The First American Recovery Movement
Started by a Seneca man in the wake of the Whiskey Rebellion
After telling you about the Seneca leader Guyasuta in my last missive, I had to share a story about his nephew that I found in the book, An Alternative History of Pittsburgh.
Meet Sganyadai:yo', known in English as “Handsome Lake.” Half-brother to Chief Cornplanter, who had allied with the British during the revolution, the Americans punished his band of Seneca with increasingly unfair treaties to remind them of their poor choice. The men, including Handsome Lake, began self-medicating their woes with whiskey.
The Longhouse Religion temperance movement
After Handsome Lake’s close brush with death from alcohol abuse, the Quakers, who were permitted to evangelize amongst the Seneca, advised Cornplanter to treat his half-brother with “charity” during his convalescence. When the night terrors and fever subsided, Handsome Lake said he had been visited by three angelic intermediaries whose messages would become the foundation for the Longhouse Religion.
According to author Ed Simon, at the root of his Handsome Lake’s revelation was the teaching that Satan had enticed Columbus to bring about the great fall of “a people whom you have never seen…virtuous, they have no unnatural evil habits and they are honest. A great reward is yours if you will help me.” To that end, Satan gave Columbus “a flask of rum, a pack of playing cards, a handful of coins, a violin and a decayed leg bone…which encouraged idleness, greed, illness, and drunkenness.”
The Longhouse Religion is arguably many things—a successful syncretic faith (Quaker and indiginous), an anti-colonial theology of liberation, and the first widespread movement that centered on recovery from alcoholism.
In Handsome Lake’s Code, an immaculate religion was born, for salvation can only come after the fall, or for a barrel of proffered whiskey purchased in Pittsburgh.
~Ed Simon, An Alternative History of Pittsburgh.
Apparently, the Longhouse Religion, which forbade drinking spirits, significantly reduced alcoholism along the Allegheny Ridge from New York through Pennsylvania. So there you have it, America’s first temperance movement was started by a Seneca man in recovery.
Thomas Jefferson’s commendation of Handsome Lake
As I researched this remarkable story I learned that Handsome Lake had once visited President Thomas Jefferson in 1801, and received correspondence from Jefferson in the most “gracious and fraternal language.”
Go on then brother in the great reformation you have undertaken. Persuade our red brethren to be sober, to cultivate their lands, and their women to spin & weave for their families. You will soon see your women & children well fed & clothed, your men living happily in peace & plenty, and your numbers increasing from year to year. It will be a great glory to you to have been the instrument of so happy a change, & your children's children from generation to generation will repeat your name with love and gratitude for ever. In all your enterprises for the good of your people you may count with confidence on the aid and protection of the United States, and on the sincerity & zeal with which I am myself animated in the furthering of this humane work. You are our brethren of the same land; we wish you prosperity as brethren should do...
Ohio River reading
The publishing world is churning along with everything else, and in that churn I’m getting used to following book publishers in addition to authors. No, not the mega publishers, I like publishers in the niches. One of them is Belt Publishing, an affiliate of Belt Magazine
Here’s The Pittsburgh Bundle. It includes Ed Simon’s An Alternative History of Pittsburgh as well as a slim history of the Whiskey Rebellion, The Pittsburgh Anthology and The Pittsburgh Neighborhood Guidebook. They threw in a Cookie Table Cookbook for good measure (yum!).
I really love what this indie press is doing for all things in the Rust Belt, and I’m not getting compensated for saying so!
Belt also publishes anthologies for two other Ohio River cities, Louisville and Cincinnati, and has begun republishing important works that have come out of copyright. I’ve been reading Stories of Ohio, first written in 1897.
But wait, there’s more! Check out the Ohio Anthology Bundle, which goes beyond river cities.
The Arts & Science Council is supporting the 981 Project as it becomes a book. THANK YOU!
This is Tamela’s Newsletter, The 981 Project.