The Iroquois or Six Nations

Important Characters and Events of the Eighteenth Century

During the long and bloody wars between the English and French, the Six Nations were continually involved in hostilities, occupying, as they did, a position between the contending parties. To describe all the part they took in these transactions, would be to give a history of the war. This is far from our purpose to undertake, and, in bringing down events to the period of the American Revolution, we shall bestow but a passing notice upon some of the more prominent incidents in which the Iroquois, as a nation, or distinguished individuals of their tribe, bore a conspicuous part.


Joseph Brant, Thayendanagea, (as he usually signed himself,) was born in the year 1742. It has been a matter much disputed whether he was a half-breed, or of pure Indian descent, and also whether he was entitled to the dignity of a chief by birth, or rose to it by his own exertions. His biographer, Stone, pronounces him to have been the son of “Tehowaghwengaraghkwin, a full-blooded Mohawk, of the Wolf tribe.” His parents resided in the valley of the Mohawk, but were upon an expedition to the Ohio River when Joseph was born. Young Brant was early taken under the patronage of Sir William Johnson, the English colonial agent for Indian affairs, under whose command he gained his first knowledge and experience of military affairs. Many have expressed the opinion that Brant was a son of Sir William; but we can account for their mutual interest in each other s welfare upon other grounds than those of natural affection. Sir William Johnson was idolized by the whole Mohawk tribe for the favor and respect, which he had shown them, and for his princely hospitality. With the family of Brant he was more closely connected by a union with Molly, a sister of Joseph’s, who lived with him as a mistress until his death.

In the year 1755, Brant, then but thirteen years of age, took part with his tribe in the battle at Lake George, where the French, under Baron Dieskaru, were defeated by Sir William Johnson and his forces. Old king Hendrick or Soi-en-ga-rah-ta, the noted sachem of the Mo hawks, perished on this occasion. Hendrick was nearly seventy years of age, but years had not diminished his energy or courage. Historians vie with each other in the praises which they bestow upon the eloquence, bravery, and integrity of this old chief. He was intimate with his distinguished English commander, and it was between them that the amusing contention of dreams occurred, that has been so often narrated. With the Iroquois a dream was held to import verity, insomuch that it must be fulfilled if practicable. Sir William (then general) Johnson had displayed some splendid and costly uniforms before the eyes of his admiring guests, at one of his munificent entertainments. Old Hendrick came to him one morning, shortly afterwards, and gravely affirmed that he had dreamed of receiving one of these gorgeous suits as a present. The general instantly presented it to him, but took the opportunity to retaliate by dreaming of the cession of three thousand acres of valuable land. The sachem was not backward in carrying out his own principles, but at the same time avowed his intention of dreaming no more with one whose dreams were so hard.

To return to young Brant: after accompanying his patron in further campaigns of the bloody French war, he was placed by him, together with several other young Indians, at an institution in Lebanon, Connecticut, called the Moor School, after its founder, to receive an English education. This was about the year 1760. After attaining some proficiency in the first rudiments of literature, which he after wards turned to good account, Brant left the seminary, and again engaged in a life -of active warfare. He was employed in the war with Pontiac and the Ottawa, but the particulars of his services are not handed down to us. In 1765, we find him married, and settled in his own house at the Mohawk valley. Here he spent a quiet and peaceful life for some years, acting as interpreter in negotiations between his people and the whites, and lending his aid to the efforts of the missionaries who were engaged in the work of teaching and converting the Indians. Those who visited his house spoke in high terms of his kindness and hospitality.

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On the death of Sir William Johnson, in June 1774, his son-in-law, Colonel Guy Johnson, held his office as Indian agent; while his son and heir, Sir John Johnson, succeeded to the paternal estates. Colonel Guy continued the favor shown by his father to Brant, and appointed him his secretary.

Cresap’s War

In the spring of this same year a war commenced, the causes of which have been variously represented, but whose consequences were truly disastrous. We allude to the scenes in western Virginia and Pennsylvania, so intimately connected with the names of Logan and Cresap. Colonel Michael Cresap has been, for many years, held up to public odium by nearly every historian, as the cruel and wanton murderer, whose unscrupulous conduct was the sole or principal cause of the bloody Indian war of which we are now to speak, and which is still spoken, of as Cresap’s war. On the other hand, some recent investigations, made public by Mr. Brantz Mayer, of Baltimore, in an address delivered before the Maryland Historical Society, seems to remove no little portion of this responsibility from the shoulders of Cresap, or at least prove that the acts with which his name has been so long associated were not directly attributable to him. He is shown to have been a prudent and cautious man, who exerted his influence to restrain the reckless adventurers under his command from wanton outrages upon the Indians. We shall not attempt to decide upon the question as to how far he was blamable, but give, in few words, the circumstances, which brought about hostilities.

History Of Logan

Logan was the son of Shikellimus, a Cayuga chief, who had removed to the banks of the Susquehanna, and ruled over those of the Iroquois who had settled in that vicinity. Logan himself had attained authority farther to the westward, upon the Ohio, in the Shawanese country. He had ever been of a peaceful disposition, and friendly to the whites.

A party of land-hunters, who had chosen Cresap as their leader, are said to have committed the first direct acts of hostility, in retaliation for a supposed theft of some of their horses. We are told that they fell upon and treacherously murdered several of a party of Indians whom they fell in with, on the bank of the Ohio, below the spot where Wheeling now stands, and that among the slain were some relatives of Logan. With the next rupture, Cresap had certainly no connection. It occurred at a white settlement, thirty or forty miles farther up the river. Two men, named Greathouse and Tomlinson, were the principal leaders in the affair. They had ascertained that the Indians, then encamped on the other side of the river, intended an attack upon the place, in retaliation for the murders committed by Cresap s men. Finding, on examination, that the Indians were too numerous to be safely assaulted in their camp, Greathouse opened a communication with them, and invited them to come and drink and feast at his house. A party of armed whites lay concealed in a separate apartment, and when the Indians became intoxicated, slaughtered the whole number, of both sexes, sparing only one child. A brother and sister of Logan were among the slain. Mr. Mayer s account (in which the scene is laid at the house of “Baker instead of Greathouse,) is as follows:

“The evening before the tragedy, a squaw came over to Baker s, and aroused the attention of the inmates by her tears and manifest distress. For a long time she refused to disclose the cause of her sorrow, but at last, when left alone with Baker s wife, confessed that the Indians had resolved to kill the white woman and her family the next day; but as she loved her, and did not wish to see her slain, she had crossed the river to divulge the plot, so as to enable her friend to escape.” Next day four unarmed Indians, with three squaws and a child, came over to Baker s house, where twenty-one men were concealed, in anticipation of attack, as above mentioned. The party became intoxicated, and Logan’s brother was insulting and abusive: at the same time canoes filled with painted and armed warriors were seen starting from the opposite shore; upon which the massacre commenced as above stated. After this savage murder of women and unarmed men, the whites left the house, and, firing upon the canoes, prevented their landing.

These occurrences, with the death of the old Delaware chief, Bald Eagle, who was causelessly murdered, scalped, and set adrift down the river in his canoe, and the murder of the Shawanees sachem, Silver Heels, brought down the vengeance of the aggrieved parties upon the devoted settlements.

The ensuing summer witnessed terrible scenes of surprise and massacre, the chief mover in which was the injured Logan. Stirred as he was by revenge, the natural kindness of his heart was shown in his disposition towards captives, whom, in various instances, he favored and saved from Indian cruelties.

The hostile tribes were those of the Iroquois who dwelt in the western country, the Shawanees, the Delawares, the Iowas, and other nations of the west. Indecisive skirmishes occupied the summer, and not until the 10th of October was any general engagement brought about. On that day a battle was fought at Point Pleasant, where the Great Kanawha empties into the Ohio, between the combined forces of the Indians, and the Virginia troops, under Colonel Andrew Lewis. Lord Dunmore, governor of Virginia, was to cooperate by a movement upon the other bank of the river, but did not actually take any part in the contest.

The Indians numbered probably over a thousand, and were led by Logan and the great warrior Cornstock. Never had the natives fought more desperately, or made a stand against European troops with more determined firm ness. They had prepared a sort of breast-work, behind which they maintained their position, in spite of the repeated charges of the whites, until night. They were at last driven from their works by a company detached to fall upon their rear, and, crossing the Ohio, the survivors re treated westward.

At Chilicothe, on the Sciota, the chiefs held a grand consultation; and their principal warrior, Cornstock, seeing that the rest were determined upon no certain plan of proceeding, expressed his own intention of concluding a peace, lie accordingly sought Lord Dunmore, who was approaching the camp on the Sciota, and brought about a series of conferences, whereby hostilities were for the time stayed.

Logan would take no part in these negotiations; he is reported to have said that “he was yet like a mad dog; his bristles were up, and were not yet quite fallen; but the good talk then going forward might allay them.” A messenger was sent by Lord Dunmore to strive to appease him, and it was upon that occasion that the Indian chief delivered himself of those eloquent expressions that have attained such a world-wide celebrity. He walked into the woods with Gibson, who had been sent to visit him, and, seating himself upon a log, “burst into tears,” and gave utterance to his feelings in these words, as they were written down and reported at the time:

“I appeal to any white man to say if ever he entered Logan’s cabin hungry, and he gave him not meat; if ever he came cold and naked, and he clothed him not? During the course of the last long and bloody war, Logan remained idle in his camp, an advocate for peace. Such was my love for the whites, that my countrymen pointed as I passed, and said, “Logan is the friend of the white man! I had even thought to have lived with you, but for the in juries of one man. Colonel Cresap, the last spring, in cold blood and unprovoked, murdered all the relations of Logan, not even sparing my women and children. There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature. This called on me for revenge. I have sought it. I have killed many. I have fully glutted my vengeance. For my country, I rejoice at the beams of peace; but do not harbor a thought that mine is the joy of fear. Logan never felt fear. He will not turn on his heel to save his life. Who is there to mourn for Logan? Not one!”

The subsequent history of this renowned warrior is soon told. He led a wandering, intemperate life for several years, and took part in the wars at the west in 1779 and 1780. He is described as having become melancholy and wretched in the extreme, and as being deprived of the full use of his reason by the pernicious habit of indulging in strong drink. He came to his death in the latter year under singular circumstances. He had, as he supposed, killed his wife during a fit of intoxication, and fled from Detroit, where he had been present at an Indian council, to evade the punishment awarded by the native code. On his way towards Sandusky, he fell in with a large party of Indians, among whom was a relative of his, named Tod-kah-dohs, and whom he took to be the one appointed to avenge the murder. According to Mr. Mayer’s account, “rashly bursting forth into frantic passion, he exclaimed, that the whole party should fall beneath his weapons. Tod-kah-dohs, seeing their danger, and observing that Logan was well armed, told his companions that their only safety was in getting the advantage of the desperate man by prompt action. Whilst leaping from his horse, to execute his dreadful threat, Tod-kah-dohs levelled a shot gun within a few feet of the savage, and killed him on the spot.”

It may well be supposed the whole of the Iroquois tribe should have been roused to indignation by the occurrence, which we have described, and in which some of their own brethren had borne so conspicuous a part. We are told that this was the case with all of them except the Oneidas, and that disaffection towards the colonies had become general among the western tribes.

Brownell, Charles De Wolf. Indian Races of North and South America: Comprising an account of the principal aboriginal races; a description of their national customs, mythology, and religious ceremonies, the history of their most powerful tribes, and of their most celebrated chiefs and warriors; their intercourse and wars with the European settlers; and a great variety of anecdote and description, illustrative of personal and national character. Hartford, Conn., Chicago,E. B. & R.C. Treat; [etc., etc.]: Hurlbut, Scranton & Co. 1864.

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