Red Jacket – Native American


Red Jacket (known as Otetiani in his youth and Sagoyewatha (Keeper Awake) Sa-go-ye-wa-tha because of his oratorical skills) (c. 1750–January 20, 1830) was a Native American Seneca orator and chief of the Wolf clan. He negotiated on behalf of his nation with the new United States after the American Revolutionary War, when the Seneca as British allies were forced to cede much land, and signed the Treaty of Canandaigua (1794). He helped secure some Seneca territory in New York state, although most of the people had migrated to Canada for resettlement after the defeat of the British.

His talk on “Religion for the White Man and the Red” (1805) has been preserved as an example of his great oratorical style.


Red Jacket’s birthplace has long been a matter of debate. Some historians claim he was born at the Old Seneca Castle near present-day Geneva, New York, near the foot of Seneca Lake. Others believe he was born near Cayuga Lake and present-day Canoga, while others place his birth south of Branchport, on Keuka Lake near the mouth of Basswood Creek. It is known that he spent much of his youth at Basswood Creek, and his mother was buried there after her death. He was born into his mother’s Wolf Clan, as the Iroquois had a matrilineal system of kinship and descent. He took his social status from her clan.

Red Jacket lived much of his adult life in Seneca territory in the Genesee River Valley. In the later years of his life Red Jacket returned to Canada for a short period of time. He and the Mohawk chief Joseph Brant were bitter enemies and rivals, although they often met together at the Iroquois Confederacy’s Longhouse. During the American Revolutionary War, when both Iroquois nations were allies of the British, Brant contemptuously referred to Red Jacket as “cow killer”, alleging that at the Battle of Newtown in 1779, Red Jacket killed a cow and used the blood to claim he had killed an American rebel.

Red Jacket became famous as an orator, speaking for the rights of his people. He played a prominent role in negotiations with the new United States federal government after the war. In 1792 he led a delegation of 50 people to Philadelphia. The US president George Washington presented him with a special “peace medal”, a large oval of silver plate engraved with an image of Washington on the right-hand side shaking Red Jacket’s hand; below was inscribed “George Washington”, “Red Jacket”, and “1792”. Red Jacket wore this medal on his chest in every portrait painted of him. (Today the medal is held in the collection of the Buffalo History Museum.)He was also presented with a silver inlaid half stock long rifle bearing his initials and Wolf clan emblem in the stock and his later name Sagoyewatha inlaid on the barrel. This rifle has been in private hands since his death. In 1794, Red Jacket was a signatory, along with Cornplanter, Handsome Lake, and fifty other Iroquois leaders, of the Treaty of Canandaigua, by which they were forced to cede much of their land due to their alliance with the British during the war. It confirmed peace with the United States, as well as the boundaries of the postwar the Phelps and Gorham Purchase (1788) of most of the Seneca land east of the Genesee River in western New York.

Jemima Wilkinson, known as The Publick Universal Friend, and her Philadelphia Society of Friends were the first settlers in the region in 1790. Despite the pillaging of the Native River-Settlement in Ah-Wa-Ga Owego, New York, by generals Clinton and Sullivan during the Revolutionary War, the Society made peace with the then-wary Seneca tribe of the Iroquois. Most of the Seneca tribe, including Red Jacket, recognised the universal FRIEND as Chieftain. The Seneca Tribe made peace within the Finger Lakes but experienced hardship in the Genesee Region and other parts of Western New York.

In 1797, by the Treaty of Big Tree, Robert Morris purchased rights from the Seneca for $100,000 to some lands west of Genesee River. (This area is present-day Geneseo in Livingston County). Red Jacket had tried to prevent the sale but, not able to convince the other chiefs, he gave up his opposition. As often occurred, Morris used gifts of liquor to the Seneca men and trinkets to the women to “grease” the sale.{Citation needed|date=April 2009} Morris had previously purchased the land from Massachusetts, subject to the Indian title, then sold it to the Holland Land Company for speculative development. He retained only the Morris Reserve, an estate near present-day Rochester. During the negotiations, Brant told an insulting story about Red Jacket, but Cornplanter intervened and prevented the leader from attacking and killing Brant.

Red Jacket took his name, one of several he used, for a highly favored embroidered coat given to him by the British for his wartime services. The Seneca were allied with the British Crown during the American Revolution, both because of long trading relationships and in the hope that the Iroquois could limit colonial encroachment on their territory. After their ally lost, the Seneca were forced to cede much of their territory to the United States. Many of their people resettled in Canada at what is now the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario. In the War of 1812, Red Jacket supported the American side.

His later adult name, Sagoyewatha, which roughly translates as “he keeps them awake”, was given by the Seneca about 1780 in recognition of his oratory skill. When in 1805 Mr. Cram, a New England missionary, asked to do mission work among the Seneca, Red Jacket responded expressing how the Seneca had suffered at the hands of Europeans. His “Religion for the White Man and the Red” further expressed his profound belief that Native American religion was fitting and sufficient for Seneca and Native American culture. It has been documented and preserved as one of the best examples of oratory.

Red Jacket developed a problem with alcohol and deeply regretted having taken his first drink (see following quote). Asked if he had children, Red Jacket, who had lost most of his offspring to illness, said:

> “Red Jacket was once a great man, and in favor with the Great Spirit. He was a lofty pine among the smaller trees of the forest. But, after years of glory, he degraded himself by drinking the firewater of the white man. The Great Spirit has looked upon him in anger, and his lightning has stripped the pine of its branches.”

In his later years, Segoyewatha lived in Buffalo, New York. On his death, his remains were buried in an Indian cemetery. In 1876, William C. Bryant presented a plan to the Council of the Seneca Nation to rebury Red Jacket’s remains in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo. This was carried out on October 9, 1884. The proceedings, with papers by Horatio Hale, General Ely S. Parker, and others, were published (Buffalo, 1884).

According to Appletons’ Cyclopædia of American Biography, “Several portraits were made of him. George Catlin painted him twice, Henry Inman once, and Robert W. Weir did his portrait in 1828, when Red Jacket was on a visit to New York City. Fitz-Greene Halleck has celebrated him in song.”

== Speech to the U.S. Senate ==

This famous speech, also known as his talk on “Religion for the White Man and the Red”, is one example of his great skill as an orator. This speech came about in 1805 as a response to Jacob Cram, a New England missionary. On this day, the two differing sides met in Buffalo Creek, New York, to further discuss their religious beliefs. After meeting with the leaders of the Seneca delegation, Red Jacket provided a thought-out response representing his people as a whole. His address took the words of Cram, “There is but one religion, and but one way to serve God, and if you do not embrace the right way, you cannot be happy hereafter”, and peacefully argued each side should have the right to worship the religion that suits them best.

===Clashing cultures===

Red Jacket’s “Speech to the U.S. Senate,” came about at a trying time for the Iroquois of present-day New York State. They were coping with the loss of their forefathers’ lands, as a result of the constant increase of European immigrants. As their numbers grew, the two peoples’ opposing cultures became more and more apparent. This speech provides clear examples of how these cultures clashed on the subject of religious beliefs.

From the beginning Red Jacket made it clear that he and his people would not change their religious stance based on the white man’s word. He began, “It was the will of the Great Spirit that we should meet together this day. He orders all things, and has given us a fine day for our Council.” He proceeded to count all the blessings on the day, attributing them to the Great Spirit. “For all these favors we thank the Great Spirit, and Him only.”

Red Jacket’s response argued that his peoples’ beliefs were very like those of the missionary, differing only in the names of their omnipresent and almighty creator. Their creation stories were the same. “There was a time when our forefathers owned this great island. Their seats extended from the rising to the setting sun. The Great Spirit had made it for the use of Indians. He had created the buffalo, the deer, and other animals for food …. He had caused the earth to produce corn for bread. All this He had done for his red children, because He loved them.” The difference between the faiths involved not whether an almighty creator existed, but which faith was the truth and deserved to be followed.

Red Jacket’s oration raised questions as to the legitimacy of the white man’s beliefs. “You say that you are sent to instruct us how to worship the Great Spirit agreeably to his mind, and, if we do not take hold of the religion which you white people teach, we shall be unhappy hereafter. You say that you are right and we are lost.” Iroquois “separatist” belief held that there is not necessarily one true religion for all people. Red Jacket acknowledged that the Americans’ religious beliefs are based on a sacred text, but stated, “If it was intended for us as well as you, why has not the Great Spirit given to us, and not only to us, but why did he not give to our forefathers, the knowledge of that book, with the means of understanding it rightly?”

In conclusion he urged the Senators to accept the existence of different forms of belief. “The Great Spirit has made us all, but He has made a great difference between his white and red children … to you He has given the arts. To these He has not opened our eyes. We know these things to be true. Since He has made so great a difference between us in other things, why may we not conclude that he has given us a different religion according to our understanding? The Great Spirit does right. He knows what is best for his children; we are satisfied.” “We do not wish to destroy your religion, or take it from you. We only want to enjoy our own.”


In his “Speech to the U.S. Senate”, Red Jacket was respectful and open-minded, though skeptical, regarding his visitors’ beliefs, hoping that his audience would respond similarly. “We have listened with attention to what you have said. You requested us to speak our minds freely. This gives us great joy; for we now consider that we stand upright before you, and can speak what we think.” He went on to reassure his audience he understood they were far from home, and would waste no time in giving them his answer.

On the relations between his people and the first white settlers to come to their land, he said, “They found friends and not enemies … they asked for a small seat. We took pity on them, granted their request; and they sat amongst us. We gave them corn and meat; they gave us poison.” He argued that it was wrong to portray his people as savages, when they had shown kindness but received in return only “poison” (hard liquor). Further, “Yet we did not fear them. We took them to be friends. They called us brothers. We believed them and gave them a larger seat … they wanted more land; they wanted our country. Our eyes were opened, and our minds became uneasy.” “You have got our country, but are not satisfied; you want to force your religion upon us.” The white settlers’ actions did not encourage belief in their religion. “How shall we know when to believe, being so often deceived by the white people?”

Red Jacket recognized that the white settlors’ religion was beset with divisive controversies, unlike his peoples’ own faith. “We also have a religion, which was given to our forefathers, and has been handed down to us their children. We worship in that way. It teaches us to be thankful for all the favors we receive; to love each other, and to be united. We never quarrel about religion.”

He concluded with cordial well-wishes for his visitors. “You have now heard our answer to your talk, and this is all we have to say at present. As we are going to part, we will come and take you by the hand, and hope the Great Spirit will protect you on your journey, and return you safe to your friends.”


Red Jacket’s “Speech to the U.S. Senate” narrates his ability to use a distinct form of rhetoric that distinguishes the difference in religious tolerance between the Indians and United States citizens. Red Jacket’s emotional appeal to members of the Senate, who he feels are neglecting the Indians’ right of religious freedom, is an example of his attempt to persuade his audience to recognize their fallacies. One of the most important attributes to this speech is the recurring mention of Great Spirit, who oversees both red and white man according to Red Jacket, and he proceeds to recognize those attributes.

The beginning of the speech states,”But we will first look back a little, and tell you what our fathers have told us, and what we have heard from the white people”. Red Jacket is speaking here to the history of the relations which the white man have treated the red man on their native soil. A common occurrence from the white man in this day was to push the ways of Western society on to those who he deemed less fortunate. Red Jacket goes on to speak more specifically about the way religion has been forced upon the Indian people from the Americans. One of the predominant center pieces of this time period was the negative relationships between the two cultures, and religion was and still to this day is considered a sacred personal choice one individual makes. Although Red Jacket recognizes that religion is an individual right, he explains that the Indian belief system has been inherited just in the same way the Americans have been handed down the Bible and Christianity. His point is summarized in statement he makes regarding how both people come from a similar Great Spirit, yet it is just up to the beholder how he accepts religion. The forced inducement of Christianity on the Indians by the American people violated the liberties of both people. Red Jacket states, “You have now become a great people, and we have scarcely a place left to spread our blankets. You have got our country, but are not satisfied; you want to force your religion upon us”. One recognizes the sense that the Indians have already lost so much, their religion is the last part of their identity in this land.

Red Jacket continues to identify the religious continuities that exist between both people with his elaboration on the Great Spirit. He states, “You say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why not all agreed, as you can all read the book?”. Red Jacket distinguishes the fallacies that exist between the Americans speech and their actions. If the Indians are being secularized for their religious beliefs, yet they believe in one ultimate Creator, just like the Americans, how can they be viewed as a lesser body? Red Jacket says they do not understand the Americans mission to eradicate the Indians based on religion, but Red Jacket sees the Americans as divided in their beliefs. However, he goes on to say that the Great Spirit is not one that can tear the two people apart but ultimately unite them in their ability to peacefully coexist.

Red Jacket’s ability to distinguish this form of religious discussion was very favorable to his legacy in history. He argues the injustices of the cultural system in the time period but does not back away from recognizing their common cultural and religious beliefs.

==Honors and legacy==

A variety of structures, ships and places were named in his honor, especially in the Finger Lakes region and Buffalo:

* A complex of dormitory buildings at the University at Buffalo
* Red Jacket Dining Hall at SUNY Geneseo.
* The Red Jacket Building, an apartment and commercial building in Buffalo.
* A memorial statue and Red Jacket Park are in Penn Yan, New York near Keuka Lake. The statue was sculpted by Michael Soles.
* Red Jacket Yacht Club, which lies on the western shores of Cayuga Lake.
* The Red Jacket clipper ship, which set the unbroken speed record from New York to Liverpool.
* A public school system, Red Jacket Central, which serves the communities of Manchester and Shortsville in Ontario County, New York.
* The Red Jacket Volunteer Fire Department, which serves the Town of Seneca Falls.
* A section of land on the Buffalo River (New York) is named “Red Jacket Peninsula”. On the eastern bank of the river is the plaque containing a brief bio of Red Jacket and river history.
* Red Jacket Parkway in South Buffalo
* The Boy Scouts of America had a Red Jacket Council that included west of Rochester and Orleans County, New York, until 1943; it became part of Otetiana Council. In 2010 it merged with Finger Lakes Council to form Seneca Waterways Council.
* The community of Red Jacket in southern West Virginia, although the leader was not known to have had any connection to that region.