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Thomas Spencer - Oneida Indian

Biographical Sketch of Thomas Spencer.
Information from the Madison County NY Historical Society.
File #X00884.

Born: c.1749 at Onoquaga
Died: August 6, 1777 at Oriskany

Thomas Spencer was an Oneida, the son of an Oneida woman and the Presbyterian missionary Elihu Spencer, who supported the Patriots against the King and the Loyalists. He was a runner carrying messages to various Indian towns, a spy or scout monitoring British movements and the size of their forces, and also a blacksmith who might have made hardware for Fort Stanwix.

He was born about 1749 at Onoquaga, a Tuscarora-Oneida-Mohawk settlement on the Susquehanna River near the Pennsylvania border (near present day Windsor, NY). He learned to speak and write English, probably from the missionary Rev. Hawley, from his father, or perhaps from Good Peter, the Oneida who carried on the work begun by these missionaries after they left.

Thomas Spencer lived as an adult in Cherry Valley. Only a few incidents in his life have been recorded.

In the spring and early summer of 1768 Sir William Johnson selected Thomas Spencer to serve as one of the runners to carry the wampum belts and call together the Chiefs of the Iroquois and other eastern Indian nations to a Congress at Fort Stanwix to discuss the sale of lands and the extablishment of a boundary line between Indian lands and white settlement. The Crown intended that no white man would settle west of the line to be established as the Fort Stanwix Treaty line. After traveling many miles to the north and south, Thomas Spencer arrived at Fort Stanwix on October 17, 1768, just as the Congress was getting started. He was paid 79 pounds, 12 shillings for 199 days' service for "collecting and bringing down several Nations."

Superintendent of Indian Affairs Guy Johnson recorded Thomas Spencer's remarks at a meeting held in May of 1775 after the news of the battle of Concord had reached the Mohawk Valley. The meeting had been called to express Loyalist oposition to the measures taken by the newly formed Continental Congress. About 50 Oneida men, women, and children came with Thomas Spencer who was called "The Cherry Valley Orator." Spencer eloquently addressed the meeting, however, to defend the actions taken by Congress.

In 1776 Thomas Spencer was sent to Canada with four other Oneidas to bring back news of British invasion plans and the strength of any forces involved. "Spencer...the American Indian spy...apparently maintained a chain of counter-espionage north and west from the Mohawk among his fellow Oneidas." (Swiggett, p.75) A letter was written a 6am on Spetember 4, 1776, to Col. Elias Dayton, then commandant of Fort Schuyler, as the rebuilt Fort Stanwix was then called.

News from Onondaga informs that there is 700 Indians and Whites at Swagatche that will be at Oswego this day and that there is partys out for destroying the Inhabitants along the River and they desire them to be on their guards, they are to come first to Stony Arabia and go down and there is particular Parties designed for to take Major Fundy and Col. Herkimer, the Indians here desire that word may be sent with all speed down to the places exposed. The number unknown -they make fine road when they pass in the woods... I am guarded by my neighbors at present, though I expect I shall not be able to stay here long on account of private villains in the neighboring town, though I shall be advised by the Indians who have under-taken to protect me.

Your H'ble Servant,


N. B. The party designed for Oswego are commanded by Walter Butler. I am at a loss whether they are yet arrived at Oswego or not -Great number will soon arrive. 700 at Oswego.
(Swiggert, pp. 75-76 quoting an origninal letter in the Congressional Library)

Perhaps as payment for blacksmithing or intelligence gathering, the Commandant Dayton game this order on February 7, 1777: The commissary at your post to deliver one ration and one half provisions to Mr. Spencer at Oneida and when his wife arrive there you will order three rations per day to be delivered to him.

Thomas Spencer was with Herkimer on the march to relieve the siege of Fort Stanwix and was one of those who fell in the ambush at Oriskany. He was last seen alive in hand to hand combat with Willliam of Canajoharie (Indian son of William Johnson) whom legend incorrectly has said Spencer killed (Graymont, pp. 76, 190).

(author unknown)

Note: Henry Spencer, brother of Thomas Spencer was also killed at the Battle of Oriskany. -William Sommers Quistorf

Links to References to Thomas Spencer

Thomas Spencer at Oriskany
Thomas Spencer & Henry Spencer