on his Tract in 1836. He requested a grave with no marker. In 1866 the State of Pennsylvania installed a monument over his grave, "believed to be first monument erected in honor of a Native American in the United States." [13]

Hon. James Ross Snowden of Philadelphia gave the dedicatory address, saying in part:

He was a dauntless warrior and wisest statesman of his nation, the patriarch of this tribe and the peacemaker of his race. He was a model man from nature’s mould. Truth, temperance, justice and humanity, never had a nobler incarnation or more earnest and consistent advocate then he. As we loved him personally, and revere the nobel, manly character he bore, we erect this tribute to his memory, that those who live after us may know and imitate his virtues. [13]

Relocation of Cornplanter's cemetery after Kinzua Dam construction

In 1965, the new federal Kinzua Dam at Warren, Pennsylvania was completed, soon permanently flooding all but a small corner of the Cornplanter Tract, as it created the Allegheny Reservoir for flood control. [14] Cornplanter's grave was supposedly moved with the Cornplanter Monument, to higher ground, at the Riverview-Corydon Cemetery, located in Elk Township, Warren County, Pennsylvania. [15] [16] "The grounds are located west of the north central Pennsylvania town of Bradford just about 100 yards from the New York state line. The cemetery contains what are believed to be the remains of Cornplanter", and some 300 of his descendants and followers. [17] This property has eroded over the years, threatening the preservation of this important cemetery. The Seneca are reminded of their losses due to this damage. [18] In 2009 the state made plans to try to protect the cemetery. [19] The State of Pennsylvania erected an honorary marker at the site in 1966, after the original Cornplanter Tract was being submerged. [4] Most of the Seneca were relocated to lands in the Allegany Reservation in New York.





  1. 1 2 "Glossary of Seneca Words". Internet Sacred Text Archive.
  2. Abler, Thomas S. Cornplanter: Chief Warrior of the Allegany Senecas (The Iroquois and Their Neighbors). N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
  3. Abler, Thomas. Cornplanter: Chief Warrior of the Allegany Senecas. Syracuse University Press, page 13.
  4. 1 2 3 4 "Chief Cornplanter". Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Retrieved 2010-02-26.
  5. One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain :  Wilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1900). "Cornplanter"  . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography . New York: D. Appleton.
  6. Adamiak, Stanley J. "The 1779 Sullivan Campaign: A Little-Known Offensive Strategic To The War Breaks The Indian Nations' Power" . Retrieved 2006-11-11.
  7. Seneca Chiefs (1 December 1790). "To George Washington from the Seneca Chiefs, 1 December 1790". Letter to George Washington. National Historical Publications and Records Commission of the National Archives . Retrieved 11 September 2018.
  8. "State and Union: River-traffic dreams never realized at Olean Point". Olean Times Herald (May 22, 2016). Retrieved May 22, 2016.
  9. "Cayuga: Our Oral Legacy - Home. Cayuga Digital Dictionary". Archived from the original on 2012-03-26. Retrieved 2012-05-27.
  10. Historic Seneca Leaders
  11. Bulletin of the New York State Museum, 1920. Section: "Death of Chief Edward Cornplanter," pages 104 and 105.
  12. Lester, Patrick D. The Biographical Directory of Native American Painters. Tulsa, OK: SIR Publications, 1995: 125
  13. 1 2 "Cornplanter - Gyantwahia Biography". Seneca Nation of Indians Blog / SNI Archives Dept. Archived from the original on 2013-06-09. Retrieved 2012-09-23.
  14. Wallace, Paul A. W.; Hunter, William A. (1999). Indians in Pennsylvania. Harrisburg, Pa: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. p. 174. ISBN   0-89271-017-9. 'For his many conciliatory acts, Pennsylvania gave him deeds for three tracts of land, only one of which he kept, the Cornplanter Grant, mostly submerged in 1967 by the Kinzua Dam.'
  15. "Cornplanter Cemetery - Warren County, Pennsylvania" . Retrieved 2012-09-23.
  16. "Cemetery Flooded by the Kinzua Dam" . Retrieved 2012-09-23.
  17. Alvin M. Josephy, Jr. (December 1968). "Cornplanter, Can You Swim?". American Heritage Magazine. 20 (1). Retrieved 2012-09-23.
  18. Genaro C. Armas. "Erosion at Seneca cemetery dredge lingering bitterness". News From Indian Country. Retrieved 2012-09-23.
  19. Dean Wells (2009-03-03). "Work on Cornplanter Cemetery set to begin with spring". The Times Observer, Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2012-09-23.
  20. Wallace, Anthony F.C. (1972). The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca . New York: Vintage Books.
  21. "Cornplanter State Forest". Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Retrieved 2012-09-23.
  22. "Cornplanter Medal for Iroquois Research, Tiffany : Lot 456" . Retrieved 2012-09-23.
  23. A Citizens' Wilderness Proposal for Pennsylvania's Allegheny National Forest
  24. "Giving thanks for Chief Cornplanter's legacy - Topix" . Retrieved 2012-09-23.
  25. Chris Lareau (2009-12-17). "Cornplanter, can you swim?". Allegheny Almanac. Archived from the original on 2010-01-16. Retrieved 2012-09-23.
  26. "Center Street Bridge Dedicated as 'Chief Cornplanter Bridge'". The Salamanca Press. 2011-11-10. Retrieved 2012-09-23.
  27. Hoppel, Eric (July 16, 2018). "Cornplanter's Pipe Tomahawk". WMHT (TV). Archived from the original on July 20, 2018. Retrieved July 20, 2018.
  28. "The Return of Cornplanter's Pipe Tomahawk". New York State Museum. June 20, 2018.
  29. Wells, Randy. "Betts recounts life of lesser-known Native American leader". The Indiana Gazette Online. Indiana County, PA. Archived from the original on January 26, 2013. Retrieved September 23, 2012. "Cornplanter is probably the most important of Native Americans, with the possible exception of Joseph Brant," Betts said. Betts is a retired Indiana University of Pennsylvania English professor and author."

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