Joseph Goreham: 1766

Joseph Goreham was appointed Imperial Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs in 1766. He was stationed in Halifax from 1766 to 1772. His Instructions 1 from the Superintendent General, Sir William Johnson,2 in September, 1766 were explicit:

You are next as soon as possible to notify your arrival, and appointment to the several Tribes of Indians in that Country assuring them of my Esteem, and that of all the Indians so long as they shall continue to live peaceably, and friendly with the English. That you are appointed my Deputy in that Quarter, for the Care, and management of their Affairs. - To see that they are justly dealt with; to hear, and redress their Grievances as far as in your Power, and that you are constantly to report all matters of any moment to me who am by Duty & inclination bound to befriend them. - That we are now at Peace with all nations of Indians, and expect that they will be careful in preserving the Covenant Chain of Friendship on their Parts, to which end you will occasionally meet them to repeat former Treaties, and Engagements. – And you are then to deliver them a large Belt of Wampum in my name willing them to hold fast thereby, and not suffer themselves to be misled, but to cast their Eyes toward the Sun setting where I reside, and hold fast one end of the Belt as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Northern Department – and that they follow your Directions and respect you as my Deputy …

And you are annually to visit the Tribes, and hold a Congress at which all past Engagements are to be repeated, and ratified ... 3

Joseph Goreham had been the commander of a company of Rangers in the Seven Years War. Goreham’s Rangers were absorbed into the regular British Army, and took part in the siege of Havana in 1762, where they were decimated. Sir William Johnson was pressed into hiring Goreham in 1766, and Goreham moved to Halifax.

The creation of the Imperial Indian Department in 1755 was part of a strategy that saw the colonial governments removed from their often fraudulent dealings with Indigenous lands, placing the conduct of relations with Indigenous nations under the military rather than civil branches of government. Governor William Campbell of Nova Scotia was “much disgusted at Major Goreham’s appointment, as the Indian Affairs in Nova Scotia were formerly under the Governor’s direction.”30 Goreham himself, probably suffering from post-traumatic stress, dissipated the land the Crown had granted him as a veteran, and looked for other, more lucrative appointments. Yet from 1766 to 1772, as the writers of his biography in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography assert, “he was genuinely interested in the welfare of the Indians,” 4 and Goreham reported to Johnson on July 1, 1767 that he had met with the Peninsula Indians and “acquainted them of my power and the nature of my Instructions” and that “I shall strictly adhere to my Instructions.” 5

There was little wampum to be had in Halifax. If Goreham was to give the Wabanaki nations wampum belts, as he had been instructed, he would have had to have taken the belts from Johnson Hall in the Mohawk Valley, where Sir William Johnson would have had them made. By 1766, Johnson had developed a custom of inserting the year in the symbols on important wampum belts – the Covenant Chain belt he had given to the Western Confederacy at the Treaty of Niagara in 1764 is probably the most famous.

There is a modest wampum belt in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, England. The design on the belt’s nine row wide purple background is one of a straight white line, indicating the open path of peace and constant communication, and four strips of white at each end, signifying that four nations or communities are involved. Worked into the white line are the numbers “1766.” The four nations could be the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Penobscot and Peskotomuhkati.

The belt was given to the Museum by Henry Nottridge Mosley, a biologist who acquired it on a visit to North America, probably with the expedition of the research vessel H.M.S. Challenger, which circumnavigated the world between 1872 and 1878, and who became curator of the Pitt Rivers collection in 1881. The Challenger spent ten days in Halifax in May 1873, and it is possible Henry Mosely acquired the wampum at that time. 6

At this time, all we can say with confidence is that, if Goreham did carry out his Instructions from Sir William Johnson, as he asserted he had, the wampum in the Pitt River Museum is the kind that Goreham gave to the Wabanaki nations, including the Peskotomuhkati. 7

  1. Control over the Imperial Indian Department remained with the Johnson family from 1755 to the death of Sir John Johnson in 1830
    – a crucial 75 years. The title of Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, now held by the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs (or, more precisely, of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, for the Department’s Act has not yet been amended) is the longest continuously held title in the Government of Canada today.
  2. Papers of Sir William Johnson, 7:196.
    Hugh Wallace to Sir William Johnson, 5:771
  3. David Charters and Stuart R.J. Sutherland, “Joseph Goreham” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. IV (1771-1800).
  4. Sir William Johnson Papers 5:705-706.
  5. The reproduction was made based on an 1880s rubbing of the original belt, which was a massive 10,076 beads, nearly six feet long. The original, kept at Wikwemikong on Manitoulin Island, was probably destroyed by re in the late 1950s. The symbols on the belt demonstrate how the Covenant Chain four links are shown) is also the means of nations joining arms together as brothers.
  6. Raymond Silverman, Museum as Process: Translating Local and Global Knowledges,
  7. Two other wampum belts are known to have been given in 1766: one at Detroit to Pontiac; the other by the Sons of Liberty in Boston to the Mohawks. Neither would likely have looked like the belt in the Pitt Rivers Museum.