Peter Wilson [Cayuga] ( ____ - 1871[1])


            Peter Wilson was a member of the Cayuga nation, one of the six aboriginal nations which formed The Iroquois Confederacy.  His name, variously spelled Waowawanaonk, Wau-wah-wa-na-onk, De jih'-non-da-weh-hoh, means "They Hear His Voice" or "The Pacificator."[2]  His family history and date of birth are unknown. Although he was Cayuga, he spent most of his youth on the Seneca Buffalo Reservation, where he studied in Quaker reservation schools and later attended the medical collage at Geneva, New York.[3]  Most writings refer to Wilson as "Dr. Peter Wilson, a Cayuga Chief" but no evidence is found to verify he was a chief.  He worked for a time as an interpreter for the U. S. government at Cattaraugus Reservation.  An eloquent speaker and highly regarded as an orator, he spoke to the Quaker Committee[4] in 1848 on behalf of the Seneca nation. He was passionate about his people and in a speech to the New York Historical Society on May 4, 1847,[5] he was described as "pathos and earnestness upon his people and race--their ancient prowess and generosity--their present weakness and dependence--and especially upon the hard fate of a small band of Senecas and Cayugas, which had recently been hurried into the western wilderness to perish, that all present were deeply moved by his eloquence."  Scant information is available on the life of Peter Wilson but what there is clearly portrays him as an educated man and someone interested in obtaining as much assistance as possible for the Seneca and the Cayuga nations.



Background Information    


            This speech was delivered October 29, 1848 by Peter Wilson to the Committee on Indian Concerns, Baltimore Yearly Meeting of Friends.  It was published in pamphlet form by the Friends, a common practice at the time.  The pamphlet is the basis for the present text.


            In 1795 Quakers in the northern Shenandoah Valley set up a fund under the care of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting to pay American Indians for land Quakers had settled.  This followed the model established by William Penn in Pennsylvania.  Quakers unable to locate the original inhabitants of the land or their offspring, set aside money to be used for the betterment of all Native American peoples.  In 2008 the fund was still under the management of the present committee, which distributes the interest on this money to organizations that assist and advocate for American Indians.[6]

            Quakers maintained schools on the Seneca nation reservations starting in 1798 and taught English along with a religious based curriculum.  In addition they taught basic household skills and farming.[7]  Elementary school books, a hymnal, and the four Gospels were published in the Seneca language as the result of translations by Asher Wright (1803-1875), a Protestant missionary.           


            In a treaty negotiated with the New York Indians in 1838, Joseph Fellows and Thomas Ludlow Ogden,[8] with the support and backing of the American government, convinced the chiefs and tribal leaders of the Seneca, Tuscarora, Cayuga, Onondagas, Oneida, St. Regis, Stockbridge, Munsee and Brothertown tribes residing in the State of New York to sell them all their native lands for insignificant monetary compensation.  As part of the treaty, the chiefs agreed to removal of their people from their land under the Indian Removal Act of 1830.  Peter Wilson signed this treaty as a chief or tribal leader of the Cayuga.


            When the impact of the 1838 treaty was realized by the Seneca, Quakers stepped forward to help them in their efforts to have the treaty revoked.  The Quakers supported Seneca land claims through publicity campaigns and government petitions.  As a result of these efforts, they were able to negotiate the 1842 Treaty on behalf of Senecas with the Secretary of War and the Ogden Land Company.[9]  It reversed the 1838 Treaty in which all four of the remaining reservations were lost to land speculators Ogden and Fellows.  The new treaty restored Seneca ownership to two of its reservations--Cattaraugus and Allegheny—and  gave them monetary compensation for Buffalo and Tonawanda—all located in southwestern New York.    It was the Quaker's assistance with the Treaty of 1842[10] that Peter Wilson makes reference to in his speech. 


            In 1848, the Seneca Nation abolished the "chief" system and established a democracy with a written constitution.[11]

[1] Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, April 2, 1872 contained a note saying "Wilson died year ago, had stroke

  that left him speechless and one arm useless."  His date of birth is unknown.


[2] Publication of the Buffalo Historical Society (1880), by Orsamus H. Marshall, "The Niagara Frontier" p.



[3] August 12, 1842 letter from Joseph Fellows at Geneva NY to George M. Cooper.  Rago Discovery

   Auction, 2007, Item 3300009 "Cayuga Chief Peter Wilson Letters",


[4] Indian Affairs Committee - Baltimore Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers


[5] National Center for Public Policy,


[6]  Indian Affairs Committee - Baltimore Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers


[7]  John Jackson Papers, 1827-1849.  Jackson was a prominent Hicksite Quaker and served on the

    Joint Committee on Indian Concerns and acted as a Clerk for the Committee beginning about 1844.


[8]  Thomas Ludlow Ogden (1773-1844), with brother David, was counsel to Holland Land Company.  The

    family company, Ogden Land Company, accumulated land and developed the Erie Canal

    corridor. They purchased huge tracts of land from Indians of the Six Nations and resold it to whites

    at an enormous profit.


[9]    Chronology of Major Events in the History of Friends and Native Americans.


[10]  John Jackson Papers, 1827-1849.


[11] Seneca Nation official website.