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The Treaty of Canandaigua (1794) Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 13th, 2021


The Treaty of Canandaigua (1794) is a treaty which was signed at Canandaigua, New York between the United States of America (represented by the then president George Washington through his official agent Timothy Pickering) and the Grand Council of the Six Nations of the Iroquois who call themselves the Haudenosaunee on November 11, 1794. These tribes include the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, the Seneca, and the Tuscarora.

This treaty is one among many signed between the fledgling years of the United States, which were aimed at ensuring peace and coexistence between many native American tribes that were still widely scattered through out the country. As such, the treaty cannot be examined as a solitary document or its signing as a solitary event; on the contrary, the treaty should be viewed as a definite turning point in the relations between the Native American and the newly formed federal government and as a result of ten years of negotiations.


Before being appointed the official agent of the president, Timothy Pickering was the Quartermaster General originally from Salem, Massachusetts. Late in 1790, President George Washington appointed Pickering as the new commissioner of the Iroquois confederacy; this was at a point where the relationship between the United States and many Native American tribes was frosty; and a violent confrontation seen as inevitable. Among the issues which had caused antagonism between the two parties was a series of unfair treaties with the western tribes particularly the Miami and the discontent caused were being felt among all the tribes. Pickering was mandated to negotiate with the Six Nation under these tense conditions; which he was able to do albeit with significant difficulty1.

Pickering came into the picture during a period of a reboot of the relationship between the federal government and the Native American tribe; and new efforts were clearly visible both in terms of diplomatic and military perspectives. Until this period, the United States had dealt with the Native Americans as hostiles, deploying the military to coerce the tribes to cede their land as mandated by the articles of confederation which placed Native American affairs under the Department of War. After the end of the Revolutionary war, the Six Nations were faced with an increasingly hostile federal government; and were eager to secure their claim to the land, now under threat from the state governments which were desperate to expand their territory to the Indian territory.

In the face of this, the Iroquois confederation led by the Seneca war chief Ki-ant-whau-ka (Corn Planter) signed the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in the October of 1784; albeit with reservations regarding loss of significant portions of territories. The treaty drew a demarcation line running from (quote) “the mouth of Oyonwagea Creek on Lake Ontario, four miles east of Niagara south to the mouth of Buffalo Creek, and east of the Niagara portage, thence due south to the northern boundary of Pennsylvania, thence west to the end of that boundary, thence south along the west boundary of that state to the Ohio River”2. The terms of the treaty dictated that the Iroquois would cede all their territory west of the demarcation line thus the indignation among the Native American tribes regarding its signing.

Approximately one year later, the Treaty of Fort McIntosh was signed with the western Indian nations and with similar unfair terms; this drove the anger of the Indians to a boiling point eventually resulting to violent attacks from the Miami, one of the tribes which had lost heavily from the fall out of the signing and vehemently rejected the terms of this treaty. These attacks forced the federal government to reexamine the decision to use military tactics in forcing the Native Americans to cede their land from fears of a widespread wave of violence among all the western tribes and the Iroquois. Henry Knox, the then Secretary of War under President Washington came up with a new diplomatic approach to dealing with the Indians in 1789. According to Knox, forming treaties with the Indian nations would have better results than military escalation; such treaties would ideally ensure the rights of the Indian nations over the defined territory and would have provisions to penalize any whites who would try to violate any of these rights3.

According to a census carried out by a missionary (Samuel Kirkland), the Six Nations numbered approximately 4,500 with about 1000 warriors4 and thus the change of tact to diplomacy was crucial in preventing the Iroquois from joining the Western Indians in a war against the United States. Knox and the president were not confident of the ability of the army under General Anthony Wayne to engage in another war with the Iroquois while they were already occupied fighting the Miami in Ohio. Additionally, the ability of the federal government to provide human and financial resources to support such an escalation was in serious doubt. As such, ensuring the neutrality of the Iroquois in the conflict was crucial for the president.

Changing Tides

It was in this light that Pickering was appointed as the commissioner of the Iroquois and among his first assignments was to meet with the representatives of the Iroquois at Newtown Point, Pennsylvania. The instructions to Pickering were clear; to offer the Indians peace and protection of the right to their land and friendship so as to preempt any war which would be a major disaster for both the United States and the Indian nations. After the meeting, all the parties viewed it as a progress towards more harmonious relationship. However, the prospects of the Western tribes had taken the turn for the worse and they desperately needed aid from their Six Nations counterparts. In 1793, in a meeting between the Iroquois and the Western tribes, the latter passionately asked the former to break their neutrality and come to their aid.

In the face of the new development, the Iroquois started demanding for a new treaty with new terms especially regarding land rights. Among the issues which came up was the raw deal that the Iroquois got from the Treaty of Fort McIntosh needed to be reversed. Among the complaints of the Iroquoian people was that the United States from the Indian nation took vast amounts of land without them getting anything in return5.

Another thorny issue was the protection of the rights to their land which the Native Americans got from the treaty. While legislation was written to this effect, enforcing it was another issue. For example the Trade and Intercourse Act of 1790 states in part that, “no person shall be permitted to carry on any trade or intercourse with the Indian tribes, without a license for that purpose under the hand and seal of the superintendent of the department, or of such other person as the President of the United States shall appoint” 6. However, the reality on the ground was that no one really took heed of this law and many more settlers acquired land in Pennsylvania through dubious deals allegedly with the Seneca tribe. When the status quo could no longer hold, the Miami in the west rejected all the terms of previous treaties and the Iroquois demanded a review of the boundaries; and a reaffirmation of their rights to their land.

It is important to note here that the British still held considerable sway among the Native American population and this did not go down well with the new nation which, after less than a decade of existence, still harbored fears of a return to British rule. When the Indian nation reached out to the British for military assistance against the United States and the arrival of William Johnston, an English interpreter at the Canandaigua negotiations, many Americans saw this as a British scheme to insidiously regain some foothold on American soil from which they had been expelled.

Negotiating the Treaty

While the arrival of Johnston to the proceedings of the meeting stalled the process for a while, Pickering eventually managed to get him expelled7. With the British out of the picture, the Americans could now comfortably negotiate with the Six Nations. Among the things which compelled the Iroquois confederacy into going into consideration was the considerable risk it carried to side with the Miami in any conflict against the United States. On its part, the federal government did not hide its willingness not only to engage the Iroquois in a military conflict, but to ensure that the outcome of the conflict would render a fatal blow to Iroquois existence.

As such, while no military or territorial gains were in the offing for the Iroquois in joining the Miami in war, they saw the negotiations as an avenue to get some form of political mileage which they badly needed. For one, the Iroquois nation was a formidable entity and they were convinced that they would manage to extract some demands from the American government.

The negotiations culminated with the signing of the treaty of Canandaigua on the 11th of November, 1794 between Timothy Pickering and fifty-nine sachems and war chiefs representing each of the nations of the Haudenosaunee. The treaty was also witnessed by several Quakers and interpreters. The signing of the treaty aimed to put to rest several issues which had precipitated the negotiations including the neutrality of the Iroquois in the conflict between the United States & the Miami protection of the Iroquoian land rights to their territory; and the tension which had been building up between the Iroquois and the federal government.

The Treaty

The gist of the treaty was to establish a firm and permanent friendship between the United States and the Haudenosaunee8; this was stated explicitly in its first article. Among the more significant outcomes of signing the treaty was the fact that the Iroquois had finally managed to define themselves through legal means as an entity separate and independent to the United States and the Western Indians.

The second, third and fourth articles mainly dealt with the issue of land. The second article sought to establish the rights of the territories of the Oneida, Onondaga, and Cayuga Nations located in the state of New York and explicitly declared these territories to be their property. The third article gave similar rights to the Seneca in Pennsylvania. As mentioned before, Pennsylvania was a hotspot for rising tensions between the Indian nation of Seneca and white settlers following acquisition of Seneca territory by the latter through dubious and illegal deals. The third article sought to solve this problem by being the most precise of all articles dealing with land boundaries; staying strictly to the agreements between the Pickering and the Seneca representatives.

The fourth article of the treaty ensures the Six Nations perpetual rights to their territory by having the United States agreeing to never lay claim to the land occupied and owned by any of the Six nations and that the nations were at liberty to engage in any activity inside their territory without the interference by the United States. Independence was a very important issue to the six nations and they sought to extract as much freedom from the treaty as possible; the last provision, however, would be a major point of contention in the future.

On the other hand, the United States managed to extract some concessions from the six nations. For example, article five provides for a road to Lake Erie. In return for the concessions which the Iroquois made, the United States was required to pay them with goods worth ten thousand dollars and four thousand five hundred dollars every year as compensation for the same9. These payments were to continue ‘forever’. The Indian nations wanted to use the money to purchase various amenities including clothes, animals and farming appliances.

The seventh article of the treaty sought to establish the legal route of operation when dealing with crimes committed by individuals from one party against the other. These prosecutorial procedures were aimed at eliminating the blood feuds and revenge attacks which were so common in the conflicts between the Seneca and the white settlers in Pennsylvania. The article barred revenge attacks by any aggrieved party thus fostering peace.

The Legacy of the Treaty of Canandaigua

Since its signing on 11th of November, 1794, the United States has violated its provisions regarding land only once i.e. when the Kinzua Dam on River Allegheny was built in 1964 resulting to flooding of nine thousand acres of the Seneca Allegheny Reservation. Indeed, even the annual payments stipulated to be paid ‘forever’ by the United States to the Seneca are being paid even today but as a symbolic gesture of the peace and honor between the two parties10.


The Iroquois communities were able to maintain their way of life and independence by signing the treaty. The same cannot be said for other nations such as the Miami, which was eventually destroyed first by a crushing defeat by General Wayne, then by the fallout of the war including unfair treaties which did not favor its recovery. The treaty of Canandaigua is unique from other treaties signed between the United States and Native American nations in that its provisions are still active today contrary to so many other treaties that were simply disregarded. The treaty was an island of success in a sea of failure in the relationship and interaction between Native Americans and the newcomers to the land.

Reference List

Campisi, J., and William, A. Starna (1995). On the Road to Canandaigua: The Treaty of 1794. American Indian Quarterly 19: 2

Fenton, William Nelson. (1998). The Great Law and the Longhouse: A Political History of the Iroquois Confederacy. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Jemison, G. Peter, Schein, Anna M., and Powless Jr. Irving. (2000). Treaty of Canandaigua 1794: 200 Years of Treaty Relations between the Iroquois Confederacy and the United States. Clear Light Publishing.

The Massachusetts Historical Society. Timothy Pickering Papers 173 1-1927: Guide to the Microfilm Edition.“Web.

United States Congress. (1790). An Act to Regulate Trade and Intercourse with the Indian Tribes 1790. Web.

United States of America. (1794). Canandaigua Treaty of 1794. November 1, 1794. Web.


  1. Timothy Pickering papers, 1731-1927
  2. Fenton, 1998; 619
  3. Campisi & Starna, 1995; 468
  4. Fenton, 1998; 625
  5. Timothy Pickering papers, 60:9.
  6. United States Congress (1790): An Act to Regulate Trade and Intercourse with the Indian Tribes 1790. Web.
  7. Timothy Pickering papers, 60:205.
  8. United States of America (1794): Canandaigua Treaty of 1794. Web.
  9. Treaty of Canandaigua, 1794; article 6.
  10. Jemison, G. Peter, Schein, Anna M. and Powless Jr. Irving (2000): Treaty of Canandaigua 1794: 200 Years of Treaty Relations between the Iroquois Confederacy and the United States. Clear Light Publishing.
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