The Seneca Indians and the Four Flags

               When you look at a map of Warren County, you see a square of land, laying in Northwestern Pennsylvania just below the state of New York, and not far east of Ohio. Today, businesses, factories, farms, and towns dot the countryside. However, before this land was ever part of the United States, people lived, worked, and played here.

               Different groups of Native Americans had been making homes and raising their families in this area generations before white settlers arrived. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Seneca Indians were one of the most important groups of Native Americans in this area. The Seneca Indians were a powerful tribe whose land extended from the upper Allegheny River (where Warren sits today), north to Lake Ontario. Much of this land is now Western New York.

               The Seneca had their own government, laws, religion, and communities, but they were also a part of a larger group called the Iroquois Confederacy. Six different Indian Nations made up the Iroquois Confederacy, similar to the way the fifty states make up the United States. The other five were the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Cayuga, the Onondaga, and the Tuscarora. The Iroquois Confederacy helped these nations to keep peace amongst themselves and sometimes to unite them when dealing with outsiders.

               In the eighteenth century, England and France, both of whom had colonies in America, traded with the Seneca and other Indian tribes in this area. France and England did not like each other. They both wanted power in America. As their influence expanded, their disagreements increased and became more violent.

               In 1749, the French king, fearing the increasing strength of the English, sent an expedition led by Captain Celeron through “the Ohio country,” (an area which included present Warren County) to claim it for France, and to scare the English away. Celeron buried lead plates throughout his expedition. These plates claimed the land for the King of France. One plate was buried in Warren where the Conewango Creek meets the Allegheny River. A number of the plates that Celeron buried have been found, but no one knows what happened to the plate he buried right here in Warren.

               Eventually, France and England went to war over all of their disagreements. They fought both in Europe and in America. In America, the war was called the French and Indian War. England won.

               England did not enjoy its power in America for very long. At the end of the eighteenth century, England’s own colonies rebelled, and eventually founded their own country, the United States of America. This war was called the American Revolution, and England lost.

               Although both England and the new Revolutionary government asked the Seneca and other Indian tribes to stay out of the fight during the American Revolution, the Seneca found it very difficult to do so. The English promised the Seneca good trade agreements and gave them presents for their cooperation. The colonists, on the other hand, were suspicious of the Seneca and stopped them from traveling freely across the colonies. These acts insulted and angered the Seneca, who felt threatened both by the constant growth of the colonies and the land hunger of the colonists. Eventually, most of the Seneca chose to fight on the side of the English.

               One of the most important Seneca warriors at this time was named Cornplanter. Cornplanter was half-Seneca, half-Dutch, but he had been raised as a Seneca. He was both feared and admired for his skills in battle.

               After the Revolutionary War was over and England lost, the Seneca were in a very difficult position. When Cornplanter realized that the English were not going to keep their promises to the Seneca, he decided to try to make peace with the new United States government rather than continue fighting.

               In a series of treaties following the war, the Seneca lost much of their homeland, including what was soon to become Warren County. The Seneca were moved to smaller pieces of land set aside for them by the United States government, called reservations. Cornplanter signed and spoke at many of these treaty meetings, and even traveled to Philadelphia and met with George Washington, the first President of the United States.

               For his aid and loyalty to the United States, the Pennsylvania General Assembly gave Cornplanter several pieces of land. The piece of land Cornplanter kept was located in eastern Warren County. He built a village on this land and lived there with his friends and family. Called the Cornplanter Grant, this land was not a reservation but land which belonged only to Cornplanter and his descendants. In 1836, Cornplanter died on his land in Warren County, and a large monument was placed in the cemetery by the Pennsylvania legislature to remember him.

               Today, four flags fly at Heritage Point in Crescent Park: the Seneca flag, the French flag, the English flag, and the flag of the United States. The flags represent each nation which once laid claim to this land.


Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society