- Oneida -

The Revolutionary War

Oneidas’ Legacy to Freedom

The Oneidas played a significant role in the Revolutionary War. Having fought valiently at Oriskany, and Saratoga, the Oneida Nation became known as the First Allies.

Here's a summary of what Revolutionary War veterans faced:

Chief Shenendoah prevented a massacre of settlers in German Flats and encouraged the Oneidas to fight on the side of the Americans during the War of Independence. He was given the name of the "white man's friend" by his fellow Indians.

Shenendoah signed two treaties with the federal government. The first treaty, the Veteran’s Treaty, recognized the Oneidas' sacrifices and their help during the Revolutionary War. The second was the 1794 Canandaigua Treaty which recognized Oneida sovereignty, land rights and tax freedoms.

Annuity (treaty) cloth continues to be sent to the Oneida Nation as stipulated by the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua, the oldest valid treaty in the United States. In accordance with its terms, the United States deliver bolts of cloth - known as treaty cloth or annuity cloth -- to the Oneida Nation and its fellow members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

Although the disbursement has changed and the yardage diminished since the 18th century, the symbolism of the cloth remains steadfast – the treaty is a living document, 18 years younger than the U.S. Constitution, but equally as valid and ageless.

At Oriskany

Reporting on the Aug. 6, 1777 Battle of Oriskany – where at least 60 Oneidas fought with the colonists -- the newspaper Pennsylvania Journal & Weekly Advertiser of Sept 3, 1777 described Oneida Han Yerry and his family as…

“… a friendly Indian, with his wife and son, who distinguished themselves remarkably on that occasion. The Indian killed nine of the enemy, when, having received a ball through his wrist that disabled him from using his gun, fought with his tomahawk. His son killed two and his wife, on horseback, fought by his side with pistols during the whole action.”

Han Yerry’s wife, Tyonajanegen aided her husband on the field of battle by loading his gun for him. For six hours, the duration of the fight, she fought side by side with her husband.

Tyonajanegen then went forth and notified the other colonists of the great bloodshed that had ensued from the British ambush of the colonists at Oriskany.

At Saratoga

“In the 1777 campaign, the Oneidas were instrumental,” said Larry Arnold, chairman of the Friends of Saratoga Battlefield. “They were the first sovereign nation to recognize the country of the United States. People don’t realize the staggering losses the Oneidas sustained during the Revolutionary War.”

At Valley Forge

Polly Cooper was an Oneida woman who according to Oneida oral tradition, walked several hundred miles from her home in Central New York to Valley Forge in the cruel winter of 1777 -78 to help feed Gen. George Washington’s starving troops.

Polly Cooper, along with several Oneidas, carried hundreds of bushels of corn to feed the troops. The corn they brought was white corn and different from the yellow version that is prepared simply. By contrast, the white corn requires extended preparation before it can be eaten. The soldiers, however, were desperate for food when Polly Cooper and her fellow Oneidas arrived, and they tried to eat the corn uncooked. The Oneidas stopped the soldiers, knowing that if they ate the raw corn it would swell in their stomachs and kill them.

Polly Cooper taught the soldiers how to cook the white corn, taking them through the preparation process and the lengthy cooking time. She stayed on after the other Oneidas departed for their homeland and continued to help the troops.

After the war, the Colonial Army tried to pay Polly Cooper for her valiant service, but she refused any recompense, stating that it was her duty to help her friends in their time of need. However, she did accept a token of appreciation offered by Martha Washington -- a shawl and bonnet. The shawl has been handed down by successive descendents of Polly Cooper.

The United States Congress in 1777 recognized the Oneida contribution to the Revolutionary War stating:

“We have experienced your love, strong as the oak, and your fidelity, unchangeable as truth. You have kept fast hold of the ancient covenant-chain, and preserved it free from rust and decay, and bright as silver. Like brave men, for glory you despised danger; you stood forth, in the cause of your friends, and ventured your lives in our battles. While the sun and moon continue to give light to the world, we shall love and respect you. As our trusty friends, we shall protect you; and shall at all times consider your welfare as our own.”

See also:The American Revolution Center

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