BLUE MOUNTAIN LAKE - Some years ago, visits with the late John Fish at the Indian Lake Museum left us wondering about the life and family of his Abenaki grandfather, John Mitchell. Visits with Town Historian Bill Zullo and with the late Warder Cadbury piqued our curiosities even more.
Old stories about the origins of the Mitchells seemed to contradict themselves, and their cousins, the Camps (particularly Emma Camp Mead), garnered more attention from local historians over the years and were better represented in the displays at the Indian Lake Museum. We knew that the Mitchells and the Camps were descendants of Sabael Benedict, but wanted to learn more. In the following paragraphs, we would like to share some of the results of our research.
Catherine Benedict Mitchell was a daughter of Sabael and his wife, Marie-Angelique. She and her twin sister Margaret (the future Mrs. Camp) were baptized at the church at Akwesasne (Saint Regis) in July 1800. We cannot be certain of how old they were at the time, but they were likely infants born during the previous year in the Adirondacks, perhaps in the Indian Lake region. Around the turn of the 19th century this family only appeared in the records associated with the St. Lawrence Valley aboriginal communities of Odanak and Akwesasne in the summer months when they were recorded on government documents or in church registers.
The future Mrs. Mitchell probably grew up between the Adirondacks and Odanak, perhaps spending time also in the Champlain Valley and at Akwesasne. On February 8, 1820, she married an Abenaki known as Michel Ajean, who may have been known as John Mitchell in New York. We believe that the couple had five children who lived to adulthood: Alice (Mitchell) Johnson, Peter Mitchell, Margaret (Mitchell) Williams, Joseph Mitchell and John Mitchell. Each of these children spent most of their lives in the Adirondacks, although Joseph also spent several years as an adult living at Odanak.
John Mitchell was probably the youngest son. Records we have examined provide a number of dates of birth, ranging from October 1833 to sometime in 1840. The most likely date of birth is circa 1837, as his age was given as 13 on the 1850 U.S. Census, but even this date should be treated with suspicion. All records indicate that he was born in New York, one indicating Rensselaer County. According to Aber & King's History of Hamilton County, the Mitchells and the Camps lived in Troy for a time, and John may have been born there.
Catherine (Benedict) Mitchell apparently died at some point before 1845, as this is when Michel Ajean (aka John Mitchell Sr.) remarried. This explains why a young John Mitchell was living with Asa Morse, an old acquaintance of Sabael Benedict, in Minerva in September 1850. Ten years later, in August 1860, John Mitchell and his cousin Samuel Benedict are boarding in the household of James Cosgrove of Indian Lake. Both are working in the lumber industry.
Mitchell was probably the John Mitchel who served in a Minerva-based unit (with his brother Peter and brother-in-law George Williams) during the Civil War. In June 1865, he is working as a hired hand on the farm of Jacob Waldron in the second district of Johnsburgh, and in July 1870 he is once again living in Indian Lake and working in the lumber industry, boarding with his niece Louisa (Williams) Palmer and her husband Charles. The family is living next door to the household Mitchell's cousin, Elijah Camp.
Throughout his life, John Mitchell stayed close to his Abenaki family, but also formed strong bonds with his non-native neighbors. In 1873 he married a white woman, Julia Wilson, (a newspaper account of the wedding erroneously identified Mitchell as "a full-blooded Indian of the Mohawk tribe," noting that he took Wilson "for his squaw") at the home of Elijah Camp. In January 1875 their first child, Edward, was born.
The couple raised their family at Indian Lake, where John Mitchell eventually died in January 1920 when his grandson John Fish was only five years old.
Both men made their mark in Abenaki history and Adirondack history, the grandfather as part of the family for whom Indian Lake is named, a family who continued to call the Adirondacks home, and the grandson by proudly representing his Abenaki heritage to visitors like us at the Indian Lake Museum.
Christopher Roy is an anthropologist conducting research on various Abenaki-related topics throughout the Northeast. David Benedict is an Abenaki family historian and descendant of Sabael Benedict's son Elijah. They are actively seeking more information about Adirondack Abenaki history - feel free to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Roy will be speaking more about "Abenaki History in the Adirondacks and in the Adirondack Museum" at the Adirondack Museum's upcoming Abenaki Day celebration on July 11, and at a lecture entitled "Searching for Sabattis, and Other Tales of Adirondack Abenaki Adventure" at the Adirondack Museum July 20 at 7:30 p.m.