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The Iroquois confederacy : its political system, military system, marriages, divorces, property rights, etc online

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The ,

Iroquois Confederacy








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The Druid age of England was its age of heroic vir-
tues. There was no literature there then, no laws, no
prisons, and, substantially, no crime. Withal, this age
produced the elements of England's present grandeur
in everything that pertains to this age. But during
this age, there was an influence at work in pagan
Greece destined to act as schoolmaster to the English
people to produce such a result.

The Iroquois Nation, who inhabited the present
state of New York previous to the advent of white
men, may be compared in some respects to the
ancient Druids of England. They had their heroic
virtues and their traditional literature. They had
their unwritten laws; with penalties for the transgres-
sion of them, which could| not be^evaded. Their politi-
cal wisdom laid the foundation for their nationality on
a similar plan to that which has been practiced by
European nations. ' They were justly called the
" Romans of the New World," and their influence upon
our colonial system and upon its ultimate destinies is
manifest in its political and financial system. It is an
interesting study to arrive at the facts, how this
remarkable people rose to so much prominence as to
foreshadow a financial and political policy that is with
us now.

RuFUS Blanchard.
Chicago, October, 1902.


Of the three nations who first beg-an the settle-
ments of North America, the Spanish was the first ;
they settled at St. Augustine in Florida in 1565. The
French was the next ; they settled at Port Royal (now
Annapolis) on the Bay of Fundy in 1604, also at Quebec
on the St. Lawrence river in 1608. The English settled
at Jamestown on the James river in 1607, and at Ply-
mouth in 1620. Of these nations the Spanish was the
only one that disregarded the force and influence of
the aborigines of the soil, making no attempt at any
political alliance with them ; and it is doubtless due to
this- hauteur and the intolerant disposition that pro-
duced it, that Spain lost all her possessions on this
continent soon after she came into juxtaposition with
the French or the English colonists. Both of these two
latter nations were circumspectful in their demeanor
toward the natives, and each took early measures to
form alliances with them. Neither of them at first had
any knowledge of the vast extent and value of the great
interior of North America. Fortunately for the Eng-
lish, their interests became identified with the Iroquois
confederacy from the first ; and unfortunately for the
French, they became the enemies of this confederacy
by having allied themselves to the Adirondacks and
other tribes of Canada contiguous to their settlements,
which tribes were enemies of the Iroquois.

The Dutch exploration of the Hudson river bears
the date of 1609, and their first settlement at Fort

8 Infltience of the Iroquois on the United States.

Orange (now Albany) the date of 1615. From thence-
forward there was an unremitting rivalry in the fur
trade between the Dutch of the Hudson river and the
French of the St. Lawrence river. When the English,
under the duke of York, took possession of New
Amsterdam (now New York) in 1664, and of the entire
Hudson river country with this conquest, none of the
conditions existing between the Iroquois confederacy
and the Dutch were changed ; but, on the contrary,
commercial relations consisting of an exchange of furs
and peltries on one side and firearms and trinkets
on the other continued the alliance of their interests,
and strengthened their friendship. Pending this
increasing friendliness between the English and the
Iroquois, the French were almost constantly at war
with this powerful confederacy ; sometimes to defend
their Canadian allies and sometimes to defend even
themselves from Iroquois invasion. One of the first
acts of French hostility against the Iroquois had
place soon after Champlain had settled Quebec in 1608,
at which time he unwittingly consented to lead a party
of his allies against their old time foes, the Iroquois,
and met them the next year, 1609, on the banks of
Lake Champlain, defeating them in battle, the Indian
weapons— bows and arrows— being insufficient to match
the firearms of the French. Later, in 1615, Champlain,
at the head of a small company of French soldiers,
joined some Hurons in an expedition against the Sene-
cas, one of the five Iroquois nations south of Lake
Ontario. Proceeding into the enemy's country to the
neighborhood of Lake Canandaigua, he discovered a
fort occupied by the enemy, which he attacked after
some skirmishes with the enemy outside of its inclos-
ure, accompanied with losses in killed and wounded on
both sides. The French attack against this fort lasted
three hours, and resulted in the wounding of a few
French soldiers and more of the Huron allies. Cham-
plain himself had received three painful, but not

Influence of the Iroquois on the United States.


dangerous, wounds, when the French and their allies
retreated. This Indian fort was a masterpiece of
workmanship for defense, so built as to shield its de-
fenders from attack, its barricades being about thirty
feet high. As will be seen in the picture of it, here-
with presented, the French had built a platform on


trestle work as high as the fort, and twenty stalwart
men carried this platform from where it was built to its
walls. From its height, which commanded the inside
ground of the fort, sharpshooters were stationed ; but
the foes were concealed behind ingenious constructions
of woodwork in the fort itself.

10 Influence of the Iroquois on the United States.

The most characteristic name ever given to the
Iroquois confederacy was the "Romans of the New

This confederacy first consisted of the Mohawks,
the Onondag-as, the Senecas, the Oneidas, the Cayugas!
In 1715 the Tuscaroras, a tribe from North Carolina
who spoke the same language, were admitted into the
confederacy. How this tribe, who were evidently of
Iroquois stock, had wandered to that place is not
known, but it is known that they had been hard pressed
by the neighboring tribes in that vicinity, and naturally
drifted toward their kinsfolk, the Iroquois, for protec-
tion. They were admitted into the league as a con-
stituent tribe on terms of equality and independence,
except that they were not allowed to be represented
in the general council of sachems.


The Six Nations of the Iroquois,^ including the
Tuscaroras, were subdivided into 4*=i^esf wliich were
arranged in two divisions, and named as follows :

Wolf, Bear, Beaver, Turtle.

Deer, Snipe, Heron, Hawk.

The Senecas had eight tribes, the .Ca5aigas eight,
the Tuscaroras seven, the Onondagas eight, the Oneidas
three and the Mohawks three. By the original laws of
the league, neither of these tribes could intermarry.
Either of the first four tribes could intermarry with
either of the last four. When a young man went to
another tribe for a wife, the mothers of the lovers
respectively must negotiate for the marriage. These
laws made a still stronger bond in the league. Under
them the husband and wife were of different tribes.
The children always followed the tribe of the mother,
who inherited the property of her deceased husband^
and the value of this property, however small, must
necessarily be entailed to a different tribe from that to
which the deceased husband belonged. The son could
not inherit his father's sachemship or wampum. These

Influence of the Iroquois on the United states. 11

laws of heredity strengthened the socialistic ties of the
different tribes. They were strictly obeyed and could
not be deviated from except under penalty of social
ostracism. Divorces were seldom desired, but if any
inharmony existed between married couples, the
mothers of each party were expected to settle such
differences. In case thev could not be settled amicably
either party was at liberty to break the marriage rela-
tion without censure. . -, • i

In their religion they had no word m their lan-
guage which could express profanity to the Great
Spirit (their deity), whom every one revered with
pious adoration. .

According to the best traditionary testimony, the
Iroquois League or Ho-de-no-sau-nee was formulated
bv Da-ga-no-we-da, one of the wise men of the Onon-
d'aga Nation. Under his eloquent tutelage he induced
the wise men and chiefs of the Iroquois Nations to
hold a "Council Fire" on the northern shore of Onon-
daga lake, where after grave consultation the celebrated
League was entered into. The object of this League
was for mutual protection against other tribes. The
principle involved aimed at an empire, wherewith to
hold the "balance of power," not essentially different
from the doctrine of the balance of power question
which has prevailed for more than a century ^ Europe.
At the formation of the League fifty men noted for their
wisdom were appointed sachems (each tribe bemg rep-
resented), with authority to make all political laws for
the government of the entire Iroquois Nation. The
sachemship was made hereditary, as well as the indi-
vidual title. The ratification of the general council of
all the sachems was necessary at the ceremony of in-
vesting each with his title and confirming his authority.
The sachems were of equal rank, but, like our own rep-
resentative men in congress, their influence was com-
mensurate with their political sagacity and eloquence^
The power of the sachems was found insufficient to

12 Influence of the IroquoU on the United States.

answer the wants of the Nation, and some years after
the founding: of the League the office of "Chiefs" was
instituted, whose authority was given them by the pop-
ular voice according to merit, deserved for some act
Of bravery or for wise counsel. To the chiefs were
assigned military expeditions and council in civil mat-
ters when occasion required it. The council of sachems,
at the raising up of a chief, - substituted a ne-w name
for his original name, appropriate to his qualifications.
The orator '•Red Jacket," when made a chief, was
given the name "Sa-go-ye-wat-ha "-"Keeper Awake "
in appreciation of his powers of eloquence, instead of
his original name, "0-te-ti-an-i"- "Always Ready."
The foregoing tribal relations to the entire League
resemble the political status of the United Statef-
the different tribes in their respective localities repre-
sen ing the different states of the American vZl,
subject to congress and the United States senate The
- h' ='['=/°.^'ei-ned by the constitution, which has to

be guarded with tenacity to prevent infri;gement upon

^ was thHr'Tf •'\"°"""-" I - among the Iroquois
; was their safeguard against the violation of their un-
written constitution by tribes or individuals

siderft''t"''"?""T' <^^°P'^ °* t""^ Long House) be-
sides the People of the Confederacy, was a term with
the Iroquois Nation that had a similar significance
to the Iroquois Nation that the term Uncle Sam has to
the peop e of the United States. Between the Hudson

han^. 1 L^^'"^"'^*^ °" the north to the Susqiie-

of the Tr°o T'^ *'^ Long House, or the domains
the f!- 7"™' *"^'''' "■a««P'-^='d out and constituted
the fairest portions of the entire country, as it was

liZlT f"^"^''- The Onondaga Nation, being

situated in cen ral position, were made the keepers of
both the council brand and of the wampum, by which
the structure and principles of their government, and
their laws and treaties were memorized (a retentive

Influence of the Iroquois on the United States. 13

memory was a requisite necessary in the sachem ap-
pointed as keeper of the wampum). At stated periods,
usually in the autumn of each year, the sachems of
the League assembled in council, at Onondaga, to legis-
late for the common welfare. Exigencies of a public
or domestic character often led to summoning of their
council at other seasons; but the place of session was
not confined to Onondaga. It could be held in the
territory of either of the Nations, under established

Though the Iroquois brought the Delawares and
other tribes to the south under temporary allegiance,
yet their greatest force was employed to subjugate
tribes to the west of them, especially the Illinois tribes,
who had felt the weight of their avenging hand before
the French came to their rescue. La Salle, in 1682,
had persuaded the Senecas, by dint of much flattery
and many presents, to allow him to build a vessel at the
eastern extremity of Lake Erie, wherewith to convey
men and goods to the Illinois country. The same year
Tonty, his lieutenant, built a fort on Starved Rock, for
defense of both the French and the Illinois tribes
against Iroquois invasion, which gave the Illinois tribes
a respite from the visitation of their enemies; but the
French never succeeded in establishing uninterrupted
communication between Canada and the west suffi-
ciently to prevent the English from getting the lion's
share of the western fur trade through Iroquois inter-
vention and protection. The ambition of the French
during these and following years was to possess and
control the St. Lawrence valley, the Mississippi valley
and the region of the Great Lakes. The English, on
their part, held the Atlantic seaboard and the Hudson
river country with a firm grip. Their alliance with the
Iroquois made them invulnerable, but this same alliance
rendered French possessions precarious. This uncer-
tainty prevailed till the French and Indian war began
in 1755. It raged seven years. The French had in

14 In-fluence of the Iroqiiou^ on tht rnittd Sfafes.

their alliance the entire Indian tribes of Canada and
the valley of the Mississippi. M-hile the Eno-lish relied
upon the faithful Iroquois to help tio-ht their battles.
For years the issue trembled in the balance, till at last
the conquest of Quebec, by General Wolfe, settled this
stupendous question, and substantially ^-avo the entire
country to the l\ni^-lish in 17<;0.

At the close of this war there was a strong- eft'ort
made in the British cabinet to leave the French in
possession of Canada and the Mississippi valley, assert-
ing- that the French power left here would be a con-
stant menace to the English colonists: thereby insuring-
their loyalty to the mother country, in (nxler to protec't
themselves from French ag-g-ression. Pitt, the g-reat
English statesman, M-ould not listen to this unnecessary
and timid policy, as he termed it, and insisted on driv-
ing- the French entirely out of Xorth America, and
establishing- English colonial rule in its place.

During- this eventful war, had the Iroquois fought
in favor of the French instead oi the Eng-lish, the
whole interior of the continent, embracing- the coun-
tries along- the St. Lawrence river, the g-reat chain of
lakes and the Mississippi valley, including- the Ohio
river valley, must have remained in the hands of the
French and remained indefinitely under French laws.
Under this regime there could have been no revolt
of the thirteen American colonies, at least |for a cen-
tury. There could have been no United States, no Great
Republic to stimulate invention and intrcnluce the re-.
forms which have startled the world during- the last
century. There would have been no Washixgtox, no
Franklin and no Lincoln.

Chicago, May, 1(581.

Kl.MJS Jil,A.'.f.f/AI'f>,

Dear Sir:
W<! h.'iv<; r<;f;<:iv<;'] an'l r':;i'J your book, " Thf: fjiscovery an«^3 Conquests
of the Northwest, with th'; history of Chira^o," and t;ik«; this means of
bearing our testimony to the ze.'il, industry, tnorough re-search and faithful
record made by y<ju, of the- times and events covered by your volume. We
think you are entitled to public gratitude for the ability with which you have
collected this store of hiAorical detail concerning the early history of the
Northwest, esj>ecial)y of Illinoi» and Chicago, and for the entertaining
manner in which you have presented that history for the instruction of
present and future generations.


If. VV. H/.ooGKTT, J. W. Shkahan,


ZhJii.N'A Kastman,
Wjlijuk F. Stokky,
O. F. Ff;i,/,RK,
Gko «<■;!-: Sc h .n- ki oer ,
J. S, Ki;mskv,
Mark Skinnkr.

J. -Mki
W. H.

Wm. Ajjjjmch,

G. S. liUJillAKD,

j. fJ. Cato.w,
l-'KJ<Kv H., Smith,

f/KA.NT fjfjfJjjHJCH,

VV.M. IffcNKv Smith,


H. W. Rav',
C. fi. l-Aywhi.K,
Makshai-k Fikld,
O. VV. Nixo.w,
L. Z. Lkitkk,
John A. Jamkson,

The above is a copv of a circular presented me at the time of the
publication of the book described. Jt is now to be republished with
revisions and another volume added to it — the whole to oe complete in
twelve parts.

R. B.

Chicaoo, January, IH'JQ.
RuFUS Blanchard,

/J ear Sir:
Realizing, as we do, the importance of an authentic history of Chicago
from cotempKjrary sources, to be handed down from our own times to
futurity, v/e, the undersigned, hereby approve the opinions given, in the
above circular, by the signers thereof, and we confide to you our assistance
in continuing the work.



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Online LibraryRufus BlanchardThe Iroquois confederacy : its political system, military system, marriages, divorces, property rights, etc → online text (page 1 of 1)