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

don't miss

an opportunity to bid. You can't win if you're not in.

sign up to bid

what's it worth?

ask the experts

sell your item

start selling
William McKinley Enormous Campaign Chromolithograph Poster
Lot # 34 - William McKinley Enormous Campaign Chromolithograph Poster
A rare, 8 sheet 1896 presidential campaign poster promoting Wm. McKinley, The Advance Agent of Prosperity, copyrighted in 1896 by W.J. Morgan & Co., Cleveland, OH. The poster is dominated by a shoulder-length portrait of McKinley, from a photo copyrighted by Courtney of Canton, OH, wearing a GAR med... > Item Details
Early Sixth Plate Daguerreotype of Distinguished New Hampshire Politician Natt Head
Lot # 17 - Early Sixth Plate Daguerreotype of Distinguished New Hampshire Politician Natt Head
Shown here wearing a Mexican War period military coat as Drum Major of the 11th Regiment New Hampshire Militia, ca 1847. This daguerreotype was originally part of a group of images depicting the Head brothers said to have “come from the estate of the family of Nathan Head.” Another ambrotype of Na... > Item Details
Four Cabinet Cards of American Indian Stage Performers
Lot # 399 - Four Cabinet Cards of American Indian Stage Performers
Lot of 4 studio portraits of American Indian performers, including the following: a man in costume identified below the image as Mountain Panther. The Chief, Warm Spring Indians. - No. 8, holding a Stevens Tip-Up Rifle, with G.V. Fry / Bucyrus, O. imprint on recto, ca. 1880-1900; an anonymous portra... > Item Details
Civil War Archive of Capt. Henry T. Dudley, 15th and 20th Massachusetts Infantry
Lot # 165 - Civil War Archive of Capt. Henry T. Dudley, 15th and 20th Massachusetts Infantry
POW. Capt. Henry T. Dudley Papers, 1861-1906. 143 letters (134 war-date, nearly all soldier's letters); 26 documents; Memoir of experiences in 20th Mass. (manuscript and 13p. typescript); 12 post-war diaries (mostly 16mo or 32mo diaries of Lucy Dudley); 95 photographs Memorabilia including cribbage... > Item Details
First Lieutenant Francis Brownell CDV
Lot # 150 - First Lieutenant Francis Brownell CDV
A rare portrait of Francis Brownell in uniform, proudly displaying the medals on his jacket, while cradling a Staff Officer's sword in his left arm, identified in pencil on recto and verso, with D. Woodworth's Albany, NY backmark. Francis E. Brownell (1840-1894), 11th New York, made famous as Ellswo... > Item Details
Deputy U.S. Marshal Baylor Crawford's Gold-Plated Badge, Plus
Lot # 384 - Deputy U.S. Marshal Baylor Crawford's Gold-Plated Badge, Plus
Cabinet card photograph and copies of records. Includes gold-plated nickel silver shield with eagle on top, Deputy U.S. Marshal, 1.7 x 2.2 in., much of gold worn off front. Original one-piece pin welded on verso. Studio cabinet card by Blair, Gatesville, TX, probably mid-1890s. Photograph not identi... > Item Details
Identified Odd Fellow in Fraternal Garb, Half Plate Daguerreotype
Lot # 5 - Identified Odd Fellow in Fraternal Garb, Half Plate Daguerreotype
Hand-tinted half plate daguerreotype portrait of an Odd Fellow, with the following identification scratched into the back of the plate: John Koule / Born April 29th 1815 / Died July 29th 1874 / Age 59 years and 3 months, housed in full case. Koule wears a white shirt with large gold buttons and a fi... > Item Details
Half Plate Ivorytpes of a Man and Woman, by Gurney
Lot # 7 - Half Plate Ivorytpes of a Man and Woman, by Gurney
Lot of 2, each dated 1864, one indicating the month of September. The mat of the woman stamped with Jeremiah Gurney's 707 Broadway, NY address. A fine pair using this rare, and short-lived process. > Item Details
Edward Curtis Signed Portrait of A Young Girl
Lot # 315 - Edward Curtis Signed Portrait of A Young Girl
3.75 x 5.75 in. photograph mounted on a larger 8 x 9.25 in. cardstock and housed in original paper folder; image with Curtis's signature in lower right corner and Seattle studio blind-stamp in lower left. > Item Details
General Pershing <i>Shrapnel</i> Award
Lot # 224 - General Pershing Shrapnel Award
Green leather Cartier box with Russian, French and Italian shrapnel rounds and brass tag on front with L'Usine André Citroën au General Pershing. Approx. 8.5" tall (slightly lower in back than front). Citroen, while better known for his automobiles, was responsible for mass production of armaments f... > Item Details
Wittick Cyanotype of Apache Indian Maiden <i>Na-tu-ende</i>
Lot # 293 - Wittick Cyanotype of Apache Indian Maiden Na-tu-ende
5.5 x 3.5 in. photograph shows a young woman dressed in a traditional hide yoke and posed with an Apache tray and pitch-coated canteen. > Item Details
CSA General Basil Duke, 1909 ALS
Lot # 188 - CSA General Basil Duke, 1909 ALS
2pp, 5.75 x 9 in., Louisville, 17 Jan. 1909. Addressee unknown. My dear Colonel, I was much gratified by your letter containing a quotation from one written you by Lieut. Russell, and what he says is especially pleasant, not only as expressing the spirit of a gallant soldier, but as illustrative of ... > 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
Dental Gold Specimens of Dr. A.J. Watts
Lot # 103 - Dental Gold Specimens of Dr. A.J. Watts
Lot consists of slides, two boxes of sponge gold, and a box of gold beads belonging to the inventor of dental gold, Dr. A.J. Watts (1825-1900). An Englishman by birth, Watts settled in Utica, New York in 1848. In 1863 he invented a process utilizing "crystal gold" for filling cavities in teeth. S... > Item Details
War Department Orders for the Isaac Stevens Expedition
Lot # 121 - War Department Orders for the Isaac Stevens Expedition
2pp typeset on folded blue paper with eagle blindstamp in upper left, orders issued by Jefferson Davis as Secretary of War, 8 Apr. 1853. Bvt. Capt. George B. McClellan was under orders to report to Isaac Stevens, Governor of Washington Territory. Along with members of Lieut. Donelson's engineer comp... > Item Details
Baker & Johnston Cabinet Card of <i>Washakie, Sitting</i>
Lot # 259 - Baker & Johnston Cabinet Card of Washakie, Sitting
Albumen, verso with printed listing of Indian Pictures by Baker and Johnston. This image is number one in the series. > Item Details
Thomas Jefferson ANS
Lot # 62 - Thomas Jefferson ANS
Jefferson, Thomas (1743-1826). President (1801-1809). ANS as President, 1p, 3.75 x 6 in., Washington, April 11, 1803. Addressed to Mr. John Barnes, Private Banker to Jefferson. Jefferson is requesting that his agent, John Barnes, issue Mr. Etienne Lemaire a payment of $75.50. Lemaire became Jefferso... > Item Details
Sixth Plate Ambrotype of Gentleman Holding Opossum in His Lap
Lot # 19 - Sixth Plate Ambrotype of Gentleman Holding Opossum in His Lap
An ambrotype portrait of an unusual looking fellow wearing a tall, brimmed hat and holding a live opossum in his lap. He appears to be holding a short stick under the animal's chin to force him to look at the camera. Sixth plate, housed in a full case. > Item Details
Exceptional Abraham Lincoln Funeral CDV Album
Lot # 33 - Exceptional Abraham Lincoln Funeral CDV Album
Containing 97 cartes, all but 15 pertaining directly to Lincoln, his funeral, and the Civil War. An extraordinary gathering, containing no fewer than 25 cartes of the funeral by Carbutt, Fassett and Witt Includes the following: Columbus, OH (3); Chicago, IL (10), featuring a numbered series of 8 Ca... > Item Details
A.F. Randall Photographs of Apaches
Lot # 299 - A.F. Randall Photographs of Apaches
Lot of 2 boudoir card photographs 5.25 x 8.5 in. of Apache Indians by A. Frank Randall, ca 1888. The first is a group portrait of a man holding a rifle posing with two women, one wearing face paint. Handwritten identification below image White Mountain Apaches, with Randall's Willcox, Arizona Terr... > Item Details
ITEMS 1-20 of 20