Cornplanter(born between 1732 and 1746–February 18, 1836), known in the Seneca language as Gaiänt’wakê (Gyantwachia – ″the planter″) or Kaiiontwa’kon (Kaintwakon – “By What One Plants”), was also known by his white name, John Abeel III. He was a Seneca war chief and diplomat of the Wolf clan.
Cornplanter was born between 1738 and 1746 at Canawaugus (now in the Town of Caledonia) on the Genesee River in present-day New York State.
The Dutch had settled in the area generations before, and Cornplanter’s father, an Albany fur trader, was part of an established family. The Abeel family name was sometimes Gaelicized to O’Bail, O’Beal and Abeele.
John Abeel II (1722–1794) was connected to the Schuyler family, leaders in business and politics. The grandfather after whom he was named, Johannes Abeel I (1667-1711), was a trader and merchant who built up links with the indigenous people along his trade routes, and who served as the second mayor of Albany, later the capital of New York.
The younger John Abeel II was a gunsmith and was gladly accepted into the Indian community to repair their guns. Cornplanter was raised by his mother among the Seneca. His Seneca name, Gaiänt’wakê (often spelled Gyantwachia), means “the planter,” and another variation, Kaintwakon, means “by what one plants.”
As the Seneca and other Iroquois nations had a matrilineal system of kinship, Cornplanter was considered a member of his mother’s clan, the Wolf Clan, which included many leaders in the relations between settlers and Indians, and gained his status from them.
Males of the Wolf clan had a traditional function as war chiefs.
As a chief warrior, Cornplanter fought in the French and Indian War and the American Revolutionary War. In both wars, the Seneca and three other Iroquois nations were allied with the British. After the war Cornplanter led negotiations with the United States and was a signatory of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784). He helped gain Iroquois neutrality during the Northwest Indian War.
In the postwar years, Cornplanter worked to learn more about European-American ways and invited Quakers to establish schools in Seneca territory. Disillusioned by his people’s poor reaction to European-American society, he had the schools closed and followed his half-brother Handsome Lake’s movement returning to the traditional Seneca way and religion.
The United States government granted him about 1500 acres of former Seneca territory in Pennsylvania in 1796 for “him and his heirs forever,” which became known as the Cornplanter Tract.
By 1798, Cornplanter and 400 Seneca lived on the land, which was called the Cornplanter Tract or Cornplanter Grant. In 1821 Warren County, Pennsylvania tried to force Cornplanter to pay taxes for his land, which he protested on the basis that the land had been “granted” to him by the U.S. government. After much talk, the state finally agreed that the Cornplanter Tract was exempt.
Cornplanter died on his Tract in 1836. He requested a grave with no marker. In 1866 the State of Pennsylvania installed a monument over his grave, which is believed to be the first monument erected in honor of a Native American in the United States.
Still occupied by his descendants and holding his and many of their graves, the tract was planned by the federal government to be flooded as the site of a man-made reservoir after the1965 completion of the Kinzua Dam on the Allegheny River.
In 1965, the new federal Kinzua Dam at Warren, Pennsylvania was completed, soon permanently flooding all but a small corner of the Cornplanter Tract, as it created the Allegheny Reservoir for flood control. Most of the Seneca living on the tract were relocated to lands in the Allegany Reservation in New York, losing much of their fertile farmland..
Cornplanter’s grave, including the Cornplanter Monument, was subsequently moved to higher ground, at the Riverview-Corydon Cemetery, located in Elk Township, Warren County, Pennsylvania. The grounds are located west of the north central Pennsylvania town of Bradford just about 100 yards from the New York state line. The cemetery contains what are believed to be the remains of Cornplanter, and some 300 of his descendants and followers. The State of Pennsylvania erected an honorary marker at the site in 1966, after the original Cornplanter Tract was being submerged.The remains of Cornplanter, his descendants, and an 1866 monument to him were relocated.
Cornplanter Family Genealogy
Gaiänt’wakê was the son of a Seneca woman, Gah-hon-no-neh (She Who Goes to the River), and a Dutch trader, Johannes “John” Abeel II.
Cornplanter had a sister, Catharine Maria Abeel (1764-1825) and was a younger half-brother to Handsome Lake (Sganyadai:yo, ca. 1735-1815), a Seneca religious leader of the Iroquois. He was uncle to Governor Blacksnake (Thaonawyuthe, ca. 1760-1859), a Seneca war chief. Like Cornplanter, Thaonawyuthe had an exceptionally long life for a man of his times.
Cornplanter married and had children. His son Henry Abeel (spelled Henry Abeele in federal documents) was an interpreter present at the Treaty of Canandaigua negotiations. In the winter of 1790, Cornplanter spent a year in Pennsylvania, during which he attended several Quaker gatherings. He was not converted by these gatherings, but he was impressed enough to send Henry and his other children to the Quaker school the following year. This sparked a continuing relationship between Cornplanter and the Quaker community.
Cornplanter’s descendants typically used the last name Abeel (or variants thereof) during his lifetime. By the 20th century they had generally begun using the surname Cornplanter. They continued to be prominent members of the Seneca community but most died in the 1918 flu pandemic.
Since Seneca Chief Cornplanter’s father was Danish, he has a few famous kin through his father’s family. The most notable of Chief Cornplanter’s kin is the Roosevelt family with whom he has kinship to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt (3rd cousin 3 times removed) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (4th cousin 4 times removed), and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (3rd cousin 4 times removed). He also has a family connection to inventor Thomas Edison (4th cousin 2 times removed) and Declaration of Independence signer Philip Livingston(3rd cousin 1 time removed).
Through his father’s line, he is also related to George H. W. Bush (4th cousin 6 times removed), George W. Bush (4th cousin 7 times removed), and Jeb Bush (4th cousin 7 times removed).
Artist Jesse Cornplanter was his last known direct descendant (1889–1957).