Journal Features Two Row Wampum Treaty Debate

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13220774-largeThe Journal of Early American History (JEAH) has published a special free issue that focuses on the Two Row Wampum treaty, a historical agreement between the Dutch and the Iroquois that purportedly took place on April 21, 1613 – a date that is based on an allegedly forged document. The treaty has been the subject of most discussion in recent months.

During the month of July and the first week of August supporters of the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign paddled from Onondaga Lake, and down the Mohawk and Hudson rivers to New York City to draw attention to environmental concerns and native sovereignty rights on Two Row Wampum treaty anniversary date.

Perviously, anthropologist William Starna and linguist Charles Gehring contacted sponsors of the Two Row Wampum campaign to tell them the Treaty of Tawagonshi, a paper version of the Two Row treaty on which they were basing the anniversary date, was a forgery. A debate then ensued regarding the authenticity of the document. The public discourse showed a lack of confidence in scholarly inquiry and certain individuals intimated that scholars may be driven more by political concerns than by professional standards.

33345According to a statement issued to the press, the editors of the JEAH – Jaap Jacobs, L.H. Roper, and Bertrand Van Ruymbeke –  “were intrigued and troubled by this debate, which raises questions about the wisdom of professional scholars engaging in what might be seen as lobbying activities. The debate seems to question the basis for historical scholarship—documentary-based research versus oral traditions, for example.  The most significant concern is that the investigations into what might have happened in 1613 are being overshadowed both by an argument over the authenticity of the Tawagonshi document and by the current political and social significance of the 1613 date as it relates to the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign.”  To address the historical questions at the heart of the debate, the editors invited Paul Otto, expert on intercultural relations in New Netherland, as co-editor with Jaap Jacobs to produce an issue specially focused on the Tawagonshi and Two Row history.

“In publishing this special issue of the JEAH,” the publishers said in a press release, “the intention of the co-editors is not to take sides in the debate but to shed as much light as possible on the historical context of this important anniversary through scholarly inquiry.”

Different aspects of the presumed 1613 treaty are addressed by experts in the field, including a linguistic analysis of the allegedly forged document, the early years of Dutch trade in New Netherland, Iroquois (or Haundenosaunee) diplomacy and oral tradition, Dutch-indigenous relations, and the history of wampum.

“First, the Tawagonshi document is a forgery and not a later copy of a lost original,” Paul Otto (George Fox University) and Jaap Jacobs (University of St Andrews), co-editors of the special issue, state in summarizing their findings.  “Second, whatever agreements or negotiations traders […] may have made with native peoples, these could not be construed as diplomatic treaties between sovereign people. Establishing both of these facts does not, however, discredit the tradition of an agreement between Dutch and Iroquois representatives that later became the basis for English and then American negotiations with the Iroquois.”

The Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign reaches New York City on August 9, after leaving Onondaga Lake on July 2. Photo by Alex Hyland.

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