Lot 306    

Seneca Chief Governor Blacksnake Quarter Plate Daguerreotype
2009, Winter American History, Dec 9
Identified with a slip of inked paper beneath the cover glass, and with the following identification pasted onto the pad of the case: Governor Blacksnake (Tha-o-hawyuth) or (Tha-o-wa-nyuth) The Nephew (Seneca). Died at Cold Spring, NY in South Valley Allegany [sic] Reservation Dec 26th 1859 age 117 or 120 years. A large and powerful man. Photo artist F.C. Flint 402 So. Salina St. Syracuse, N.Y. In spite of this detailed information, we could find no listing for Flint.

Born near Seneca Lake about 1753, this important Seneca war-chief was known to his people as Chainbreaker; to Whites he was Governor Blacksnake. According to some of his early biographers he was given this moniker by George Washington, though this may be merely apocryphal.

Chainbreaker/Blacksnake was the nephew of Cornplanter, an important Seneca war-chief and Handsome Lake, a Seneca religious figure. Cornplanter and Handsome Lake were both members of the Wolf clan, and in the matrilineal Seneca society, these two elders were responsible for the upbringing of their sister’s male child – Chainbreaker. By the time of the Revolutionary War, Chainbreaker/Blacksnake was a young warrior. While not yet old enough to be a diplomatic leader, he was present with Cornplanter at the peace negotiations after the war. This close association resulted in another common moniker, “The Nephew.”

By the second quarter of the 19th century, having won their “Second Revolution” in the War of 1812, Americans were constructing their “national myth” (Abler 2005: 10) and Indian Wars and the Revolution, as well as the frontier in general, were a major part of this. Chainbreaker/Blacksnake became something of a local celebrity in upstate New York, so in the 1840s he began relating his memories to young Ben Williams – the Revolution from the viewpoint of a native veteran. Williams clearly had an eye toward publishing the Seneca chief’s biography, though never finished the task. The great collector and historian Lyman Draper purchased Williams manuscript for $25, which serves as the basis for much of what we know about Chainbreaker’s/Blacksnake’s life. (This was Draper’s first purchase of what would eventually fill 484 volumes, now housed at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.)

Chainbreaker’s/Blacksnake’s memoirs contain information about the French and Indian Wars -- second-hand knowledge gleaned at many council fires as a young boy; the American Revolution -- first-hand knowledge from a warrior; Indian conflicts at the end of the 18th century, again as a participant (many villages were burned in the late 1790s); and the War of 1812. The next period seems to be “missing.” Williams’ notes do not cover much of the intervening decades, whether lost in the fire, or not written down, or not deemed important, is unknown.

Chainbreaker/Blacksnake was also at the center of one of the great transformational events in Seneca history: the formation of the Code of Handsome Lake. While there are numerous variations on the story, the general scenario is consistent: Handsome Lake fell into a coma – perhaps induced by alcohol abuse. Seeking help, his daughter ran to Blacksnake and Cornplanter for aid. With the aid of Blacksnake, Handsome Lake was revived, and reported that during his sleep had had a vision. Three spirit messengers warned about dangers of alcohol consumption and witchcraft. Subsequent visions added other “evil practices” such as sexual promiscuity, wife beating, fighting and gambling. From this point forward, Handsome Lake preached against the abuse of alcohol, and urged the Iroquois to adopt his new “code” that incorporated elements of Christianity and traditional Iroquois culture. The new religion gained in popularity, with none more fervent follower than Chainbreaker, himself, having witnessed first hand Handsome Lake’s near death and recovery. Some sources indicate that it was Chainbreaker who dictated the Code of Handsome Lake to be written down years after the prophet’s death (in the late 1840s). The new religion had enough Christian elements to meet with Quaker approval, as well as that of Thomas Jefferson. The Quakers had established schools and other social services on the Iroquois reservations, and their writings refer to Chainbreaker as Handsome Lake’s “privy Counsellor” (Abler 2005: 218).

The present daguerreotype of Blacksnake has been reproduced in several volumes on the Seneca. It appears first in Donaldson’s 1892 volume on the Seneca, facing p.28, with no attribution. A copy of the daguerreoptype was also used as the cover illustration of Adler’s (2002) biography, and it was used again by Abler (2005) as the frontispiece. None of these publication provide any credit or attribution as to the original owner. The daguerreotype - along with a box of other unrelated images -- was recently found in a warehouse in upstate New York.

An exceptionally important image of a well-known Native American diplomat and historical figure. During his lifetime Governor Blacksnake saw the conquest of North America by the British; the birth of the United States of America; and the decline of his people from members of a powerful Confederacy to a handful of poor villagers scattered on a reservation on a fraction of their original territory.

See the following for publications using this same image: Abler, Thomas S. (ed.) (2005) Chainbreaker: The Revolutionary War memoirs of Governor Blacksnake as told to Benjamin Williams. University of Nebraska Press. Adler, Jeanne W. (ed.) (2002) Chainbreaker’s War: A Seneca Chief Remembers the American Revolution. Hensonville (NY): Black Dome Press. Donaldson, Thomas (1892) … Indians. The Six Nations of New York: Cayugas, Mohawks (St. Regis), Oneidas, Onondagas, Senecas, Tuscarowas. Extra Census Bulletin. Washington. U.S. Government Printing Office.
Sold: $22,325.00
Price includes
Buyer's Premium
      Ask a Question

All Images

<i>Grand Canyon of Arizona</i> by Thomas Moran (American, 1837-1926)
Lot # 311 - Grand Canyon of Arizona by Thomas Moran (American, 1837-1926)
Chromolithograph on paper, housed in original frame with original plaque; 25.5 x 34.5 in. Lot includes Underwood & Underwood stereoview of Thomas Moran perched over the Canyon. > Item Details
General Robert E. Lee on Traveler Photograph
Lot # 161 - General Robert E. Lee on Traveler Photograph
With inked inscription below image General Lee on Traveller [sic], printed from a heavily retouched negative, like all known copies, with Miley & Son, Lexington, VA imprint on the mount at lower left; 6.25 x 7.2 in., matted, 14 x 17 in. Following the Civil War, there was such a high demand for a pho... > Item Details
Jefferson Davis at Savannah, Georgia, Chatham Artillery Centennial, 1886
Lot # 160 - Jefferson Davis at Savannah, Georgia, Chatham Artillery Centennial, 1886
Anonymous albumen photograph of Jefferson Davis at the Chatham Artillery Centennial, May 3, 1886. Image size, 4.5 x 7.9 in. mounted on 7 x 10.5 in. cream board. With inked manuscript inscription on recto Hon. Jefferson Davis at Savannah, Georgia, May 1886 (Chatham Artillery Centennial) Addressing t... > Item Details
Rutherford B. Hayes, Autographed Photograph as President
Lot # 69 - Rutherford B. Hayes, Autographed Photograph as President
An albumen portrait of Rutherford B. Hayes, standing confidently, with his right hand inside his jacket, 5.25 x 10.5 in., with the following inscription written on the mount, below the photograph: To Charles B. Hare / With my congratulations on the completion of fifty years of honorable service in t... > Item Details
Philadelphia Police Presentation Alarm, 1835
Lot # 98 - Philadelphia Police Presentation Alarm, 1835
in the style of a naval alarm, rosewood, approx. 6 x 7.5 in. Brass plate on one end: G.W. Tonkin, Captn. of the City Watch, Philada. to Ezekiel Burk, Captn. of the City Watch, Balto. Jany. 1835 Without electricity and rapid emergency communications, large cities relied on City Watches to keep an eye... > Item Details
<i>New York Times</i> Lincoln Assassination Newspaper, April 15, 1865
Lot # 31 - New York Times Lincoln Assassination Newspaper, April 15, 1865
Complete original 8pp Civil War newspaper, the New York Times, dated April 15, 1865. Prominent front page headlines begin with: AWFUL EVENT / President Lincoln Shot by an Assassin. The Deed Done at Ford's Theatre Last Night. THE ACT OF A DESPERATE REBEL.... Featuring one of the earliest accounts of ... > Item Details
S.J. Morrow Stereoview of Prisoners at Fort Keogh, M.T.
Lot # 264 - S.J. Morrow Stereoview of Prisoners at Fort Keogh, M.T.
A portrait of Prisoners at Fort Keogh, M.T., with Morrow's Yankton, D.T. imprint, sitters potentially identified as Chief Spotted Eagle at left, Chief Rain-in-the-Face (?) at center, and Chief Hump (?) at right. In the autumn of 1880, a large group of Sioux exiles, led by Spotted Eagle of the Sans A... > Item Details
Andrew Jackson Presidential Proclamation Broadside on Silk, 1832
Lot # 27 - Andrew Jackson Presidential Proclamation Broadside on Silk, 1832
PRESIDENTIAL PROCLAMATION signed in type Andrew Jackson, 25.5 x 20.5 in. Issued during Jackson's second term as President of the United States, and during the height of the Financial Panic, this silk was meant to remind supporters of the so-called "Nullification Crisis" of 1832. When faced with Sou... > Item Details
President US Grant Signed Pardon
Lot # 67 - President US Grant Signed Pardon
One page pre-printed ADS, approximately 10 x 8 in., pardoning convicted counterfeiter Thomas Vincent, signed U.S. Grant in light ink, dated Washington 22/October 1873. A file of photocopied documents from the National Archives shows that Vincent was sentenced to 5 years hard labor at Albany Prison ... > Item Details
Whaling Ship's  Log of the <i>Tybee</i> for 1841-1843
Lot # 53 - Whaling Ship's Log of the Tybee for 1841-1843
folio ledger, half-leather with marbled paper boards. Log records 2 days per page, with entries every two hours of speed, wind direction, course, other comments at the beginning of the voyage; location in latitude and longitude measured once per day (most days). By Nov. 13, stopped noting hourly obs... > Item Details
Book Autographed By Frank James and Cole Younger
Lot # 377 - Book Autographed By Frank James and Cole Younger
Book is Piffard, Henry G. Cutaneous Memoranda. New York: William Wood Company, 1885. 24mo, brown cloth boards with gilt front and spine. First free endpaper with Charles Borchert. Lower part of page cut away to expose second free endpaper with Frank James and Cole Younger written on it. > Item Details
Cabinet Photograph of Apache Al-che-say and His Band
Lot # 292 - Cabinet Photograph of Apache Al-che-say and His Band
Marked in the negative, Al.che.say / Chief of the White Mt. Indians & Counsel. Marked on mount, barely visible under the print is the imprint for, H. C. Cutler & Co., Photographers. Cutler, however, is not the photographer. Probably by A. Frank Randall or George Ben Wittick. This is likely a gro... > Item Details
D.F. Barry Cabinet Card Photo of  Oglala Sioux Chief Circling Bear
Lot # 244 - D.F. Barry Cabinet Card Photo of Oglala Sioux Chief Circling Bear
Also known as Brave Bear, or Conquering Bear, wearing an eagle feather bonnet with trailer. Applied label, Circling Bear, ink notation, Sioux Chief, and Barry’s Bismarck, Dakota studio imprint on the mount. Likely dating before Nov. 2, 1889 when Dakota Territory became the states of North and Sout... > Item Details
<i>He Kills First</i> Miniconjou Dakota Photograph by Antonio Zeno Shindler
Lot # 230 - He Kills First Miniconjou Dakota Photograph by Antonio Zeno Shindler
Albumen print 5.25 x 7.25 in. on mount 8.5 x 10.5 in. in mat. Marked in the negative, “243.” He Kills First was a member of a Dakota delegation in Washington, D.C. between February 17 and April 8, 1867, during when this photograph was made. > Item Details
DeGraff Photograph of <i>Indians Implicated in the Spicer Murder</i>
Lot # 364 - DeGraff Photograph of Indians Implicated in the Spicer Murder
5.5 x 6.75 in. silver gelatin mounted on a larger 6 x 7.5 in. cardstock; composite photograph of Black Hawk, Phillip Ireland (Standing Bear), Paul Holy Track, George Defender, and Alex Coudot with manuscript identification written on original negative. In 1897 this group of men was accused of murde... > Item Details
Group portrait of Osage Indians by William S. Prettyman
Lot # 281 - Group portrait of Osage Indians by William S. Prettyman
Arkansas City, Kansas, ca 1890. Albumen print 9.1 x 7.75 in. on mount 12 x 10 in. Individuals identified on mount include Saucy Chief, Maj. W. A. Oliphant and Gov. A. P. Hovey. Pencil notations verso, includes note, Taken about 1890 From in Indian Territory Adda Oliphant George, likely a relative... > Item Details
J.P. Ball Quarter Plate Daguerreotype of Mulattoes
Lot # 11 - J.P. Ball Quarter Plate Daguerreotype of Mulattoes
Portrait of three young men dressed in suits; light hand-tinting to shirts and piping on jacket of the youngest; brass mat stamped J.B. Ball, a noted African American photographer who opened his first studio in Cincinnati, OH in 1845, then became an itinerant photographer, traveling to Pittsburgh, R... > Item Details
CDV Album Featuring Prominent Quakers Eli and Sybil Jones
Lot # 24 - CDV Album Featuring Prominent Quakers Eli and Sybil Jones
Small cdv album 5 x 6.25 in., with gilt front and spine on embossed leather, single clasp. 29 cdv's, 4 tintypes in cdv-sized sleeves, and 2 gem-sized tintypes, plus two lithographs of Generals Grant and Sheridan cut to cdv-size. Most of the images document the Dudley family of Maine. A loose letter ... > Item Details
Alaskan Gold Rush  Mining Photograph Album
Lot # 327 - Alaskan Gold Rush Mining Photograph Album
Assembled by Harry Parshall of Pennsylvania, ca 1895. Small oblong folio album containing 74 silver gelatin photographs, each 4 x 5 in. mounted two to a page, documenting Parshall and like minded Pennsylvania adventurers who joined the treasure seekers who flocked to the Klondike Gold Rush. As rela... > Item Details
Eugene Field / Harry Sickles Sheet Music Lincoln Forgeries
Lot # 81 - Eugene Field / Harry Sickles Sheet Music Lincoln Forgeries
10 x 13 in. lithograph on 14 x 18 in. sheet of Abraham Lincoln. From the original portrait by E.D. Marchant painted at the White House in 1863..., copyright 1864. With forged Lincoln signature to right of lithographed caption. On verso is the typical Field-Sickles explanation: This (inserted: signed... > Item Details
ITEMS 1-20 of 20