We live in Rockport, TX, which is an “artists colony’.  We all rely upon the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 8 of the Texas Constitution, which preserves everyone’s right of free expression, including the right of artists to paint, sculpt, and otherwise create whatever they want.  In Texas an artist is free to sculpt Karl Marx, Booker T. Washington, Herman Goring, Geronimo or Pope John Paul II, and publicly display the statute as long as the owner of the land where it sits gives his/her permission for the placement of the statue on his/her land.

The ancestors of all of us in Rockport came from somewhere else. In 1755 the British army deported my ancestor Jean Paul Lafey from Acadia, sending him to Philadelphia, not Louisiana.

That same year four French soldiers and six Shawnee men showed up at the farm of another ancestor, Thomas Jemison, in the woods of middle Pennsylvania, and kidnapped his two daughters, Betsey who had red hair and Mary who had blond hair, as well his wife and his sons.  After more than a day’s march through the forest, the French and Indians stopped and the Shawnee ritually murdered Betsey, her two brothers and her mother, and ultimately scalped them while Mary was forced to watch.  Mary was spared that fate because she looked like the “Corn Maiden”, a figure in Algonquian and Iroquoian cosmology.

Mary was then sold to two Seneca women, who ultimately arranged for her to be married to my ancestor Hiakatoo, an ill-tempered Seneca warrior who killed many Englishmen at the Devil’s Hole Massacre, in the gorge of the Niagara River on Sept. 14, 1763.  Around that time Mary and Hiakatoo lived in Little Beardstown, on the Genessee River south of Rochester, NY.

George Washington was a British colonial soldier, in that era.  He never set foot in Little Beardstown.  However, in that era the British at Fort Detroit were defending themselves from 10,000 Seneca and Mingo (Southern Seneca) warriors who, among other tribes, were besieging the British army as part of Pontiac’s Rebellion (1763-1765), an armed conflict between the British and Algonquian, Iroquoian/Seneca, Muskogean, and Siouan-speaking Native Americans.

Pontiac’s Rebellion represented unprecedented pan-Native American resistance to European colonization in North America, challenging the British government’s attempts to impose its will and abrogate Native sovereignty. Although that rebellion originated in the Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley, the violence spread as far west as Illinois and as far east as western Virginia.

That intense war was fought to a standstill over two years. Consequently, the British Empire was forced to reconsider its policy toward Native Americans, ultimately recognizing tribal autonomy from British rule.

While some colonists, like Ben Franklin, admired some of the tribes’ form of representative government, such as that established under the Iroquois Great Law of Peace, generally American colonists resented the British change of heart, given that such conciliatory measures ran counter to the colonists anxieties and their hostility to Native Americans. Those colonists’ attitudes contributed to the growing disillusionment with the British, which culminated in the Revolutionary War.

During the Revolution my ancestor William Washburn, just 14 at its beginning, joined the Massachusetts Militia and spent the war as a sniper, sitting in trees, shooting at British soldiers. Only a small portion of the colonists fought the British army.

On May 31, 1779 General George Washington wrote and issued a detailed order to his subordinate, General Daniel Sullivan, to go north to the Iroquois lands, and exterminate as many of the Iroquois people as possible.  See https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-20-02-0661.

General Sullivan and his troops marched north, following Washington’s orders, exterminating as many Iroquois people as they could. My ancestor Mary Jemison and her five children had to flee from their home at Little Beardstown as the American colonial army attacked that village. Many Iroquois fled to Ft. Niagara and starved outside the fort in the icy winter.

Mary and the kids made their way south to what is now Letchworth State Park in New York, and hid from the Americans in a cave.  My kids and I had the sobering experience of sitting in that cave in 2002.

The Americans came to Letchworth, and following General Washington’s orders, began exterminating Seneca there.  By the grace of some deity, Mary and the kids safely made their way to the Tift Swamp, on the shore of Lake Erie, and hid there until the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783. After the war, my ancestor Mary Jemison and her kids moved further south, to what is now the Cattaraugus Reservation on Lake Erie.

By 1819 the American and New York State governments had “acquired” ownership and control of virtually all Seneca land in New York State.  They sold much of it to the Holland Land Company. My ancestor William Washburn’s son bought a tract of that land in Busti, NY, right near the Cattaraugus Reservation.

Father and son rode on horseback from Boston to Lake Erie to see their land and build a cabin. When that work was done, they rode back to Boston.  The entire family, men and women, about 10 of them, rode on horseback back to Busti/Cattaraugus in 1820, and lived there for many generations afterwards. There were not a lot of white people living in that area in the early 1800s, so a number of women-with-no-last-names married into my family.

Sometime after 1865, my father’s great grandfather, another Washburn, married a woman named Mary Jemison. She was the granddaughter of that blond girl who was not scalped because she looked like the Corn Maiden.

Because of who her grandmother was, that Mary owned a very nice lakeside lot on a beach where the mouth of Cattaraugus Creek flows into Lake Erie. By the time 1916 rolled around, my father and his brothers and sister would spend their summers living at Seneca Beach, while living as urban Americans during the school year.

That later Mary Jemison’s daughter Lucy Washburn was 18 years older than my dad. She lived with my Washburn relatives in the city, taking care of the kids. At some point Lucy Washburn met a man who was a drummer for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and married him. He was Seneca, too.  Every year, when my class from my very white elementary school was bused to an afternoon philharmonic’s performance, Lucy Washburn would be there, waiting for me. I would get a big hug and lots of love, because Lucy didn’t have any children.  She was a real “Jemison” and I was a “Blue Eyed Jimerson” but it didn’t matter even in the 1960s.The warmth of Lucy’s love for me is still with me 60 years later.

In 1978, all the Seneca relatives came to my parents’ backyard for our wedding and reception, which was “interesting” with my melded family, the waspy Washburns, the Seneca Washburns, and Jimersons, the South Buffalo Irishmen who lived near the steel plant, the Lafeys whose ancestors had been kicked out of Acadia but “missed the boat” on becoming Cajuns, and my husband’s people, very stiff upper lip British-Canadians and a huge crew of Ukrainians who had to change their names, for their own safety and advancement when they moved to anti-Slavic, anti-Semitic Canada around 1914. Eighty-eight-year-old Lucy and her husband, the Seneca philharmonic drummer, were there. He sat in with the band, playing Seneca beats while younger cousins taught the Boston Yankees, Irish, Brits, Canadians, and Ukrainians to dance the Seneca way. That party was what Americans should be about, laughing, learning and appreciating each other for who we are.

Coming from that family, European and Native American, I have very little patience for narcissistic self-promoters who take offense at EVERYTHING, in the name of recognizing (and even profiting from) their ancestors “suffering”.  They stick their noses into public life, as well as artists’ creative process, demanding that the world not offend them and recognize the “suffering” of their ancestors.

My Seneca and colonist ancestors were duking it out at the same time the Karankawa, the Comanche, the Spanish and the English speaking Texas settlers were doing the same down here in the Coastal Bend.  That was 200-250 years ago. Let it rest.

The whiners, opportunists, self-promoters, and drama queens in the Coastal Bend and Austin, and the reporters, who make mountains out of molehills, need to grow up.

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