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  • Writer's pictureArt Duval

Council Rock (Part 2 the Players)

Updated: Mar 18, 2020

So a return to Council Rock. The names on the rock, just who were they? In the late 18th century colonisation was taking on a more competitive roll. No longer the ONLY players, the new United States were now also looking for land in the west. Defending the western part of the British interests meant they needed bases, and Penetanguishene Harbour was suitable for such a base. (At the time there was no division between Navy and Army as such).

In 1793, Simcoe and a delegation tour what was then Upper Canada to establish a chain of defences along the border. Simcoe had with him deputy Surveyor Alexander Aitken when he came to Severn Sound and made initial enquiries into Penetanguishene Bay and environs.

In 1795, Simcoe had wanted to purchase Penetanguishene Harbour, he was not able to come to the area, so sent a group of men to Penetanguishene to collect the chiefs and reach a formal agreement.

I have not found any documentation for this group except to say they are on the rock. Now previous to 1795, the Queen's Rangers would have been sent, but they had been sent to Niagara to protect the borders, so only James Givins, who would presumably lead the group, was sent to gather the chiefs.

Governor Simcoe would need to find other civilians to accompany him. Jacques Peltier was hired as an interpreter, having served in that capacity in Detroit. He would also add Alexander Aitkin and Henry Harman.

Alexander Aitken is a person who has many links to the early plans for Penetanguishene. He had come with Simcoe previously in 1793, had sketched Penetang for Simcoe in 1794 and travelled to Montreal to investigate the earlier purchase (which he found to be wanting) in 1795. Being a deputy surveyor makes his presence natural.

Henry Harman was more obscure. Henry was a Hessian Soldier who arrived in North America during the American revolution. A veteran of the American Revolution, he was seeking land in Upper Canada. He apparently was hired to join the group as a former soldier to probably provide some military experience. The group would travel north through wildlands on a five day (one way) trip to Penetanguishene.

I estimate that the group would have been 10-15 people in total, but only 4 had their names put on the rock. The other would have been assisting and porters, probably carrying arms under the leadership names above.

The players: So just who were these guys?

Modern Queen's Rangers re-enactors

James Givins: James Givins was a member of the Queens Rangers at the time. James had begun his time in North America as a fur trader in Detroit. (Where he became fluent in the language of the Anishinaabe (Algonquin) He traded furs until the break out of the American revolution where he fought in a loyalist unit. After the war, he joined the Queens Rangers, where his facility with native languages made for a natural transition to being a courier and interpreter for the Rangers. After a few years in the Indian Department, where his name can be seen on many treaties, he was once again at war in the US in the war of 1812.

Alexander Aitken: Alexander Aitken was a deputy surveyor for Upper Canada. Alexander survey all over Ontario and was used by Simcoe to sketch out towns such as York and Penetanguishene. Alexander had much to do with the early history of Penetanguishene, having been there with Simcoe in 1793, returning to do a sketch in 1794. He also travelled to Montreal to investigate the purchase of the area Collins had made in 1787. He once again returned to Penetanguishene in 1795 to negotiate with the Chippawa for the purchase of Penetanguishene.

Jacques Peltier: Jacques Peltier was an interpreter with a large family in the Detroit area. He would have inevitably met James Givins in his time there. Jacques had made a name for himself when in 1794 Simcoe travelled down to the Maumee River to build a fort. Having brought all the interpreters with him, Detroit was left to contract Mr Peltier and he did a marvellous job.

Hessian troops

Henry Harman: Henry Harman as we have seen was Henry "Henrik" Harman (Hermann). Henry came over from Germany with the Hessian guard. The Hessians were an auxiliary unit "rented" by the British to fight in the American revolution. Thirty thousand fought in the US, but as they were not mercenaries, many were induced to dessert, or if caught, were offered jobs on local farms. It is believed that Henry was one of these POW's who was offered work, possibly on a road crew. In 1794, he came to Canada and worked (I believe) on the construction of Yonge Street. In the spring of 1795, he would return to Berne, New York to baptize a son. On his return, he would join the Party headed for Penetanguishene, where I assume he would see the property he wanted in King Twp. He would later become the overseer of roads for the Township of King. It pains me that I don't at this time have more information on the chiefs who signed the treaty. I am going to try to get more information on them as individuals. As a group, following the mid-1600's push of the Mohawks that had them all living in the area of Lake Superior, they where having enough of that situation and they began to push the Mohawk back to their traditional territory of Upper New York state. There is some evidence that those who had once lived around Huronia, or at least visited, returned to visit or live in the area. The Jesuits had named a tribe Matchedash, and at least once Simcoe names people Matchedash, so was this one people?

Kniphausen, Harman, Simcoe and his Rangers. During the American Revolution, the British engaged a group from Germany to fight in the war. Thirty thousand german troops, known as the Hessians, came to North America to squelch the uprising. Thes troops were not mercenaries, they barely got food and clothing for their problems. They were an auxiliary unit, sold to Britain for the duration. One of those soldiers was Henrik Henry Harman. (Actually, there were three Henrik Harman's one died and one went to Pennsylvania.)The General they were under was General Kniphausen, John Graves Simcoe and his Queens Rangers were also under the command of Kniphausen. During the war, the troops under Kniphausen fought through Pennsylvania and New York where they would have seen many council rocks. So the idea of Council rock was originated with the rangers in New York.

Council Rock at Oyster Bay

All across the "Colonies", New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey there are rocks the colonials called Council Rocks. There are also council places without any rocks present. The rock is not the important part of the council, it is the fire.

Council rocks are spiritual places, but all places are spiritual to the native peoples. Unlike the colonists, the peoples who lived here believe all will be provided, so they would not build a place to have a council, but find a place. They did, combining a raised area, so that many could partake.

The Native side of the Story

The location of the rock is firmly inside Wendat territory. A look at the archaeology reveals many sites that date back to Wendat times. Wendat being Iroquoian, and council rocks being used more by Iroquois then Algonkian it isn't farfetched to see that the Wendat may have been the originators of the rock.

The Chippewa's (also called the Mississauga and Anishinaabe) were present at the signing, but they could have remembered the rock from earlier times. Over a century had passed since the Mohawk had pushed everyone off the land around Huronia, but I think as the Mohawk was pushed back the people returned, at least to places like council rock.

A lot of that is conjecture, we may never know. Although archaeology may help point to the use of the rock as often fires were light at council gatherings. There is also a site called Huron field camp, where pottery and a fire was found but no evidence of animal bones. Someone brought food with them and maybe visited council rock?

Rock pile pointing toward Council Rock

The Chippewa or Anishinaabe as they are now called seems to have carried on the tradition, finding the rock, signs like this pointing to the rock may have helped them. This was not unusual for the Anishinaabe people. They honour the fish weirs and other areas used by the Wendat. In fact, the Anishinaabe and Wendat were symbiotic, at least part of the year. Many winters the Anishinaabe returned to Wendat villages where they would stay together before the hunter-gatherers would wander off on their own, following their nomadic traditions.

The native chiefs are represented by their dodems. The dodems below are on the 1795 treaty, the only two we can be sure of is the martin, (Keewaycamkashcam) and the pike (Wabecraguan) and one of the deer clan. I wish I knew more about these men, but I don't. I am sure their story is as fascinating as any of the others, but that information is possibly lost.

I think the evidence clearly points towards the rock being used as a council place, no other reason could be found for a rock in the middle of nowhere......but is it in the middle of nowhere?

In Simcoe county, it may be in the middle of everywhere!

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Dec 07, 2023

Hello, thank you for writing this. My name is Dave Hoover and Henry Harman is my great grandfathers grandad. It’s too bad my grandmother has passed on, she was a wealth of family information. if you’d like I can probably guide you to more sources of info on Henry.

Art Duval
Art Duval
Dec 12, 2023
Replying to

Send me an email. Maybe we can visit the. Site in summer


Jul 01, 2022

Miigwech for the story and stories. Someday l hope to visit Counsil Rock and see the history for myself. So you can only comment here if you reveal yourself. Crazy.


Gregory King
Gregory King
Aug 01, 2021

I know of these dodems.

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