MARK GILLESPIE/Livingston County News
Geneseo historian David Parish with his new biography of pioneer Horatio Jones.
Frontiersman Horatio Jones’ biography published
Geneseo historian David W. Parish’s in-depth biography of Horatio Jones, one of the Genesee Valley’s noteworthy pioneer personalities, was recently published by the village and town of Geneseo.
Jones’ life (b. 1763, d.1836), encompassed the American Revolution and succeeding period of rapid settlement of western New York by white Europeans.
After being captured and adopted by the British-allied Seneca in 1881, Jones was released under treaty in 1784. The language skills and cultural familiarity he had acquired during his time as an adopted captive served the young United States well.
Many of us first encountered Jones in the popular Arch Merrill histories, penned in the mid-50’s when, in accord with the Davy Crockett craze of that era, Jones was portrayed as a local version of the coonskin-capped folk hero. Indeed, in his youth Jones did fight Indians on the frontier and survived a deadly gauntlet.
However, in Parish’s portrait of Jones, he appears no less fascinating as an early James Bond-type government agent, rumored to have at times been tapped for secret missions by none other than President Washington himself. After victory in the Revolution, the new United States government saw as inevitable the westward thrust of white settlement and the consequent removal of Indian tribes — preferably without warfare and bloodshed. There was great value in having translators and communicators of Jones’ caliber for pacifying the native people.
Jones himself appears to have been free of racial prejudice against his Native American brothers, Parish suggests, emphasizing Jones’ cultural “crossing over” in his book’s subtitle. The three years Jones spent with the Seneca were apparently not unpleasant for a young man with an affinity for hunting and woodland adventure.
Still, such enlightenment seems remarkable given how Jones, his family and community had been subject to deadly frontier raids by the Iroquois, encouraged and assisted by the British and Tories following the Battle of Oriskany in 1777.
Jones, a fourth generation member of a Welsh-American family, was living in Downington, Pennsylvania when he enlisted in as a fifer the Continental Army in 1776 at age 13. He would survive small pox and see service as both a regular and militiaman. He participated in the 1779 Brodhead incursion up the Allegany River, complimenting the Sulllivan-Clinton campaign.
Jones was captured on June 4, 1781 during a skirmish. An America militia party of about 24 men under Capt. John Boyd (brother of Capt. Thomas Boyd who was tortured in Little Beard’s Town in 1779) was ambushed along the Franklin branch of the Juanita River while pursuing a raiding party which had struck Fettler’s Fort. Nine of the party fell and another eight were taken captive.
The Seneca warrior Deonundaggo, honoring his sister’s wish, presented Jones with wampum by which he might be adopted into the Hawk Clan as a replacement for the grieving sister’s son, who had died in battle. However, the wampum did not immunize Jones against the ordeals he would have to face as an enemy of the Seneca.
At Caneadea — or perhaps outside Nunda, historical accounts differ — Jones was forced to ‘run the gauntlet.’ Depending on the source of the story, Jones survived by (1) running very close along one side of weapon wielders, thereby avoiding the harshest blows; (2) waiting until the end when everyone had satiated their frustration on the earlier runners; or (3) by ‘cheating,’ that is, cutting through the gauntlet at the half-way point and ducking into the longhouse of his soon-to-be-adoptive mother. In most versions, Jones is ‘tipped off’ as to how he might best outwit the gauntlet by members of the woman’s family, who are rooting for his survival and adoption.
Released at Fort Stanwix in 1784, Jones reunited with Sarah Whitmore, who was taken during the notorious ‘Wyoming Massacre’ and had already encountered Jones while both were in adopted captivity — possibly at the Indian refugee camps which surrounded Fort Niagara.
Jones and Whitmore were married. The couple operated a trading post at the head of Seneca Lake in partnership with Horatio’s brother, John. In 1790, Horatio and Sarah relocated to the Genesee Valley, settling along Fall Brook at the present-day Sweet Briar site, which Jones is said to have named after the abundance of wild roses.
Sarah bore Jones four children, two of whom were destined to be captured and executed by Iroquois warriors when war with Britain rekindled on the Niagara frontier in 1812. Sarah died at the young age of 27 and is buried somewhere near Sweet Briar.
Jones’ second wife, Elizabeth Starr of Hemlock, bore him another 11 children.
Besides working as agent and translator for the United States government, Jones was employed in the same capacity for the fur trader John Jacob Astor, long before Astor made his fortune. Jones also practiced blacksmithing skills acquired from his father, and operated a distillery at Fall Brook.
As a critical link between the Indian and white cultures, Jones was witness to, and participant in, negotiations and treaties which surely and steadily claimed the Iroquois land and pushed the indigenous people further west, into Canada and onto reservations. Yet Jones never seems to have provoked resentment among his Seneca kin, who only ever showed love and respect for their adopted son. Indeed, his move to the Genesee Valley had taken place when the Seneca arranged for him a gift of land.
Jones’ initial application for a military pension was rejected in 1832, perhaps because of suspicion that he may have aided the enemy during the time he was captive. The application was confirmed, however, in 1834 when another frontiersman of local fame, Moses VanCampen, vouched for his service.
‘Horatio Jones, Crossing Over,’ a 175 page bound notebook, is available at the Geneseo Village Office, 119 Main Street, for $15.