The American St. Regis Indians
We really don’t know much about the neutral faction at Akwesasne, but the leaders of the American faction are well-documented.
First there was William Gray, a former American soldier that was captured during the American Revolution and adopted by the Indians. He married an Akwesasne woman and became the interpreter for the chiefs. His influence with them afforded him business opportunities. He established Gray’s Mills, where Major Young crossed with his troops, and he was instrumental in the settlement of the mile-square tract at French Mills. It was Gray that guided American forces in their first attempt to take St. Regis. For his efforts, Isaac Leclair captured him and sent him off to Quebec where he died in prison.
Another prominent member of the American faction was Thomas Williams, or Tehoragwanegen. Thomas was the grandson of the “unredeemed captive” Eunice Williams, taken from Deerfield Massachusetts in the early 1700’s. He fought for the British in the American Revolution and eventually became a chief at Kahnawake. By the time the War of 1812 broke out, he had established himself in Akwesasne.
Thomas Williams had a son named Eleazer who took an active part in the war, but to what extent depends on how much stock you put on his claims and his character. According to Williams, he held a colonel’s commission and was the head of the “Secret Corps of Observation,” consisting of Indian rangers who prowled the border regions gathering intelligence. For years it was assumed that his journal for the War of 1812 was fabricated many years later, not only because he took credit for American success at the battle of Plattsburgh, but because he also claimed to be the Lost Dauphin of France.
Keith A. Herkalo, in his recent book September 11, 1814: The Battles at Plattsburgh, found corroboration of Williams’ journal in American military records of the time. Although Herkalo has yet to fully rehabilitate Williams’ reputation—scholars still publish articles about what a fraud he was—Williams made an enormous contribution to history by writing biographies of not only his father, but William Gray and Chief Atiatonharonkwen, which he generously shared with historian Fanklin B. Hough for the history he was writing about New York’s St. Lawrence and Franklin counties. Had he not done so, it is doubtful that we would know anything about these men today.
Hough thanked Williams for his efforts by promising to publish his biography of his father, Thomas. He made good on that with the publication of a limited edition book titled, The Life of Te-ho-ra-gwa-ne-gen, Alias Thomas Williams, A Chief of the Caughnawaga Tribe of Indians, published a year after Eleazer’s 1858 death.
It is a shame that Hough did not produce a similar volume on the life of Chief Atiatonharonkwen, because this might have prevented him for slipping through the cracks of history. Atiatonharonkwen’s life was extraordinary by any measure, and our children are poorer for not being taught about him in school. He is the only person I know of who experienced four North American wars: King George’s War, the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812. This fact alone is worthy of commemoration, but it was his experiences and actions during these wars and throughout his life that led Franklin Hough to hail him as, “unquestionably the greatest man that has ever flourished at St. Regis, among the native population.”