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. 




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