The Tutelo of Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and Canada

In the document, A Tutelo Heritage: An Ethnoliterary Assessment of Chief Samuel Johns’ Correspondence with Dr. Frank G. Speck, Jay Hansford C. Vest discussed the letters themselves and then elaborates on their meaning. 

I have gone through this document and extracted what I feel to be especially meaningful and relevant, adding further information and some thoughts of my own.

Frank Speck was particularly interested in Chief Samuel Johns, among other reasons, because he seemed to be the last remaining discernible Tutelo.  Judging from the warmth in Chief Johns letters, the two men formed a friendship.

These letters were written in 1934 and 1935.  Johns discussed his Tutelo heritage and how he obtained it.  Johns tells Speck about Tutelo country along the east branch of the Susquehanna River near present day Athens, Pa.  Johns was at one time during this exchange going to write a “short history of our people” but apparently that was never completed.  Chief Johns was 77 during this timeframe, so born about 1857.  His wife was age 72.

Another elderly Tutelo speaker, an Indian named Nikungha, was supposed to be the last survivor of the Tutelo and had died in the late 1800s.  A man named Horatio Hale documented Nikumgha and in an 1883 report wrote that the Tutelo were among several tribes speaking a Dakota language in Virginia and the Carolinas when encountered by European explorers.  Said to be of the Monacan Confederacy the most closely allied tribes with the Tutelo were the Saponi, Keyauwee, Occaneechi and Eno or Schoicories, according to John Lawson (1709).

Mooney informs us that until 1670, these Monacan tribes had been “little disturbed by whites,” although they were given to much shifting about due to “the wars waged against them by the Iroquois.”  Initial contacts with colonial explorers and the Nahyssans, Yesang and Sapponi began in the 1670s with the German physician-explorer John Lederer as well as the trade oriented Batts and Fallam expedition. It was, apparent, however, that independent Indian traders had already made commercial and social inroads among the central Virginia tribes.

By the time of Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, the Nahyssan tribes had begun to ally themselves together in close association near their Occaneechi confederates on a series of islands in the presently known Roanoke River near contemporary Clarksville, Virginia.

Prompted to this defensive strategy by their implacable enemies from the north, the Iroquois, the Nahyssans were forced to seek security in treaty alliance with the Virginia colony.  By 1685 Iroquois raids directed at the Tutelos in Virginia triggered the colonial governor of Virginia, Lord Howard of Effingham, to treat with the Hodenosaunee at Albany. The Iroquois had been harassing the Tutelos, who were under the supervision and protection of Virginia, with the intent of driving them “into the Covenant Chain as direct tributaries of the Five Nations rather than through the intermediation of Virginia.”

Lord Howard’s treaty concluded with a pledge from the Iroquois to stay behind the mountains and beyond the Virginia settlements, however, the Hodenosaunee “demanded that the Virginians send one of their allied tribes to become an Iroquois tributary.”  While Lord Howard assumed he had secured the League’s agreement to halt their wars upon the Virginia tribal tributaries, including the Tutelos, it was by no means settled and the Iroquois continued to raid the Nahyssans.

In 1719, Governor Spotswood of Virginia opened negotiations with the governors of New York and Pennsylvania to secure a peace, stating that the Iroquois were “threatening to come in greater numbers to fall upon the English of the colony and so cut off and destroy the Sapponie Indians.”

Continuing the attacks, the Iroquois launched an attack upon a visiting delegation of Catawba leaders who were camped outside the fort at Christanna as invited guests of the Virginia government.

In 1729, when renewing the covenant of 1685, the Iroquois presented a Wampum belt to Spotswood and then asked for permission to exterminate the Totero [Tutelo], a term the Iroquois used to identify the NC and SC Siouian tribes. 

For the most part, the enmity between the Iroquois and the Tutelo was extinguished by the 1722 Treaty of Albany.  In those negotiations, the Iroquois said:

“Though there is among you a nation, the Todirichones, against whom we have had so inveterate an enmity that we thought it could only be extinguished by their total extirpation, yet, since you desire it, we are willing to receive them into this peace, and to forget all the past.”

After this treaty, the Tutelos placed themselves under the protection of the Six Nations or Hodenosaunee and moved northward across Virginia to Shamokin, present-day Sunbury, Pennsylvania, at the forks of the Susquehanna River.

At Shamokin, the Tutelo together with several Algonquian tribes including the Delaware, Munsee-Mahican, Nanticoke, Conoy, and later the Shawnee were collectively brought under the governance of an Oneida Chieftain, Shikellamy, who served as viceroy for the Iroquois conquered lands and peoples in the Susquehanna region.  By September 1753, during the great Council of the Six Nations held at Onondaga, the Cayugas resolved to “strengthening their castle’ by taking in the Tedarighroones.”

Tutelo sovereignty within the Hodenosaunee begins with the Oneida viceroy Shikellany whose second wife whom he married before October 1748 was Tutelo.  He died before the Tutelo were admitted to the Iroquois League. 

Following this induction into the Hodenosaunsee, the Great League of the Iroquois or Six Nations, the Tutelo joined their Cayuga sponsors at the South end of Cayuga Lake near Ithaca, New York. Opposite the present Buttermilk Falls State Park, the Tutelo town was known as Coreorgonel.

In 1779, during the Revolutionary War, the Tutelo followed Mohawk leader Joseph Brant onto the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario, seeking sanctuary.  At that point there were 200 Tutelo living on the western bank of the Grand River on the reserve. 

In 1832, Asiatic cholera destroyed the majority of the tribe and in 1848 following a second outbreak, the Tutelo ceased to be recognized as a nation.  A few survivors fled  and lived among the Cayuga.  Today, all that remains in Brantford is the suburb in the location where the Tutelo lived, named Tutelo Heights.

By 1870, Nikonha, “mosquito,” was the only Tutuelo thought to be living.  Nikonha’s father, Onusoqa was a chief of the Tutelo and his mother died when he was young. He was raised by an uncle whose name is unrecorded.

Hale reported that at the time he was recording events, there were several “half-castes, children of Tutelo mothers by Iroquois fathers who know the language and by native law are held to be Tutelo.” 

One eventually sat in the council as the representative of the Tutelo.  This man had a sense of humor.  The leaders in council were allowed to address the group in their Native language, with the translators being responsible for translating it for any who did not speak that language.  Knowing that the translators, nor anyone else could speak or understand the language, he would occasionally assert his right and amuse his fellow “senators” by lecturing in his Native language, even though his constituency was long gone.

Hale did not say who this man was, but a contemporary of “Old Mosquito” was a man named John Tutela or Gohe, “Panther” in Cayuga who died in 1888 at the age of 100.  Another elderly man, John Key, also spoke the old language and survived until 1989 when he died at 78 years of age.  It was said he “lived without kith or kin or anyone who could speak his own language.”

In 1885 additional information on the Tutelo was provided by the Cayuga Chief, James Monture and confirmed by Chief John Buck, the Firekeeper of the Nix Nations Reserve.  Buck was the Tutelo Tribal Chief and representative in the Six Nations Council until his death in 1935. 

Montura and Buck said that “all four,” meaning the Tuscarora, Delaware, Tutelo and Nanticoke, “were in a destitute condition when they were sheltered under the spreading branches of the “Tree of the Great Peace’.”

In a 1935 letter, Chief Samuel Johns tells Speck that when he was young “no English language could I speak.”  Elsewhere, Vest discussed that the Chief’s wife is actually translating and writing in English and that the Chief still doesn’t speak English, either well or perhaps at all.  This is quite surprising for 1935, but perhaps more reflective of 1857 when the Chief was born.  Even more surprising is that a female born in that same timeframe (1862) could indeed write. 

Chief Johns asked Speck about the tribal history and specifically, “Were there no treaties?” meaning in Virginia.  While the Chief is a Six Nations citizen, he is still in his mind and culturally also Tutelo and wants to know more about his tribal origins, before the history that he has available though oral traditions.  However, elsewhere Speck refers to “Samuel Johns, a Munsee at Middlemass, Ontario,” so there are many ways for both Native and non-Native people to identify someone within a Native culture and political organization. 

The Chief tells Speck that his father was Delaware and his mother was Tutelo.  His father’s Indian name was (Ka per josh) which means Naughty and the Chief says that he too goes by that name. 

Vest says that by referring to the Grand River census records, it appears that there are two bands of Tutelo.   A “Lower Tutelo” band and an “Upper Band,” both of which probably had Chiefs.  It appears that both John Tutela and John Key were Tutelo Council Chiefs and one of these offices passed to Samuel Johns, perhaps via his father and John Buck.  John Buck’s paternal grandfather was a chief names Ohyogeway who died about 1830.

Another man, “old John Hoskins” died about 1870 at an advanced age.  This may have been our old friend. “Old Mosquito.”

In the 1930s, Speck says that there are about 8 families who are Tutelo descendants with a total of about 60 individuals.  These families include Peter Williams (4 children), John Buck (13 children), Mrs. Sanders (one child), Elizabeth Fish, (4 children), Joe Cranbette (a large family of children), Elisha Williams (4 children) and Mrs. Lucy Williams Fish Carrier (8 children). 

Other Tutelo descendants of mixed lineage were also listed among the Six Nations. Among them, Speck reports, a Mrs. James Hess who died June 21, 1938 at eighty-three years, and a “Mrs. Crawford, a Cayuga of the Turtle moiety, and herself of Tutelo descent.” 

According to Speck, another member of the Crawford family named Skagwê died during the summer of 1934 in Missouri. 

Nekatcit, known as Nicodemous Peters, Speck’s Munsee-Mahican-Delaware collaborator, reported an additional man of Tutelo and Delaware ancestry named Wi’ctil who was a favorite leader of the Round Dance during the Delaware Big House Ceremonies.

Subsequently reporting “Sam John[s],” as “a Munsee of Middlemass, Ontario,” Speck neglected to add his correspondent, a self-identified Tutelo, and his two sons, one of whom was deceased, to the report of Tutelo descendants.

Taking all of these bits and pieces, we find that we can perhaps construct something of genealogical relevance and perhaps resurrect the remnants of the Tutelo people from obscurity.

In the above document, several families including thirteen different surnames (bolded) are mentioned as being Tutelo descendants.  Looking at 1917 Draft Registration Records in the US, we find that for the John(s) surname, there are 8 Indians registered in Erie Co., NY and 17 in Cattaraugus Co., NY.  Williams is represented by 12 individuals in Erie, Niagara and Suffolk Counties.  One Fish person is found in Genesee Co.  Otherwise, none are found in 1917.  However, several are found in the War of 1812 records.  So indeed it appears that Tutelo blood indeed still runs in the veins of people in New York and Canada, and likely elsewhere as well. 

It would certainly be interesting to see how closely these descendants genetically match the people from Amherst and Rockbridge Counties in Virginia who also appear to be descended from Tutelo roots.


About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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2 Responses to The Tutelo of Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and Canada

  1. Nora P says:

    This has been my favorite report to date. Please keep us informed if you find anything more about the Tutelo. This reminds me of the presentation you gave of the various Native American tribes at one of the FTDNA conferences. I think it would be great to somehow document their history so it is not lost, and do that for other tribes as well. Great job as usual, Roberta!

  2. LOVE THIS REPORT!! Can’t wait to hear more.

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