Oneida Indian Towns and Villages

Oneida. One of the chief and first town, known villages of the Oneida people, and which within historical times has been removed to several new situations. It seems to have been originally a town of the Wolf clan, for it is so enumerated in the Chant of Welcome of the Condolence Council of the League of the Iroquois; the Wolf clan constituted one of the two phratries in the tribal council of the Oneida. Arent Van Curler, who visited this town in 1634, wrote that it was situated on a high hill and defended by two rows of palisades; in the ramparts were two gates, one on the west side, over which were standing “3 wooden images, of cut (carved?) wood, like men,” adorned with 3 scalps, and the other, on the east side, adorned with only one scalp; the western gate was 3½ ft wide, while the other was only 2 ft. He wrote that this palisade was 767 paces in circumference, and that within it were 66 lodges, much better, higher, and more finished than all those others we saw.” Those seen by Van
Curler and his companions were the Mohawk castles. Of the first Mohawk castle Van Curler wrote: “There stood but 36 houses, in rows like streets, so that we could pass nicely. The houses are made and covered with bark of trees, and mostly flat at the top. Some are 100, 90, or 80 paces long, and 22 or 23 ft high.  The houses were full of corn that they lay in store, and we saw maize; yes, in some houses more than 300 bushels.” His description of the third Mohawk castle, then called Sohanidisse, or Rehanadisse, follows: “On a very high hill stood 32 lodges, like the other ones. Some were 100, 90, or 80 paces long; in every lodge we saw 4, 5, or 6 fireplaces where cooking went on.” Some of the lodges were finished with wooden fronts, painted with all sorts of beasts, and in some of them were found very good axes, French shirts, coats, and razors, and lodges were seen where “60, 70 and more dried salmon were hanging.” While in the Oneida castle Van Curler witnessed the conclusion of a temporary peace compact between the Oneida and the French Indians for purposes of trade for four years. To this he gave the name “Castle Enneyuttehage, or Sinnekens.” The Oneida, the Onondaga, and the Cayuga were named respectively Onneyatte, Onondaga, and Koyockure (for Koyockwe), which indicates that the tribal divisions of the Iroquois were well known to the narrator at this period. This town was probably on one of the early Oneida village sites in the upper valley of Oneida creek, not far from Oriskany creek, and according to Van Curler’s estimate, 75 or 80 miles west of the Mohawk castle of Tenotoge (Tionontogen?); it was situated on the east side of Oneida creek, and Van Curler saw north west of it, on the left bank of the creek, ” tremendously high land that seemed to lie in the clouds.” Just before reaching the castle he saw three graves, “just like our graves in length and height; usually their graves are round.” These graves were surrounded with palisades, nicely closed up, and painted red, white, and black. The grave of a chief had all entrance, and at the top there was ” a big wooden bird, and all around were painted dogs, and deer, and snakes, and other beasts. Such was the chief Oneida town of 1634.
     While with the Oneida Van Curler witnessed apparently a part of the New Year
ceremonials of the Iroquois, which he regarded as so much foolery.”
     According to Greenhalgh, who visited the Oneida in 1677, they had only one town, ” newly settled, double stockadoed,” containing about 100 houses and 200 warriors, situated 20 (sic) miles from Oneida creek and 30 miles south of Mohawk river; it had but little cleared land, “so that they are forced to send to ye Onondago’s to buy corne.” This village, therefore, was not situated on the site visited by Van Curler. In Aug. 1696 a principal town of the Oneida was burned by Vaudreuil, a lieutenant of Count Frontenac.
     In 1756 Sir William Johnson (N. Y. Doc. Col. Hist., vii, 101, 1856) employed the name Onawaraghhare to designate a place regarded as suitable for the erection of a fort, thus showing that at that time there was a village called “Canowaroghere.” In 1762 Lieut. Guy Johnson, starting from German Flats, visited the Oneida (N. Y. Doc. Col. Hist., vii, 512, 1856). The first town reached he called ” Upper Oneida Castle,” and also simply “Oneida.” Thence he went to “Canowaroghere, a new village of the Oneidas.” On Sauthier’s map of Jan. 1, 1779, 3 Oneida villages are placed in the valley of Oneida creek:
(1) Old Oneyda Cast(le), placed east of the headwaters of Oneida creek and north of the junction of the trails from Ft Schuyler and from Ft Herkermer;
(2) Canowaroghare, lower down the valley at ‘the junction of the trails from Ft Schuyler and Ft Stanwix, and on the left bank of Oneida creek;
(3) New Oneyda Castle, on the right bank of Oneida creek, at the junction of the trails from his Canowaroghare and from Ft Stanwix, and on the trail leading from Canowaroghare to the Royal Blockhouse on Wood creek. Two of these, if not all of them, were contemporary. In 1774 the Montauk Indians were to be settled at Canowaroghare. At Oneida in 1667 was founded the mission of Saint François Xavier.
     In a note attached to the original of a Paris document of 1757 (N. Y. Doc. Hist., 1, 526, 1849) the “great Oneida village” is said to be “two leagues from the Lake,” and that within it the English had constructed a “picket Fort with four bastions,” which however had been destroyed by the Oneida in pursuance of a promise made by them to the Marquis de Vaudreuil. This note adds that a second Oneida village, called “the little village,” was situated “on the bank of the Lake.”
     It is thus seen that the site and the name have shifted from place to place, but were restricted to the valleys of Oneida creek and upper Oriskany creek. The name Canowaroghare is the modern name of the city of Oneida and of the Indian settlement situated about 2 miles south, in Madison county, N. Y. In 1666-68 (Jes. Rel., Thwaites ed., x.x, 121, 1899) Father Bruyas wrote that ” Onneiout” was situated on an eminence whence a great portion of the surrounding country could be seen, were the environing forest cut away; that “there is no river or lake, except at 5 leagues distant from the town;” that more than half the population was composed of “Algonquin and Hurons,” and that the Oneida had never spoken of peace until within two years. The Oneida have settlements in Canada and in Wisconsin at Green Bay, but these are not towns.

The books presented are for their historical value only and are not the opinions of the Webmasters of the site.   Handbook of American Indians, 1906

Index of Tribes or Nations


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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