Monday, 25 August 2008

The Legend of Treaty Oak

The Washington Hilton Hotel (http://www1.hilton.com/en_US/hi/hotel/DCAWHHH-Hilton-Washington-District-of-Columbia/index.do) stands on the site of Oak Lawn, a Nineteenth Century mansion built by Thomas P Morgan. Within its grounds stood the "Treaty Oak", an ancient oak tree said to be the place where George Washington negotiated and signed a peace treaty and purchase of the land with local native americans.

The area around was known as known as (and is described in a 1791 map as the 'Widow's Mite') see http://www.capitolhillhistory.org/library/04/Jenkins%20Hill.html. Nicholas Mann describes the legend of the Widows Mite in his book 'The Sacred Geometry of Washington DC'

The Anacostia Indian Tribe once lived in a vast forest in the region where the City of Washington now stands. Their Chief Mannacasset, set up his wigwam near a mighty oak that stood upon a high hill. From there, he governed the sur­rounding land.

One day, among the captives taken by the tribe in war, was a young mother and her daughter. The chief wanted the woman to be his wife. She repeatedly turned down his requests. So Mannacasset decreed that although custom pre­vented him from taking her by force, she would be killed if she wandered beyond the shade of the great oak tree.
As the years passed, the mother drew pleasure from the rais­ing of her child, Gwawa, which means 'hope'. Gwawa found a playmate in a half-Indian, half-white boy called Tschagarag. When the chief died, perhaps in battle with the whites, the treaty for peace and for the purchase of the land from the Indians was signed under the spreading branches of the oak tree. Washington himself, ‘the Father of our country’, signed the treaty. The woman was released from her imprisonment. The tree is the Treaty Oak.

Although offered several homes, the woman insisted on remaining in the shelter of the tree. She was granted the land around the tree; which from that day forth became known as the Widow's Mite. She was offered large sums of money for the hill upon which the great oak stood - the site of the U.S. Capitol or the White House - but the widow clung to the land.

Upon her death, she willed the property to her daughter, who had now married Tschagarag. She said to her daughter: 'Regard the oak which overspreads our cottage as an ancient relic; cherish it through life as the talisman of a resigned suf­ferer. And should you be blessed with offspring, instil them with the reverence for the tree as will transmit from generation to generation. These fulfilled, accept my thanks and consider the little I give you ... as the Widow's Mite to her posterity'.

He argues that an older story has been retold but with Washington added. The land involved was deeded to a white settler named John Langworth in 1664.

The 'Treaty Oak' itself was felled in 1948, after one side of it was severely burned in a fire and the mansion, now fallen into severe disrepair, demolished.