Oneida Chief Skenandoah

Oskanondonha, known as Skenandoah, the Oneida War Chief also known as “the Deer” was born, according to tradition, to the Susquehannock and was adopted into the Wolf Clan of the Oneida.  He eventually became the War Chief, a position chosen on the basis of merit and ability, not heredity.  During the French and Indian War, he led war parties against the French.

By 1770, Skenandoah was the principal leader of Oneida Castle, a major Oneida settlement.  Samuel Kirkland, an American missionary succeeded in converting Skenandoah to Christianity, at which point, he took the first name of John.

During this timeframe, Skenandoah had an life-changing experience with alcohol.  In 1775, while on an official visit to Albany on behalf of his people, he was given liquor by his so-called friends. He became drunk and the next morning found himself in the gutter along one of Albany’s streets. Everything of value had been taken from him including most of his clothes and his chieftainship regalia. He was so chagrined and humiliated that he resolved never again to become intoxicated, a determination from which nothing could ever move him. On one occasion he said to his people. “Drink no firewater of the white man. It makes you mice for the white men who are cats. Many a meal they have eaten of you.”

Known always as a friend to the white man, he fought bravely and valiantly on the side of the Americans during the Revolutionary War and played a key role in the decision of the Oneida to support the Americans.  He arranged for 700 bushels of corn to be delivered to Valley Forge during the horrible winter of 1777/78, saving many lives.  Unfortunately, his support of the Americans cost the Oneida their homes, as Oneida Castle was destroyed in 1780.

Skenandoah travel by snowshoe carrying  a message from the Americans in the dead of winter in 1780 urging the Iroquois to cooperate.  In return the Iroquois refused to accept the wampum belts brought by Skeandoah and other emissaries.  Skenandoah and the others  were held in jail until they agreed to serve the British cause in July 1780.  What followed is uncertain, as there are several variations of the story, but what we do know is that the Skenandoah was returned to the Americans as a result of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784.

Following the war, Skenandoah remained the principal Chief of the Oneida.  Chief Skenandoah lived to be a very elderly man. His age at his death in 1816 was reported to be 110 years old.  His life, unfortunately, nor the fate of his people had a happy ending…all in all a sad testimony to broken promises and betrayal.

Because of all that the Oneidas had done for the cause of the Americans, British troops destroyed their villages, crops and orchards.  Congress applauded the Oneidas for their firmness and integrity, assuring them friendship and protection of their lands.  After the war, their hunting and fishing grounds were invaded by the whites who sent up a clamor and an increasing cry for their removal to the west. The poor, tired Oneidas were not long to enjoy the settlement that they had worked so hard to keep. They were totally averse to moving and leaving their old homelands and the graves of their forefathers. Greedy land speculators, who coveted their lands, won out and it was in 1823 that their removal from New York was decided upon.  Some moved to Canada, but most went and joined the Menominee in Wisconsin.  Their trail to the west was wet by tears as the Oneidas left their beautiful homelands and the graves of their fathers. Old Skenandoah had fought, repeatedly, and died in vain for the white people who would betray him and his people!

Chief Skanandoah is buried in the Hamilton College Cemetery in Clinton, NY.  His people brought him to be buried beside his trusted friend, Samuel Kirkland.

You can read more about Chief Skenandoah here:  http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/sixnations/skenandoahs_grave.htm

For a picture of the boulder that marks the last home of Chief Skanandoah, look here:  http://grannysu.blogspot.com/2012/03/skenandoahs-stone.html

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About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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