We’ve been by it countless times. Every time we zip by it, we grab a fleeting glimpse and wonder aloud to each other what is etched on it, what is it’s significance, and why it is there. Today I finally got to get up very close and snap a photo of the words written on the plaque!
I’m talking about the Skenandoah Boulder, on Route 5 outside of Oneida Castle village limits. There is a stone resting on the side of the road, by a very busy four corners area, with an old historical marker punctured in the lawn next to it. “Skenandoah Boulder” is all the historical marker says.
I’d finally stopped a few months ago (in December) to get a photo of it, but the snow had been too high and too slushy for me to read what the plaque says. That photo is all I could get from my quick exploit.
The stone was tantalizingly near, but I couldn’t get closer than that!
The stone (about the size of a small couch, or loveseat) has an old copper plaque affixed on it (it’s now green). The print is small– too small for any passer-by to read even one word. Stopping the car on the side of this busy road is done at one’s own risk. I’ve always either been in a hurry or haven’t felt brave enough to stop the car and get a closer look.
Now that it is spring, I could park my car more safely, meander the very busy highway, and step onto the green grass.
This is what the plaque reads:
This marks the site of the last home of SKENANDOAH Chief of the Oneidas, “The White Man’s Friend.” Here he entertained Governor DeWitt Clinton 1810, and many other distinguished guests, and here he died in 1816 aged 110. He was carried on the shoulders of his faithful Indians to his burial in the cemetery of Hamilton College, Clinton, NY, and laid to rest beside his beloved friend and faithful teacher Rev. Samuel Kirkland.
“I am an aged hemlock; the winds of an hundred winters have whistled through my branches . I am dead at the top. The generation to which I belonged have run away and left me.” Skenandoah.
Erected 1912 by Skenandoah Chapter, N.S.D.A.R. Oneida, NY
We’d visited Rev. Kirkland’s and Skenandoah’s gravesite are Hamilton College; you can see photos and my post about it here.
I had done some research on this boulder and the Oneidas a few months ago. It only made the stone more intriguing. It is fitting to have a large boulder here, as it’s related to the Haudenosaunee and the meaning of their name at www.vitessepress.com/catalog/excerpts/CanalExcerptWeb/OneidaNation/OneidaNation.htm “Oneida, People of the Standing Stone.”
Oneida legend says that the Oneida were led to these lands by following a moving stone; where it stopped, they settled. There is another ice-age linkage here because glaciers move staggering amounts of loose stone and boulders (glaciers are made up of about one-third stone and two-thirds ice) and deposit these stones as erratics. Erratics are non-native stones and boulders which can be found all over New York. Syenite is one type of erratic and is frequently found in Oneida territories. The Skenandoah Boulder is perhaps the largest syenite erratic. It is named for a very famous Oneida Chief Skenandoah… As you pass through village of Oneida Castle, on NY 5, note that this was once the site of the principal Oneida village, known as Kanonwalohale.
We know about the great Oneida Chief Skenandoah– that close friend of Samuel Kirkland (founder of Hamilton College). Under Kirkland, Skenandoah became a Christian who influenced his tribesmen to join the Americans in the Revolutionary War.
His history– and the history of that stone– and his history in relation to that stone– is absorbing. This page taken from The History of Chenango and Madison Counties, 1880, by James H. Smith tells of the little-known history of the Oneidas and the first white settlers to the region.
Thus they were known as the people of the stone set in the fork of a tree. Tradition ascribes their origin to a stone, which, says Schoolcraft, “is a large, but not enormous, boulder of syenite, of the erratic block group, and consequently geologically foreign to the location,” there being “no rocks like this till we reach the Adirondacks.” “This stone,” says the same author, “became the national altar,” and “when it was necessary to light their pipes and assemble to discuss national matters, they had only to ascend the hill through its richly wooded groves to its extreme summit,” an eminence in the town of Stockbridge, where, he says, this stone, and the first castle of the Oneidas was located.
And who is “Schoolcraft”? I could find no reference to him on the website. Is this a reference to a relation of James Schoolcraft Sherman of Utica, vice-president during the Taft administration?
Another source at anglicanhistory.org says that this largest boulder of syenite rested at Forest Hill Cemeteryin Utica, New York. Does it remain there, somewhere? Or was this stone removed to the four corners at Route 5, that same stone in the photo above? (Incidentally, Forest Hill in Utica is where James Schoolcraft Sherman is buried).
Before the door of an old chief, resting upright on the ground, stood the palladium of the clan, a stone of some size, declared by Mr. Kirkland to have been an object of idolatrous worship to many of the people. It was “a cylindrical stone of more than two hundred pounds weight, and unlike any other stone in that region.” From the earliest records, the Oneidas were spoken of as the “People of the Stone.” Onia is their word for a stone, and Oniota-aug means the people of the stone. The French called them Oneséionts; with the Dutch and English they were Oneidas.
Tradition declared that wherever the tribe moved, this cylindrical stone of mystery followed them. A strong man could carry it forty or fifty rods without resting; in this way, as the missionary says, it may certainly have followed them in their wanderings. It would seem to have been an essential of this ancient stone of the Oneidas that it could be lifted by the sinews of their warriors into “the crotch of a tree.” and when placed in that position, it rendered their braves invincible. Such is the tradition given by Mr. Kirkland, who was thoroughly familiar with the language and habits of the Oneidas.
There was another stone of much greater size, in the Oneida country, about which mysterious traditions hover. It was of considerable size and weight, and lay on the summits of a commanding height, overlooking the country on the Oneida Creek, as far as the lake, which on a bright day can be seen in the distance.
At one period the principal Oneida village lay near a fine spring in a valley beneath the height. There are vague rumors connected with this boulder of syenite, shadows of the uncertain past, which claim for it the dignity of a tribal altar. Of this larger stone Mr. Kirkland makes no mention.
It was removed in 1850, from the height on which it lay, to Forest Hill Cemetery in Utica. It is said that there is no stone of the same geological character nearer than the Adirondack Mountains. Its weight has been variously stated at from one to three tons.
We’ve been to the Munnsville Museum in the Stockbridge/Munnsville area. I was researching genealogy information on my ancestor Nathan Edson (a survivor of the Battle of Lexington) and learned that he had been granted the area of Stockbridge for his war services. The Indians of that area had moved to Oneida Castle, NY, in 1784. I am surprised and mystified about all the historical connections, and now there is a personal connection. If I ever had to explain why history is such a fascinating subject, then this is why!