From  the Port Folio

Mr. Editor,
The late newspaper accounts of the intrigues of that mysterious Indian known by the title of the Prophet of Alleghany, brought to mind the following production.  It was written some years ago and theprincipal circumstances are certainly true.  In the report of the New-York missionary society for 1803, there is particular mention made of the intrigues of this singular person.

The Prophet of the Alleghany

 

In the year 1798 one of the missionaries to the Indians of the North-west, was on his way from the Tuscarora settlement to the Senecas.  Journeying in pious meditation through the forest, a majestic Indian darted from his recesses and arrested his progress.  His hair was somewhat changed with age, and his face marked with the deep furrows of time; but his eye expressed all the fiery vivacity of youthful passion, and his step was that of a warrior in the vigour of manhood.

‘White man of the ocean, whether wanderest thou?’* said the Indian.  ‘I am travelling,’ replied the meek disciple of peace, ‘towards the dwellings of thy brethren, to teach them the knowledge of the only true God, and to lead them to peace and happiness.’  ‘To peace and happiness!’ answered the tall chief, while his eye flashed fire - - ‘Behold the blessing that follow the footsteps of the white man; wherever he comes the nations of the woodlands fade from the eye like the mists of morning.  Once over the wide forests of the surrounding world, our people roamed in peace and freedom, nor ever dreamed of greater happiness, than to hunt the beaver, the bear and the wild deer.  From the farthest extremity of the great deep came the white man armed with thunder and lightning, and weapons still more pernicious.  In war he hunted us like wild beasts, in peace he destroyed us by deadly liquors, or yet more deadly frauds.  Yet a few moons had passed away and whole nations of invincible warriors, and of hunters that fearless swept the forest and the mountain, perished vainly opposing their triumphant invaders; or quietly dwindled into slaves and drunkards and their names withered from the earth.  Retire, dangerous man, leave us all we yet have left, our savage virtues and our gods; and do not in the vain attempt to cultivate a rude and barren soil pluck up the thrifty plants of native growth, that have survived the fostering cares of thy people, and weathered the stormy career of thy pernicious friendship.’  The tall chief darted into the wood, and the good missionary pursued his way with pious resolution.

He preached the only true divinity, and placed before the eyes of the wandering savages the beauties of holiness, the sufferings of the Redeemer, and the sublime glories of the Christian Heaven.  He allured them with the hope of everlasting bliss, and alarmed them with denunciations of an eternity of misery and despair.  The awe struck Indians, roused by these accumulated motives, many of them adopted the precepts of the missionary so far as they could comprehend them; and in the course of eighteen months their devotion became rational, regular, and apparently permanent.

[All at once however, the little church in which the good]  man was wont to pen his fold, [became deserted.]  No votary came as usual to [listen with decent] reverence to the pure doctrines [which they] were there accustomed to hear; and [only a few] solitary idlers were seen of a Sunday [morning] lounging about and casting a wistful yet fearful look at their little peaceful and  now [silent] mansion.

The missionary sought them out, inquired into the cause of this mysterious desertion, and told them of the bitterness of hereafter to those who having once known abandoned the religion of the true God.  The poor Indians shook their heads, and informed him that the Great Spirit was angry at their apostasy, and had sent a prophet from the summit of the Alleghany mountain, to warn them against the admission of new doctrines; that there was to be a great meeting of the old men soon, and that the prophet would there deliver to the people the message with which he was entrusted.  The zealous missionary determined to be present, and to confront the imposter who was known by the appellation of the Prophet of Alleghany.  He accordingly obtained permission of the chiefs to appear at the council, and to reply to the charges that might be brought forward.  The 12th day of June 1802 was the time fixed for the decision of this solemn question, ‘whether the belief of their forefathers, or that of the white man was the true religion?’  The usual council house not being large enough to contain so great an assemblage of people, they met in a valley about eight miles to the westward of the Seneca Lake.  This valey was then embowered under lofty trees; it is surrounded on almost every side with high rugged hills and through it meanders a small river.

It was a scene to call forth every energy of the human heart.  On a smooth level, near the bank of the slow stream, under the shade of a large elm tree sat the chief men of the tribes. - -  Around the circle which they formed, was gathered a crowd of wandering savages, with eager looks seeming to demand the true God at the hands of their wise men.  In the middle of the circle sat the aged and travel worn missionary.  A few grey hairs wandered over his brow, his hands were crossed on his bosom, and as he cast his hope beaming eye to Heaven, he seemed to be calling with pious fervor upon the God of truth to vindicate his own eternal word by the mouth of his servant.

For more than half an hour there was silence in the valley, save the whispering of the trees in the south-wind, and the indistinct murmuring of the river.  Then all at once a sound of astonishment passed through the crowd, and the prophet of the Alleghany, was seen descending one of the hills; with furious and frenzied step, he entered the circle, and waving his hand in token of silence, the missionary saw with wonder, the same tall chief who four years before had crossed him in the Tuscarora forest.  The same panther skin hung over his shoulder, the same tomahawk quivered in his hand, and the same fiery and malignant spirit burned in his red eye.  He addressed the awestruck Indians and the valley rung with his iron voice.

‘Red man of the woods, hear what the Great Spirit says to his children who have forsaken him!

‘Through the wide regions that were once the inheritance of my people, and where for ages they roved as free as the wild winds, resounds the axe of the white men.  The paths of your forefathers are polluted by their steps, and your hunting fields are every day wrested from you by their arts.  Once on the shores of the mighty ocean your fathers were wont to enjoy all the luxuriant delights of the deep.  Now you are exiles in swamps or on barren hills; and the wretched possessions you enjoy by the precarious tenure of the white man’s will. - - The shrill cry of revelry or of war no more is heard on the majestic shores of the Hudson, or the sweet banks of the silver Mohawk.  There where the Indian lived and died free as the air he breathed, and chased the panther and the deer from morn till evening - - even there the Christian slave cultivates the soil in undisturbed possession; and as he whistles behind his plough, turns up the sacred remains of your buried ancestors.  Have ye not heard at evening and sometimes in the dead of night, those mournful and melodious sounds that steal through the deep vallies, or along the mountain sides like the song of echo?  These are the wailings of those spirits whose bones have been turned up by the sacrilegious labours of the white men, and left to the mercy of the rain and the tempest.  They call upon you to avenge them—they adjure you by every motive that can rouse the hearts of the brave, to wake from your long sleep and by returning to these invaders of the grave the long arrears of vengeance, restore again the tired and wandering spirits to their blissful paradise far beyond the blue hills.

These are the blessings you owe to the Christians.  They have driven your fathers from their ancient inheritance - - they have destroyed them with sword and poisonous liquors - - they have dug up their bones and left them to bleach in the wind - - and now they aim at completing your wrongs and insuring your destruction by cheating you into the belief of that divinity, whose very precepts they plead in justification of all the miseries they have heaped upon your race.

‘Hear me, O, deluded people for the last time! - - If you persist in deserting my alters, if still you are determined to listen with fatal credulity to the strange pernicious doctrines of these Christian usurpers - - if you are unalterably devoted to your new gods, and new customs - - if you will be the friend of the white man and the follower of his God - - my wrath shall follow you.  I will dart my arrows of forked lightning among your towns, and send the warring tempests of winter to devour you.  Ye shall become bloated with intemperance, your numbers shall dwindle away until but a few wretched slaves survive, and these shall be driven deeper and deeper into the wild, there to associate with the dastard beasts of the forest, who once fled before the mighty hunters of your tribe.  The spirits of your fathers shall curse you from the shores of that happy island in the great lake where they enjoy an everlasting season of hunting, and chase the wild deer with dogs swifter than the wind.  Lastly, I swear, by the lightning, thunder and the tempest, that in the space of sixty moons, of all the Senecas not one of yourselves or your posterity shall remain on the face of the earth.’

The prophet ended his message which was delivered with the wild eloquence of real or fancied inspiration, and all at once the crowd seemed to be agitated with a savage sentiment of indignation against the good missionary. - - One of the fiercest broke through the circle of old men to dispatch him, but was restrained by their authority.

When this sudden feeling had somewhat subsided, the mild and benevolent apostle obtained permission to speak in behalf of him who had sent him.  Never have I seen a more touching, pathetic figure than this good man.  He seemed past sixty - - his figure tall yet bending - - his face mild, pale, and highly intellectual - - and over his forehead which yet displayed its blue veins, were scattered at solitary distances a few gray hairs.  Though his voice was clear, and his action vigorous, yet there was that in his looks, which seemed to say his pilgrimage was soon to close forever.

With pious fervor, he described to his audience, the glory, power and beneficence of the Creator of the whole universe:  He told them of the pure delights of the Christian  Heaven, and of the never ending tortures of those who rejected the precepts of the Gospel:  He painted in glowing, and fervid colours the filial piety, the patience, the sufferings of the Redeemer, and how he perished on the cross for the sins of the whole human race:  And finally he touched with energetic brevity on the unbounded mercies of the Great Being who thus gave his only begotten Son a sacrifice for the redemption of mankind.

When he had concluded this part of the subject he proceeded to place before his now attentive auditors, the advantages of civilization of learning, science, and a regular system of laws and morality.  He contrasted the wild Indian roaming in the desert in savage independence; now reveling in the blood of enemies, and in his turn the victim of their insatiable vengeance; with peaceful citizen enjoying all the comforts of cultivated life in this happy land, and only bounded in his indulgencies, by those salutary restraints which contribute as well to his own happiness as that of society at large.  He described the husbandman enjoying in the bosom of his family a peaceful independence, undisturbed, by apprehensions of midnight surprise, plunder and assassination; and he finished by a solemn appeal to heaven that his sole motive for coming among them, was the love of the Creator and of his creatures.

As the good missionary closed his appeal, Red Jacket, a Seneca chief of great authority, and the most eloquent of all his nation, rose and enforced the exhortations of the venerable preacher.  He repeated his leading arguments, and with an eloquence truly astonishing in one like him, pleaded the cause of Religion and Humanity.  The ancient council then deliberated for near the space of two hours; after which the oldest man arose and solemnly pronounced the result of their conference.  ‘That the Christian God, was more wise, just, beneficient and powerful, then the Great Spirit, and that the missionary who delivered his precepts, ought to be cherished as their best benefactor - - their guide to future happiness.’

When this decision was pronounced by the venerable old man, and acquiesced in by the people, the rage of the Prophet of Alleghany became terrible.  He started from the ground, seized his tomahawk, and denouncing the speedy vengeance of the Great Spirit on their whole recreant race, darted from the circle with wild impetuosity, and disappeared in the shadow of the forest.

* The Indians at first imagined that the white men originally sprung from the sea, and that they invaded their country because they had none of their own.  They sometimes called them in their songs 'the white foam of the oceon,' and this name is still often applied contemptuously, by the savages of the northwest.  [Footnote part of the original article.]






Steamboat
                    Adventure
Made possible by the Rivers Institute and the
History Department of Hanover College.

 

How to cite this article:  "Prophet of the Alleghany," Western Spy (Cincinnati, Ohio), 2 Mar. 1811, p. 1, available at http://history.hanover.edu/texts/1811.