History: Was Benjamin Ferris One of the Good Guys?

Seneca Indians thought Benjamin Ferris was there to help, but he had an agenda.


Published:

The difference between a good guy and a bad guy? Sometimes, not knowing too much. Benjamin Ferris (1780-1867) of Wilmington was likely thought a good guy by the Seneca tribe. In the 1840s, Ferris and other Quakers helped overturn a fraudulent treaty that would have forced the tribe to move west of the Mississippi. As a result, the Seneca regained 53,000 acres.

What the Seneca didn’t know was that the Quakers had secretly collaborated with New York officials. Rather than reducing the size of the Senecas’ five separate reservations—the natives’ least-worst preference—the whites decided independently that the largest would be liquidated and sold to white settlers. As a result, the Seneca were to be concentrated in a smaller area, making it easier for white missionaries to reach them—something the Quakers desired.

“(Quakers Ferris and others) saw the Indians as a vanishing race who had to be led by the hand to civilization for their own good,” wrote historian Laurence M. Hauptman, author of Conspiracy of Interests. “Importantly, they did not see the loss of Tonawanda (Reservation) as a great tragedy, but a Friends opportunity to lead their charges to the ‘Inner Light.’”

Born at Third and Shipley streets in Wilmington, Ferris was the sixth of Ziba and Edith Ferris’ seven children. At age 14, he was apprenticed to a Philadelphia watch and clock maker, a profession he pursued until 1813. Then, at the age of 33, he gave it up and moved back to Wilmington. Appointed city surveyor, he prepared real estate documents. Those professions seem to have left Ferris time for church activities, reading and writing.

“He became much interested in collecting and preserving such facts as he could obtain of the early settlement and history of Wilmington and its neighborhood,” wrote Delaware historian John T. Scharf in 1888. Ferris even learned Swedish in order to read the records of Holy Trinity (Old Swedes) Church. From all this came Ferris’ History of the Original Settlements on the Delaware, published in 1846. According to historian John P. Reid, Ferris was also an early preservationist, objecting to the demolition of old buildings and even the cutting of trees. He complained when a tree dating to the Dutch period was cut and the wood used for rifle stocks.

As a Quaker, Ferris was moderately strict. Described in one account as “somewhat liberal,” he tolerated music and other entertainments that appealed to young people. Yet, he never voted in a presidential election because the president is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Ferris seemed to have absorbed Quakers’ concern for Native Americans, a trait of the sect since at least the time of William Penn. Because of that history, Indians generally trusted Quakers and often turned to them for advice. And so it happened that, in the early 1840s, Ferris was part of a Quaker committee that responded to a plea for help from the Senecas of New York.

In 1838, some real estate developers doing business as the Ogden Land Company had persuaded some chiefs of the Six Nations of the Iroquois, which included the Seneca, to sign what was termed the Treaty of Buffalo Creek. Some evidence suggests that the chiefs had been liquored up and bribed before they were persuaded to sign. In any case, part of the agreement was that the Seneca residents of the Buffalo Creek, Tonawanda, Oil Springs, Cattaraugus and Allegany reservations—all in the vicinity of Buffalo, N.Y.—would move to Kansas and Oklahoma. Of the five reservations, Tonawanda was largest, at about 65,000 acres. Buffalo Creek was second, about 53,000. The rest were much smaller.

It was part of Democrat Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal program that had expelled the Cherokee from Georgia and ignited the Seminole wars in Florida. The Second Seminole War, which killed 1,500 U.S. troops and cost $60 million, was bitterly criticized by the Whig Party during the 1840 election campaign, and Indian removal had since become a discredited approach. Whig John Tyler came into office promising a different approach. Enter, the Quakers.

The problem with the treaty, as Ferris and his Friends soon discovered, was that the Tonawanda Seneca had never signed. Chiefs at other reservations had signed, so those reservations were lost. But the Tonawanda had not signed, so they had a case. A sharing sort of people, the Seneca preferred that all five reservations be reduced so that everyone could remain in their homes. “They fear, if all are concentrated on two reservations, there will be difficulties and jealousies among themselves,” said Cattaraugus Chief Samuel Gordon.

Whites, however, especially coveted Tonawanda. It was closest to Buffalo, to which the Erie Canal had brought commerce and many white settlers. No doubt Ferris and the Quakers packaged it all very well. Good news: Of their 120,000 acres, the Seneca could keep 53,000 after all. But, well, Tonawanda isn’t really the best place anymore, and you’ll be much happier over here at Buffalo Creek. Ba dah bum.

Ferris’ spin on this for Quakers back in Philadelphia was positive, if patriarchal: “The Indians will be more concentrated and consequently more favorably situated for mental and moral improvement, as well as for the support of schools and other institutions for the advancement of science, and the formation of habits essential to a state of civilization, than they have heretofore been,” he wrote.

But the Tonawanda Seneca didn’t buy it. They refused to leave, and Washington was no longer in a mood to use force. Finally, in 1857, the Tonawanda signed a treaty recognizing their right to stay on the land. They now run several casinos there. No doubt, they thanked Ferris for his efforts before he left.   

 

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The Connected Series engages local creative community members to produce art-based programs at the Museum. Join us for appetizers, cash bar, and short introduction to the Connected Series followed...

Cost: Free

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Three times James Beard Best Chef Semi-Finalist to cook at The Whist! LIMITED seating. Owner of a(MUSE) and Grampa(MAC) in Rehoboth, DE. Five to six courses with chef-selected wine pairings. The...

Cost: $200/person

Where:
The University and Whist Club
805 N. Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Telephone: 302-658-5125
Contact Name: Stacey Inglis
Website »

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By Michael Gotch Directed by Mark Lamos Stung by personal, political, and economic setbacks, a young, urban couple build an off-the-grid, tiny house in an isolated mountain paradise…or so they...

Cost: 15-32

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
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Telephone: 302-831-2204
Website »

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More than 50,000 books for sale!  Thurs., 1/24 from 5 PM to 9 PM Friends Members Only (membership available at the door for $10)  Fri., 1/25 from 9 AM to 9 PM  Sat.,...

Cost: $10 on Thursday night; free the rest of the weekend

Where:
Hockessin Memorial Hall
610 Yorklyn Road
Hockessin, DE
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Sponsor: Friends of the Hockessin Library
Website »

More information

Winter Group Show  A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including paintings, drawings, ceramics, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift Certificates are always...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

CCArts Winter class registrations are open   The Center for the Creative Arts presents its Winter 2019 class and workshop offerings. With over 50 classes and workshops there is...

Cost: 0.00

Where:
410 Upper Snuff Mill Row
410 Upper Snuff Mill Row
Hockessin, DE  19736
View map »


Telephone: 302-239-2434
Contact Name: Nicole Schmid
Website »

More information

IN BETWEEN THEREShelley Thorstensen November 24, 2018 - March 17, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, December 7 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop For her first solo exhibition in Delaware,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

NEW HEIGHTS Erica Loustau  January 11 - December 11, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, January 11, 2019  7 - 9 PM Seeking to engage the unused space of our atrium lobby, artist...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466
Website »

More information

THE FAR IS NEAR Graham Dougherty & Ruth Ansel January 5 - 31, 2019 Opening reception: January 11  | 7 - 9 PM Graham Dougherty  ”We give shape...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

Pre-Raphaelite painter and women’s rights campaigner Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (1827–1891) was an early female participant in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Landscape was Bodichon’s...

Cost: Free for members. Included in Museum admission fee for non-members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

For more than 90 years, the Delaware Art Museum has showcased contemporary craft by artists working locally and throughout the region. The Museum’s first juried Contemporary Crafts Show was...

Cost: Free for members. Included in Museum admission fee for non-members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

A SENSE OF PLACE 47°-80° N Bethany Springer January 16 - May 12, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, February 1, 2019 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop A Sense of Place 47° - 80°...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466
Website »

More information

Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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More information

Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through discovery, exploration, and hands-on experiences.Ages 2 and up. Visit delart.org for list of books. ...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Schedule a private group tour followed by lunch or dinner with a historic, revolutionary war era presentation.* Ideal for conferences, corporate meetings, special interest groups. $25 per...

Cost: $25–$45

Where:
The University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Sponsor: The University and Whist Club
Telephone: 302-658-5125
Contact Name: Stacey Inglis
Website »

More information

HALF : HALF A Draper Experiment by Willie Yao January 4 -  February 24, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, February 1 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Delaware Contemporary...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

ORIGINS Rick Rothrock & Stan Smokler January 8 - April 22, 2019 Special Reception: Friday, January 11, 2019  5:30 - 7:30 PM Artist Talk | 6:30 PM The Delaware Contemporary...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

By Michael Gotch Directed by Mark Lamos Stung by personal, political, and economic setbacks, a young, urban couple build an off-the-grid, tiny house in an isolated mountain paradise…or so they...

Cost: 15-32

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Telephone: 302-831-2204
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

More than 50,000 books for sale!  Thurs., 1/24 from 5 PM to 9 PM Friends Members Only (membership available at the door for $10)  Fri., 1/25 from 9 AM to 9 PM  Sat.,...

Cost: $10 on Thursday night; free the rest of the weekend

Where:
Hockessin Memorial Hall
610 Yorklyn Road
Hockessin, DE
View map »


Sponsor: Friends of the Hockessin Library
Website »

More information

Winter Group Show  A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including paintings, drawings, ceramics, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift Certificates are always...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

CCArts Winter class registrations are open   The Center for the Creative Arts presents its Winter 2019 class and workshop offerings. With over 50 classes and workshops there is...

Cost: 0.00

Where:
410 Upper Snuff Mill Row
410 Upper Snuff Mill Row
Hockessin, DE  19736
View map »


Telephone: 302-239-2434
Contact Name: Nicole Schmid
Website »

More information

A SENSE OF PLACE 47°-80° N Bethany Springer January 16 - May 12, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, February 1, 2019 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop A Sense of Place 47° - 80°...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466
Website »

More information

THE FAR IS NEAR Graham Dougherty & Ruth Ansel January 5 - 31, 2019 Opening reception: January 11  | 7 - 9 PM Graham Dougherty  ”We give shape...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

Pre-Raphaelite painter and women’s rights campaigner Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (1827–1891) was an early female participant in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Landscape was Bodichon’s...

Cost: Free for members. Included in Museum admission fee for non-members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

IN BETWEEN THEREShelley Thorstensen November 24, 2018 - March 17, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, December 7 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop For her first solo exhibition in Delaware,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

For more than 90 years, the Delaware Art Museum has showcased contemporary craft by artists working locally and throughout the region. The Museum’s first juried Contemporary Crafts Show was...

Cost: Free for members. Included in Museum admission fee for non-members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

NEW HEIGHTS Erica Loustau  January 11 - December 11, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, January 11, 2019  7 - 9 PM Seeking to engage the unused space of our atrium lobby, artist...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466
Website »

More information

Schedule a private group tour followed by lunch or dinner with a historic, revolutionary war era presentation.* Ideal for conferences, corporate meetings, special interest groups. $25 per...

Cost: $25–$45

Where:
The University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Sponsor: The University and Whist Club
Telephone: 302-658-5125
Contact Name: Stacey Inglis
Website »

More information

HALF : HALF A Draper Experiment by Willie Yao January 4 -  February 24, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, February 1 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Delaware Contemporary...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

ORIGINS Rick Rothrock & Stan Smokler January 8 - April 22, 2019 Special Reception: Friday, January 11, 2019  5:30 - 7:30 PM Artist Talk | 6:30 PM The Delaware Contemporary...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

Mr. Nathan Avakian from New York City will be performing on the 4th Largest Theatre Pipe Organ in the world  selections of comtemporary popular music along with Broadway and...

Cost: $20 Adults, $12.00 Students under 21

Where:
The Dickinson Theatre at John Dickinson High Schoo
1801 Milltown Road
Wilmington, DE, DE  19808
View map »


Sponsor: The Dickinson Theatre Organ Society
Telephone: 302-995-5630
Contact Name: Bob Dilworth
Website »

More information

By Michael Gotch Directed by Mark Lamos Stung by personal, political, and economic setbacks, a young, urban couple build an off-the-grid, tiny house in an isolated mountain paradise…or so they...

Cost: 15-32

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Telephone: 302-831-2204
Website »

More information

This workshop will explore using pieces to create a larger whole. Using multiple small and simple objects, students will stack, hang, layer, or weave them into a larger sculptural...

Cost: $55 Members, $70 Non-Members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

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