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Document from 1851 at center of tribal study

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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HOGANSBURG — The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe is pulling the threads of its history together to understand an 1851 petition to the state Legislature that it recently acquired from the same buyer who outbid a tribal representative at a recent auction.


The document is a petition to enforce rent payments to the tribe for Barnhart and Baxter islands, and refers to previous land purchases as far back as 1796. Whether it has any legal bearing on current issues is not clear.


"I'd like to find out more about its significance and how it relates to community history," Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Arnold Printup said in a statement. "Hopefully, we can put together a team of experts for such a project."


The document will be in the tribe's museum. A transcript eventually will be placed on its Web site, www.srmt-nsn.gov.


The legal papers were among hundreds discovered in a trunk by Blanchard's Auction Service from the early law firm of Dart & Tappan. Tribal Sub-Chief Pamela Brown tried to win the document at auction March 28, but was outbid by Gregory S. Caron, Hopkinton.


Mr. Caron later offered the papers to the tribe for his investment of $994.50.


The document describes the acquisition of Barnhart and Baxter islands from the Akwesasne community, tribal spokesman David T. Staddon said.


British Royal proclamations in 1763 and 1784 asserted the right of the Mohawks to the islands, among other lands. In the 1790s, chiefs leased the islands to Asa Baxter, a U.S. citizen, and Jacob Barnhart, a British loyalist.


After the War of 1812 — without Mohawk consultation — the U.S. and Britain agreed to a land trade that included U.S. control of Baxter and Barnhart islands. After 1822, New York deeded the islands to the Ogden brothers, who evicted Mr. Baxter and Mr. Barnhart.


"Whether the deeds were legal is a whole other matter," Mr. Staddon said. "I think the petition was asking for rent that was in arrears."


The document has numerous cross-out marks and ink blots, so likely was a draft.


Whether a final version was sent to the Legislature has not been established. The papers bear a stamp from the Massachusetts law firm of Owen & Hurlbut, but the connection is unknown. It is also unclear whether the papers had any effect on rent payments to the tribe.


"I think it invites more research," Mr. Staddon said. "The document itself is unsigned."

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