July 19 – The “Treaty of Nanfan” Signed (or was it?)

Posted on July 19, 2013

Before I get to the "Treaty of Nanfan," I want to mention something exciting that is happening today, July 29, 2013:

It's Wave at Saturn Day!
As it has twice before, the robot space explorer named Cassini will be photographing Earth from a billion miles away. This time, scientist Carolyn Porco is urging everybody to go outside, smile really big (you can say "cheese" if you want), and wave at the camera at the time that this photo is being taken. 
Porco has called today "The Day the Earth Smiled."
Where I live, with Pacific Daylight Time, the photo is being taken at 2:27 in the afternoon. Here is a website that tells people in other time zones when they can wave at the (invisible to our eyes) camera. And here is an article with more info.

Now...back to Nanfan!

This is what was supposed to have happened on this date in 1701:

The green portion is the land
that was supposedly granted
to England in 1701.
Representatives of the Five Nations (the Iroquois Confederacy, a group of Native American nations) sat down with John Nanfan, the acting governor of the British colony of New York. They hammered out a treaty that granted to the British king an enormous swath of land that includes the present-day states of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and southern Ontario, Canada. This chunk of land was sometimes called the Beaver Hunting Grounds.

These lands were, at that point, pretty much controlled by Native Americans who were aligned with French colonists rather than by the Iroquois, and France did not recognize this treaty. So it was pretty unimportant.

But there are historians who say that this treaty was even less than unimportant--they say that it never existed at all!

Thomas Kennedy is one of these historians. He says that what many call the Nanfan Treaty is really the Albany Deed of 1701; the Five Nations deeded a large chunk of land to the British New York Colony in return for the king's protection against the French. Rather than being connected to acting governor Nanfan, Kennedy states that this deed (not a treaty) is the result of New York Governor Bellomont, who died in office on March 5, 1701.

It seems clear to me that Governor Bellomont could have worked toward gaining rights to this land, but it finally came to pass during Nanfan's brief acting-governorship, and that the name passed down in various histories got fudged around and changed for reasons that are not very nefarious—such as confusion or forgetfulness. But I can also clearly see that this is one of several possibilitiesand I really do not know the truth of the matter.

By the way, the "Five Nations" of the Iroquois
Confederacy eventually became Six Nations. 
From what I can tell, the Iroquois deeded the same land several times, sometimes to the same people and other cases to different people. I have heard that the concept of land ownership and land rights meant very different things to the various peoples—and I imagine that, as the British and American governments reneged on (backed out of) signed treaties, over and over, Native American tribes became more and more skeptical of any new treaties. Apparently the same thing happened with the deeds given out by Native Americans to European settlers—the latter became increasingly skeptical of any “deed” or “title” given by Five Nations peoples as something that cannot be counted on.

It seems to me that all the groups active in that corner of North America at the time took turns conquering and being conquered, and that there was little that an agreement or law could do when force was used to take land and resources. But it's definitely hard to know what really happened in New York in 1701. Even if we could examine historical documents, we would be hard pressed to authenticate them and certainly have no hope of discovering what people were thinking as they wrote or signed those documents!

Also on this date:

Plan ahead:

Check out my Pinterest pages on July holidayshistorical anniversaries in July, and July birthdays.

And here are my Pinterest pages on August holidayshistorical anniversaries in August, and August birthdays.

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