I’d been on a lengthy quest for the Oneida Stone, that sacred altar stone of the Iroquois Oneida Indians. My research and my travels had been going on for years. You can read more about it in my post about my visit to Forest Hill Cemetery in Utica, NY, and in a post about the People of the Standing Stone (the meaning of the name “Oneida”), and in another post of my efforts.
From what I have been able to ascertain, the Oneida Stone was something akin to the Ark of the Covenant for the Hebrews. The stone followed the Oneidas to their new settlements (all by itself without human intervention– some say the stone rested on a glacier, hm); when the stone was heaved into the crotch of a tree, the Oneidas were victorious in battle. They used the stone as a council landmark, too.
Now I am wondering if there were not several stones that the Oneidas called sacred– one in Smithfield here and another smaller one elsewhere. Or perhaps there was one small sacred stone and it rested on some larger stones that have been confused as being sacred? Here’s a lithograph drawn by historian Henry Rowe Schoolcraft in his book, “Notes on the Iroquois.” That looks too large to be able to fit in the crotch of a tree, and it much too large to have been placed on the memorial table at Forest Hill Cemetery, which I took a photo of, below:
Guess what, we found the stone depicted in the old lithograph.
The uniqueness of the stone (or stones??) is that it is not indigenous to the Mohawk Valley– the stone is apparently of syenite, found in the Adirondack region. The Oneidas first settlement was somewhere near Oneida Lake, but they eventually moved to the area now known as Smithfield, NY. It is a beautiful area that commands a beautiful view of the valleys of Madison County.
The first white settler of Smithfield was an American Revolution patriot who fought that first battle at Lexington and Concord in 1775. He was given this tract of land for his military services. Oddly enough, he is my direct ancestor; so there is a personal interest in these stories. When my ancestor settled these lands, the Oneidas had recently left the area to settle in what is now known as Oneida Castle, NY– I blogged about it when I stopped to see the Skenandoah Boulder, which rests by the side of the road right outside the town limits.
Back to Smithfield here, it is said that the Oneidas first settled in this area as far back as the 1400s. They built a large village here, with Nichols Pond at the back and a swampy moat surrounding their village to protect the people from enemies (notably, the nasty Huron Indians from Canada).
Click the photo for ALL SIZES and choose “Original” to see it close up. You can see the pond at the back of the village, the moat on either side, and a fire in the entrance.
You probably also see some men with guns shooting at the village. What’s up with that?
Well, I’m glad you asked! If it wasn’t for this battle, you just might be speaking in French today! This scene depicts the famous battle of 1615 here on this spot. Samuel de Champlain, founder of Quebec and buddy to those nasty Canadian Huron Indians we mentioned, decided to travel to this Oneida village and provoke a fight. The Hurons and the Oneidas had a long-standing animosity. The Hurons thought de Champlain and his French buddies (and their amazing “iron arrows”– AKA “guns”) could wipe out the Oneidas.
It was the first time the Oneidas had ever seen or heard the “iron arrows.” They were absolutely floored, but they fought back viciously. de Champlain was wounded in battle, and the French and Hurons took off for Canada, leaving the Oneidas intact but badly wounded.
The Oneidas (and their tribesmen, the Iroquois League of Nations) never forgot that battle. They made the French their bitterest enemies. When things grew heated between the English and the French over North American territory, the Iroquois allied themselves with the English to defeat the French. And that’s exactly what they did, in the French and Indian War of 1754.
The area is a park now. If we had brought our shovels, we may have tried to look for some arrowheads or artifacts. but instead we roamed the vast acreage and explored the wooded area. There are trails that lead all around the pond. There were– amazing to me– hardly any insects.
The forest was strange to me, I don’t know why. I’ve been in all sorts of forests and have never been jittery, but this was eerie and forbidding.
And it was as humid as anything. We didn’t follow the trail for very long, but we did walk to the wetland overlook of the swampy end of the pond. It’s a huge pond!
Finally, across the park was another historical marker where some archaeology had been ongoing.
The pits were net extremely large– they were perhaps the size and depth of a kiddie pool. I do wonder how they stored squash and corn in soft soil pits, especially in the forest during New York’s steamy summers and wet autumns. But that’s another investigation…
As for the Oneida Stone, I’m still looking. From what I have been able to gather, “the” syenite stone was taken from the Oneidas in 1849 and set in Forest Hill Cemetery. The Oneidas were almost completely eradicated as a people. But they have come back to their ancestral lands, and the stone was returned to them in the 1970s. It is said that the stone now rests outside the door of their official council house, somewhere south of Oneida, NY. I hope to find it when I go out that way, soon. So the quest continues!
UPDATE: Since the writing of this article, I found the Oneida stone! Read about my story.