KAYAHSOTAˀ (written Gaiachoton, Geyesutha, Guyasuta, Kayashoton, Kiashuta, Quiasutha), Seneca chief and diplomat; b. c. 1725, probably on the Genesee River (N.Y.), but his family moved to the Ohio region when he was young; d. on the Cornplanter Grant (near Corydon, Pa), probably in 1794. His name, spelled Kayahsotaˀ according to Wallace L. Chafe’s phonemic orthography of modern Seneca, means it stands up (or sets up) the cross.
Although the Iroquois Confederacy had since 1701 been officially committed to neutrality in the wars between the French and the British, the Iroquois of the Ohio country and the Senecas whose homes were on the Genesee tended to pursue a pro-French policy. The French strengthened their position in the region in the early 1750s by building a string of forts from Lake Erie to the forks of the Ohio [see Paul Marin* de La Malgue]. The British responded in 1753 by sending the young George Washington to demand that the French withdraw from the area, which both powers claimed. Years later, Washington remembered Kayahsotaˀ as being among the Indian escort on his fruitless journey. In 1755 Major-General Edward Braddock attempted to capture Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh, Pa), and Kayahsotaˀ was part of the force of French and Indians which met and, under Jean-Daniel Dumas, routed him. In the autumn Kayahsotaˀ led a delegation of 20 Senecas to confer with Governor Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil in Montreal.
The fortunes of war turned against the French and their native allies, and despite the assistance given by Kayahsotaˀ and other western Senecas, in 1758 Fort Duquesne fell to the British under John Forbes*. The French effectively withdrew from the west in 1759, but hostilities were not at an end. The miserly attitude adopted by Amherst with respect to Indian presents aggravated the difficulties between the native population and the British, and the result was the outbreak generally known as the Pontiac* rebellion, although it has been called the Kiyasuta and Pontiac war.
Political leaders in the egalitarian societies found in most of North America prior to its conquest by the white man lacked the authority to compel their constituents to action and relied instead upon suasion. As he had no power to dictate public policy, and only his personal diplomatic skills to shape public opinion, Kayahsotaˀ would not seem to merit a major share of the blame, or praise, for the conflict which flared on the western frontier in 1763. The native population was nearly unanimous with respect to the desirability of attacking the red-coated troops who had so recently replaced the French in that region, but Kayahsotaˀ was influential in focusing resentment and was among the first to urge the use of force. As early as 1761 he and his fellow Seneca Tahahaiadoris were circulating a large red wampum belt, known as the war hatchet, among the native population clustered about Detroit. According to Sir William Johnson’s deputy, George Croghan, they privately admitted to him that the purpose was to bring on a general uprising from Detroit to the Mohawk valley. Sir William himself came to Detroit in September 1761 to counteract their efforts. At the conference Kayahsotaˀ denied the charges made against him but found himself contradicted by a Wyandot, and the resulting uproar was calmed only by the efforts of Johnson. Later an Ottawa speaker, Mécatépilésis, publicly identified Kayahsotaˀ as “the bad Bird lately Amongst us.” Johnson met with Kayahsotaˀ privately and tried to convince the Seneca leader of the error of his ways, but his diplomacy obtained only a brief respite. In June 1763 the frontier erupted in a general war. Most of the Six Nations, including the eastern Senecas, remained at peace, but the western Senecas were active against the British. Kayahsotaˀ and a few other Senecas fought alongside the Delawares in the siege of Fort Pitt (formerly Fort Duquesne) and against the relief force under Colonel Henry Bouquet. Native testimony also suggests that he took part in the capture of the British post at Venango (Franklin, Pa).
After the fighting had run its course, Kayahsotaˀ was among those who signed a preliminary peace agreement on 12 Aug. 1764, and he was given the task of carrying the conditions of peace to those groups still at war. At the end of October 1764 Kayahsotaˀ came to Tuscarawas (near Bolivar, Ohio) with delegates of the Delawares, Shawnees, and Senecas to meet with Bouquet. Bouquet’s major concern by this time was the release of white captives still in Indian hands. He reported the negotiations a success, despite the necessity of dispatching Kayahsotaˀ to the Delawares to protest the murder of a British soldier. Over 200 white captives were released (although some proved so reluctant to rejoin white society that Bouquet had to post guards to prevent them from returning to their native captors). Following the conference, Bouquet sent Kayahsotaˀ to fetch white captives held by the Wyandots.
In the spring of 1765 George Croghan met with the western Indians at Fort Pitt, and the return of prisoners was again a central issue. Kayahsotaˀ was there and was appointed a delegate to yet another conference, this time with Sir William Johnson at Johnson Hall (Johnstown, N.Y.). Kayahsotaˀ and other western Indians met there from 4 to 13 July to negotiate a final peace. On the last day Kayahsotaˀ affixed the sign of a wolf, the eponym of his clan, to the treaty.
In the following decade Kayahsotaˀ served continually as an intermediary between the British authorities and the native inhabitants of the Ohio region. Frequently journeying between Johnson Hall and the Ohio, he carried wampum belts and Johnson’s words in attempts to preserve peace in the west or to isolate diplomatically such uncooperative groups as the Shawnees. The Indian superintendent considered him a “Chief of much Capacity and vast Influence” and found him “very useful on such Occasions.” When a group of Shawnees appeared at Fort Pitt in the spring of 1773 with a complaint about Virginia surveyors, it was Kayahsotaˀ who received them and presented them with a wampum belt. On the other hand the western Indians often conveyed their grievances to Johnson through him. For example, the participants in a major conference held at Fort Pitt in October 1773 sent Kayahsotaˀ to Johnson Hall with their complaints about unregulated trade, particularly in liquor.
Kayahsotaˀ was never able to carry out one of Johnson’s major aims, the removal of the Mingos, Iroquois emigrants to the Ohio country, back to their old homes in what is now upstate New York. The superintendent feared that these warriors, far from the moderating influence of the Onondaga council and even farther from Johnson Hall, and carrying with them the well-earned reputation that the Iroquois enjoyed as fighting men, might join their Algonkian speaking neighbours against the British. Johnson had first asked Kayahsotaˀ to persuade the Mingos to return in 1765, and the Seneca chief was still trying unsuccessfully to carry out the policy in 1773.
In addition to all his diplomatic activity, Kayahsotaˀ found time to work for various whites in the Ohio valley. His knowledge of the geography and the inhabitants of the region enabled him to serve as guide and intermediary for travellers and traders. His duties took him several times to Fort de Chartres (near Prairie du Rocher) in the Illinois country.
When the American revolution broke out, Kayahsotaˀ had already established a close working relationship with Guy Johnson, successor to Sir William as Indian superintendent. The rebels, however, were active in courting the chief’s favour. Kayahsotaˀ was among the Indian leaders meeting representatives of the Continental Congress at Fort Pitt in October 1775. He agreed that the Shawnees should surrender prisoners and booty captured in their war with Virginia, which had just concluded, and consented to go to their towns to make sure the surrender was carried out. In return, he asked for assurance that the boundary of white settlement established by the treaty of Fort Stanwix (1768) would be honoured. He also observed astutely that disputes among the rebel representatives might well inhibit the kindling of a bright council fire so necessary for effective Indian-white communication.
The Six Nations held a neutral stance during the early years of the American revolution. Kayahsotaˀ moved freely between the rebel post at Fort Pitt and the loyalist stronghold at Niagara (near Youngstown, N.Y.). To the commandants at both forts he proclaimed the determination of the Six Nations to take no part in any war between Britain and the colonies. At Fort Pitt on 6 July 1776 he emphasized native opposition to the movement through Indian lands by armies of either side. Later, he went on an embassy to the Mingos to bring them into line with the neutral position assumed by the other western tribes. In recognition of his services, the Continental Congress awarded him a colonel’s commission and a silver gorget.
It was inevitable, however, that the native population would eventually enter the contest on the side of the crown. There were too many grievances against the encroaching Americans and, although the war disrupted normal economic life, an active role in the conflict promised ample material rewards. With the decision of the Six Nations in the summer of 1777 to abandon neutrality, Kayahsotaˀ began to work actively for the royal, and Indian, cause. Later in the summer he was one of a large body of Indians who accompanied Barrimore Matthew St Leger against the rebels at Fort Stanwix (Rome, N.Y.). The siege of this fort at the western end of the Mohawk valley was in its initial phase when word came from Mary Brant [Koñwatsiˀtsiaiéñni] that 800 militiamen were marching to attack the besiegers. It was primarily the Indians who were dispatched to meet them, and the rebels were repulsed in the bloody battle of Oriskany nearby. Kayahsotaˀ was in the field again soon; in December 1777 Simon Girty* reported that the Seneca chief or members of his war party had killed four people near Ligonier, Pa. When in 1779 a rebel army commanded by Daniel Brodhead marched from Fort Pitt up the Allegheny river valley, burning Seneca villages, Kayahsotaˀ appeared at Niagara demanding 100 soldiers to aid against the invaders. The hard-pressed British commander refused, and Brodhead’s destructive expedition went largely unopposed.
Kayahsotaˀ was sent from Niagara in 1780 on a familiar diplomatic task. Anxious to keep the alliance of the western Indians, Guy Johnson dispatched him on a tour of the Ohio country to call a conference at Detroit. Most of the chiefs of the region were absent carrying the war into Kentucky with Henry Bird’s expedition; so the messages were left with the Wyandots for delivery later in the summer. There is some evidence that Kayahsotaˀ then commanded a party of 30 Wyandots who raided near Fort McIntosh (Rochester, Pa) in July. In the spring of 1781 Kayahsotaˀ was again on the diplomatic trail, but illness detained him for some time at Cattaraugus (near the mouth of Cattaraugus Creek, N.Y.). The ageing chief went to war once more, leading the party which on 13 July 1782 burned Hannastown, Pa, and then went on to attack Wheeling (W. Va).
For all intents and purposes, the American revolution was over, and the Senecas soon made their peace with the United States. There is one report that the new republic tried to use Kayahsotaˀ as a peacemaker in the Ohio region, but for the most part the role devolved on Kaiũtwahˀkũ (Cornplanter), probably a nephew of Kayahsotaˀ. The Ohio Indians, however, were bent on a major confrontation with the Americans which Seneca diplomacy was powerless to stop. As events moved towards a climax, Kayahsotaˀ carried personal and public messages to the American commander, Anthony Wayne, at Pittsburgh in 1792, and accompanied Cornplanter to a meeting with Wayne in 1793. Wayne was organizing and training his force so that he could invade the Ohio country and subdue its native inhabitants, and he was to achieve success at the battle of Fallen Timbers (near Waterville, Ohio) in August 1794.
Cornplanter’s diplomatic efforts earned him a grant of land in Pennsylvania, and he and his Seneca followers gathered on it at the close of the century. There Kayahsotaˀ died and was buried, probably in 1794.
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Cite This Article
Thomas S. Abler, “KAYAHSOTAˀ,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 30, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/kayahsota_4E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Thomas S. Abler|
|Title of Article:||KAYAHSOTAˀ|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1979|
|Year of revision:||1979|
|Access Date:||March 30, 2023|