The Cost of Civilization

In 1793, the Quaker philanthropist Thomas Eddy (Figure 1) visited the Brothertown, Stockbridge, Oneida, and Onondaga tribes in Utica, New York.[i]


Figure 1: Thomas Eddy, Quaker philanthropist and founder of Newgate Penitentiary.

This landmark trip was the first contact between the Six Nations tribes and the Friends, who thereafter developed close ties with one another.[ii] Their relationship is instructive for the study of prison reform in New York in the early 1800s because the Friends approached the reform of the tribes and the reform of convicts at Newgate with a similar mindset. The consistency and longevity of the exchange of letters between the tribes and Thomas Eddy – dating between 1795 and 1923 – constitute a rich source from which to discern the personalities of and power dynamics between both communities.

Samuel L. Knapp’s biography of Thomas Eddy contains a large quantity of the letters exchanged between the two communities. Knapp’s book published in 1834 as well as an article in Hunt’s Merchant’s Magazine stimulate that Eddy and a few other Friends witnessed the noticeable increase in poverty and reduction of resiliency among the Six Nations.[iii] Eddy felt obliged to diminish the suffering of the tribes.[iv]

The Quakers attributed the Six Nations’s diminished stature to inherent failings in the indigenous people’s way of life such as nomadism, “bloodthirsty” inclinations, and lack of self discipline manifest in rampant alcoholism. For instance, Knapp writes of Eddy’s friendship with the Seneca tribe leader Red Jacket. Giving value to scientific racist theory of the 1800s, Knapp writes that Red Jacket’s “head was the admiration of the phrenologist,” but that he consumed vast amounts of alcohol, and was therefore an example of the “fallen nature” of the Seneca. The prevalence of spirits was not related in the least to any intrinsic fault in the Six Nations, but rather due to the influx of alcohol through white trading posts. Chief Little Turtle of the Miami stated as such at the Baltimore Conference of 1801, claiming that liquor was a wicked, white invention and thus should be removed from Native lands by whites. The Quakers also pressed the importance of ridding alcohol from indigenous communities, but viewed it as the responsibility of the Native Americans. In a letter to the Brothertown tribe, Friends Edmund Prior and Eddy urged the sober members of the tribes to be role models for imbibing members of the community as well as introduce punishments for the consumption of spirits in their code of laws.[v]


Figure 2: Map of the territories of the Six Nation tribes of New York.

However after his first face-to-face meeting in 1793 with 700 tribesmen and the superintendent of tribal affairs in the region, Eddy was also made aware that white land encroachment was contributing to tribal decline. Though an acknowledged threat to the tribes, the expansion of white communities onto indigenous land was seen by Eddy as inevitable. Thus, he sought to ease the friction occurring between two distinct but, as he perceived them, unequal cultures. The method of the Friends to address the incompatibility of the disparate cultures was to persuade the Six Nations to abandon their traditional way of life. In essence, the Friends sought to transplant the ideas and practices of “[the] race of industrious men, adorned with all the arts and sciences of civilization” to the Six Nation peoples.[vi]

The Quaker reform of the Six Nation tribes took its earliest physical form in the Yearly Meeting Committee for the Improvement of the Indians (Figure 3).[vii] Eddy, a talented grant writer, utilized the meetings to cajole wealthy philanthropists into funneling significant resources to the Six Nations.[viii] As a result, a sort of trade-off was established between the Six Nations and the Friends that was recorded in their frequent correspondences. In general, the exchange went as follows: the tribes were expected to adopt European farming techniques, schooling, and religion in the form of Christianity; in return, the Native Americans received a powerful ally in the white world that promised to provide essential, inaccessible resources, though not without a cost.[ix]


Figure 3: Cover an account of the proceedings of the Yearly Meeting of Friends in 1805.

An example of the resources that the Six Nations were afforded from their relationship with the Quakers can be found in a letter dated November 19th, 1795 to the Friends. The purpose of the letter, written by Stockbridge leaders Hendrick Aupaumut, John Quinney, and Solomon Quanquanchmut, was to obtain the Friends’ assistance. The request for aid however does not come until the very end of the communiqué. First, the leaders heavily emphasize their gratitude towards the Quakers and to the “good Spirit,” the Christian God. Only after this declaration of allegiance do they ask the Friends to help them acquire clothing for sixty families. According to the Stockbridge leaders, the white traders in town were swindling the tribesmen who came to purchase textiles. Oftentimes, the men would come back from the trading post drunk, robbed, and without the articles of clothing (Figure 4).[x]

The Quakers, though a definite minority, had political power and were in close contact with the superintendent of tribal affairs in the early 19th century, General William Floyd. Political ties thus enabled Eddy and his compatriots to answer the requests of the Stockbridge. Thomas Eddy replies by urging the Stockbridge to have faith in God and take up farming so as to have less contact with white folk. They maintain that self-sufficient agriculture would not only provide the tribe with subsistence but would limit the flow of rum into the population. They additionally say that needed provisions —  a stove, some pipe, some cloth — would be sent. But the Friends are explicitly clear that the aid is not value-free; they expect full repayment for the goods by a given date. This is perhaps partially related to the significant mercantile culture among the Quakers.[xi]

From the letters, the establishment of white farming practices and schooling was much more difficult to establish among the Six Nations. In July of 1796, Eddy discusses the decision to defer the construction of a school on tribal lands to General Floyd. Instead using the funds to address the more immediate needs of the tribe as the winter season approached such as heavy blankets and clothing. Eddy continues by recounting the lack of  good quality, basic farming equipment despite the Friends determined efforts. One month later, Eddy informs Floyd that the construction of a second schoolhouse on the land of a man named John Tuhis was fiscally impossible until the first schoolhouse was finished. From the letter, the reader can glean that although the Quakers ordered the materials required for the schoolhouse and provided the measurements, the tribe members were expected to put in the physical labor. Eddy did not reveal his own insights for the lack of progress made in the construction. He did ask that General Floyd inform the tribes that no more funding would be provided from the Governor until the first schoolhouse was built. Perhaps he meant the notice to be an incentive for the tribes to carry-out construction.[xii]


Figure 4: A Friends school built in Rhode Island.

The lengthy correspondence between the Quakers, usually represented by Eddy and Murray, and the Six Nation tribes reveals the power imbalance in their relationship. In order to fit within the grandiose vision of reform and “civilization” perpetuated by Eddy, the Six Nations were expected to convert to Christianity, to adopt white agricultural practices, and to establish a white school system. The Six Nations only acquiesced – though to what level remains unclear – out of necessity for allies that could arrest or mitigate white encroachment on indigenous lands and all its proceeding ramifications. In this way, Eddy transplanted the Quaker values of discipline, education, and solitude onto the Six Nation peoples in an effort to provoke in them moral and spiritual enlightenment. Operating on the same Quakers principles in the early 1800s, Eddy and his fellow Friends envisioned Newgate penitentiary as the bringer of salvation to prisoners. Thus, Quaker philanthropy can be defined as the attempt to realize an ideal society constructed from a Quaker worldview and mediated by three key tenants: discipline, education and solitude.

-Fiona V. Whalen

[i] The American Whale Fishery, 1840,, 69.

[ii] Samuel Lorenzo Knapp, The Life of Thomas Eddy: Comprising an Extensive Correspondence with Many Distinguished Philosophers and Philanthropists of This and Other Countries (New York: Conner and Cooke, 1834), 100.

[iii] The American Whale Fishery, 69.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Knapp, The Life of Thomas Eddy, 99-138.

[vi] Ibid., 100-101.

[vii] The American Whale Fishery, 69.

[viii] Knapp, The Life of Thomas Eddy, 101.

[ix] Ibid., 102-135.

[x] Ibid., 103.

[xi] Ibid., 104-105.

[xii] Ibid., 104-117.

Works Cited

Knapp, Samuel Lorenzo. The Life of Thomas Eddy: Comprising an Extensive Correspondence with Many Distinguished Philosophers and Philanthropists of This and Other Countries. New York: Conner and Cooke, 1834.

The American Whale Fishery. 1840.


Figure 1- The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Thomas Eddy” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 18, 2016.

Figure 2- Tryon, William. Boundary of the Six Nation Tribes, 1771. Digital image. Access Genealogy. Dennis N. Partridge, 22 Sept. 2016. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

Figure 3- Society of Friends, Baltimore Yearly Meeting 1805. “A Brief Account of the Proceedings of the Committee, Appointed by the Yearly Meeting of Friends, Held in Baltimore, for Promoting the Improvement and Civilization of the Indian Natives [microform].” Digital image. February 16, 2011. Accessed November 7, 2016.

Figure 4- The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. (1874). Teachers of Friend’s School, Providence, R.I. [Group Photo.] Retrieved from