Gibson Mill is a former bedding-factory-turned-antique-depot in my hometown in North Carolina, and I visit every once in a while to see what’s new. I’ve found a hand-painted dresser, an antique cheval mirror and a collection of World War II-era postcards and coins, but I’m most excited about my latest find: two stamps that ended up 665 miles from home in the back corner of a booth in a Concord antique store.*
The first stamp features a tree surrounded by the words, “Town of Cheektowaga: Incorporated March 22, 1839.” The words, “Ji-ik-do-wah-gah: Land of the Crabapple” surround these, and a ring of leaves complete the outside edge of the circle. This likely would have been an original seal for the town of Cheektowaga, New York–a precursor to the official seal that was drafted and approved by the town’s inhabitants in 1967. According to the town website, “Cheektowaga” comes from the Erie-Seneca word, “Ji-ik-do-wah-gah,” or, “land of the crabapple tree.” The United States government seized large areas of land from the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy in the late-1700s and early-1800s, and officials forced residents onto reservations both in other parts of Erie Co., and out west.** The land was then purchased by the Holland Land Company and settled by a number of European immigrants; by legislative act, the Town of Amherst was divided into Amherst and present-day Cheektowaga in 1939. This stamp would have been used to place a mark at the top of each town proclamation since the town’s official incorporation.
The second stamp reads, “The Community Chest of Buffalo & Erie County: 122 Pearl Street, Buffalo, New York.” The Joint Charities and Community Fund was founded in 1917 in order to unify the efforts of the Charity Organization Society, the Children’s Aid Society and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and to initiate a “one-ask” monetary campaign. Joint Charities joined the National United War Fund in 1942 in order to adapt to the needs of the Buffalo and Erie Co., community, as World War II efforts had become deeply intertwined with local community life. Once the war ended, the organization “re-branded” itself once again as the Community Chest of Buffalo and Erie County.
An entry in the “Listen, World!” column of The Buffalo Enquirer from January 4, 1923 describes the organization’s work:
Some hundred cities of the United States have established a Community Chest, and, by so doing, have made a great gesture toward that high goal which men call civilization. The Community Chest idea is, theoretically, a simple one, but its accomplishment implies infinite victories over human pettiness and a vast advance in tolerance and generosity.
Roughly speaking, the Community Chest is a centralization of all the charity work hitherto conducted under numerous heads by many societies and churches. It includes the care of the sick, orphaned, needy and aged, the giving of legal advice to the distressed and similar services along the lines of charitable relief…
Above all, it truly “takes care of people” with sympathy, intelligence and tolerance. It is hard to imagine a finer civic act…The slogan of the Community Chest, “Someone cares,” is one of the most beautiful dictums that has ever been written on the scroll of human history.
Today, the Community Chest is known as the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, and their stated goal is to “fight for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community.” I wonder how these two antique stamps from Erie Co., New York–one used for Cheektowaga town proclamations, and the other as a letterhead for the Community Chest’s correspondence–ended up in a small town in North Carolina, 665 miles away from home.
*The vendor selling the stamps was Ruffin’s Roost in Mt. Pleasant, for anyone interested!
**Many sources discuss this as a “peaceful negotiation” between the Nations and the United States government, rather than a forced or coerced removal. I am skeptical of this, to say the least. Nevertheless, it’s important to note the difference in framing here and the existence of a treaty that does “exchange” land between the two parties.