Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Stockade Icon: Lawrence the Indian

Lawrence at the intersection of Front, Ferry, and Green Streets in Schenectady, circa 1890. The basins outside of the fence were originally part of the statue when it was ordered. Photo from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

126 years ago today, "Lawrence" was born. September 12, 1887 was the day that the iconic statue was erected at the intersection of Front, Ferry, and Green Streets, to commemorate the site of the fort that had been at that intersection.  The statue had been ordered by the city from the J.L. Mott Iron Works in the Bronx. Although he's been a special part of the Stockade neighborhood for over a century, Lawrence isn't exactly unique; in his more generic form, he was known as No. 53 Indian Chief in the Mott catalogue. There have been over 25 statues identical to Lawrence found around the world -- from Mount Kisco, New York, to Calhoun, Georgia, to Ishpeming, Michigan, to Cuzco, Peru. In addition to his iron base, Lawrence came with basins -- the statue can also operate as a fountain, although it does not appear that Lawrence ever did. For a time, these basins were set out to water horses and were separated from Lawrence by a fence.

Children have always been especially drawn to Lawrence. Here, some youngsters pose for a photograph with him ca. 1890. Photograph from Larry Hart Collection. 

Lawrence quickly became a neighborhood fixture, although he wasn't always known by the name he has today. In fact, for seventy-five years, he had no name. Residents referred to the statue as "the Indian," or as "Little Joe." The statue had become an iconic representation of the city certainly by  the 1930s, when it was name-checked in a newspaper column of Schenectady reminiscences by the fictional "Old Man Van Goober." Van Goober recalled days of yore when it was so cold in Schenectady that "the Indian statue on Front Street got down off its pedestal and went to a barber shop to get warm." A listing for an apartment for rent might mention that it was "near the Indian statue" or a person giving directions might advise someone to "turn right at the Indian." It became a natural gathering place and landmark for people in the neighborhood.

Lawrence has long been a focal point of the community. Here, he watches over the Stockade Art Show in 1948. Photo from Larry Hart Collection. 

It wasn't until 1962 that Lawrence was given his current name. He was named for "Lawrence the Maquase," a Mohawk who led a party that attempted to recover Schenectadians captured during the 1690 Massacre. Scotia historian Neil Reynolds was the first to call for the naming. "Lawrence was the unquestioned leader of probably the first group to go north in pursuit of the French and Indians," wrote Reynolds. Lawrence, who was in Albany at the time of the Massacre, quickly assembled a party of Mohawks to pursue the captors. He also called for white volunteers to join them. "A small group of men did decide to accompany Lawrence's Indians," wrote Reynolds, "but after they came within a day's journey of the enemy and could not overtake them, they turned back. The Mohawks, led by Lawrence, continued on. Colonial records report that Lawrence's "heart was Broke to see so much of his Brethrens blood shed and would Procure some of ye Prisoners back again either by force or by stratagem." In addition to following the raiders, Lawrence also negotiated with Canada for the return of prisoners, wrote letters and made speeches asking colonists who had fled Schenectady to return to the settlement, and aided in rebuilding Schenectady. Remembrance of his deeds live on in the statue that bears his name, watching over the Stockade.

Lawrence in snow, unknown date. Photo from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

1 comment:

  1. I've a often wondered if the story of my grandfather has been intertwined with Lawrence. As a boy of 10, my great grandfather, son of an original Schenectady Stockade settler, survived the 1690 stockade massacre, only to be taken prisoner. His name was Claas Lawrence Van Der Volgen. Not being saved by Glen Sanders as others were; as the French & Sault raiders stopped there to repay their debts to Sanders, allowing him to save family...before going on to Montreal; surviving an arduous march thru the Adirondack February snows all the way to Montreal. Although half the captives died, he again proved his strength and determination, surviving the march and was next traded to the Mohawk; adopted into a Mohawk family - as as the custom to replace numbers decimated by European disease and War. There he lived until his early 20s, and loving the life and his new family, considering himself to be a Mohawk brave. Now a man, word had reached him - either through fur traders or Christianized Mohawk living in Schenectady, he had family still alive in Schenectady - amazing as half the residents were mercilessly murdered. So he next returned to Schenectady and found his surviving family there... but with no intention of staying. Reacquainting with his sister, she became determined to make him stay, so she devised a plan to cut off his scalplock & roach in his sleep, which would disgrace the proud young brave and force him to stay at least until it regrew. It was during this time he reacclimated to Dutch life, and drew the attention of the NY Governor, Nanfan. Claas Lawrence was appointed to the position of official interpreter to the Mohawk (or possibly the entire Iroquois Nation?); a position which he held for life; serving both his chosen people and his Dutch heritage. I have often wondered if Lawrence the Indian hadn't somehow either taken his name from my grandfather, or if Lawrence didn't represented my grandfather Historical records record that the Rt 5 Scotia Bridge was given to him as reward for his work and that his name remains on it to this day... History also records that he was also given five small islands in the Mohawk near Scotia; although no one seems to know what happened to that ownership. As you see my grandfather played quite a role in developing Schenectady and New York; for both the Native Americans and the Dutch. I often wonder, are we still considered Mohawk? As casino money has created quite a power play among the Mohawk tribe, sadly my inquiries as to that lineage have gone unanswered; surely suspicions over casino money have a large role to play; although ever since I was boy, long before I knew =my Great Grandfather's story, I have been fascinated with both the Mohawk people and their story.
    Brett Allen VanDerVolgen (formerly The Hittmman Brett Allen, PYX106)