The Tuscarora and the Revolutionary War

Wherever the Tuscarora found themselves, it seems that trouble was just around the corner.  Not long after many of the Tuscarora had relocated from North Carolina to New York, sponsored by the Oneida tribe, the Revolutionary War was upon them by 1780.  The British attempted to recruit the Native tribes, generally relatively successfully, by promising them that if they won, they would stop the tide of European settlement.

Lyman Draper (1815-1891), a historian, interviewed a great number of people across the country about the Revolutionary War.  He also collected and preserved letters and other papers dealing with that event and the surrounding people and timeframes.

Among the documents he found was a transcript of a document drawn up in November and December of 1794 relating the losses of the Oneidas and Tuscaroras during the “late war”.

The Oneidas in the document were divided into 3 clans: Wolf, Bear and Turtle.  The Tuscarora were not noted as such.  There were only 8 Tuscaroras, so perhaps they didn’t need to be listed by clan.

There were a total of 79 Oneida claims, 8 Tuscarora claims and 8 “additional claims paid” that list no tribal affiliation.

This document differs somewhat from the War of 1812 veterans list, because in this case, sometimes both the Native name and the European name of the claimant were listed.  Of the 79 Oneida claims, 53 listed Native names, 31 listed European or at least Anglicized names.  Twelve listed both and of those 12, 6 or 7 listed literal translations that may have become surnames.

One listed a translated name, but I’m sure the specific translation did not become a surname.  In this case, the literal translation was given as “Let us go and bathe.”

Only 16 men had fully developed anglicized names, meaning both a first and last name that were clearly recognizable as that, such as Henry Smith.  The man named Silversmith clearly had an anglicized name, and I counted it as a surname, but it not a fully developed name, as no first name is given.

The names with translations include:

  • Cornelius Augh-ne-onh/Big Bear
  • Hlau-istany/Silversmith
  • Paulus Onons-honty/Flying Arm
  • Cornelius tow-ce-ny/Otter
  • Thomas Sauhetaugeaulaus/Whitebeans
  • Mary Da-wau-taw-wangh-hau/Let us go and Bathe
  • This last name may not be a translation, but a description – Paulus Tegaug-swe-aun-gau-lolis (a young hereditary sachem)

There were only 8 Tuscarora in total.  Five had Native names, 2 had fully developed English names, and one I couldn’t tell for sure.

Some people were listed by their translated names only, such as the Widow Grasshopper, Beech Tree’s widow, Leah Whitebeans, Elizabeth of Oriska, Mary, widow of Pine Splitter, Widow Warmweather, Big Bear and John Frenchman.

Following this list of individuals who sustained losses were individualized accounts of those losses which tell us a great deal about how these people were living during this transitional period in their history.

Very popular among the items lost were horses and items relating to horses, then livestock such as cattle and hogs.  We also find many claims for things like axes, kettles, guns, hoes, traps, ammunition and such.

Surprisingly, of the 91 people making claims, 71 people lost at least one house or dwelling.  Some lost more than 1.  These weren’t vacation homes.  People tended to live in nuclear family groups.  Looking at the rest of these lists for the people who lost homes, they look to have lost just about everything else they had too.  This suggests that their village was burned and it’s confirmed that at least some structures burned by a couple of notes within the document.  Later interviews by Lyman Draper confirm that the Indian village of Oriskany was burned.

  • Of the 71 people who lost homes, a total of 79 structures were lost.  Of those we find the following breakdown:
  • Log homes:  1 large, 1 small, 1 with 2 floors, 1 with 3 fireplaces and one noted as “poor” for a total of 5.
  • Bark or Indian houses:  2 large, 5 small and the rest not further described for a total of 46.
  • Framed houses: 5 large and 20 not further described for a total of 25.
  • Barns: 2, one described as large.  These barns were valued about the same as bark homes.
  • One wigwam.

Looking at their list of belongings, the loss of 4 brass sugar kettles tells us that they made maple syrup.  A few people reported the loss of sleighs.  One man noted that he lost 60 dollars in silver armbands “as they buy them of the traders.”  This was a great amount of money at that time.  A hewed log house was only valued at 20 dollars.  One man noted that he had a bark house, but that it was roofed, framed and sealed inside with board nails which cost him 5 dollars.  That house was only worth 8 dollars altogether, even with his $5 worth of nails.  One bark house had 2 plank beds and 2 fireplaces.

One lady, Good Peter’s widow listed 4 sitting chairs, 2 large brass kettles and 30 table pewter spoons, a set of knives and a fork.  This lady was very well to do, comparatively speaking.

John Sken-en-do had a very large framed house with a chimney at each end, painted windows and a large framed barn that was not yet finished.  This house was worth $44 and the barn, $15.  He also lists 2 large pewter dishes, a pewter basin, 2 rugs and a large looking glass.  Also noted on his list as National Property were half a peck of wampum given at Philadelphia.  On the bottom of his list it was also noted that the large meeting house was burnt.  In the Draper interviews, he is noted as a Tuscarora Chief.

Hon-ye-ry’s widow complained of losing 4 pieces of calico and 1 piece of linen, 6 coverlets and 6 blankets.  She was the only person listing sugar, and she lost 200 pounds of it.  We know this property burned because it says that the corn was burnt in the house.  Interestingly, this list also included 10 pair of leggings and 10 pair ear-bobs.  Were those earbobs worn by men or women?

Losses noted by other people include a framed house “made by white people about 18 or 20 feet square – gave a horse and a cow for the frame and outside work.”  One “pole house” was noted as having “plained beems.”

Many lived in houses noted as bark or Indian houses. One noted that their bark house had “good door things.”  Some “Indian houses” were noted as being small, but some apparently were not.  One Indian house had 3 fireplaces.

Peter S-hau-lu-tau-gau-wau’s children note that he lost  a pewter teapot and 6 cups and saucers.  Not hardly the picture of Native people from that time period we carry around in our minds.

Christian, Senior lived in a small bark house that was “well furnished” and the most remarkable item he lost was a large brass kettle.  Aside from that, his only possessions were a small brass kettle, a broad axe, 2 small axes, 2 hoes, a bake pan and a hand saw.  His presumed son, Christian, the Younger, is listed next and is the only person living in a wigwam.  However, in his wigwam, he had a large brass kettle, 4 hoes, 3 axes, 2 pewter basins and 2 swine.  I’m thinking that the swine might not have lived in the wigwam with him.  Whoever heard of pewter in a wigwam?  There has to be a story in here someplace yearning to be told.

One man who didn’t lose his house lost instead 6 silver breastplates, 5 armbands and 2 pair of leggings, one of which was scarlet, along with 2 new blankets and 3 shirts.

The Oneida Chief in 1780 was Lodwick Gaghsaweda and his list was quite interesting.  He too lost his frame house and household items such as kettles and tongs.  However, he also lost a pleasure sleigh in addition to a burden sleigh.  He is the only person to have listed 2 candlesticks and those were valued at $8 so I’m presuming that they were pewter.  He also listed a brass headed shovel and tongs, probably for the fireplace.  Some other households listed tongs, but none were brass.

Another man says that his house was well furnished, partly in the English manner. Only one person listed a prayer book.  Two people, both women, each listed half of a framed house, which makes me wonder if they were co-owners.  They are not listed together.

One man listed his set of door hinges.  Another man apparently forgot a few things the first time, like his red leggings and his 15 pairs of door hinges when he filed a second lit.

The widdow of Peter Thanyentayen notes that she had a “well finished frame house and store with a cellar walled with stone.”  Another widow who also had a framed house listed separately 10 panes of window glass.

Paul Tehonwatase notes the things he lost and then demands compensation for his “part and activity in the late war,’ stating he has a “wife and 3 children whom expects to be clothed.”

Opportunists apparently existed then as well.  A note exists that one claimant was a “young fellow who could have had no property” and that he “came here 2 years before the war ended.”  His list of claimed losses is then shown and is extensive, including 100 broaches and 15 ear bobs.  He also claims to have lost 3 belts of black wampum, 3 fingers wide and very long.

Other information emerging from this list is also interesting.  There is an entry that says “Sken-en-do – money borrowed by Col. Pickering.”  There are two very interesting pieces of information here.  First, that Col. Pickering was borrowing money from an Indian and secondly, it appears that the later surname Shenandoah, Skenandoah, Scando and even Canada began as a Native name, Sken-en-do, and was never translated, simply smoothed out to something that would easily roll of English tongues.

Naming patterns are not yet evident for the most part.  Beech Tree’s Widow mentions her son Cornelius Shagoratharse and another son, Joseph Kagh-nyonaughque.  We do find Christian, Senior, followed by Christian, the Younger, living in his wigwam.  One might infer that “the Younger” is the son of “Senior,” but that’s surely not a given understanding that these tribes were maternal.  We do know, thanks to the Draper interviews, that the sons of Jacob Doxtator, an Oneida Chief who was born about 1764, did take their father’s surnames.

This list of items lost gives us a rare glimpse of their life on the reservation in 1780, just a few years after the majority of the Tuscarora tribe left North Carolina.  Surprisingly, none of the Tuscarora noted in this document share surnames with the Tuscarora who signed deeds before leaving North Carolina in the 1770s.

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About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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5 Responses to The Tuscarora and the Revolutionary War

  1. tiffany fox says:

    Who is my grandmothers grandmother?
    I’m part oneida. My grand mothers grand mother ran from the oneida’s long ago and never said why.all she would say was to never speak of the indians because they will take her and her children away. My grandmothers dieng wish is to finally know the truth about her grandmother. Can u help me?

  2. Melissa says:

    Do you know of Native descendants who fought in the Revolutionary War? Can you provide a way for me to contact them? Thank you.

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