Iroquoia

Since before Europeans invaded North America the Haudenosaunee (the people of the longhouse) had been united into a powerful league or confederacy. Stretching roughly from Lake Champlain to the Genesee River across modern New York, the Haudenosaunee League was the largest and most cohesive power in eastern North America. The Five Nations (the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Seneca) exerted influence hundreds of miles beyond the heart of Iroquoia, hunting, making war, and displacing competitors.

The Six Nations, after the addition of the Tuscarora in 1722, asserted their neutrality in colonial relations, as neither the French nor the British wanted them as an enemy. This position was threatened by French defeat in 1760, and American settlers brought increasing pressure as they sought land to the west. The League was able to assert itself at the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, protecting much of Iroquoia from settlement and preserving distant hunting grounds, but it could not prevent the coming colonial rebellion.

The American Revolution ripped apart the Six Nations. Attempts at neutrality failed, and in 1777 the council fire of the Six Nations kept by the Onondaga was extinguished. Generally, the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca sided with the British, who had at least nominally upheld their sovereignty and land rights. The Oneida and Tuscarora broke with them and sided with the Americans, although individuals in each nation made their own separate choices. Among the most traumatic events of the war was the August 6, 1777 Battle of Oriskany, where Mohawk and Seneca warriors ambushed an American militia column which included Oneidas and some Mohawks. The battle, fought between acquaintances and former friends, was proportionally one of the bloodiest of the war and had a profound and lasting impact.

Haudenosaunee warriors continued to wage an extensive war against American encroachment in New York and Pennsylvania. In 1779, General Washington ordered Major General John Sullivan with a third of the Continental Army’s strength to “destroy their Settlements & extirpate them from the Country.” Sullivan’s army systematically destroyed the heart of Iroquoia. They sacked over 40 villages, killing, torching fields, and razing homes, which stunned the Continentals by their sophistication, extent, and abundance. Refugees fled to British Fort Niagara, straining British resources, but the Haudenosaunee people survived this onslaught.

As the war ended, the League further splintered. Many felt abandoned by the British, who gave up Iroquoia without their consent at the 1783 Treaty of Paris, but remained in their homeland. Some created new homes, such the Six Nations of the Grand River in modern day Ontario. Today, Haudenosaunee communities in New York, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Ontario, and Québec , including League councils at Onondaga and Grand River, continue to assert their sovereignty against the governments of the United States and Canada that are another legacy of this tumultuous era.

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Since before Europeans invaded North America the Haudenosaunee (the people of the longhouse) had been united into a powerful league or confederacy. Stretching roughly from Lake Champlain to the Genesee River across modern New York, the Haudenosaunee League was the largest and most cohesive power in eastern North America. The Five Nations (the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Seneca) exerted influence hundreds of miles beyond the heart of Iroquoia, hunting, making war, and displacing competitors.

The Six Nations, after the addition of the Tuscarora in 1722, asserted their neutrality in colonial relations, as neither the French nor the British wanted them as an enemy. This position was threatened by French defeat in 1760, and American settlers brought increasing pressure as they sought land to the west. The League was able to assert itself at the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, protecting much of Iroquoia from settlement and preserving distant hunting grounds, but it could not prevent the coming colonial rebellion.

The American Revolution ripped apart the Six Nations. Attempts at neutrality failed, and in 1777 the council fire of the Six Nations kept by the Onondaga was extinguished. Generally, the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca sided with the British, who had at least nominally upheld their sovereignty and land rights. The Oneida and Tuscarora broke with them and sided with the Americans, although individuals in each nation made their own separate choices. Among the most traumatic events of the war was the August 6, 1777 Battle of Oriskany, where Mohawk and Seneca warriors ambushed an American militia column which included Oneidas and some Mohawks. The battle, fought between acquaintances and former friends, was proportionally one of the bloodiest of the war and had a profound and lasting impact.

Haudenosaunee warriors continued to wage an extensive war against American encroachment in New York and Pennsylvania. In 1779, General Washington ordered Major General John Sullivan with a third of the Continental Army’s strength to “destroy their Settlements & extirpate them from the Country.” Sullivan’s army systematically destroyed the heart of Iroquoia. They sacked over 40 villages, killing, torching fields, and razing homes, which stunned the Continentals by their sophistication, extent, and abundance. Refugees fled to British Fort Niagara, straining British resources, but the Haudenosaunee people survived this onslaught.

As the war ended, the League further splintered. Many felt abandoned by the British, who gave up Iroquoia without their consent at the 1783 Treaty of Paris, but remained in their homeland. Some created new homes, such the Six Nations of the Grand River in modern day Ontario. Today, Haudenosaunee communities in New York, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Ontario, and Québec , including League councils at Onondaga and Grand River, continue to assert their sovereignty against the governments of the United States and Canada that are another legacy of this tumultuous era.

Objects in the IROQUOIA case

English Trade Gun

Native Americans quickly adopted firearms after their introduction into North America and became arguably the best fighters of the gunpowder age. The Haudenosaunee rapidly saw the power of these weapons and aggressively acquired them, transforming the material culture and practice of war in America. They leveraged the Dutch, English, and French to acquire more and better arms, and by some accounts, Native communities in North America had the most firearms of any society on earth by the end of the 17th century.

This gun was made in London by gunsmith Richard Wilson and bears many of the traits of weapons made for the Native American trade, including its length and light weight. Wilson was a prolific manufacturer who also made military arms, sporting weapons, and guns for the slave trade. By the time of the American Revolution, English-made firearms likely predominated in the easternmost Haudenosaunee nations, and arms were a vital part of the culture of diplomacy and exchange by which Britain made alliances with native warriors.

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Native Americans quickly adopted firearms after their introduction into North America and became arguably the best fighters of the gunpowder age. The Haudenosaunee rapidly saw the power of these weapons and aggressively acquired them, transforming the material culture and practice of war in America. They leveraged the Dutch, English, and French to acquire more and better arms, and by some accounts, Native communities in North America had the most firearms of any society on earth by the end of the 17th century.

This gun was made in London by gunsmith Richard Wilson and bears many of the traits of weapons made for the Native American trade, including its length and light weight. Wilson was a prolific manufacturer who also made military arms, sporting weapons, and guns for the slave trade. By the time of the American Revolution, English-made firearms likely predominated in the easternmost Haudenosaunee nations, and arms were a vital part of the culture of diplomacy and exchange by which Britain made alliances with native warriors.

French Trade Gun

Native customers had exacting tastes and needs, and European gunsmiths developed specific arms that catered to the needs of this market. The sturdy and consequently heavy muskets of European infantry, designed for bayonets, had little place in Native American culture and warfare. Lighter-weight weapons with smaller bores were more portable and suited to their tactics.

This long, light gun is a French fusil fin, or fine light firearm. Older French weapons like this likely continued to be used by some Haudenosaunee warriors. This particular example has had its original French lock replaced with an English one.

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Native customers had exacting tastes and needs, and European gunsmiths developed specific arms that catered to the needs of this market. The sturdy and consequently heavy muskets of European infantry, designed for bayonets, had little place in Native American culture and warfare. Lighter-weight weapons with smaller bores were more portable and suited to their tactics.

This long, light gun is a French fusil fin, or fine light firearm. Older French weapons like this likely continued to be used by some Haudenosaunee warriors. This particular example has had its original French lock replaced with an English one.

Painted portrait of Red Jacket

Shakóye:wa:thaˀ (1750-1830), also known as Red Jacket, was a Seneca leader and orator whose life bridged the traumatic period of the American Revolution. Although he served during the Revolutionary War alongside the British, he was not well regarded as a fighter and left the field at the Battle of Oriskany, drawing the ire of other leaders like Joseph Brant. After the war, Red Jacket became a vocal advocate for the Seneca who remained on their land which had been claimed by New York State. His emergence as a leader there, sometimes against the Grand River Haudenosaunee in Canada where Brant was a leading figure, caused friction between Haudenosaunee communities. During the War of 1812, Red Jacket even led Haudenosaunee warriors allied with the Americans against the British and other Haudenosaunee from the Grand River. His later life was spent resisting Euro-American influence on Haudenosaunee land, culture, and religion.

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Shakóye:wa:thaˀ (1750-1830), also known as Red Jacket, was a Seneca leader and orator whose life bridged the traumatic period of the American Revolution. Although he served during the Revolutionary War alongside the British, he was not well regarded as a fighter and left the field at the Battle of Oriskany, drawing the ire of other leaders like Joseph Brant. After the war, Red Jacket became a vocal advocate for the Seneca who remained on their land which had been claimed by New York State. His emergence as a leader there, sometimes against the Grand River Haudenosaunee in Canada where Brant was a leading figure, caused friction between Haudenosaunee communities. During the War of 1812, Red Jacket even led Haudenosaunee warriors allied with the Americans against the British and other Haudenosaunee from the Grand River. His later life was spent resisting Euro-American influence on Haudenosaunee land, culture, and religion.

Engraved portrait of Joseph Thayendaneken the Mohawk Chief

Thayendanegea (1742/4- 1807), also known as Joseph Brant, rose as a powerful leader during the American Revolution. He served alongside the British as a teenager during the French and Indian War and attended Reverend Eleazar Wheelock’s Indian Charity School. Returning to Mohawk country in 1763, he became an official translator between English and a number of Iroquoian languages for the British Indian Department.

When war broke out, Brant remained loyal to the British, even traveling to England between 1775 and 1776 to speak to government officials. He and hundreds of Native, and some white, followers joined the British army laying siege to Fort Stanwix in 1777 and fought at Oriskany. He continued to fight American encroachment in New York and Pennsylvania, engaged John Sullivan’s army at the Battle of Newtown, and fought as far west as modern Indiana. Stung by the British failure to include the Haudenosaunee in the war’s end and by the loss of most of Iroquoia to the Americans, Brant led the settlement at the Grand River in what is now Ontario, Canada. For the rest of his life he worked to assure Native sovereignty and land rights against the United States and the British. He traveled to both the American and British capitals as well as across the Great Lakes region, encouraging unity against settler states. Brant was a powerful figure who won many to his side, but also made many enemies and antagonists, which Euro-American powers exploited to advance their interests.

This engraving was published in the 1776 July edition of the London Magazine, which featured James Boswell’s essay on Brant, written during his visit to London.

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Thayendanegea (1742/4- 1807), also known as Joseph Brant, rose as a powerful leader during the American Revolution. He served alongside the British as a teenager during the French and Indian War and attended Reverend Eleazar Wheelock’s Indian Charity School. Returning to Mohawk country in 1763, he became an official translator between English and a number of Iroquoian languages for the British Indian Department.

When war broke out, Brant remained loyal to the British, even traveling to England between 1775 and 1776 to speak to government officials. He and hundreds of Native, and some white, followers joined the British army laying siege to Fort Stanwix in 1777 and fought at Oriskany. He continued to fight American encroachment in New York and Pennsylvania, engaged John Sullivan’s army at the Battle of Newtown, and fought as far west as modern Indiana. Stung by the British failure to include the Haudenosaunee in the war’s end and by the loss of most of Iroquoia to the Americans, Brant led the settlement at the Grand River in what is now Ontario, Canada. For the rest of his life he worked to assure Native sovereignty and land rights against the United States and the British. He traveled to both the American and British capitals as well as across the Great Lakes region, encouraging unity against settler states. Brant was a powerful figure who won many to his side, but also made many enemies and antagonists, which Euro-American powers exploited to advance their interests.

This engraving was published in the 1776 July edition of the London Magazine, which featured James Boswell’s essay on Brant, written during his visit to London.

8th Regiment Button and Abraham Wintermute’s Powder Horn

At various points during the war the Haudenosaunee were supported by Euro-American soldiers. Especially after the expedition against Fort Stanwix in 1777 that led to the Battle of Oriskany, British operations shifted farther west. Fort Niagara, at the edge of Seneca country, at the juncture of Lake Ontario and the Niagara River, was the center of British operations in the west.

The 8th (King’s Own) Regiment of Foot was the only regular regiment in the region. Stationed at Fort Niagara, soldiers from the 8th assisted Haudenosaunee warriors in inflicting a defeat on the Americans at the Battle of the Cedars in early 1776. They also participated in St. Leger’s campaign in 1777, and a small handful were the only British regulars at the Battle of Newtown in 1779.

Butler’s Rangers, a Loyalist unit, served alongside Haudenosaunee warriors in devastating raids against the American borders, including under the command of Joseph Brant. Also headquartered in Niagara, they earned a fearsome reputation raiding into western New York and Pennsylvania. Many lost homes that were now claimed by the United States and resettled into modern day Ontario as the war ended. Abraham Wintermute, a corporal of Butler’s Rangers, stationed at Fort Niagara, owned this horn.

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At various points during the war the Haudenosaunee were supported by Euro-American soldiers. Especially after the expedition against Fort Stanwix in 1777 that led to the Battle of Oriskany, British operations shifted farther west. Fort Niagara, at the edge of Seneca country, at the juncture of Lake Ontario and the Niagara River, was the center of British operations in the west.

The 8th (King’s Own) Regiment of Foot was the only regular regiment in the region. Stationed at Fort Niagara, soldiers from the 8th assisted Haudenosaunee warriors in inflicting a defeat on the Americans at the Battle of the Cedars in early 1776. They also participated in St. Leger’s campaign in 1777, and a small handful were the only British regulars at the Battle of Newtown in 1779.

Butler’s Rangers, a Loyalist unit, served alongside Haudenosaunee warriors in devastating raids against the American borders, including under the command of Joseph Brant. Also headquartered in Niagara, they earned a fearsome reputation raiding into western New York and Pennsylvania. Many lost homes that were now claimed by the United States and resettled into modern day Ontario as the war ended. Abraham Wintermute, a corporal of Butler’s Rangers, stationed at Fort Niagara, owned this horn.

Ensign William Johnson’s Diary

Ensign William Johnson arrived in Canada in 1776 and was assigned to the British Indian Department. He was sent to the Mohawk community of Akwesasne, or Saint Regis, to be a liaison officer between the British and warriors from the village. This was one of the Seven Nations of Canada, which included the other Mohawk villages of Kahnawake, Kanesetake, and Oswegatchie as well as Lorette, Wolinak, and Odanak made up of different nations. These villages generally sided with the British during the war, but even here some individuals supported the American cause. Warriors from Akwesasne joined the British invasion of New York in 1777, and Johnson accompanied them, carrying this diary.

In the journal, Johnson recorded his lessons from the “Aimable Miss Margaret Byron,” the daughter of a French trader, in both French and Mohawk. He learned the very basics of the language: simple phrases, numbers, days of the week, and months of the year, which were rendered in phonetic spellings. Even these simple phrases and words allowed for a measure of communication between these allies.

Johnson and the warriors from Akwesasne were engaged at the Battle of Bennington on August 16, 1777. The Natives were able to escape the British defeat, but Johnson and his diary were captured. The diary remained in the hands of his captors and their descendants until donated to Fort Ticonderoga in 1963.

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Ensign William Johnson arrived in Canada in 1776 and was assigned to the British Indian Department. He was sent to the Mohawk community of Akwesasne, or Saint Regis, to be a liaison officer between the British and warriors from the village. This was one of the Seven Nations of Canada, which included the other Mohawk villages of Kahnawake, Kanesetake, and Oswegatchie as well as Lorette, Wolinak, and Odanak made up of different nations. These villages generally sided with the British during the war, but even here some individuals supported the American cause. Warriors from Akwesasne joined the British invasion of New York in 1777, and Johnson accompanied them, carrying this diary.

In the journal, Johnson recorded his lessons from the “Aimable Miss Margaret Byron,” the daughter of a French trader, in both French and Mohawk. He learned the very basics of the language: simple phrases, numbers, days of the week, and months of the year, which were rendered in phonetic spellings. Even these simple phrases and words allowed for a measure of communication between these allies.

Johnson and the warriors from Akwesasne were engaged at the Battle of Bennington on August 16, 1777. The Natives were able to escape the British defeat, but Johnson and his diary were captured. The diary remained in the hands of his captors and their descendants until donated to Fort Ticonderoga in 1963.

Engraved portrait of Major-General John Sullivan

John Sullivan (1740-1795) was never the most charismatic or successful American general. He briefly commanded the collapsing Canadian Army in 1776 and was captured at the Battle of Long Island. He returned from captivity bearing British offers to negotiate, which were received poorly. He commanded the army assigned to cooperate with the French in Rhode Island in 1778 before finally being assigned to lead the main force sent against Iroquoia. Sullivan’s was the largest of three American armies that attacked Iroquoia and Sullivan remains most associated with the destruction that resulted.

General Washington’s orders to Sullivan made clear that “The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more.” He provided a window for negotiations, but only after Iroquoia was destroyed, using the destruction of homes and crops as a prod to sue for peace. While the campaign devastated the heartland of Iroquoia, it ultimately failed to destroy the Haudenosaunee people.

Click to Toggle Transcript

John Sullivan (1740-1795) was never the most charismatic or successful American general. He briefly commanded the collapsing Canadian Army in 1776 and was captured at the Battle of Long Island. He returned from captivity bearing British offers to negotiate, which were received poorly. He commanded the army assigned to cooperate with the French in Rhode Island in 1778 before finally being assigned to lead the main force sent against Iroquoia. Sullivan’s was the largest of three American armies that attacked Iroquoia and Sullivan remains most associated with the destruction that resulted.

General Washington’s orders to Sullivan made clear that “The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more.” He provided a window for negotiations, but only after Iroquoia was destroyed, using the destruction of homes and crops as a prod to sue for peace. While the campaign devastated the heartland of Iroquoia, it ultimately failed to destroy the Haudenosaunee people.

Benjamin Lodge’s Cane

The Continental Army that marched into Iroquoia used not only fire and sword, but also less obvious weapons to wage war against the Haudenosaunee. Surveyors accompanied the American army as part of the Continental Army’s Department of Geographers. They were commanded by Captain Benjamin Lodge, who owned this cane. Their purpose was to survey Iroquoia. The Six Nations had discouraged surveys of their land, which could only be a prelude to settlement. During the war, mapping had a military value, but in the case of Iroquoia it was also clearly a way to claim territory. Re-framing what land meant was intended to assist future American settlement once the land was cleared of its Native inhabitants.

Lodge conducted surveying operations throughout the campaign. This work was targeted by Haudenosaunee warriors, who hit the relatively unarmed surveying parties on occasion, including one attack on September 13, 1779 that nearly captured Lodge and his lightly-armed party. As the United States pushed further into Indian Country after the American Revolution, military forces and surveyors frequently worked together to restructure and claim Native land.

Click to Toggle Transcript

The Continental Army that marched into Iroquoia used not only fire and sword, but also less obvious weapons to wage war against the Haudenosaunee. Surveyors accompanied the American army as part of the Continental Army’s Department of Geographers. They were commanded by Captain Benjamin Lodge, who owned this cane. Their purpose was to survey Iroquoia. The Six Nations had discouraged surveys of their land, which could only be a prelude to settlement. During the war, mapping had a military value, but in the case of Iroquoia it was also clearly a way to claim territory. Re-framing what land meant was intended to assist future American settlement once the land was cleared of its Native inhabitants.

Lodge conducted surveying operations throughout the campaign. This work was targeted by Haudenosaunee warriors, who hit the relatively unarmed surveying parties on occasion, including one attack on September 13, 1779 that nearly captured Lodge and his lightly-armed party. As the United States pushed further into Indian Country after the American Revolution, military forces and surveyors frequently worked together to restructure and claim Native land.

To view more information about the objects in this exhibit, visit the Ticonderoga Online Collections Database!