Historic Seneca tomahawk finds a permanent home

Jan 9, 2020

A historic tomahawk with ties to the first president of the United States has made its way home, permanently.

The New York State Museum and the Seneca Nation of Indians have announced that a pipe tomahawk dating back to the 18th century has been officially returned to the Seneca people, during ceremonies in Salamanca Thursday.

The tomahawk was originally given as a gift to Seneca leader and diplomat Cornplanter by President George Washington in 1792, according to Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong.

"In Seneca history, Cornplanter stands among our greatest and most respected leaders. In the time after the American Revolution, Cornplanter stood for and defended our sovereignty while forging a diplomatic bond with the new United States government," said Armstrong. "That bond took shape in the Treaty of Canandaigua, in which the United States pledged to respect, honor, and defend our rights to our land. George Washington was so impressed with Cornplanter that he gave him this tomahawk as a gift of respect and friendship."

Seneca diplomat Ely Parker gave the artifact to the state museum in 1851, and in the late 1940s it went missing from the museum, ending up with private collectors for nearly seven decades. It was returned to the state museum in 2018, and the tomahawk had been on loan to the Senecas since last March.

It will be placed on prominent display at the Nation's (Onohsagwe:de') Cultural Center in the Allegany territory.

"Last year, for the first time in more than 150 years, Cornplanter’s tomahawk returned to Seneca Territory. It was originally supposed to be on loan to us. How can you loan to someone a piece of who they are?" said Armstrong. "Thankfully, others saw and understood the greater meaning and importance of Cornplanter’s tomahawk, people who quickly understood that there was only one true home for this piece of Seneca history."