[Note: This is a single part of what will be, by my classification, about 240 compact tribal histories (contact to 1900). It is limited to the lower 48 states of the U.S. but also includes those First Nations from Canada and Mexico that had important roles (Huron, Micmac, Assiniboine, etc.).
This history's content and style are representative. The normal process at this point is to circulate an almost finished product among a peer group for comment and criticism. At the end of this History you will find links to those Nations referred to in the History of the Iroquois.
Using the Internet, this can be more inclusive. Feel free to comment or suggest corrections via e-mail. Working together we can end some of the historical misinformation about Native Americans. You will find the ego at this end to be of standard size. Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to your comments...Lee Sultzman]
The original homeland of the Iroquois was in upstate New York between the Adirondack Mountains and Niagara Falls. Through conquest and migration, they gained control of most of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. At its maximum in 1680, their empire extended west from the north shore of Chesapeake Bay through Kentucky to the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers; then north following the Illinois River to the south end of Lake Michigan; east across all of lower Michigan, southern Ontario and adjacent parts of southwestern Quebec; and finally south through northern New England west of the Connecticut River through the Hudson and upper Delaware Valleys across Pennsylvania back to the Chesapeake. With two exceptions - the Mingo occupation of the upper Ohio Valley and the Caughnawaga migration to the upper St. Lawrence - the Iroquois did not, for the most part, physically occupy this vast area but remained in their upstate New York villages.
During the hundred years preceding the American Revolution, wars with French-allied Algonquin and British colonial settlement forced them back within their original boundaries once again. Their decision to side with the British during the Revolutionary War was a disaster for the Iroquois. The American invasion of their homeland in 1779 drove many of the Iroquois into southern Ontario where they have remained. With large Iroquois communities already located along the upper St. Lawrence in Quebec at the time, roughly half of the Iroquois population has since lived in Canada. This includes most of the Mohawk along with representative groups from the other tribes. Although most Iroquois reserves are in southern Ontario and Quebec, one small group (Michel's band) settled in Alberta during the 1800s as part of the fur trade.
In the United States, much of the Iroquois homeland was surrendered to New York land speculators in a series of treaties following the Revolutionary War. Despite this, most Seneca, Tuscarora, and Onondaga avoided removal during the 1830s and have remained in New York. There are also sizeable groups of Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, and Caughnawaga still in the state. Most of the Oneida, however, relocated in 1838 to a reservation near Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Cayuga sold their New York lands in 1807 and moved west to join the Mingo relatives (Seneca of Sandusky) in Ohio. In 1831 this combined group ceded their Ohio reserve to the United States and relocated to the Indian Territory. A few New York Seneca moved to Kansas at this time but, after the Civil War, joined the others in northeast Oklahoma to become the modern Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma.
Considering their impact on history, it is amazing how few Iroquois there were in 1600 - probably less than 20,000 for all five tribes. Their inland location protected them somewhat from the initial European epidemics, but these had reached them by 1650 and, combined with warfare, cut their population to about half of its original number. However, unlike other native populations which continued to drop, the Iroquois, through the massive adoption of conquored Iroquian-speaking enemies (at least 7,000 Huron, and similar numbers of Neutrals, Susquehannock, Tionontati, and Erie), actually increased and reached their maximum number in 1660, about 25,000. Absorption of this many outsiders was not without major problems - not the least of which was the Iroquois became a minority within their own confederacy.
For the moment, the Iroquois talent for diplomacy and political unity kept things under control, but forces which would destroy them had been set in motion. On the positive side, the adoptions gave the Iroquois a claim to the lands of their former enemies beyond mere "right of conquest." Mass adoption, however, was not extended to non-Iroquian speaking tribes, and from this point the Iroquois population dropped. Despite the incorporation of 1,500 Tuscarora in 1722 as a sixth member of the League, the Iroquois numbered only 12,000 in 1768. By the end of the Revolutionary War, they were less than 8,000. From that point there has been a slow recovery followed by a recent surge as renewed native pride has prompted many to reclaim their heritage. The 1940 census listed only 17,000 Iroquois in both New York and Canada, but current figures approach 70,000 at about 20 settlements and 8 reservations in New York, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Ontario, and Quebec.
Approximately 30,000 of these live in the United States. Of 3,500 Cayuga, 3,000 are in Canada as part of the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve near Brantford, Ontario. The 500 in the United States live mostly on the Seneca Reservations in western New York. There are also Cayuga among the 2,500 member Seneca-Cayuga tribe in northeastern Oklahoma - descendents of the Mingo of Ohio. The Oneida were once one of the smaller Iroquois tribes but currently number more than 16,000. The largest group (almost 11,000) lives on or near their 2,200 acre reservation west of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Another 700 still live near Oneida, New York, but since their 32 acre reserve is so small, many are forced to live with the nearby Onondaga. Ontario has 4,600 Oneida split between the 2,800 Oneida of the Thames near London and the Grand River Reserve with the Six Nations.
1,600 Onondaga still live in New York, mainly on a 7,300 acre reservation just south of Syracuse. Another 600 are at the Grand River Reserve in Ontario which has members from all six Iroquois tribes. This includes 200 Tuscarora, but the majority (1,200) live on the Tuscarora Reservation (5,000 acres) near Niagara Falls, New York. The Seneca were once the largest tribe of the Iroquois League - the number of their warriors equal to the other four tribes combined. Their current enrollment stands at 9,100, 1,100 of whom are in Ontario at Grand River. There are four Seneca Reserves in western New York: Allegheny, Cattaraugus, Oil Springs, and Tonawanda (total 60,000 acres). There was once a fifth Seneca reservation, but only 100 of the original 9,000 acres of the Cornplanter grant in northern Pennsylvania remain after it was flooded by a dam project in the 1960s. The Seneca, however, are the only Native American tribe to own an American city - Salamanca, New York.
The Mohawk are the largest group of Iroquois with more than 35,000 members. Some estimates of pre-contact Mohawk population range as high as 17,000 although half this is probably closer to the truth. War and epidemic took a terrible toll, and by 1691 the Mohawk had less than 800 people. A large group of Caughnawaga live in Brooklyn (ironworkers), but the only American Mohawk reservation is at St. Regis on the New York-Quebec border with 7,700 members. Straddling the border as the Akwesasne reserve, the Canadian part has a population of 5,700. Almost 12,000 Mohawk live in Ontario as Six Nations of the Grand River, Watha Mohawk Nation, and the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte at Tyendenaga (Deseronto) on the north shore of Lake Ontario west of Kingston. The remainder of the Canadian Mohawk live in Quebec near Montreal: 8,200 at Kahnawake (Caughnawaga); and 1,800 at Oka (Kanesatake, Lac des Deaux Montagnes).
Iroquois is an easily recognized name, but like the names of many tribes, it was given them by their enemies. The Algonquin called them the Iroqu (Irinakhoiw) "rattlesnakes." After the French added the Gallic suffix "-ois" to this insult, the name became Iroquois. The Iroquois call themselves Haudenosaunee meaning "people of the long house." Other names: Canton Indians; Confederate Indians; Ehressaronon (Huron); Five Nations; Massawomeck (Powhatan); Matchenawtowaig (Ottawa "bad snakes"); Mengue (French); Mingo, Minqua, Mingwe (Delaware); Nadowa, Nadowaig, Nautowa (Ojibwe "adders"); and after 1722, the Six Nations.
Iroquian - Northern. The languages of individual tribes were closely related and, although not identical, mutually intelligible. The greatest similarities existed between the Mohawk and Oneida and the Cayuga and Seneca.
FiveCayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Seneca. After 1722 the Tuscarora were added to the League as a sixth, but non-voting, member. VillagesNew York State unless otherwise noted. A number indicates more than one village of the same name, while a tribal name shows a mixed population. Cayuga
Gweugwehono. Translated variously as "people of Oiogouen; where the boats were taken out; people at the landing; or people of the mucky land." Also referred to as "those of the great pipe."
NamesOuioerrhonon (Huron) VillagesChondote, Gandasetaigon (ONT), Ganogeh, Gayagaanhe, Gewauga, Goiogouen, Kawauka, Kente (ONT), Kiohero (Thiohero, Tiohero), Neodakheat, Oiogouen (Jesuit mission of St. Joseph), Oneniote, Onnontare (Onotare) (Jesuit mission of St. Rene), Owego, and Skannayutenate Mohawk
Kahniankehaka (Ganiengehaka) "people of the flint." Spoken of within the League as the "keepers of the eastern door."
NamesAgnier (French), Agnierrhonon (Huron), Maqua (Abenaki and Dutch), Mohowaanuck (Narragansett "man eaters") VillagesCanajoharie, Canastigaone, Canienga, Caughnawaga (ONT and NY-2), Churchtononeda, Kanagaro, Kowogoconnughariegugharie, Nowadaga, Onekagoncka, Onoalagona, Oquaga, Osquake, Saratoga, Schaunactada (Schenectady), Schoharie, Teatontaloga (Jesuit mission of Ste. Marie), Tewanondadon, Tionnontoguen, and Unadilla Oneida
Onayotekaono (Onyotaaka) "people of the standing stone"
NamesOnoiochronon (Huron) VillagesAwegen, Cahunghage, Canowaroghere, Canowdowsa, Chittenango, Cowassalon, Ganadoga, Hostayuntwa, Oneida (Upper Castle), Opolopong (PA), Oriska, Ossewingo, Ostogeron, Schoherage, Sevege, (Tuscarora), Solocka (PA), Tegasoke, Teseroken, Tetosweken, Tkanetota, and Tolungowon (WI). Onandaga
Onundagaono "people of the hills; place on the hill; people on the mountain." The "keepers of the fire" and "wampum keepers."
NamesOnontaerrhonon (Huron) VillagesAhaouet, Deseroken, Gadoquat, Gannentaha, Gistwiahna, Kanadaseagea (Canandaigua), Kanatakowa, Onondaga, Onondaghara, Onondahgegahgeh, Onontatacet, Otiahanague, Teionontatases, Tgasunto, Touenho, and Tueadasso. Seneca
Nundawaono "great hill people." The "keepers of the western door."
NamesSenecars, Sonnontoerrhonon (Huron) VillagesBuckaloon (PA), Canadasaga, Caneadea, Catherine's Town, Cattaraugus, Chemung, Cheronderoga, Condawhaw, Connewango (2-PA), Cussewago (PA), Dayoitgao, Deonundagae, Deyodeshot, Deyohnegano (2), Deyonongdadagana, Dyosyowan (PA), Gaandowanang, Gadaho, Gahato, Gahayanduk, Ganagweh, Ganawagus, Ganeasos, Ganedontwan, Ganos, Ganosgagong, Gaonsagaon, Gaousge, Gaskosada, Gathtsegwarohare, Geneseo, Gistaquat, Gwaugweh, Honeoye, Jennesedaga (PA), Joneadih, Kahesarahera, Kanaghsaws, Kannassarago, Kashong (Cashong), Kaskonchiagon, Kaygen, Keinthe (ONT), Little Beard's Town, Middle Town, New Chemung, Newtown, Nondas, Oatka, Old Chemung, Onnahee (Onaghee), Onoghsadago, Onondarka, Owaiski, Skahasegao, Skoiyase, Sonojowauga, Tekisedaneyout, Tioniongarunte, Tonawanda, Totiakton, Yorkjough, and Yoroonwago (PA) Tuscarora
"shirt wearing people." Not an original member of the Iroquois League, the Tuscarora joined as a non-voting member in 1722 after they had been forced to leave North Carolina in 1714 after a war with the English colonists.
NamesAkotaskaroren (Mohawk), Aniskalall (Cherokee), Ataskalolen (Oneida), Tewohomomy (Keewahomomy) (Saponi) VillagesShawiangto Mingo
The name comes from "Minqua," a Delaware word meaning treacherous used for the Susquehannock and other Iroquian-speaking tribes. The Mingo were groups of independent Iroquois - mixed Seneca and Cayuga hunters with a heavy percentage of descendents of Neutrals, Huron, and Erie who had been adopted by the Iroquois during the 1650s. They settled in Ohio and western Pennsylvania in the early 1700s and formed mixed villages with the Delaware and Shawnee who arrived later.
NamesCowskin Seneca, Neosho Seneca, Ohio Iroquois, and Seneca of Sandusky VillagesLogstown (Chininqué) (Delaware-Shawnee-PA), Mingo Town (OH), Pluggy's Town (OH), Sawcunk (Saukunk) (Delaware-Shawnee-PA), Sewickley (Shawnee-Delaware-PA), Scoutash's Town (Shawnee-OH), Seneca Town (OH), Sonnontio (Delaware-Shawnee-OH), Wakatomica (Shawnee-OH), Wasps (OH), White Mingo Town, and Yellow Creek (OH) Caughnawaga (Praying Indians of Quebec)
Collectively, the Iroquois (mostly Mohawk but with sizeable numbers of Oneida, Onondaga, and Cayuga) who, after being converted to Christianity by French Jesuits, separated from the Iroquois League after 1667 and settled along the St. Lawrence River near Montreal.
Sub-TribesBay Quinte, Caughnawaga (Caughnawena, Conewaga, Coghnawagee, Kahnawake, Sault St. Louis for the Mohawks). La Montagne, La Prairie, Oka (Kanesatake, Lac des Deaux Montagnes, Lake of the Two Mountains, Scawendadey, Scenodidi), Oswegatchie (La Presentation mission), Sault au Recollet, St. Francois Xavier des prés, St. Jerome, and St. Regis (Akwesasne) Pennsylvania Mixed Iroquois-Delaware VillagesChinklacamoose (Seneca), Goshgoshunk (Seneca-3), Hickorytown (Munsee), Jedakne, John's Town (Munsee), Kickenapawling, Kittaning (Attigué) (Caughnawaga), Kushkuski (Kuskuski), Lawunkhannek (Seneca), Loyalhannon, Mahusquechikoken (Munsee-Seneca), Nescopeck (Shawnee), Ostonwackin (Cayuga-Oneida), Shamokin (Shawnee-Tutelo), Shenango (3), Sheshequin (Seneca), Skenandowa, Tioga, Venango (Seneca-Shawnee-Wyandot-Ottawa), Wyalusing (Munsee), and Wyoming (Munsee-Shawnee-Mahican-Nanticoke) Ohio Mixed Iroquois-Delaware VillagesCoshocton (Koshachkink) (Munsee-Delaware-Shawnee-Seneca), New Town (Newtown) (1-NY and 3-OH), and Tullihas (Caughnawaga-Mahican-OH) Unspecified VillagesAdjouquay, Anpuaqun, Aratumquat, Chemegaide, Churamuk, Codocararen, Cokanuk, Conaquanosshan, Conihunta, Connosomothdian, Conoytown (Conoy-PA), Coreorgonel (Tutelo), Cowawago, Ganadoga (ONT), Ganagarahhare (PA), Ganeraske (ONT), Ganneious (ONT), Glasswanoge, Indian Point, Janundat (OH), Jonondes, Juniata, Juraken (2-PA), Kahendohon, Kanatiochitiage, Kanesadageh, Kannawalohalla, Karaken, Karhationni, Karhawenradonh, Kayehkwarageh, Manckatawangum (PA), Matchasaung (PA), Mohanet (PA), Newtychanning (PA), Ohrekionni, Onaweron, Onkwe Iyede, Oskanwaserenhon, Otseningo (Delaware), Otskwirakeron, Ousagwentera, Runonvea, Schohorage (PA), Sconassi (PA), Sittawingo (PA), Swahadowri, Taiaiagon (ONT), Tohoguse's Town (PA), Tonihata (ONT), Tuskokogie, Wakerhon, Wauteghe, and Youcham Culture
Simply put, the Iroquois were the most important native group in North American history. Culturally, however, there was little to distinguish them from their Iroquian-speaking neighbors. All had matrilineal social structures - the women owned all property and determined kinship. The individual Iroquois tribes were divided into three clans, turtle, bear, and wolf - each headed by the clan mother. The Seneca were like the Huron tribes and had eight (the five additional being the crane, snipe, hawk, beaver, and deer). After marriage, a man moved into his wife's longhouse, and their children became members of her clan. Iroquois villages were generally fortified and large. The distinctive, communal longhouses of the different clans could be over 200' in length and were built about a framework covered with elm bark, the Iroquois' material of choice for all manner of things. Villages were permanent in the sense they were moved only for defensive purposes or when the soil became exhausted (about every twenty years).
Agriculture provided most of the Iroquois diet. Corn, beans, and squash were known as "deohako" or "life supporters." Their importance to the Iroquois was clearly demonstrated by the six annual agricultural festivals held with prayers of gratitude for their harvests. The women owned and tended the fields under the supervision of the clan mother. Men usually left the village in the fall for the annual hunt and returned about midwinter. Spring was fishing season. Other than clearing fields and building villages, the primary occupation of the men was warfare. Warriors wore their hair in a distinctive scalplock (Mohawk of course), although other styles became common later. While the men carefully removed all facial and body hair, women wore theirs long. Tattoos were common for both sexes. Torture and ritual cannibalism were some of the ugly traits of the Iroquois, but these were shared with several other tribes east of the Mississippi. The False Face society was an Iroquois healing group which utilized grotesque wooden masks to frighten the evil spirts believed to cause illness.
It was the Iroquois political system, however, that made them unique, and because of it, they dominated the first 200-years of colonial history in both Canada and the United States. Strangely enough, there were never that many of them, and the enemies they defeated in war were often twice their size. Although much has been made of their Dutch firearms, the Iroquois prevailed because of their unity, sense of purpose, and superior political organization. Since the Iroquois League was formed prior to any contact, it owed nothing to European influence. Proper credit is seldom given, but the reverse was actually true. Rather than learning political sophistication from Europeans, Europeans learned from the Iroquois, and the League, with its elaborate system of checks, balances,, and supreme law, almost certainly influenced the American Articles of Confederation and Constitution.
The Iroquois were farmers whose leaders were chosen by their women - rather unusual for warlike conquerors. Founded to maintain peace and resolve disputes between its members, the League's primary law was the Kainerekowa, the Great Law of Peace which simply stated Iroquois should not kill each other. The League's organization was prescribed by a written constitution based on 114 wampums and reinforced by a funeral rite known as the "Condolence" - shared mourning at the passing of sachems from the member tribes. The council was composed of 50 male sachems known variously as lords, or peace chiefs. Each tribe's representation was set: Onondaga 14; Cayuga 10; Oneida 9; Mohawk 9; and Seneca 8. Nominated by the tribal clan mothers (who had almost complete power in their selection), Iroquois sachemships were usually held for life, although they could be removed for misconduct or incompetence. The emblem of their office was the deer antler head dress, and guided by an all-male council, the sachems ruled in times of peace. War chiefs were chosen on the basis of birth, experience, and ability, but exercised power only during war.
The central authority of the Iroquois League was limited leaving each tribe free to pursue its own interests. By 1660, however, the Iroquois found it necessary to present a united front to Europeans, and the original freedom of its members had to be curtailed somewhat. In practice, the Mohawk and Oneida formed one faction in the council and the Seneca and Cayuga the other. The League's principal sachem (Tadodaho) was always an Onondaga, and as "keepers of the council fire" with 14 sachems (well out of proportion to their population), they represented compromise. This role was crucial since all decisions of the council had to be unanimous, one of the League's weaknesses. There was also a "pecking order" among members reflected by the eloquent ritual language of League debate. Mohawk, Onondaga, and Seneca were addressed as "elder brothers" or "uncles," while Oneida, Cayuga, and Tuscarora were "younger brothers" or "nephews."
In this form, the Iroquois used a combination of military prowess and skilled diplomacy to conquer an empire. Until their internal unity finally failed them during the American Revolution, the Iroquois dealt with European powers as an equal. The League was a remarkable achievement, but it also had flaws, the most apparent was its inability to find a satisfactory means to share political power with its new members. As mentioned, the Iroquois incorporated thousands of non-league Iroquian peoples during the 1650s. Political power was retained by the original Iroquois to such an extent that the adoptees remained second-class citizens. The resulting dissatisfaction eventually led to the Mingo separating and moving to Ohio to free themselves from League control. Others found refuge with the French at Caughnawaga and other Jesuit missions along the St. Lawrence.
The League's massive adoptions also explains why it was so relentless in its pursuit of the remnants of defeated enemies. So long as one small band remained free, the Iroquois were in danger of an insurrection from within. Perhaps because they considered themselves "Ongwi Honwi" (superior people), the Iroquois never offered wholesale adoption to the non-Iroquian speaking peoples who came under their control. Instead they offered membership in the "Covenant Chain," a terminology first suggested by the Dutch at a treaty signed with the Mohawk in 1618. By 1677 the Iroquois had extended this form of limited membership to the Mahican and Delaware and later would offer it to other Algonquin and Siouan tribes. Essentially, the Covenant Chain was a trade and military alliance which gave the Iroquois the authority to represent its members with Europeans, but there was no vote or direct representation in the League council, Worse yet, the Iroquois were often arrogant and placed their own interests first. A system of "half-kings" created to represent the Ohio tribes in the 1740s never really corrected this problem.
A list of all noteworthy Iroquois would be too long to be included here. The Seneca chief, Eli Parker (Donehogawa) was the Commissioner of Indian Affairs during the Grant Administration. Educated as a lawyer, he was admitted to the bar but not allowed to practice in New York. He served on Grant's staff during the Civil War and is believed to have written the terms of Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Catherine Tekawitha, the Lily of the Mohawk (1656-80) has reached the final stage before recognition as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. The Mohawk have gained fame as structural ironworkers. Hired as laborers in 1896 during the construction of the Dominion Bridge at Montreal, they showed no fear of height and have since been involved in the construction of every major bridge and skyscraper. 35 Mohawk were among the 96 killed in 1907 when a bridge being built across the St. Lawrence at Quebec collapsed.
Archeological evidence indicates the Iroquois had lived in upstate New York for a long time before the Europeans arrived. Longhouse construction dates to at least 1100 A.D. The maize agriculture was introduced in the 14th century prompting a population surge and other changes. By 1350 villages had become larger and fortified due to increased warfare, and ritual cannibalism began around 1400. The Onondaga were the first of the Iroquois tribes that can be positively identified in New York and seems to have begun after the merger of two villages sometime between 1450 and 1475. The origin of the other four tribes is not as certain. According to Iroquois tradition, they were once a single tribe in the St. Lawrence Valley subject to Algonquin-speaking Adirondack who had taught them agriculture. To escape Algonquin domination, the Iroquois say they left the St. Lawrence and moved south to New York where they split into opposing tribes.
The exact date of this migration is uncertain. When Jacques Cartier first explored the St. Lawrence in 1535, there were Iroquoian-speaking peoples living in at least eleven villages between Stadacona (Quebec) and Hochelaga (Montreal). Hochelaga was a large fortified village with large corn fields and a population over 3,000. It was still there during Cartier's second visit (1541-42), but when the French returned to the area in 1603, Hochelaga and the other Iroquois villages on the St. Lawrence had disappeared. In their place were Montagnais and Algonkin. For lack of a better term, these Iroquian people have been called the Laurentian Iroquois, but their exact relationship to other Iroquian groups has never been established. Both the Huron and Mohawk traditions claim them as their own. Linguistic evidence tends to support the Huron, but it is quite possible the Laurentian Iroquois may have been part of the Mohawk.
Equally confused is the exact date of the founding of the Iroquois League. Some estimates put this as far back as 900 A.D., but the general consensus is sometime around 1570. There is no question, however, that all of the Iroquoian confederacies (Neutrals, Susquehannock, Huron, and Iroquois) were established prior to European contact. Nor is there any dispute over why this occurred. Although still threatened by the Adirondack after moving to upstate New York, the greatest danger for the Iroquois was themselves. Relationships between the tribes had deteriorated into constant war, blood feuds, and revenge killings. In danger of self-destruction, the Iroquois were saved by the sudden appearance of a Huron holyman known as the "Peacemaker." Deganawida (Two River Currents Flowing Together) received a vision from the Creator of peace and cooperation among all Iroquois. Apparently he was hindered by either a language or speech difficulty, but Deganawida eventually won the support of Hiawatha (Ayawentha - He Makes Rivers), an Onondaga who had become a Mohawk war chief.
With considerable effort, they were able to convince the other Iroquois tribes to end their fighting and join together in a league. Legend tells that Deganawida blotted out the sun to convince the reluctant. A solar eclipse visible in upstate New York occurred in 1451 suggesting another possible date for these events. The formation of the League ended the warfare between its members bringing the Iroquois a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity. It also brought political unity and military power, and unfortunately, Deganawida's "Great Peace" extended only to the Iroquois themselves. For outsiders it was a military alliance and the "Great War" against any people with whom the Iroquois had a dispute, and during the first 130 years of the League's existence, there were very few tribes who managed to avoid a dispute with the Iroquois.
The Iroquois were only required to maintain peace with each other, the individual members of the League were free to pursue their own interests, and at first, the Iroquois functioned as two alliances: the Seneca, Cayuga, and, to a lesser extent, the Onondaga combined as the western Iroquois; while the Mohawk and Oneida united in the east. Despite this division, the Iroquois still possessed a unity and purpose which their enemies could not match. During a 50-year war beginning sometime around 1570, the eastern Iroquois drove the Algonquin from the Adirondack Mountains and the upper St. Lawrence River - a possible explanation of the movement of the Pequot and Mohegan into southern New England just after 1600. There were also skirmishes with the powerful Mahican Confederacy to the south over the wampum trade, and most likely because they were Adirondack or Mahican allies, the Pocumtuc in western New England were attacked by the Mohawk in 1606. After establishing a settlement at Quebec, the French reached west to the vicinity of Montreal in 1609. What they found there was a war zone where it was possible to travel along the St. Lawrence for days without seeing another human being. The Algonkin and Montagnais were so harassed by Mohawk war parties that they usually remained well-clear of the river.
The French only wanted to trade for fur. Their potential trading partners, however, wanted help fighting the Mohawk which trapped the French into winning their loyalty by jumping into someone else's war. It must have seemed a trivial at the time, but it proved a fateful decision. In July, 1609 Samuel de Champlain accompanied a Huron, Montagnais, and Algonkin war party which moved south along the shores of Lake Champlain. When they encountered Mohawk warriors, a battle followed during which French guns broke the massed Mohawk formation killing several war chiefs. The following year, Champlain joined another attack against a Mohawk fort on the Richelieu River. Although the Mohawk soon discarded mass formations, wooden body armor, and countered French firearms by falling to the ground just before they discharged, they were driven from the St. Lawrence after 1610. The Algonkin and Montagnais took control of the area and its fur trade for the next twenty years. Meanwhile, the French pushed west to the Huron villages and, in a similar error in 1615, participated in an attack on the Onondaga.
During the years following, the French paid dearly for their intervention. Iroquois hostility prevented them from using Lake Ontario and forced a detour through the Ottawa River Valley to reach the western Great Lakes. For the moment, however, the Iroquois needed guns and steel weapons to protect themselves, but these were available only through a fur trade controlled by their enemies. In 1610 Dutch traders arrived in the Hudson Valley of New York, and the Iroquois had solved a part of their problem. Still pressed from the north by the Huron, Algonkin, and Montagnais, the Mohawk in 1615 were also fighting their traditional Susquehannock rivals to the south. Suspecting the French were behind this, the Dutch helped the Mohawk against the Susquehannock. This attached the Mohawk to the Dutch, but there were problems. Located on the Hudson, the Mahican blocked Mohawk access to Dutch traders unless tribute was paid to cross their territory.
This unhappy arrangement did not sit well with the Mohawk and periodically erupted into war. Since this affected their fur trade, the Dutch arranged a truce in 1613. Four years later, renewed fighting between the Mohawk and Mahican forced the closure of Fort Nassau near Albany until another peace was made in 1618. Meanwhile, the Dutch demand for fur had created competition for previously-shared hunting territory, and Mohawk encroachment had led to fighting and subjugation of some the northern groups of Munsee Delaware during 1615. How long the Dutch could have "kept the lid on" this situation is questionable. The Mohawk were acting as middlemen for other Iroquois and had even greater ambitions. In 1624 the Dutch built a new post at Fort Orange which was actually closer to the the Mohawk. Unfortunately, they also tried to take some of the St. Lawrence fur trade from the French by using Mahican middlemen to open trade with the Algonkin.
Trade with their enemies was too much for the Mohawk, and in 1624 they attacked the Mahican in a war the Dutch could not stop. Fighting continued for the next four years with the Mahican calling in their Pocumtuc and Sokoki (Western Abenaki) allies. The Dutch at first tended to favor the Mahican. Dutch soldiers from Fort Orange joined a Mahican war party in 1626. A Mohawk ambush resulted in several dead Dutchmen, but rather than retaliate, the Dutch decided to remain neutral. By 1628 the Mohawk had defeated the Mahican and driven them east of the Hudson River. Under the terms of peace, the Mahican were forced to pay tribute in wampum, or at least share their profits from wampum trade with the Delaware on Long Island. The Dutch accepted the Mohawk victory and made them their principal ally and trading partner. The Iroquois homeland occupied a very strategic position - sitting between the Dutch in the Hudson Valley and furs of the Great Lakes. Already able to force the French to stay well north, the Iroquois were ready to try to dominate the French trade on the St. Lawrence.
The result was the Beaver Wars - 70 years of violent intertribal warfare for control of the European fur trade. Largely forgotten today, the Beaver Wars were one of the critical events in North America history. With the Mahican defeated and subject, the Mohawk in 1629 continued the war against the Mahican's Sokoki and Pennacook allies. This may have continued for some time if not for the actions of third European power, Great Britain, which had begun colonizing New England in 1620. During a war in Europe between Britain and France, English privateers under Sir David Kirke captured Quebec in 1629. Without French support, the Algonkin and Montagnais were vulnerable, and after concluding a truce with the Sokoki, the Mohawk took advantage by destroying the Algonkin-Montagnais village at Trois Rivieres. By late 1630 the Algonkin and Montagnais desperately needed help against the Mohawk. For three long years none came until the Treaty of St. Germaine en Laye restored Quebec to France in 1632.
By the time the French returned to the St. Lawrence that year, the Iroquois (with uninterrupted trade with the Dutch) had reversed their earlier losses and were dangerously close to gaining control of the upper St. Lawrence and southern Ontario. The Iroquois had exhausted most of the beaver in their homeland (they never had that many to begin with). If they were to continue trade for the European goods on which they become dependent, they desperately needed to find new hunting territory. As large Iroquois war parties ranged freely through southern Ontario and the Ottawa Valley, the French tried to restore the balance of power in the region by selling firearms to their trading partners for "hunting." For obvious reasons, the Europeans at first had avoided trading firearms to the natives, although they were pretty free with steel knives and hatchets. With growing competition in the fur trade, however, their reluctance rapidly gave way.
Initially, the French took the precaution of restricting guns to Christian converts and limiting the amount of ammunition to preclude any use against themselves. Even a limited supply was sufficient at the time to allow the Huron, Algonkin, and Montagnais to counter the Iroquois, while the French rebuilt their fur trade. The firearms and steel weapons, however, soon found their way into the hands of the tribes for which the Huron acted as a middleman, and as the number of beaver dwindled in the eastern Great Lakes, Neutral, Tionontati, and Ottawa warriors used them to seize territory from Algonquin and Siouan tribes in lower Michigan and the Ohio Valley. The Beaver Wars spread westward during the 1630s and 40s. The Iroquois were Dutch allies. Because of this and past hostility, the French continued to avoid them. Despite a limited trade agreement concluded with the Mohawk in 1627, they concentrated their efforts on trade with the Huron who had strong trading ties to the western Great Lakes.
Stymied by Huron military power, the Iroquois wanted their permission to hunt in the prime beaver territory to the north and west of their homeland so they could maintain their trade with the Dutch. At the very least, the Iroquois needed the Huron to cooperate and trade some of their furs with them - something the two rival confederations had done for many years before arrival of the French and Dutch. Resorting to diplomacy, the League sent its requests to the Huron council. The Huron, however, sensed their growing advantage and refused. After the Huron killed an Iroquois hunting party in disputed territory, all-out war erupted. Although the Huron and their allies outnumbered them more than two to one, Iroquois war parties moved into southern Ontario trying to cut the Huron link through the Ottawa Valley to French traders at Quebec. Some French settlements along the St. Lawrence were also attacked in 1633, but these were never the main target. For the most part, the Iroquois shrewdly tried to keep the French neutral, while they eliminated their native allies.
A peace arranged with Algonkin in 1634 failed almost immediately when the Algonkin renewed efforts to open trade with the Dutch in the Hudson Valley. Two separate Iroquois offensives during 1636 and 1637 drove the Algonkin deep into the upper Ottawa Valley and forced the Montagnais to retreat east towards Quebec. Smallpox from New England in 1634 slowed the Mohawk offensive, but the Seneca inflicted a major defeat on the Huron the following year. Between 1637 and 1641, the Huron paid a horrendous price for European contact and fur trade when a series of epidemics swept through their villages. When these ended, the Huron had lost many experienced leaders and almost half their population which seriously weakened their ability to defend themselves against the Iroquois. When the French had begun to provide firearms to the Huron and Algonkin, the Dutch had kept pace in supplying them to the Iroquois. The resulting arms race had remained on a relatively low level until the Swedes established a colony on the lower Delaware River in 1638.
To compensate for their late start in the fur trade, the Swedes placed few restrictions on the amount of firearms they sold to the Susquehannock. Suddenly confronted by a well-armed enemy to the south in Pennsylvania, the Iroquois turned to the Dutch for more and better firearms. Already angry the Swedes had settled on territory claimed by themselves and taken over their trade, the Dutch provided additional guns and ammunition and in the process gave the Iroquois a definite arms advantage over the Huron. The first victim of this new armament was not the Huron, but the small Iroquian-speaking Wenro tribe of western New York. Abandoned by their Erie and Neutral allies, they were overrun by the Iroquois in 1639. Resistance continued until 1643, but the surviving Wenro were finally forced to seek refuge with the Huron and Neutrals. The major change came in 1640, when the other newcomers to the fur trade, New England traders from Boston, tried to break the Dutch trade monopoly with the Mohawk by selling them firearms.
Although this sale would have violated British law, the Dutch started selling the Iroquois all the guns and powder they wanted. The level of violence in the Beaver Wars escalated dramatically, with the Iroquois, now even better armed than the French, holding a clear advantage in firepower. Despite this the Huron won two major victories against the Iroquois in 1640 and 1641. but within a year, the Mohawk and Oneida had driven the last groups of Algonkin and Montagnais from the upper St. Lawrence. The French responded by building forts, but these proved inadequate to protect even their own settlements which were coming under attack. The founding of Montreal at the mouth of the Ottawa River in 1642 shortened the distance the Huron had to travel to trade, but the French were vulnerable to attack in this new location. The Iroquois easily compensated during 1642 and 1643 by moving large war parties into the Ottawa Valley to attack the French and Huron trying to move furs to Montreal.
As if the French did not have enough trouble, a long-standing hostility between the Montagnais and Sokoki (Western Abenaki) had erupted into war in 1642 when the Montagnais attempted to keep the Sokoki from trading directly with the French at Quebec. Since the Mohawk were already at war with the Montagnais, the Sokoki put aside past differences and formed an alliance with the Mohawk. This also brought the Mahican (Mohawk allies since 1628) into the fighting, and in 1645 a combined Mohawk, Sokoki, and Mahican war party raided the main Montagnais village near Sillery, Quebec. The Dutch in 1640 had also begun providing large quantities of firearms to the Mahican. By 1642 both the Mohawk and Mahican were using these weapons to demand tribute from the Munsee and Wappinger Delaware on the lower Hudson. To escape this harassment, the Wiechquaeskeck (Wappinger) moved south during the winter of 1642-43 to Manhattan Island and the Tappan and Hackensack villages at Pavonia (Jersey City) for what they thought was the protection of the Dutch settlements.
The Dutch, however, became alarmed and in February, 1643 made a surprise attack on the Wiechquaeskeck village killing more than 100 of them. The Pavonia Massacre ignited the Wappinger War (Governor Kieft's War) (1643-45). The fighting spread to include Munsee in New Jersey and Unami (Delaware) and Metoac of western Long Island, and the Dutch were forced to call upon the Mahican and Mohawk for help. After signing a formal treaty of alliance with the Dutch that year, the Mohawk and Mahican set to work. By the time a peace was finally signed at Fort Orange in the summer of 1645, more than 1,600 Wappinger, Munsee, and Metoac had been killed, and the Mohawk and Mahican had gained control of the wampum trade of western Long Island. Munsee resentment continued to smolder during the final 20 years of Dutch rule, but the Mohawk stood ready to crush an uprising. Violence finally came when five Munsee tribes combined to fight the new Dutch settlements in the Esopus Valley. The Mohawk attacked the Munsee villages killing hundreds, and when the Esopus War (1660-64) ended, the Munsee had been conquered and made subject to the Iroquois.
For the French, 1644 was an especially grim year. The Atontrataronnon (Algonkin) were driven from the Ottawa River and forced to seek refuge with the Huron, and three large Huron canoe flotillas transporting fur to Montreal were captured by the Iroquois. The fur trade on the St. Lawrence had come to almost a complete halt, so the French were ready to listen when the Iroquois proposed a truce. The peace treaty signed in 1645 allowed the French to resume the fur trade, and the Mohawk, who had suffered heavy losses from war and epidemic, got the release of their warriors being held prisoner by the French. However, the treaty failed to solve the main cause of the war. The Iroquois expected peace would bring a resumption of their earlier trade with the Huron. Instead, the Huron ignored Iroquois overtures for trade and sent 60 canoe-loads of fur to Montreal in 1645 followed by 80 loads in 1646. After two years of increasingly-strained diplomacy failed to change this, all hell broke loose.
While their diplomats took great care to reassure the French and keep them neutral, the Iroquois destroyed the Arendaronon Huron villages in 1647 and cut the trade route to Montreal. Very few furs got through that year. In 1648 a massive 250-man Huron canoe flotilla fought its way past the Iroquois blockade on the Ottawa River and reached Quebec, but during their absence, the Iroquois destroyed the Huron mission-village of St. Joseph torturing and killing its Jesuit missionary. This scattered the Attigneenongnahac Huron. Sensing a complete Iroquois victory, the Dutch provided 400 high-quality flintlocks and unlimited ammunition on credit. The final blow came during two days in March, 1649. In coordinated attacks, 2,000 Mohawk and Seneca warriors stuck the Huron mission-villages of St. Ignace and St. Louis. Hundreds of Huron were killed or captured, while two more French Jesuits were tortured to death. Huron resistance abruptly collapsed, and the survivors scattered and fled to be destroyed or captured.
The Iroquois, however, were not about to just let the Huron go. After 20 years of war and epidemic, they had paid a high price for victory. Down to less than 1,000 warriors, the League had decided on massive adoptions to refill their ranks. The "Great Pursuit" began the following December when the Iroquois went after the Attignawantan Huron who had taken refuge with the Tionontati. The main Tionontati village was overrun, and less than 1,000 Tionontati and Huron managed to escape to a temporary refuge on Mackinac Island near Sault Ste. Marie (Upper Michigan). The Iroquois followed, and by 1651 the Huron and Tionontati refugees (who together would become the Wyandot) were forced to relocate farther west to Green Bay, Wisconsin. The following spring the Nipissing suffered the same fate (survivors fled north to the Ojibwe), and the last groups of Algonkin abandoned the upper Ottawa Valley and disappeared into safety of the northern forests with the Cree for the next twenty years.
Meanwhile, the Tahonaenrat Huron had moved southwest among the villages of the Neutrals. Throughout the many wars between Iroquois and Huron, the Neutrals had refused to take sides. Huron and Iroquois war parties passed through their homeland to attack each other, but the Neutrals remained neutral - hence their name. Perhaps alarmed by the sudden Iroquois victory over the Huron, they made no effort to prevent the Tahonaenrat from continuing to make war on the Iroquois. After not-so diplomatic requests for the Neutrals to surrender their "guests" were ignored, the Iroquois attacked them in 1650. For the first year of the war, the Neutrals had the support of the Susquehannock who had been Huron allies before 1648. However, this ended in 1651 when the Mohawk and Oneida attacked the Susquehanna. The main Neutral fort of Kinuka fell to the Seneca that year, and the other Neutrals either surrendered or were overrun.
The Tahonaenrat surrendered enmass and were incorporated into the Seneca, but large groups of Neutrals and Huron fled south to the Erie. Their reception was less than cordial, but they were allowed to stay in a status of semi-slavery. The "Great Pursuit" continued, and the Iroquois demanded the Erie turn the refugees over to them. Relations between the Iroquois and Erie apparently had never been friendly, and reinforced with hundreds of new warriors, the Erie flatly refused. The matter simmered for two years with growing violence. In 1653 an Erie raid into the Iroquois homeland killed a Seneca sachem. A last minute conference was held to avoid war, but in the course of a heated argument, an Erie warrior murdered an Onondaga, and Iroquois retaliated by killing all 30 of the Erie representatives. After this, peace was impossible, and the western Iroquois prepared for war. However, having great respect for the Erie as warriors, they first took the precaution of arranging a peace with the French.
When the Huron were overrun in 1649, the French fur trade empire collapsed. The Jesuits had been killed, their native trading partners and allies destroyed or scattered, and the flow of fur stopped. The French still encouraged the natives to come to Montreal for trade, but very few tried with the Iroquois controlling the Ottawa River. The offer of peace did not include the Mohawk and Oneida, but the French grabbed at a chance to end hostilities with the other three Iroquois tribes. With the French pacified and the Mohawk and Oneida keeping the only possible ally, the Susquehannock, from giving any aid, the Seneca, Cayuga, and Onondaga were free to deal with the Erie. Their initial caution proved justified. Without firearms, the Erie held out for three years until resistance ended in 1656. The survivors were incorporated into the Iroquois.
At this point, no power in North America could have stood against the Iroquois League, even the Europeans. However, rather than choosing to confront the Europeans, the Iroquois decided to deal with them as equals and use their firearms and trade goods to their own advantage. To this end, it should be noted the Iroquois never tried to eliminate one European power for the benefit of another. Instead, they attempted to maintain a working relationship with each one, even the French. Rather than being a Dutch ally, the Iroquois were in business for themselves to dominate the fur trade with the Europeans and set about creating an empire for this purpose. Details of how they did this have been mostly lost, since no European was present to record what happened. Oral traditions provide only partial answers, but archeological evidence indicates the western Great Lakes and Ohio Valley were rather heavily populated before contact. The first French explorers in the area during the 1660s and 70s, however, found few residents and many refugees.
It is also unclear how much warfare by the Huron, Neutrals, Ottawa, Erie and Susquehannock in pursuit of beaver fur prepared the way for the Iroquois conquest of the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, but in only ten years, the western Iroquois cleared the region of most of its remaining native inhabitants. By 1667, the following tribes had been forced to relocate from their original locations:
1. The Potawatomi, Fox, Sauk, and Mascouten had left lower Michigan and were living in mixed refugee villages in Wisconsin.
2. The Shawnee, Kickapoo, and part of the Miami had been forced from Ohio and Indiana. The Kickapoo and Miami moved to Wisconsin, but the Shawnee scattered to Tennessee, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.
3. Attacked by the Seneca in 1655 for giving refuge to Huron and Neutrals, the Illinois were forced west of the Mississippi River. They returned later but went no further than the Illinois River Valley which was well to the west of their original territory.
4. The Dhegiha Sioux (Osage, Kansa, Ponca, Omaha, and Quapaw) abandoned the lower Wabash Valley and moved west to the Missouri River. The Quapaw, however, separated from the others, went south, and settled at the mouth of the Arkansas.
5. The Huron, Tionontati, Wenro, Neutrals, and Erie had been defeated and absorbed into the Iroquois. Approximately 1,000 Huron and Tionontati who escaped capture moved first to Wisconsin, then inland to the Mississippi in Minnesota, and finally to the south shore of Lake Superior.
6.The Ottawa had left their original location on the islands of Lake Huron and moved west to upper Michigan. The Nipissing and southern bands of the Ojibwe had also been forced north to the vicinity of Sault Ste. Marie.
7. Some tribes in the Ohio Valley just disappeared and are known only by name: Casa, Cisca, Iskousogom, Moneton, Mospelea, Ouabano, Teochanontian, Tomahitan, and Tramontane. Who they were and exactly what happened to them is unknown.
While the western Iroquois were conquering the Ohio Valley, the Mohawk and Oneida were busy in the east. In 1647 their war with the Algonkin and Montagnais had spread to the Abenaki in Maine who were helping the Montagnais.
The Mohawk's alliance with the Sokoki against the Montagnais ended with fighting over hunting territory east of Lake Champlain. The sudden collapse of the Huron in 1649 had alarmed everyone, and the French at Quebec tried to assemble whatever allies they could against the Iroquois. The Mohawk struck outlying French settlements and kept attacking the small group of Christian Huron living just outside the gates of Quebec. In 1650 the French sent a Montagnais sachem and Jesuit missionary into northern New England to encourage an alliance between the Sokoki, Pennacook, Pocumtuc, and Mahican against the Iroquois. The New England colonies were also asked to participate, but the British were not interested. The French got the alliance they were seeking and began providing firearms to its members. Despite occasional raids against the Sokoki in Vermont, the alliance was not tested initially. The Mohawk after 1651 had all they could handle in their war in Pennsylvania with the Susquehannock.
The Susquehannock had always been formidable warriors. In 1651 they had been well-armed by Swedish traders from the lower Delaware River. After four years of fighting with heavy losses to both sides, the Mohawk and Oneida only succeeded in capturing part of the upper part of Susquehanna River. The war was a stalemate, until the Dutch took the Swedish colonies in 1655. Suddenly deprived of their source of weapons, the Susquehannock asked for peace. The Mohawk readily agreed. Peace with the Susquehannock freed the Mohawk and Oneida to turn on their enemies in western New England, and the alliance received its first test. New fighting between the Mohawk and Mahican concerned the Dutch, and at their insistence, the Mahican left the alliance in 1658 and made peace with the Mohawk. However, the Mohawk soon discovered the Mahican were arranging trade between the Dutch and the Montagnais and Sokoki. Diplomacy failed to stop this, and in 1662 the Mohawk attacked the Mahican. Two years of war forced the Mahican to abandon most of the Hudson Valley, including their capital at Shodac near Albany.
Supplied by both French and British, the Sokoki, Pennacook, Pocumtuc, and Montagnais continued fighting the Mohawk and were holding their own. Iroquois and Algonquin war parties moved back-and-forth across western New England attacking each other's villages. By 1660 the war had spread to include the Abenaki in Maine who were allies of the Montagnais. After an attack against a Mohawk village failed in 1663, the Pocumtuc found they were running out of warriors and asked the Dutch to arrange a truce. Nothing came of this, and in December a large Mohawk and Seneca war party struck the main Pocumtuc village at Fort Hill (Deerfield, Massachusetts). The assault was repulsed with the loss of almost 300 warriors, but the battered Pocumtuc abandoned Fort Hill in the spring and sued for peace. The Mohawk agreed, but someone (not the Pocumtuc) murdered the Iroquois ambassadors enroute to the peace conference. The Mohawk renewed their attacks forcing the Pocumtuc from the middle Connecticut River.
In the midst of this, the British seized New York in 1664. The Dutch recaptured it in 1673, but it was returned to the British by the Treaty of Westminster the following year. The important role of the Dutch in North America ended at this point. The British concluded their own treaty of friendship with the Mohawk in 1664 and, most importantly, left the Dutch traders at Albany in charge of the trade essential to the Iroquois war machine. British traders at Boston saw greater opportunity trading with the powerful Iroquois than New England Algonquin and moved west to Albany. Their departure left the Sokoki, Abenaki, and Pennacook without support other than the French. No longer concerned about getting into a war with the British, the Mohawk took advantage and began to drive the Sokoki and Pennacook from the upper Connecticut River, one raid even reaching the vicinity of Boston in 1665.
The French had noted the British capture of New York and their subsequent treaty with the Mohawk. Worried the British would gain control of the fur trade and tired of being threatened by the Iroquois, the French Crown took formal possession of New France and in June, 1665 sent the 1,200-man Carigan-Saliéres regiment to Canada. The French soldiers had much to learn, and their first offensive against the Iroquois got lost in the woods. However, during the winter of 1665-66, they invaded the Iroquois homeland with devastating effect and burned the Mohawk villages of Tionnontoguen and Kanagaro. By the following spring the Mohawk were asking the English for help. The governor of New York (also concerned about French) agreed to an alliance but only on condition the Mohawk first make peace with Mahican and Sokoki. The Mahican were ready, but the Sokoki refused. That summer, the Mohawk struck the Pennacook, while the Sokoki and Kennebec attacked Mohawk villages.
The French army resumed their attacks in the fall but ran into a Mohawk ambush. The attacks still had their effect, and the Iroquois agreed to a general peace with the French in 1667. This freed the western Iroquois to concentrate on the still-dangerous Susquehannock while the Mohawk went after western New England. During 1668 the Mohawk drove the Pennacook across New Hampshire to the protection of the Abenaki in Maine. The following year an alliance of New England Algonquin (including Sokoki and Mahican) retaliated, but the attack on a Mohawk village was ambushed on their return home. With the exception of Missisquoi on the north end of Lake Champlain, by the time peace was arranged in 1670, most Sokoki were living under French protection along the St. Lawrence. The peace the Mahican agreed to in 1672 with the Iroquois was actually surrender. Afterwards, the Iroquois handled all Mahican relations with Europeans. In 1677 the Mahican became the first member of the Covenant Chain.
The alliance of the British and Iroquois served to protect both from the French. It also gave the Iroquois the support of the British in extending its authority over other tribes by gathering them into the Covenant Chain which greatly increased the League's power and influence. There were several advantages for the British: it kept the Covenant Chain tribes from falling under French influence; negotiations with Native Americans were simplified since the British only had to deal with the Iroquois; and it also allowed the British to call upon the League a "policeman" in case of trouble. When the Wampanoag tried to use the Mahican village at Schaghticoke as a refuge during the King Philip's War (1675-76), the governor of New York called on the Mohawk to force them back to Massachusetts. The Mohawk later helped New England force Philip's Sokoki and Pennacook allies to retreat into northern Maine and Canada. Unfortunately, this also drove these peoples into an alliance with the French.
After destroying the Erie in 1656, the western Iroquois had turned on the Algonquin in the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes and driven them west of Lake Michigan. The peace the French had signed with the western Iroquois in 1653, had not given the French access to the western Great Lakes and left them besieged in Montreal and Quebec by the Mohawk and Oneida. What little fur reached them came from the Ottawa who, after the destruction of the Huron, had assumed the middleman's role in trade with the French. This eventually annoyed the Iroquois, and they attacked the Ottawa living on the islands of Lake Huron forcing them west to Wisconsin and upper Michigan. The only French to visit the western Great Lakes during this period were Radisson and Groseilliers who reached the west end of Lake Superior in 1658 (only to be arrested when they returned to Quebec for trading without a license). The French peace with the Iroquois came to an end in 1658 with the murder of a Jesuit ambassador, and it was not until 1665 that Nicolas Perot and Father Claude-Jean Allouez (6 French and 400 Huron, Ottawa, and Ojibwe) fought their way up the Ottawa River and made their way to Green Bay.
What they found was appalling. More than 30,000 refugees (Fox, Sauk, Ottawa, Mascouten, Miami, Kickapoo, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi) had overwhelmed both the resident Winnebago and Menominee and the resources of the area. Too far north for growing corn, the area was over-hunted, and the starving refugees were fighting among themselves over the little that was left. War had also started with the Dakota (Sioux) to the west as Algonquin hunters encroached on their territory. The refugees were also subject to periodic attacks by the Iroquois whose "Great Pursuit" had followed the Wyandot to Wisconsin. In 1653 the Seneca had attacked a Wyandot and Potawatomi fort near Green Bay, but the Iroquois were forced to withdraw after they ran out of food. The Wyandot retreated inland to the Mississippi and finally to the south shore of Superior. However, the Iroquois continued to strike without warning. A Fox village had been destroyed in 1657, although in 1662 the Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Nipissing surprised and annihilated a large Mohawk and Oneida war party at Iroquois Point (east end of Lake Superior).
The peace signed between the French and Iroquois in 1667 was significant. It not only included all five members of the Iroquois League but extended to French allies and trading partners in the western Great Lakes. The relentless Iroquois pursuit of the Wyandot ended, and the French were able to rebuild their fur trade. French traders and Jesuit missionaries immediately went west and began to bring some order to the chaos in Wisconsin. The French were also able to explore the Ohio Valley for the first time in 1669 which provided the basis for their later claim to the area. The Iroquois, of course, already claimed it by right of conquest. Marquette and Joliet reached the Mississippi in 1673, and LaSalle claimed Louisiana for France in 1682. More importantly, as fur began to reach the markets at Montreal and Quebec once again, the French became the mediator in intertribal disputes - the first step towards organized Algonquin resistance to the Iroquois.
While the French used the peace to rebuild, the British became increasingly concerned with French military power and expansion. When they began to increase their own military strength, the stage was set for the 100-year struggle between Britain and France for control of North America. For the Iroquois, the events of 1664-67 changed the manner in which the League functioned. By 1677 the Iroquois had signed their first treaties as the "Five Nations," and members afterwards rarely negotiated separate treaties or conducted their own wars. Relations with European powers grew more complex, and the League found it necessary to first resolve its internal differences in order to present a united front to outsiders. The peace signed with the French in 1667 also had advantages for the Iroquois. They settled in the old Huron homeland of southern Ontario - uninhabited since 1650. While men had fought each other, the beaver were at peace, and the area had recovered to once again become a prime fur area.
It also freed the western Iroquois for a war with the one Iroquian-speaking neighbor who had remained independent of the League. The Susquehannock's long war against the Mohawk and Oneida had barely ended in 1655, when a new conflict began with the Seneca, Cayuga, and Onondaga. The western Iroquois found them just as stubborn as had the Mohawk. Outnumbered three-to-one, the Susquehannock enlisted support from their tributary Algonquin and Siouan tribes (Shawnee, Delaware, Nanticoke, Conoy, Saponi, and Tutelo), and although they had lost the Swedes in 1655, alliances with Maryland colonists in 1661 and 1666 provided the necessary weapons. The Mohawk had their own wars in the tribes in New England and continued to honor their peace with the Susquehannock. The Mohawk, however, helped the Dutch during the Esopus War and, in crushing the Munsee Delaware, deprived the Susquehannock of one of their allies in 1664.
The Susquehannock concentrated in a single impregnable fort for defense, so the Iroquois went after their allies and attacked the Delaware living along the Delaware River during the 1660s. The Shawnee also came under attack and were scattered. The pursuit of these Susquehannock allies south into South Carolina and Tennessee soon had Iroquois war parties fighting with Cherokee and Catawba. In the end the Susquehannock were just too few. The greatest blow, however, was not military defeat but epidemic when smallpox struck their single, crowded village with devastating effect in 1661. When the western Iroquois were free to prosecute the war with their full strength in 1668, the Susquehannock had only 300 warriors. Still, they continued to fight for another seven years, and it was not until 1675 that the Iroquois were finally able to force their surrender.
The first phase of the Beaver Wars ended with the Iroquois conquest of the Susquehannock. During the next ten years, the Iroquois finished off the last of their Nanticoke and Conoy allies and incorporated them into the Covenant Chain. Maryland made peace with the League in 1682, but raids (which had begun in 1671) against the Saponi and Tutelo in Virginia and the Catawba in South Carolina continued. Iroquois power reached its peak in 1680. By this time they had won a vast empire, and their warriors had fought battles in every state east of the Mississippi. They never crossed this river, but the Iroquois already knew trails leading to South Dakota's Black Hills. After their war with the Susquehannock, the Iroquois turned their attention west again, but were unhappy with what they saw. With peace in the region after 1667, the French fur trade was going well, and the Algonquin had, for the most part, stopped fighting each other.
It had not been a perfect peace - the Seneca had attacked Mackinac in 1671 and the Dakota were fighting the Ojibwe and Fox along the shores of Superior, but it was a major improvement over the chaos the French had discovered in 1665. In 1680 Robert LaSalle had opened Fort Crèvecoeur on the upper Illinois River to trade with the tribes of the Illinois Confederation, and thousands of Algonquin had gathered in the vicinity. This many potential enemies bothered the Iroquois, but of greater concern were Illinois hunters moving into Ohio, Indiana and lower Michigan (claimed by the Iroquois) and taking every beaver they could. Since this included the young beaver, there was no breeding stock to replace the ones killed. Iroquois protests resulted the murder of a Seneca sachem by the Illinois at an Ottawa village beginning the second phase of the Beaver Wars in 1680.
Back in western New York, the Seneca formed an enormous war party and started west to teach the Illinois a lesson they would never forget. Enroute they added warriors from the Miami (Illinois enemies) and set out for the Illinois villages near Fort Crèvecoeur. Warned of their approach, the French evacuated their trading post and left for Wisconsin. Most of the Illinois also moved to safety west of the Mississippi, but the Tamora, Espeminkia, and Maroa chose to remain - a fatal mistake. After the Seneca had finished their deadly work, the French returned to find the valley littered with bodies and burned villages. Thousands of Illinois had been massacred. Only a few Tamora and Maroa survived, and the Espeminkia disappeared completely. The Seneca returned in 1681, but Henri Tonti built Fort St. Louis on the upper Illinois during 1682, and the new stronghold brought the Illinois back from west of the Mississippi. Meanwhile, the Miami had allowed Shawnee (Iroquois enemies) to settle in their midst. Threatened by the Iroquois over this, they switched sides and allowed the French to arrange a peace with Illinois allowing the Miami to move closer to the French fort.
By 1684 the native population near Fort St. Louis had grown to more than 20,000. The Iroquois returned in force that year, but the Algonquin stood and fought. The Iroquois siege failed to capture the fort, and they were forced to retreat - the turning point of the Beaver Wars. Elated by this victory, the French began to organize a formal alliance against the Iroquois. The first offensive failed so miserably, that Joseph La Barre, the French governor of Canada, panicked and signed a treaty with the Iroquois ceding most of Illinois. La Barre was replaced by Jacques-Rene Denonville who renounced the treaty, built new forts, strengthened old ones, and provided guns to the Great Lakes Algonquin. The strengthened alliance (Ojibwe, Ottawa, Wyandot, Potawatomi, Missisauga, Fox, Sauk, Miami, Winnebago, Menominee, Kickapoo, Illinois, and Mascouten) took the offensive in 1687. Following important alliance victories in massive battles fought between canoe fleets on Lake St. Clair and Erie, the Iroquois were clearly on the defensive by the 1690s and falling back across the Great Lakes towards New York. By 1696 the Iroquois had been forced to abandon most of their southern Ontario villages to the Missisauga (Ojibwe) and, except for eastern Ohio and northern Pennsylvania, had retreated to their homeland.
The last part of the Beaver Wars coincided with King William's War (1688-97) between Britain and France. This meant warfare was not confined just to the Great Lakes, and in 1687 the French had struck the Seneca and Onondaga villages in the Iroquois homeland. More than 1,200 Iroquois warriors retaliated in August, 1689 with a massive raid against Lachine just outside Montreal which killed more than two hundred French settlers. The following year the French and and their allies attacked Schenectady. The Mohawk attacked the Sokoki at St. Francois (the main French ally in the east) in 1690 and 1692, but three separate campaigns launched from Quebec by Louis Frontenac 1693-96 carried the war to the Iroquois villages. Under intense pressure from both the east and west, smallpox broke out among the Iroquois in 1690. The Iroquois made overtures for a separate peace to the French in 1694, but these were ignored because the offer did not include French allies.
The Treaty of Ryswick, which ended the war between Britain and France in 1697, placed the League under British protection (not something the Iroquois had requested). The French worried their continuing war with the Iroquois might bring another confrontation with the British and began to consider the Iroquois peace offers with greater interest. However, their first attempts to urge a settlement on their allies created suspicion that they would abandon their allies and make a separate peace. There was good reason for the Algonquin to feel this way since the Iroquois had already attempted to break the alliance with offers of peace and trade to the Ottawa and Wyandot. The main problem was the return of prisoners taken and adopted by the Iroquois. Sensing the League was about to collapse, the Algonquin wanted total victory, and the fighting continued until 1701.
The peace signed with the Iroquois that year included both the French and their allies. The French agreed to mediate any disputes which might arise between the League and Algonquin, while the Iroquois promised to remain neutral in any future war between Britain and France. That future war would start that very year - Queen Anne's War (1701-13). In their hurry to insure Iroquois neutrality before the outbreak of hostilities, the French neglected to extinguish Iroquois claims to the Ohio Valley in favor of their own, and the British would soon claim this area since the Iroquois were supposedly under their protection. For the most part, the Iroquois had been a British ally during the King William's War, but only to the extent they were engaged in a separate war with the French. Fighting during the Queen Anne's War was mostly in New England and Canadian Maritimes, and keeping its word, the League remained neutral and waited to see who won.
Not everything was peaceful, however. The powerful Missisauga expanded south along the shores of Lake Huron into southern Ontario and seized territory from the Iroquois. Concerned with other matters, the French ignored the League's protests about this, and by 1713 the Iroquois were considering an invasion of Canada. Fortunately, the Queen Anne's War ended with the Treaty of Utrecht that year, and the French finally got around to mediating a settlement. This dispute, however, was one of the least of their problems. France had emerged from the King William's War as the winner in North America. It then proceeded to discard the fruits of its victory. A glut of beaver fur in Europe had caused a drastic drop in price, and the French monarchy suddenly "got religion." For years, the Jesuits had been protesting the destruction which the fur trade was causing among Native Americas, but no one listened until a drop in price made fur unprofitable.
A royal proclamation was issued curtailing fur trade in the western Great Lakes. Realizing the disaster this was for the Algonquin alliance, Frontenac, the governor of Canada, delayed implementation to such extent he was removed. His successor obediently closed forts and trading posts, and the French surrendered their main source of power and influence - trade goods and presents. Their hard-won alliance in the Great Lakes quickly began to unravel. The Iroquois may have been down in 1701, but certainly not out, and they immediately sensed the French dilemma. Still controlling access to British and Dutch traders at Albany, they proceeded, after military force had failed them, to attack the French with trade. Even before the peace was signed in 1701, the Iroquois had used trade with the British as a weapon to break the unity of the alliance. When the French finally put the proclamation into effect, Iroquois traders went to work.
The French responded in 1701 to this challenge from the "neutral" Iroquois with a new post at Detroit, Fort Pontchartrain. Just about every tribe in the French alliance immediately moved nearby, and the resulting frictions placed further strains on the alliance. The French lost control, and the tense situation exploded in 1712 when the Fox attacked Fort Pontchartrain. The Fox Wars (1712-16 and 1728-37) marked a period of intertribal warfare between members of the French alliance. Living under the "Great Peace," the Iroquois must have enjoyed the spectacle of their enemies fighting among themselves. They continued to make inroads into the French trade empire with British trade goods which were not only of higher quality than the French, but lower in price. The Ottawa began to trade with the Iroquois and British in 1717, and other French allies followed. By the time the French rescinded the royal degree, it was too late. The Iroquois allowed the British in 1727 to build Fort Oswego in their homeland to shorten the travel distance for the Great Lakes tribes. By 1728, 80% of the beaver on the Albany market was coming from French allies.
The British accepted Iroquois neutrality after 1701 but still found them useful as a buffer between themselves and French Canada. With the French alliance in disarray, the Iroquois soon realized they represented the balance of power between the British and French in North American. By taking advantage of this fact until the final French defeat in 1763, they managed to maintain their power and independence. A remarkable achievement, and the diplomatic skills they demonstrated were at least the equal of any European statesman. While they weakened the French with economic warfare, the Iroquois used British fear of French influence among Native Americans in the British colonies to gain support for the Covenant Chain. The British government actually pushed these tribes into joining, and membership eventually included (at different times): Shawnee, Miami, Delaware, Conestoga (Susquehannock), Nanticoke, Saponi, Tutelo, Munsee, Mahican, Conoy (Piscataway), Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Catawba, and Chickasaw.
The League's actual power to speak for some tribes was far from absolute. No amount of threat and intimidation could force the Chickasaw, Creek, Cherokee, Catawba, or Choctaw to submit to the League's authority, and Iroquois attempts to enforce their will often led to warfare. Perhaps the Covenant Chain's worst feature was the Iroquois often placed their own (or British) interests ahead of tribes they were supposed to represent. An exception was the Iroquois threat of intervention on behalf of the Tuscarora during the Tuscarora War (1712-13) with the Carolina colonists. The Iroquois stopped short of a war but remained defiant. In 1714 they allowed the Iroquian-speaking Tuscarora to join them in western New York, and for years afterwards Iroquois war parties went south to punish the Catawba for helping the British against the Tuscarora. By 1722 the Tuscarora had become the sixth, but non-voting, member of the Iroquois League. Four years later, the Iroquois began to secretly organize a massive uprising by all tribes east of the Mississippi against the French and British. The response from other tribes, however, was mostly negative, and the idea was dropped.
The political unity of the Iroquois was the source of their power, but it was by no means perfect. Divisions appeared over religion after French Jesuit missionaries began to make regular visits to Iroquois villages during the 1640s. This proved to be very dangerous work for the "blackrobes". Suspicion of French in general and smallpox in particular frequently caused the Iroquois to protect themselves from what they perceived as witchcraft, with fatal results for the priest. However, the Jesuits kept coming and began to make converts. The mission of St. Marie was established at the Mohawk village of Teatontaloga in 1642 but was destroyed three years later during an epidemic. Father Jogues was warned to stay away, but he attempted to rebuild the mission and was murdered in 1643. Despite this, missionary work resumed among the Mohawk, but it was the League's incorporation of large numbers of Christian Huron, Tionontati, and Neutrals during the 1650s which really opened the door for the Jesuits.
Through the efforts of Father Le Moine, Notre Dame de Ganentaa, the first mission among the Onondaga was opened in 1654. Two years later Father René Ménard built Etienne for the Cayuga, and separate missions were also established for the Seneca and Oneida in 1656. As the number of converts rose, there was increasing conflict between traditional and Christian Iroquois. Meanwhile, the French had signed a peace with the western Iroquois but still avoided trade with them, preferring to get their furs from the Ottawa. As tensions increased, the French tried using Jesuits as go-betweens in dealings with the League. This made the Jesuits appear partisan to the Iroquois, and following the murder in 1658 of a Jesuit serving as a French ambassador, peace between the French and Iroquois ended. Most of the missions were abandoned temporarily. With renewed hostilities, the Iroquois began to question the loyalty of Christian tribesmen pressuring them to renounce their new religion and return to traditional Iroquois ways. Many did, but others were forced from the Iroquois villages. Eventually, many left entirely and settled near the French in the St. Lawrence Valley.
The first of these settlements was at La Prairie near Montreal. In 1667 the Jesuits convinced some Christian Oneida to spend the winter. More Oneida and several Mohawk families came later, and other Christian Iroquois followed. This new Iroquois settlement grew very rapidly, but the soil at La Prairie proved unsuitable for corn. In 1673 they moved a short distance to Sault St. Louis (Lachine) calling the new village Caughnawaga. The Caughnawaga population was mixed (at one point it included Huron from Notre Dame de Foy), but the vast majority were Mohawk. By 1680 more Mohawk warriors were living near the French at Caughnawaga than in the Mohawk homeland. Although many had been forced to leave their homeland over religion, the Caughnawaga Mohawk still observed the "Great Law of Peace" and remained neutral in wars between the French and the Iroquois League. This changed with the massive Iroquois raid against the French at Lachine in 1689, after which the Caughnawaga entered the war as French allies.
During the remainder of the war, Caughnawaga warriors participated in the French retaliatory raids against Albany and Schenectady and even guided French expeditions against the Iroquois homeland. However, the "Great Peace" was still observed, and Iroquois and Caughnawaga warriors took care to avoid confrontations where they would have to kill each other. The Caughnawaga paid a high price for their support of the French in the King William's War, and by 1696 they had lost half of their warriors. The French war with the Iroquois League dragged on until 1701, but the Caughnawaga were instrumental in arranging the terms of the peace treaty signed that year. While the Iroquois League agreed to remain neutral in future wars between Britain and France, no such restrictions were placed on the Caughnawaga. By the outbreak of the Queen Anne's War, the Caughnawaga had allied with the Abenaki, and as French allies, their joint war parties raided New England. The worst blows were in Massachusetts. Deerfield was destroyed in February, 1704 (59 killed and 109 captured), and Groton burned in 1710.
The Iroquois have often described as a British ally during the four major conflicts between Britain and France. In truth, after 1701, more Iroquois were fighting for the French than British. The League (except the Mohawk) was neutral in these conflicts, while the Caughnawaga were a major French ally. The original Caughnawaga grew so rapidly part of the population moved across the St. Lawrence in 1676 to start a second village at Kanesatake. By 1720 the Lake of the Two Mountains mission was built for the Iroquois of the Mountain who would become the modern Mohawk community of Oka. Caughnawaga was moved slightly in 1716 to its present location after soil at the old site became exhausted. Other sites were added as the number of pro-French Iroquois along the St. Lawrence continued to grow: Sault Recollet in 1721; Oswegatchie and the La Presentation mission (Ogdensburg, New York) in 1748 for the Onondaga, Oneida, and Cayuga; and St. Regis in 1756 to relieve overcrowded conditions among the Mohawk at Caughnawaga.
Besides the defection of most of the Christian Iroquois to the French along the St. Lawrence, the League was further weakened when another portion of its population began moving to the Ohio Valley. The massive adoptions of the 1650s had actually made the original Iroquois a minority within the League, but they had retained political power since representatives to the League's council were chosen from certain "royal" families, all of which were part of the original Iroquois. For the most part, this excluded adoptees from positions of authority, and this second-class status caused dissatisfaction. Rather than outright revolt, many chose to separate themselves from the League. Groups of Iroquois hunters, mainly Seneca and Cayuga, but to a large degree descendents of adopted Huron Susquehannock, Neutrals, and Erie, began to move to Ohio and western Pennsylvania during the 1720s and establish permanent villages outside the Iroquois homeland. By the 1730s their numbers had become significant, and the British traders had started calling them by a corrupted form of their Delaware name - Mingo.
The Iroquois League made little objection to the Mingo migration so long as they continued to acknowledge its authority. Actually, it was to the League's advantage to have tribesmen living there to keep the French and their Algonquin allies from claiming the Ohio Country. The Iroquois did not object when part of the Wyandot left Detroit and settled along the Sandusky River in northwest Ohio. Instead, the Iroquois saw an opportunity to lure an important member of the Great Lakes alliance from the French and into the Covenant Chain. Within a few years, Wyandot ambassadors routinely spoke in the League's councils (a major change from the days of the "Great Pursuit") and were considered by other tribes in the area as the de facto Iroquois viceroy of Ohio. By 1740 there were almost a thousand Mingo living in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. Although considered part of the Iroquois, they had begun to think and act like a separate tribe.
From its peak of 25,000 in 1660, Iroquois population had gone into a steady decline from war and epidemic to about 14,000 by 1740. The 1,500 Tuscarora added in 1722 did not compensate for the defection of 1,000 Mingo to Ohio and 2,000 Caughnawaga to Canada. Both the British and French were aware of this decline, but on paper the Iroquois were still formidable because of the Covenant Chain. As mentioned, the League often abused its responsibility to represent member tribes, and there never was a clearer example than its support of the British in the infamous Walking Purchase in 1737. Pennsylvania "discovered" an old treaty supposedly signed by the Delaware which gave it the right to claim a large part of the remaining Delaware homeland. Through fraud and trickery, the colonists enlarged the claim to include almost all of the land the Delaware had left. As members of the Covenant Chain, the Delaware turned to the League for help.
What they got instead was intimidation and insult. Furious the Delaware had dared to sell land without their permission, the Iroquois took the bribes offered by Pennsylvania and supported the British. The Delaware continued to protest, but at a 1742 meeting with the Pennsylvania governor, the Iroquois representative Canasatego silenced the Delaware sachem Nutimus as he rose to complain about the Walking Purchase, called the Delaware women, and ordered him to leave. This left the Delaware and some Shawnee landless. The Iroquois ordered them to the upper Susquehanna in north-central Pennsylvania where the League was running its own "Indian reservation" for Covenant Chain tribes displaced by British settlement. The Iroquois were generous to provide land for these tribes but self-serving to the extent it gave them additional warriors in case of war with the French. In any case, the Susquehanna was crowded and deadly from malaria which had been introduced to the area after 1700.
The Shawnee hunting parties were the first to leave for western Pennsylvania and Ohio. When the Mingo living there made no objection and even shared their villages, the Shawnee became permanent residents and invited the Delaware to join them. Between 1742 and 1749, many Delaware left the Susquehanna and moved west to form mixed villages with the Shawnee and Mingo. Once again, the League did not oppose this migration because the presence of Covenant Chain tribes in western Pennsylvania only strengthened their claim versus the French and their allies. The Wyandot soon extended an invitation for the Shawnee and Delaware to settle in Ohio, and the Mingo, as part of the Iroquois, were already living there. The "republics," or mixed Mingo-Delaware-Shawnee (Ohio tribes) villages which formed, were outside the French alliance, but what the Iroquois and British did not realize at first was that they were also outside their own control. By 1750 the "republics" had a population of 10,000 with 2,000 warriors and had become a power to be reckoned with.
Trade competition in Ohio had been building with the British gaining on the French by virtue of superior goods and lower prices. Three powers claimed the area: the Iroquois by right of conquest during the 1650s and 60s; the French by right of discovery in the 1670s; and the British since the Iroquois were placed under their protection by the Treaty of Ryswick in 1696. The key to control of the area, however, were the Ohio tribes who lived there. The French realized this and began efforts to gain their allegiance. For the most part, the Ohio tribes did not wish to become subject to anyone - French, British, or Iroquois. The French had some success using the Métis Pierre Chartier to lure some of the Shawnee to their cause as well as the Cuyahoga Mingo. This was enough, however, to alarm the British who urged the Iroquois to command the Delaware and Shawnee to return to the Susquehanna. When the League council finally agree to this, it was stunned to discover its orders were ignored, and the Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo stayed right where they were and refused to leave.
With the outbreak of the King George's War (1744-48) between Britain and France, only the Mohawk, due to the influence of the British trader, William Johnson, supported the British. The League itself chose to remain neutral which was fortunate for the British, since at the time, the Iroquois were angry with them and could easily gone over to the French. Both Pennsylvania and Virginia had chosen to interpret the Treaty of Lancaster (1744) as an Iroquois cession of Ohio to themselves, when all the League had intended was to give permission for the British to build a trading post at the forks of the Ohio River (Pittsburgh). Pennsylvania and Virginia ignored the League's protests and both claimed the entire region. Pennsylvania's claim was more modest and extended only to eastern Ohio, but Virginia's included the entire Ohio Valley west to the Illinois River including Kentucky and lower Michigan.
As with the Queen Anne's War, most of the fighting during the King George's War was confined to New England and the Canadian Maritimes. The Caughnawaga were not only loyal to the French but allies of the Sokoki and Abenaki. When Dummer's War (1722-26) had broken out between the eastern Abenaki and New England, it was followed shortly by a separate, but related, conflict in western New England - Grey Lock's War (1723-27). Beyond supplying weapons and refuge in Canada, the French never became directly involved, but the Caughnawaga joined the Sokoki in their raids against western New England. The British asked the Iroquois to intervene, but the League was no longer willing to be a British "policeman," mainly because of a reluctance to become involved in fighting with the Caughnawaga - a violation of the "Great Peace." They did, however, ask the Abenaki to stop and offered to mediate.
Twenty years later, the Caughnawaga - who claimed western Vermont as part of their homeland - had 250 warriors and stood by the French during the King George's War. In 1744 they formed war parties with the Sokoki and Abenaki to raid the British settlements in southern Vermont and New Hampshire. Much of the New England frontier had to be abandoned during the next four years. In August, 1746 Fort Massachusetts on Hoosac River was captured, and almost all of the settlement on the east of the Hudson River in New York also had to be abandoned as a result. The Mohawk fought for the British, but after one of their raids struck just south of Montreal, the Caughnawaga and other Canadian Iroquois formally declared war on the British colonies in 1747. The war finally ended with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.
There was little fighting in the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes during the war and was limited to pro-French Shawnee and Mingo attacks on British traders. Otherwise, the French allies (Ottawa, Menominee, Winnebago, Illinois, Saulteur and Mississauga Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Wyandot) sent their warriors east to Montreal to defend Canada against the British. Despite the lack of combat, the war was a disaster for the French in the west after the British began a naval blockade of Canada in 1745. This completely cut the supply of French trade goods, and without these, the French alliance fell apart by 1747. French traders without goods were killed, and British were quick to take advantage of the situation. By war's end, British traders had entered Ohio and were trading directly with French allies like the Wyandot and Miami.
All of which boded well for the Iroquois and British to keep the French out of Ohio and western Pennsylvania. A major concern was the refusal of the Shawnee and Delaware to obey the League's order to return to the Susquehanna. Something needed to be done about this. At the Treaty of Lancaster with the Iroquois, Shawnee and Delaware (and indirectly - Mingo) in 1748, Pennsylvania urged the Iroquois to restore the Ohio tribes to the Covenant Chain as a barrier against the French. The Iroquois created a system of half-kings - special Iroquois emissaries (usually Mingo), one for the Shawnee and one for the Delaware - to represent the Ohio tribes in the Iroquois council. This regain the allegiance of the Delaware and Shawnee to the League. When the French sent Pierre-Joseph Céloron in 1749 to expel British traders and mark the Ohio boundary with lead plates, his reception was openly hostile. Two years later, Chabert de Joncaire travelled through Ohio demanding the expulsion of British traders, and the Mingo wanted to know by what authority the French were claiming Iroquois land.
Of course, the French were not the only Europeans claiming Iroquois land in the Ohio Valley. After the 1744 Treaty of Lancaster, Virginia had chartered the Ohio Company in 1747 to begin settlement around Pittsburgh. Investors included most of the important families of Virginia, including Lawrence Washington, the older half-brother of George. Pennsylvania had similar plans, and to the Iroquois it appeared the British and French were two thieves fighting over their land. It also did not help matters that the British had reduced annual presents to the Iroquois after the King George's War. The French, however, felt they were losing Ohio and decided on drastic action. In June, 1752 the Métis Charles Langlade led a war party of 250 Ottawa and Ojibwe from Mackinac in an attack which destroyed the Miami village and British trading post of Pickawillany (Piqua, Ohio). The French allies ended trade with the British, and after apologies, rejoined the French alliance. Immediately afterwards, the French began building a line of new forts across western Pennsylvania designed to block British access to Ohio.
The Mingo, Shawnee, and Delaware had no wish to fall under French control and turned to the Iroquois to stop this. Deciding the French were an immediate threat, the Iroquois cast their lot with the British and signed the Logstown Treaty in 1752 confirming their earlier cession of Ohio at Lancaster in 1744. They also gave permission for the British to build a blockhouse at Pittsburgh. This was not even completed before French soldiers forced its surrender and burned it. In December, 1753 Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia sent 21-year-old militia major George Washington to Fort Le Boeuf to order the French to abandon their forts and leave Ohio. The French commander received Washington with perfect courtesy but refused the demand. He also warned him not to come back.
The following May Washington was sent west again with a detachment of 130 militia guided by Mingo warriors under Half-King (Tanacharisson) and Monacatoocha (Scarrooyady). His mission was to force the surrender of Fort Duquesne at the forks of the Ohio, but he never got there. Enroute they got into a fight with 50 French soldiers commanded by Joseph Villier de Jumonville. Jumonville was killed in the brief engagement, and with the French in pursuit, Washington beat a hasty retreat. Disregarding the Mingo advice to keep going until he reached Virginia, Washington stopped and built Fort Necessity. After an argument, the Mingo decided Washington was a fool and left him. The French quickly surrounded the tiny fort and forced its surrender, but Washington was released after unknowingly signing a confession of murdering a French ambassador on a mission of peace. The incident started the French and Indian War (1755-63).
That same month, a conference was held at Albany between representatives of the British colonies and Iroquois League to prepare for a war with the French. Needing British help to defend Ohio from the French, the Iroquois had ceded it to Pennsylvania with the exception of the Wyoming and Susquehanna Valleys which they were determined to keep for the tribes of the Covenant Chain. Unfortunately, an Albany trader managed to get some minor Iroquois representatives drunk, and when they sobered up, they discovered they had signed an agreement with Connecticut (which by its charter also claimed northern Pennsylvania) land companies opening the Susquehanna and Wyoming Valleys to settlement. Rather than achieving unity for war against the French, the conference ended with the Iroquois furious at the British for the fraudulent treaty, Pennsylvania protesting Connecticut's attempt to claim its territory, and the Delaware still living on the upper Susquehanna threatening to kill any white who tried to settle in the Wyoming Valley.
Despite their long history as a French ally, the Caughnawaga attended the Albany Conference as part of the Iroquois delegation and agreed, on behalf of the Abenaki and Sokoki to remain neutral in the coming war. Unfortunately, they were unable to keep this promise for either themselves or their allies. The French had also been busy organizing their allies and the result was an alliance known as the Seven Nations of Canada (Seven Fires of Caughnawaga) composed of the Iroquois mission villages on the St. Lawrence (Caughnawaga, Kanesatake, Oswegatchie, and St. Regis); the Abenaki at St. Francois and Bécancour; and the Huron at Lorette. Although the Caughnawaga clearly dominated this coalition, they were over-ruled by the pro-French majority after the outbreak of war. The Caughnawaga were not as active as in previous conflicts, but the Christian Onondaga from Oswegatchie attacked German Flats (Herkimer, New York) in 1758.
When news of the Iroquois cession of Ohio at the Albany Conference reached the Ohio tribes that fall, they decided the British were also enemies and the Iroquois could no longer be trusted. Only a few Mingo remained loyal to British. Despite the fact many Caughnawaga had moved in with the Mingo during the early 1750s, there was no sudden switch of allegiance to the French. The Mingo remained hostile to the French who had difficulty in 1755 supplying their forts or finding allies in the area willing to defend them from the British army being assembled under General Edward Braddock. The policy of the Mingo, Shawnee, and Delaware in Ohio was one of belligerent neutrality towards both sides. As Braddock's 2,200-man army began its march towards Fort Duquesne, the French were forced to bring in 600 native allies from Canada and the Great Lakes. This, however, proved more than adequate. Braddock disdained using savages as scouts, and in July just south of Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh), he blundered into an ambush in which almost half his command was killed, including himself.
News of the defeat was met with stunned disbelief in the British colonies followed by anger. The Shawnee and Delaware picked an incredibly bad time to send a delegation to Philadelphia to protest the Iroquois sale of Ohio. Pennsylvania seized and hanged them, and the Shawnee and Delaware retaliated with raids on frontier settlements in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. The Delaware still under Iroquois control on the upper Susquehanna did not participate at first but, by December, 1755 had joined the war in defiance of the Iroquois council. The Susquehanna Delaware made peace in August, 1756, but the Delaware, Shawnee and Munsee continued fighting and by the end of the year more than 2,500 colonists had been killed. Another peace conference was held with the eastern Delaware at Easton, Pennsylvania in October, 1758. The Treaty of Easton paid for Delaware lands taken by New Jersey, and Pennsylvania unilaterally renounced all claim to land west of the Appalachians that had been ceded by the Iroquois at the Albany in 1754. The news soon reached Ohio, and when General John Forbes captured Fort Duquesne in November, the Delaware and Shawnee offered no resistance.
In the hysteria following Braddock's defeat in 1755, a Seneca war party enroute to attack Catawba in the Carolina had been treacherously killed by Virginia militia. Coupled with anger over the fraudulent land cessions exacted at the Albany, many of the Seneca, Cayuga, and Onondaga joined the French, and for the first time in almost two centuries, Iroquois found themselves on opposite sides of a war. Only the Mohawk of Hendrick (Soiengarahta) and the Oneida stayed loyal to the British. This was mainly due to William Johnson, an Irishman who had immigrated to New York in 1734 and established himself as a planter and fur trader in the Mohawk Valley. After taking a Mohawk wife (Molly Brant), Johnson became known to the Iroquois for honesty. He not only learned their language but mastered the ritual courtesies of their councils. The Mohawk called him Waraghiyaghey, meaning "Big Business."
The Mohawk were no less angry by the drunken cession of the Wyoming Valley than other Iroquois, but because they trusted Johnson, they answered his call in 1755 to help New York and New England militia take the French fort at Crown Point on Lake Champlain. Leading 200 of his Mohawk warriors, Hendrick was killed in this battle. The Caughnawaga were also there with the French, but when they saw Mohawk fighting for the English, they suddenly retired and sat out the fight. Despite the loss of their sachem, the Mohawk did likewise leaving the French and British to fight each other. There was be no violation of the Great Law of Peace that day. The Mohawk also accompanied Johnson in the capture of Fort Niagara in July, 1759. Quebec fell that September, and Montreal surrendered the following year. After these British victories, the war in North American was over.
British soldiers occupied the remaining French forts in the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes, but rather than leave after defeating the French, they stayed as an occupying army. Fort Duquesne was rebuilt as Fort Pitt and garrisoned with 200 men. William Johnson was appointed the British Indian agent in the north and wanted to continue the French system of dealing with Native Americans through trade and annual presents. Unfortunately, the British commander in North America, Lord Jeffrey Amherst, despised Indians - friend or foe. Ignoring Johnson, Amherst ended annual gifts to treaty chiefs in 1760, increased prices on trade goods, and restricted the supply - especially firearms, powder and rum. By 1761 the Seneca were passing a war belt calling for an uprising against the British, but only the Delaware and Shawnee responded. Johnson discovered the plot from the Wyandot during a meeting at Detroit with tribes of the old French alliance. Other belts were circulated by Caughnawaga and Illinois, but it took the religious movement of Neolin, the Delaware Prophet, to provide the unity for a general revolt.
Neolin taught rejection of the white man's trade goods (especially whiskey) and a return to traditional native ways. Pontiac, chief of one the most important tribes of the old French alliance, the Ottawa at Detroit, seized on this and began to secretly organize an uprising. When it hit in 1763, the Pontiac Rebellion caught the British entirely by surprise, and six of nine forts west of the Appalachians were captured during May. However, the failure to take the other three ultimately caused the revolt to fail. The Iroquois were still healing their recent divisions and tried to remain neutral, but the Seneca joined the uprising and besieged Fort Niagara. A British column trying to reach the fort was ambushed followed by a massacre of prisoners and wounded, but Niagara held. The Mingo and Wyandot captured Fort Venango in northwest Pennsylvania, but the siege of Fort Pitt by Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo dragged on, and the British defended it by introducing a smallpox epidemic with gifts of infected blankets and handkerchiefs to their besiegers.
While continuing the siege, the Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo also attacked the Pennsylvania frontier killing 600 colonists. Pontiac had reserved for himself the responsibility of taking Fort Detroit but failed to achieve surprise when an informer warned the garrison. As the forts continued to hold and the British recovered from their initial surprise, the rebellion began to unravel. After a three-day battle at Bushy Run, Colonel Henry Bouquet broke the siege of Fort Pitt. Allies began to desert, and Pontiac was forced to end his siege of Detroit and retreat west to Indiana where he still had a considerable following among the Kickapoo and Illinois. While reorganizing, he asked the French at Fort de Chartes on the Mississippi for help, but the commandant refused and urged him to stop. In November Amherst was replaced by Thomas Gage who listened to William Johnson. Gage restored trade goods to previous levels and lowered prices.
Badly shaken, the British issued the Proclamation of 1763 halting all new settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains. The Seneca ended their siege of Fort Niagara and were forced to sign a humiliating surrender. Pontiac signed a peace in 1765 but was disgraced as a result. He never returned to Detroit and moved to northern Illinois in 1766. Three years later he was murdered by a Peoria (Illinois) during a visit to Cahokia. William Johnson emerged from the Pontiac Uprising in control of British Indian policy in North America. His influence was so great among the Iroquois councils that the Mohawk were literally his private army, and at his urging in 1763, they had destroyed the Delaware village of Kanhanghton as punishment for their support of Pontiac. After the war, almost all of the Delaware in the Susquehanna Valley left and moved west to Ohio.
Whites replaced them, and settlers from Connecticut finally took advantage of the drunken treaty signed by the Iroquois at Albany in 1754 and began to occupy the Wyoming Valley - conflicting claims of Connecticut and Pennsylvania resulted in pitched battles between rival frontier militias in 1768. With the whites fighting among themselves for the land, it was no place for Indians, and the remaining tribes of the Covenant Chain (Nanticoke, Saponi, Tutelo, Munsee, Delaware, and some Iroquois) left the Wyoming Valley to crowd into the rapidly shrinking Iroquois homeland in New York. With the French gone and the British controlling Canada, Caughnawaga lands were also being overrun by settlement in 1763. After their village at St. Francois had been destroyed by Rogers Rangers in 1759 during the French and Indian War, the Sokoki had found refuge with the Caughnawaga at St. Regis.
By 1763 white settlement had taken the Sokoki's lands, as well as those of the Caughnawaga, along the shores of Lake Champlain. With St. Francois already overcrowded, there was no place for these people to go. The Caughnawaga had good reason to consider joining the Pontiac rebellion in 1763 but stayed out and in the end advocated peace. They may have done better if they had fought. William Johnson supported some Caughnawaga claims to the upper Champlain Valley but ruled the Proclamation of 1763 did not apply to lands claimed by the Sokoki in Vermont and New Hampshire. The Proclamation was doomed from the moment it was issued, and the resentment it created among the colonists was one of the main reasons for the American Revolution. Frontiersmen seeking new land simply ignored it and moved into native lands, and the British, trying to avoid a revolution, were powerless to stop the encroachment. Under pressure from the Americans to open more land for settlement, the British decided in 1768 to rescind the Proclamation and negotiate a new treaty with the Iroquois for Ohio.
Although other tribes were invited to send representatives, Johnson adhered to custom and negotiated only with the Iroquois. With the French no longer a threat, the League had lost much of its previous advantage and, with white settlement encroaching upon its own homeland, was anxious to sign an agreement to protect themselves. Johnson (himself a land speculator) had no trouble in getting them to part with their claim to Ohio in exchange for a defined boundary of their lands. The Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768 ceded much of western Pennsylvania and the the entire Ohio Valley. This self-serving agreement was between two parties who could no longer control the people they represented - the British for the Americans and the Iroquois for the Ohio tribes - and condemned both to a fifty-years of war which claimed more than 30,000 lives.
The Iroquois attempt to protect their homeland brought them nothing but grief. The Treaty of Fort Stanwix Treaty not only destroyed their credibility as a representative of the Ohio tribes, but many Iroquois lost faith in the League's decisions. Shawnee protests to the Iroquois council went unanswered except for a threat of annihilation if they opposed the agreement. The Shawnee turned to others for support and, in what proved the opening move towards the western alliance, made overtures to the: Illinois, Kickapoo, Wea, Piankashaw, Miami, Potawatomi, Wyandot, Ottawa, Delaware, Mascouten, Ojibwe, Cherokee and Chickasaw. Meetings were held at the Shawnee villages on the Sciota River in Ohio in 1770 and 1771, but Johnson was able to prevent the formation of an actual alliance by threats of war with the Iroquois. Frontiersmen flooded across the mountains into the new lands. By 1774 there were 50,000 whites west of the Appalachians and more coming. The British closed many of their forts in the area and withdrew their garrisons as an "economy measure."
Most of the first settlements were along the Ohio River between Pittsburgh and Wheeling. Isolated by Johnson, the Shawnee, Delaware, and Mingo in the area stood alone against the Long Knives (Virginia and Pennsylvania frontiersmen) and got along as best they could with them, but the tension was building. Problems began after treaties signed with the Cherokee opened the way for more settlement in Kentucky. Virginia sent survey teams into the area in 1773, and there were clashes with the Shawnee. Virginia militia took over abandoned Fort Pitt early in 1774 to use as a base in case of war. There was more fighting that the spring, and believing a war had already started, Michael Cresap and a group of vigilantes attacked a Shawnee trading party near Wheeling in April killing a chief.
The following month, another group of frontiersmen massacred a band of Mingo at Yellow Creek (Stuebenville, Ohio). Among the victims were the wife, brother, and sister of Logan, a Mingo war chief. The Shawnee chief Cornstalk wanted to avoid a war and visited Fort Pitt to ask the Virginians to "cover the dead," but Logan went to the Shawnee-Mingo village of Wakatomica and recruited a war party. While Cornstalk was at Fort Pitt talking peace, Logan took a gruesome revenge by killing 13 settlers near the mouth of the Muskingum River. Lord Dunmore's (Cresap's) War (1774) began in June. Logan assured colonial officials in July the killing was over, but by then whites had gathered into forts waiting for help to arrive. Spurning both Iroquois and Delaware offers to mediate, Lord Dunmore, governor of Virginia, brought a large army of militia west to the Ohio.
With the Iroquois and most of the Delaware remaining neutral, the Shawnee and their Mingo allies sent a war belt to the Detroit tribes who refused it. William Johnson kept the Miami and other possible allies at bay with threats of Iroquois intervention if they helped the Shawnee. Dunmore's militia destroyed Wakatomica and five other villages, and in October was gathering at Point Pleasant (West Virginia) on the Ohio River for a second invasion. The Shawnee and Mingo launched a sudden attack. The battle lasted most of the day with heavy casualties on both sides, but the Shawnee were finally forced to withdraw. A month later, they signed a treaty relinquishing all their claims south of the Ohio River which opened Kentucky for settlement.
The American Revolution (1775-83) began the following year with fighting at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts just as the first Kentucky settlements were established at Harrodstown and Boonesborough. The Quebec Act of 1774 had made the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes part of Canada and brought Virginia and Pennsylvania to the point of revolution. With the outbreak of war, the British ceased being a bystander and began urging the Shawnee and Mingo to attack the Americans. Some tribes chose neutrality, but by arguing the Americans intended to take their land, the British succeeded with the Detroit tribes, Potawatomi, and Ojibwe. They also got an alliance between the Shawnee and Cherokee (Chickamauga) war factions. In July, 1776 the Chickamauga attacked two forts in the Carolinas provoking American retaliation against all Cherokee. Meanwhile, Chickamauga and Shawnee war parties roamed through Kentucky attacking Americans.
In the midst of an impassioned speech to incite the Mohawk against the Americans in 1774, William Johnson suffered a stroke and died a few days later. His duties as the British Indian commissioner passed to his son-in-law, Guy Johnson, while his wealth and 100,000 acre estate went to his son John - both were loyalists. Neither had as much influence over the Mohawk as Sir William, but they had the help of his protégé, the Mohawk sachem Joseph Brant (Thayendanega), brother of Sir William's Mohawk wife, Molly. With the outbreak of war, both the British and Americans tried to win the support of the Iroquois. The League listened respectfully to both arguments, but although they recognized the new United States in 1776, their decision was to remain neutral. They even ordered the Shawnee to stop attacking Americans in Kentucky. Nothing stopped, but by this time the League had gotten used to its orders being ignored. If the League had been able to remain neutral, it probably would have survived the war. However, this was not to be. The "Great Peace" ended in 1777, and the Iroquois League was destroyed two years later. The Caughnawaga and the other members of the Seven Nations of Canada also intended to remain neutral in the beginning but were drawn into the war during which its members fought on both sides.
William Johnson had treated Joseph Brant like his own son and sent him to an English school on Connecticut. Rising to leadership among the Mohawk afterwards, Brant was convinced the Iroquois would lose their land if the Americans won and strongly opposed the council's decision to remain neutral. After accepting a captain's commission in the British army, he visited England in 1775 and returned in time to participate in the Battle of Lang Island in 1776. Angered by the American arrest of Sir John Johnson (William's son) for loyalist activities, Brant defied the Iroquois council and led his warriors north to stop the American attempt to capture Canada during the winter of 1776-77. Opposing Brant on the council were the Oneida and Tuscarora who, because of the missionary Samuel Kirkland, favored the Americans. The crisis came with a British effort in 1777 to cut New England off from the other colonies by seizing the Hudson Valley.
The plan called for three British armies to meet at Albany. General William Howe was to come north from New York City, while General John Burgoyne marched south from Montreal and Colonel Barry St. Leger moved east through the Mohawk Valley. St. Leger's role in the campaign which provoked a crisis on the League council since he would need their permission to move through the Iroquois homeland. Unfortunately, a recent epidemic had deprived the council of several important sachems. Still opposed by the Oneida and their sachem Skenandoah, Brant was able to win over the Seneca and Cayuga. Unable to resolve the differences between the members, the Onondaga extinguished the council fire and joined the majority going to the British. The Iroquois League had come to an end, with each tribe free to go its own way. The "Great Peace" which had prevailed among the Iroquois for centuries ended shortly afterwards at Oriskany.
Joined by Iroquois and other native allies, St. Leger moved down the Mohawk valley towards Fort Stanwix (Fort Schuyler to the Americans). On August 6th, 1777 American and British forces met at the Battle of Oriskany. Oneida warriors with the Americans and Mohawk and Seneca warriors with the British fought and killed each other. St. Leger's defeat at Oriskany and his failure to take Fort Stanwix forced him to abandon his part in the offensive and return to Canada. In October the Oneida served as scouts in the American victory over Burgoyne at Saratoga - the turning point of the Revolutionary War. They rendered further service that winter by bringing food to Washington's starving army at Valley Forge and in May, 1778 participated in the Battle of Barren Hill under the command of Lafayette. Despite the setbacks at Saratoga and Oriskany, the British and Iroquois launched a series of raids against the frontier that put the Americans on the defensive in New York and Pennsylvania during the summer and fall of 1778.
In July Brant's Mohawk attacked the Cherry Valley on the upper Susquehanna in New York. He followed this with a raid on the settlement at Minisink Island on the Delaware River between Pennsylvania and New Jersey which left several farms in flames. The real damage, however, was done during his retreat when only 30 of the 150 militia pursuing escaped an ambush. At the same time, McDonald's tories and native warriors hit settlements in Northampton County and the Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania. In September Brant struck again - this time at German Flats in the Mohawk Valley. Forewarned, the Americans rushed to Forts Dayton and Herkimer where they sat helplessly inside while smoke rose from their burning homes. Two weeks later the Americans destroyed Brant's villages at Unadilla and Oquaga on the Susquehanna. Brant joined forces with Tory Rangers commanded by Walter Butler and attacked the Cherry Valley for a second time in November. Known as the Cherry Valley Massacre, the attack took the Americans by surprise. Homes were burned, 30 settlers killed, and 71 prisoners taken. An assault on the American fort killed 16 soldiers, but the British and Mohawk withdrew the following day when reinforcements arrived.
Brant became known as "Monster Brant," but his reputation was undeserved. Most of the killing at Cherry Valley was done by Walter Butler's men who Brant later admitted were far more "savage" than any of his Mohawk. The tendency towards brutality seemed to run in the Butler family. It was Walter's father, John Butler, who orchestrated what was by far the worst massacre in the Wyoming Valley that July. Brant and his Mohawk were not present at Wyoming, and Butler's men returned to Fort Niagara with 267 scalps. This much death and destruction on the frontier could not be tolerated, and during the summer of 1779, George Washington sent three converging armies to destroy the Iroquois homeland: from the south General John Sullivan proceeded up the Susquehanna with 4,000 troops; General James Clinton moved west through the Mohawk Valley; and Colonel Daniel Brodhead pushed up the Allegheny River from Fort Pitt.
Guided by Oneida scouts, the Americans brushed aside Brant's 500 warriors and John Butler's 200 tories at the second Battle of Oriskany and in September captured the League's capital at the Onondaga village of Kanadaseagea. Destroying everything, the Americans burned over 40 towns earning George Washington his Iroquois name of Caunotaucarius "town destroyer." The Iroquois never recovered from this disaster. Their homes and crops destroyed, the survivors spent a cold and hungry winter as refugees in the vicinity of the British fort at Niagara. Brant, however, enlisted a large war party that winter to punish the Oneida and attacked their villages. Hundreds were killed in this Iroquois civil war, and the Oneida fled to the Americans at Schenectady. They spent the rest of the war in brutal poverty and misery but continued to serve as American scouts.
Brant was able to block an attempt by the Seneca Red Jacket to make peace with the Americans, and the Iroquois continued to attack the frontier in support of the British. Both Guy and John Johnson led raids into the Mohawk Valley during summer and fall of 1780. The Butlers were also active until Walter was killed by an Oneida warrior near Johnson Hall in October, 1781. The Americans so hated him they refused to bury his body and left it to rot. Brant fought in the Ohio Valley during 1781 and in August ambushed a group of Pennsylvania militia near the mouth of the Miami River (Cincinnati, Ohio). He also tried to ambush George Rogers Clark on the Ohio River, but Clark avoided this and reached safety at Fort Nelson (Louisville, Kentucky). Returning east, Brant's final foray into the Mohawk Valley was stopped at Johnstown during 1783, the last year of the war.
The war in the Ohio Valley was almost a separate conflict from the one east of the Appalachians and continued, despite the Treaty of Paris in 1783, with few interruptions until 1795. Shortly after the start of the war, the British began supplying arms and paying bounties for American scalps. The Chickamauga (Cherokee) and Shawnee launched the first attacks, but indiscriminate retaliation by Americans drew the other tribes into the fighting. By the time the Iroquois entered the war in the east in 1777, the Mingo had joined the Shawnee and would remain a part of the alliance fighting the Americans until 1794. Many of the raids against Kentucky during this period originated from Pluggy's Town, a Mingo village located near present-day Delaware, Ohio. In September, 1777 Fort Henry (Wheeling) was attacked by 400 Shawnee, Mingo and Wyandot. Half of the 42-man garrison was killed, and the war party burned the nearby settlement before withdrawing. After the Americans built Fort Laurens in eastern Ohio in 1778, Mingo and Wyandot warriors surrounded it and kept it under siege until abandoned as indefensible in August, 1779. A Mingo war party also burned Hannastown, Pennsylvania in 1782. Raids and counter-raids continued until 1783 with the Mingo and other British allies moving their villages into northwest Ohio to distance them from the Americans along the Ohio River.
At the end of the war, Joseph Brant crossed into Canada with almost 2,000 followers - mostly Mohawk and Cayuga but including parts of all six members of Iroquois League as well as a few Delaware, Munsee, Saponi, Nanticoke, and Tutelo. A second group of Iroquois settled at Tyendenaga on the north shore of Lake Ontario just west of Kingston, Ontario. Brant settled along the Grand River in southern Ontario on 675,000 acres given by Governor Frederick Haldimand of Canada as compensation for the lands the Iroquois had lost in New York. Unfortunately, Haldimand's term of office ended before he could provide legal title. Brant went to England in 1785 to correct this, but the problem has persisted ever since. Totally destitute after the war, Brant ultimately had to sell 300,000 acres to feed his people (only 45,000 acres remain). From a pre-war population of 8,000, fewer than 5,000 Iroquois survived the war, 2,000 of whom had moved to Canada.
On the Six Nations Reserve at Grand River, Brant rekindled the League's council fire which had been extinguished in 1777. At the same time back in New York, a second council fire was started at Buffalo Creek leading to a question of which represented the original confederacy with its claim to the Ohio Valley. George Rogers Clark's capture of the Illinois country in 1778 had extended the boundary of the new United States to the Mississippi, and the Americans had no doubts about which one counted. They informed the Iroquois in New York that they were now a "conquered people" and forced them to sign another treaty at Fort Stanwix in 1784 ceding much of their homeland and confirming the earlier cession of Ohio made to the British in 1768. Brant's Mohawk and the Canadian Iroquois were conspicuous by their absence at the signing of this treaty, and the Iroquois League had split into two parts. The Canadian and American branches gradually grew farther apart, until by 1803 the Canadian Iroquois were no longer included in meetings of the American portion of the League.
After the Treaty of Paris, the British asked the Ohio tribes to stop their attacks on Americans. In truth, neither they nor the American frontiersmen considered the question of Ohio had been decided. As early as 1782, the British agent at Detroit, Simon De Peyster, had urged the tribes to form an alliance to keep the Americans out of Ohio. To this end, he brought Joseph Brant west in 1783 as a representative of the Six Nations (Canadian) to attend a meeting of the Ohio tribes at Sandusky. The British did not attend themselves, but Brant's influence was important in the formation of the western alliance. Its first council fire was at the Shawnee village of Waketomica. After Waketomica was burned by the Americans in 1786, it moved to Brownstown, a Wyandot village south of Detroit.
Refusing to comply with the Paris treaty until the Americans compensated British loyalists for their losses in the war, the British continued to occupy their remaining forts on American territory. Of course, there was no way the Americans could pay these, or their other debts from the Revolution, until they sold the land in Ohio. The British were aware of the American dilemma and let it be known to the alliance tribes they would support them in any conflict with the Americans. When the Ohio tribes learned of the second Treaty of Fort Stanwix signed by the New York Iroquois in 1784, American intentions became quite clear. They also lost faith in that part of the Iroquois League's ability to represent their interests, while the influence of Brant and the Six Nations in Canada grew.
Unsure of how much authority the New York Iroquois still had in Ohio, the Americans wanted to confirm the League's cession with the resident tribes. The problem was the Americans thought of the western alliance as a British plot -which it was - and would only negotiate with individual tribes. The Fort McIntosh and Fort Finney treaties signed with the Wyandot, Delaware, Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Shawnee were useless because they did not reflect the consensus of the alliance or, in some cases, the tribes who signed. The American position was also at odds with its frontier citizens. Most of the alliance warriors wanted the Ohio River, not the Muskingum as the boundary of settlement, while the frontiersmen were not going to be satisfied until they had taken the entire Ohio Valley.
Sensing trouble, the New York Iroquois called for a meeting with the Ohio tribes at Buffalo Creek in the spring of 1786. No one came, although alliance representatives attended the League's meeting in July to ask for help against the Americans. Congress, meanwhile, sold the land rights to a New Jersey syndicate and the Ohio Company to pay war debts. Americans flooded into Ohio and took native land as squatters making treaty boundaries worthless. 12,000 whites were north of the Ohio in 1785, and short of civil war, the government could not stop them. In response to this encroachment, Shawnee and Mingo raids resumed against Kentucky. After an inspirational speech by Brant at the meeting of western alliance in November, 1786, a consensus formed demanding the Ohio as a boundary. However, the alliance council also agreed to a truce until the spring to allow its demands to reach the American Congress. For some reason, the message did not make it to Philadelphia until July, and by that time, the fighting had resumed.
A final attempt to resolve the dispute by treaty was made in December, 1787 when the American governor of the Northwest Territory, Arthur St. Clair, called for a meeting at Fort Harmar. The tribes of the western alliance were divided on how to respond. In the meeting of the council, Brant demanded the repudiation of all treaties ceding any part of Ohio, but the Wyandot wanted to negotiate and gained support from the Delaware, Detroit Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi. Brant left the meeting in disgust and went back to Ontario deferring his role to the Shawnee and Miami. The conference finally took place in January, 1789, and the Treaty of Fort Harmar set the Muskingum River as the boundary of the frontier. This satisfied no one, and the raids continued. After the Americans retaliated against the Kickapoo, Wea, and Piankashaw villages on the lower Wabash during the summer of 1789, the Miami and Shawnee war factions dominated the alliance.
At this point the Americans decided to settle the dispute by force. The alliance again asked the New York Iroquois for help. When this was refused, the League lost whatever influence it still had with the Ohio tribes. Little Turtle's War (1790-94) began with two horrendous American defeats: Harmar (October, 1790); and St. Clair (November, 1791). The Americans could not quit, because they could not afford to lose. President Washington sent "Mad Anthony" Wayne to take command in Ohio. Wayne began training his Legion, a large force of trained regulars to back the undisciplined militia which had contributed to the earlier defeats. At the same time, the Americans were making peace overtures to the alliance in 1792 through the Iroquois. Flush with their recent victories, the alliance was in no mood to listen. At the conference, they threw the American proposal in the fire and called the Iroquois representatives "coward red men." The role of the Iroquois League in the Ohio Valley had definitely ended, and they were fortunate to leave the meeting with their lives.
However, Brant and the Six Nations from Canada continued to have influence within the alliance, but after watching Wayne's careful preparations to destroy them, the Ohio tribes began to have doubts whether they could win. After Wayne began his advance into northern Ohio in the fall of 1793, the alliance council asked Brant to negotiate a peace with the Americans. The British had reached the same conclusion and were ready to resolve their differences with the United States. Unfortunately, this was done in secret, and as far as Brant knew, the British would still support the alliance if it chose to fight. He urged war, and the majority of the alliance reluctantly agreed. In August, 1794 Wayne's Legion and the alliance faced each other at Fallen Timbers. Driven from the field, the retreating warriors were refused refuge at the nearby British fort. In November the Jay Treaty was signed between Great Britain and the United States, and the British withdrew their garrisons from American territory. Abandoned, the alliance signed the Fort Greenville Treaty the following August ceding most of Ohio.
The ownership of Ohio was finally decided after 40-years of war. The 1784 Fort Stanwix Treaty which surrendered Ohio for a second time did not protect the Iroquois homeland. Over the next 60 years, it was surrendered to a "feeding frenzy" of land speculators whose names included most of the rich and politically powerful founding families of New York. Among the first victims were the Oneida who had served the Americans so faithfully during the Revolution and suffered as a result. Washington had promised the Oneida they would be "forever remembered" for their contributions and sacrifices and assured them their sovereignty and land rights would be respected. Nice words, but the Oneida were living in poverty after the war, and the United States did not compensate them for their losses until 1795. Meanwhile, the Oneida by 1785 had taken in the Christian Stockbridge and Brotherton Indians from New England. Desperate for money to feed themselves, the Oneida signed a treaty with New York governor George Clinton ceding most of their original 6 million acres in exchange for a smaller reservation.
For similar reasons, New York was able to make similar agreements with the Onondaga in 1788, and Cayuga the year following, buying their land and confining them to reservations. The rate at which Iroquois land was disappearing into the hands of land speculators was one reason Congress passed the Non-Intercourse Act in 1790 forbidding the sale of native lands to anyone but the federal government. To stabilize the situation, the United States signed the Canandaigua (Pickering) Treaty in 1794 to establish definite boundaries for Iroquois. The earlier New York treaties were acknowledged, but this failed to stop the land loss. There was enough New York political power that federal law and treaties were either ignored or permission to disregard them was routine. Three years after Canandaigua, the Seneca surrendered a large tract at Big Tree. More was sold in 1802 and 1823. By 1807 the Cayuga had sold the last of their New York lands. Many went west to Ohio to live with the Mingo, now known as the Seneca of the Sandusky. The others scattered to the Iroquois in New York or crossed the border into Canada.
Only two Mohawk signed the Fort Stanwix Treaty in 1784. The others were with Joseph Brant in Canada. Still at war with the Americans, at least in the Ohio, the Mohawk homeland was overrun by settlement after 1783. It seemed obvious the Mohawk were never going to get back their lands in New York. Already forced to sell part of the Grand River Reserve in Ontario to feed his people, Brant finally agreed to cede the Mohawk lands in New York in a treaty signed at Albany in 1797. The Onondaga sold much of their reservation to New York in 1822. About the same time, the Oneida had disagreements over Quaker missions versus traditional religion. In 1822 they sold their land and half agreed to relocate to Wisconsin. The Christian Stockbridge and Brotherton went with them. Problems with the government purchase of land from the Menominee delayed the move, but by 1838 more than 600 Oneida were living near Green Bay. The Tuscarora also agreed to removal, but most chose to stay in New York or move to Canada.
The final blow came with the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Pressure built to remove the remaining Iroquois from New York. The result was the Treaty of Buffalo Creek (Treaty with the New York Indians) signed in 1838 where the Iroquois agreed to move to southeastern Kansas. In truth, much of this agreement never went into effect. Influential Quakers blocked its implementation, and by 1846 only 210 New York Seneca had moved to Kansas. In 1873 the Iroquois lands in Kansas were declared forfeited and the rights of 32 Iroquois living there were repurchased by the government. Seneca and Onondaga who fought the Americans in the Revolution stayed in New York, but the Oneida had a more difficult time. After the treaty, 250 New York Oneida purchased land near London, Ontario in 1839. By 1845 their numbers had grown to more than 400. The other 200 remained near Oneida, New York or moved in with the Onondaga. Despite federal laws, the Seneca continued to lose land to whites due to incompetence and corruption of tribal leadership. Reaction to this ended their traditional system of hereditary chiefs, and they separated from the rest of Iroquois League in 1848.
The Mingo in Ohio fought as part of the western alliance until after Fallen Timbers, and in 1795 they had made peace with the Americans at Fort Greenville. In 1805 the Wyandot signed the Treaty of Fort Industry ceding the eastern part of northern Ohio which forced the remaining Mingo villages there to relocate to northwest Ohio. The Mingo were joined in 1807 by a large group of Cayuga from New York. The continuing loss of native lands in the Ohio Valley to Americans gave rise to the movement of Tecumseh and his brother, Tenskwatawa, the Prophet. Some Mingo joined this and fought for the British during the War of 1812 (1812-15). Most Mingo, as well as the Iroquois League in New York, remained neutral. Late in the war, the Seneca declared war on the British after they had occupied Grand Island in the Niagara River which was claimed by the Seneca. As a result a British attack burned the Tuscarora settlement near Niagara Falls, New York.
After the war the Mingo who followed Tecumseh into Canada signed the Treaty of Indian Springs (1815) allowing them to return to the United States. Two years later, the Ohio tribes surrendered their last Ohio lands at Treaty of Fort Meigs (Maumee Rapids) in exchange for reservations. There were two groups of Mingo at the time - the mixed Shawnee-Seneca band received a reserve at Lewistown, Ohio, while the Seneca of the Sandusky took a 30,000 acre reserve on the Sandusky River north of Wyandot. Treaties signed at St. Marys the following year actually added to these holdings. The 100-year Mingo residence in Ohio came to an end in 1830 with the passage of the Indian Removal Act. In February 1831 the Seneca of the Sandusky signed a treaty agreeing to removal to the northeast part of the Indian Territory adjacent to the Western Cherokee.
In July Shawnee-Seneca band at Lewistown also agreed to move to the same area. In 1857 they allowed 200 Kansas Wyandot to settle at the Neosho Agency. Unfortunately, these Wyandot were pro-Union, and in June, 1862 Confederate soldiers invaded the Seneca Reserve forcing the Wyandot, as well as many of the Seneca, to leave. The Seneca spent the Civil War in refugee camps on the Marais des Cygnes River in eastern Kansas. Giving in after the war to demands by Kansas for the removal of all Indians from inside its borders, the government in 1867 negotiated a treaty with the eastern tribes which had been removed to Kansas during the 1830s. Most moved to Oklahoma, including the 200 Seneca who had arrived from New York in 1846. The treaty separated the mixed Shawnee-Seneca band, and the different groups Seneca of Sandusky merged to form the modern Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma.
The Caughnawaga signed only one treaty with the United States. This was at New York City in 1796 on behalf of the Seven Nations of Canada relinquishing their claims to land in New York with the exception of 36 square miles on the New York-Quebec border which was preserved as the St. Regis Reservation. St. Regis was also excluded from the removal provisions of the 1838 treaty and exists today as the the only Mohawk reservation in the United States. The Caughnawaga and other Canadian Iroquois were active during the 1800s as trappers in the western fur trade with both the Hudson Bay and Northwest companies. Mohawk from near Montreal were regularly employed as voyageurs and laborers for the long canoe routes from Montreal to the Mackenzie Delta and Pacific Coast. The fierce competition between these two companies ended when they merged in 1821.
Besides trapping, the Iroquois had frequent contact with western tribes and frequently intermarried with them. In 1840 a Caughnawaga Iroquois, Ignace Lamoose, was responsible for Jesuit missionaries being sent to the Flathead and Kalispel in Montana. Several Iroquois employees of the Hudson Bay Company settled in the Willamette Valley of Oregon during the 1840s. Beginning about 1800, the Northwest Company convinced Iroquois families from the St. Lawrence River to move west and settle in Alberta. The Canadian government established a reserve for the Iroquois band of Chief Michel Calihoo near Villeneuve in 1877. Parts were sold to whites in 1903 and 1906. After the band surrendered its aboriginal status in 1952, the reserve was broken up into individually owned plots.
The ten-year period between Fort Stanwix and Canandaigua (1784-1795) was probably the lowest point for the Iroquois people. From there, however, they began a slow recovery which has continued to the present. In 1799 the Seneca Handsome Lake (Ganiodayo) had a spiritual vision which not only changed his life but the Iroquois history. Afterwards, he preached the "Kaiwicyoch" (Good Message) and founded the Longhouse religion - a blend of the traditional Iroquois values and Christianity. The religious values he espoused were so universal and commendable that Handsome Lake even received a letter of appreciation from President Thomas Jefferson. Because there was also an element of accommodation in his message, many Americans interpreted the Longhouse religion as the Iroquois coming around to their way of thinking. However, this was definitely not the case, since Handsome Lake strongly opposed Christian missionaries among his people. The Longhouse Religion carries a strong message of tolerance, but it is first and foremost a traditional native religion.
As such it has been responsible for the Iroquois being able to retain much of the their culture and tradition despite adversity and defeat. There is still division as to whether the council fire belongs with the Six Nations in Canada or the Onondaga in New York (New York finally returned the wampum belts of the Confederacy to the Onondaga in 1989). Many Iroquois, however, still consider themselves a distinct nation from either Canada or the United States. Canada imposed an election system on the Six Nations in 1924, but many Iroquois tribes have retained their traditional system of hereditary leadership. The Iroquois opposed American citizenship when it was finally extended by the Congress in 1924 to all Native Americans in the United States. They also fought the Wheeler-Howard Indian Reorganization Act (1934) which would have required federal approval of their tribal governments.
First Nations referred to in this Iroquois History: