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April 22, 2010

Otsego Herald: Don't believe it


— From the Otsego Herald

for Saturday, April 21, 1810

Compiled, with comments



FOR SALE (For want of employment,) a stout, healthy NEGRO, 18 years of age. He has been used to family business. For terms enquire at this office. April 20.

COMMENT: Slavery would remain legal in New York State until 1826, though the number of enslaved people in the state was rapidly declining.

It is not clear why this advertiser left out his name, but possibly he (or she) believed that advertising a slave for sale would not be popular in the community; the ad ran for many weeks.


In the town of Otsego there is a strongly and well constructed Paper-Mill, about 80 feet by 45, with double engines, vats, screws, &c., four stories high.

In the town of Hartwick a large Cotton Factory has lately begun to operate, a few rods below the paper-mill, and bids fair to encourage the owners, as well as purchasers, by the low price at which they sell their yarn &c.


From the Newark Centinel: Extract of a letter from Captain Gerrish of the New England militia, dated Albany, March 7, 1782.

``Our peltry (furs), taken in the expedition, will as you see amount to a good deal of money. Possession of this booty, at first gave us much pleasure, but we were struck with much horror to find, among the packages, eight large ones containing scalps of our unhappy country folks, taken in the last three years, by the Seneca Indians, from the inhabitants of the frontiers of N. York, N. Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and sent by them as a present to Col. Haldimand, Governor of Canada, in order to be by him transmitted to England. They were accompanied by the following curious letter to that gentleman.

TIOGA, Jan. 3, 1782.... At the request of the Seneca chiefs, I send herewith to your excellency, under the care of James Boyd, eight packs of scalps, cured, dried, hooped and painted with all the Indian triumphal marks, of which the following is an invoice and explanation.

No. 1. Containing 43 scalps of Congress Soldiers, killed in different skirmishes..... No. 2. Containing 98, of Farmers, killed in their houses.... No. 3. Containing 97, of Farmers... killed in their field.... No. 4. Containing 102, of Farmers, mixed....; only 18 marked with yellow flame to denote their being burnt alive, after being scalped, their nails torn out by the roots and other torments.... No. 5, Containing 88 scalps of Women, hair long and shew they were mothers.... 17 others, hair very grey.... No. 6. Contains 193 Boy’s scalps of various ages.... No. 7. 211 Girl’s scalps, big and little.... No. 8. This package is a the number of 122; with a box of birch bark, containing 29 little infant’s scalps, of various sizes.... John Crawford

COMMENT: This document (and I have not quoted many of its more gruesome details) was in fact a fake, created by none other than Benjamin Franklin. It circulated widely, and was generally accepted as true. The purpose of the Otsego Herald in reprinting it (and on the basis of other articles in the same issue, it seems to have believed it) was to arouse sentiment against Jonas Platt, the Federalist candidate for Governor of New York, by linking him with the hated British of the Revolution. So much for accuracy in journalism!

The real story is recounted by James Partin, in his ``Caricature and Other Comic Art in All Times and Many Lands’’ (1877), p. 306: ``The famous scalp hoax devised by Franklin during the Revolutionary war, for the purpose of bringing the execration of civilized mankind upon the employment of Indians by the English generals, was vividly pictorial.

Upon his private printing press in Paris he and his grandson struck off a leaf of an imaginary newspaper.... For this he wrote a letter purporting to be from `Captain Gerrish, of the New England Miliitia,’ accompanying eight packages of `scalps of our unhappy country folks,’ which he had captured on a raid into the Indian country.

The captain sent with the scalps an inventory of them, supposed to be drawn up by one James Crawford, a trader, for the information of the Governor of Canada. Neither Swift nor De Foe ever surpassed the ingenious naturalness of this fictitious inventory. It was indeed too natural, for it was generally accepted as a genuine document, and would even now deceive almost any one who came upon it unawares. Who could suspect that these `eight packs of scalps, cured, dried, hooped, and painted, with all the Indian triumphal marks’ upon them, had never existed except in the imagination of a merry old plenipotentiary in Paris?’’