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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ebenezer “Indian” Allan: An 18th Century Walter Mitty

By Michael Keene
Copyright © 2015 by the author. All rights reserved.

from his upcoming book The Psychic Highway-The Untold Story of How the Erie Canal Changed America

Ebenezer “Indian” Allan was --- for lack of a better and/or polite word --- a character!  In familiar terms, we could call him a scam artist; an imposter; a charlatan or a very good actor. The bottom line, however, was that Indian Allan’s heart and sliding allegiances were always justified --- by him.  And, like the charming Walter Mitty character, he was convincing in his efforts and self-assigned roles.
If Indian Allan were here today, he’d surely want to tell his story, himself. What might he say, in a fictionalized version?~
“I was born on the 17th day of September in 1752 in Morris Township, New Jersey, and I died on the 13th day of April in 1813 in a place called Delaware Township, way up in Canada.”
I’ve lived most of my life in the wild, but I’ve always been for the underdog. I consider myself a friend of the Seneca Indians and the Iroquois people. I guess we trusted each other.” 
“I was down there in Pennsylvania around 1777 when something called to me to join the Loyalist unit of the war regiment under Major John Butler. You remember him! They called his rogue brigade Butler’s Rangers. Because of my good relationship with the Indians, I was sent to the Indian Department in 1781 and the following year . . . (now, make sure no one else is listening). . . I became a Loyalist spy (can you imagine that?) assigned to the Genesee River area in western New York.”
“That was a hard job, but sweet Mary Jemison made my stay easier. They called her the “White Woman of the Genesee”; the Indians adopted her when she was a little girl.   I lived with her, there, through my days of ‘espionage’.”
“Between 1782 and 1783 I moved to what would be called Mount Morris, after that rich American man with money for the war, Robert Morris.  It was winter and it was cold! I needed to provide for myself, so I started farming and trading my goods.  I was a Lieutenant with the Indian Department by then . . . but the war was coming to an end and they started letting men go. I was one of them. That’s what I got for siding with the British against these new Americans.”
“I was really laid low by this. I asked myself, ‘What can yak’ do, Indian, to help the American cause, this time?  And, my Iroquois friends?’ I decided to show ‘em something they could see with their own eyes, to let them know that I could bring about a sincere peace. “
“I knew I was taking a big chance, but I snuck into a big Indian village and into the chief’s longhouse!  I looked around for something important to signify ‘peace’.  Ah! There it was! A beauty of a wampum belt!  When the American Indian Commissioner sees this, he’ll believe it means the Iroquois want to live peacefully among the Americans and my Indian “brothers” will honor the gesture! I felt that if I could live for another few hundred years, I may even have a shot at the Nobel Peace Prize!

Ebenezer’s Plight

“Well, I spoke too soon. The British were still very mad at me and sent out a party of soldiers to hunt me down! They found me alright and threw me in prison! Since the end of the war, I was treated cruelly and inhumanly! There I was, robbed, stripped, plundered and imprisoned like some common criminal! And, for what? I was doing the right thing!  For 10 months I was shifted from prison to prison; from Fort Niagara in New York, then up to Montreal in Canada and to Cataraqui, in Ontario.”

I’m a Lover When I’m Not a Fighter

“Polygamy reduced to a fine art with a successful audacity that might excite the admiration of a Mormon elder." 3

“I made my way back to the Genesee country I knew and loved . . . and to the women I knew and loved.  I took Sally as my Indian wife by blessing of my Indian brothers. She gave me two daughters, Chloe and Mary. Around 1789 we canoed down river to a 474-acre farmstead in what would become Scottsville. Some will say the Seneca gave this land to me; others say --- because there is a deed to prove it --- that I bought it for 200 pounds in Massachusetts money from a man named Israel Chapin.”
“A Mr. Chapman came our way on his way to Niagara. His daughter, Lucy, accompanied him. He seemed to like me . . .  and so did Lucy. I wasn’t intending for it to happen, but Mr. Chapman gave me her hand in marriage. Lucy stayed and her father went west --- alone.”
“Someone would write that I ‘combined the lasciviousness of a Turk with the bloodthirstiness of a savage’ in my life with Lucy and Sally and my children . . . and others.  Social conventions meant nothing to me.  Yes, during my years in Delaware Township I was surrounded by many “wives” and more children.”
“I was living happily and was not aware of the big meeting (the Buffalo Creek Indian Council of 1787 or Treaty of Big Tree) with Mr. Oliver Phelps and Mr. Nathaniel Gorham and the Iroquois chiefs. The white men wanted a large portion of land west of the Genesee. My brothers insisted that their “Great Spirit” wanted no white men west of the great river.  Mr. Phelps said the Seneca needed a grist mill to grind maize just as white settlers needed one to ground wheat. A mill would ease women’s work.”
“Mr. Phelps said he needed --- and got --- 288-square miles west of the Genesee approximately 12 miles wide, and stretching 24-miles from Avon to Lake Ontario. He became owner of the largest mill lot in the world.”
“The grist mill needed an operator and I was the person for the job! I was given the 100-acre site with the understanding that I would build and run the mill. A small, natural island in the river helped channel water to the mill and some 3 and 4-foot waterfalls  gave enough drop in water level to turn the water wheels to fuel a sawmill and a grist mill.”
“I brought in a saw blade and managed to connect it to a makeshift water wheel to saw timber and lumber. I had help from the crew of a schooner docked nearby and from Seneca helpers. History will tell you that almost single-handedly, I cleared the land, cut and hauled logs, balanced two 150-pound millstones from Massachusetts, installed mill irons and constructed 2 water wheels.  We didn’t have fancy tools like you have today!  We used native skill, our muscles and a lot of determination. History will also tell you that we celebrated for 2 days. Yes, we did, with ‘firewater’ and much rum.”

The 100-Acre Tract That Could
Before Phelps and Gorham defaulted on their purchase agreement in 1790 and before the unsold portions of the purchase reverted back to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, they gave the 100-acre land tract, known as The Mill Yard Tract, to Ebenezer “Indian” Allen, who did successfully build a grist mill and a sawmill there. Allan built his sawmill first in the summer of 1789, then sawed timber to build his gristmill. The frame was erected in November of the same year.  There, on the Upper Falls of what would become the prosperous city of Rochester, were the beginnings of a thriving mill economy.
The location of this 100-acre tract for its first mills, however, was deeply located in the dense wilderness. While construction continued, the area was infested with snakes and mosquitoes which spread “Swamp Fever” or what is commonly known as malaria.
In March of 1792, with no settlers or land speculators interested in the surrounding land, Indian Allen sold the 100-acre tract to Benjamin Barton, Sr. of New Jersey for $1,250. Barton quickly resold the property to Samuel Ogden, an agent for Robert Morris. Ogden, in turn, sold the property in 1794 to Charles Williamson, agent for a small group of British investors called the Pulteney Association.  In 1803 the Association sold the 100-acre tract for $1,750 with a five-year land contract, to Col. Nathaniel Rochester and 2 lesser partners, Maj. Charles Carroll and Col. William Fitzhugh, all of Hagerstown, Maryland.
Nathaniel Rochester (et al) had just purchased the 100-acre tract that would become the city of Rochester, New York.