Tea Party winners: Roseanna M. White's winner is Debbie Wilder, Denise Weimer's print copy of Widow goes to Andrea Stephens, Debra E. Marvin's winners for Ebook collection are Cheryl Baranski and Rachel Koppendrayer, Carrie Fancett Pagels' ebook collection goes to Joan Arning and paperback to Connie, Gina Welborn's winner is Regina Fujitani, Gabrielle Meyer's paperback copy of A Mother in the Making is Teri Geist DiVincenzo

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Lori Benton - Researching the Iroquois

Flag of the Iroquois Confederacy
Occasionally I write a blog post dealing with a subject I've researched for my 18th century-set novels. I like to do this for the benefit of other writers, or anyone interested in that particular subject, coming along behind me on this research path. I imagine them stumbling upon the post like an unexpected cache of provisions. I hope they'll prove useful to the knowledge-hungry traveler.

Today I'd like to share my bibliography of titles collected while researching the history of the Iroquois Confederacy, or The Six Nations, particularly the Mohawk and Oneida nations.

The Six Nations are a confederacy of Iroquoian-speaking peoples that once occupied the the western portions of the state of New York from the Hudson River to the Finger Lakes region.

Traditional Iroquois longhouse
At a certain period of their history, their primary dwelling was the longhouse. The Iroquois thought of their land symbolically as a giant longhouse running east to west across their territory.

Guarding the eastern door of The Great Longhouse were the Mohawk. Next came the Oneida and (after 1722) the Tuscarora. In the center of the Longhouse, as Keepers of the Central Fire, were the Onondaga. Then came the Cayuga and lastly the Seneca guarding the western door.

Sometime before European contact, arguably around the year 1450, these tribes united under the Great Law of Peace to form the Haudenosaunee, or The People of the Longhouse.

Due to war, disease, settlement, and broken treaties, the 18th century and the early 19th saw the removal of these tribes from most of their traditional land. Many were resettled in Canada. Some in Wisconsin, some in Oklahoma. Some still live in New York.

As part of the research for my debut novel I studied the history of the the Mohawk, or Kanyen'kehake, nation. Their name translates to People of the Flint.

Joseph Brant, Mohawk chief
Much of this research centered around Joseph Brant, or Thayendenegea, who was educated in an eastern school, rose to prominence among the Mohawk partly due to the influence of Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the northern colonies (and husband of Joseph's sister Molly), and became a war chief for his people who fought with the British during the Revolutionary War.

Titles I found helpful in my research:

~ The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization by Daniel K. Richter
~ Joseph Brant 1740-1807, Man of Two Worlds by Isabel Thompson Kelsay
~ Turtles, Wolves, and Bears, A Mohawk Family History by Barbara J. Sivertsen
~ Kanyen'keha Tewatati (Let’s Speak Mohawk) and One Thousand Useful Mohawk Words by David Kanatawakhon Maracle
~ The Iroquois by Evelyn Wolfson
~ Joseph Brant, Mohawk Chief by Jonathan Bolton and Claire Wilson
~ Realm of the Iroquois by The Editors of Time-Life Books
~ The Iroquois in the American Revolution by Barbara Graymont
~ The Tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy by Michael Johnson

The second eastern-most tribe after the Mohawk were the Oneida, or Onyota’a:ká:. Their name is translated as People of the Standing Stone.

Though no nation of the League was unanimously pro-British or pro-Patriot during the Revolutionary War, most of the nations fought on the side of the British--except for the Oneida Nation, who sided with the colonists.

This was due in large part to the influence of New Englander and Patriot Samuel Kirkland, a Protestant missionary who had lived and ministered among them since the mid 1760s. While not all Oneidas welcomed Kirkland and the Gospel he preached, many considered him a friend to their people. Kirkland lived among them and shared their hardships, alleviating them as best he could through pleas for aid from wealthy seaboard acquaintances and missionary societies. Through him the Oneida people formed stronger links with the colonials than did the other Iroquois nations. Some Oneida warriors served during the Revolutionary War as scouts. Some fought with the colonial militia at the Battle of Oriskany, near Fort Stanwix in western New York.

Finding resources for Oneida-related subjects has proven harder than for those pertaining to the Mohawk. For the benefit of anyone else researching along this same path, here's what I've found thus far:

~ The People of the Standing Stone, The Oneida Nation from the Revolution through the Era of Removal, by Karim M. Tiro.
~ The Oneida Indian  Experience, Two Perspectives, Edited by Jack Campisi and Laurence M. Hauptman.
~ Forgotten Allies, The Oneida Indians and the American Revolution, by Joseph T. Glatthaar and James Kirby Martin.
~ The Divided Ground, Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of The American Revolution, by Alan Taylor
~ Life of Samuel Kirkland, missionary to the Indians, by Samuel Kirkland Lothrop (can be found online as an ebook through Google).
~ Oneida Iroquois Folklore, Myth, And History, New York Oral Narrative from the Notes of H.E. Allen and Others, by Anthony Wonderley 

Do you have any titles or other resources to add? Please mention them in the comment section. 


  1. Hi Lori,

    This is my second try at posting a comment, don't know what happened to the first.

    Excellent post! I am following behind you on the research trail, I have to say, you leave behind great crumbs! I've one to add to your list: A Few Good Acres of Snow-The Saga of the French and Indian War, by Robert Leckie. I found it in of all places, the giftshop at Valley Forge National Park. It's not chock full of Oneida information, rather there are a chapter or two of nuggets, but overall it's a rather decent account of the lead up to the war from several interesting vantage points.

    Thanks for sharing,and btw, this is an awesome blog. :)


  2. Jacqui, so glad you found your way here, and THANK YOU for the book title. I will definitely look for it, as my current WIP begins during the French & Indian War and that's still a new-to-me time period as far as research goes. And you never know when a book is going to have that perfect bit of information to flesh out a scene.

    Gift shops at historical sites are GREAT places to find resources. It's a rare treat for me to visit one that's centered on an 18th century time period, living on the west coast, but I never pass up the chance when it offers. I'd love to visit Valley Forge one day.

    Glad you were persistent in commenting. :)

  3. Lori, two weekends ago at the SC Book Festival, I was on an author's panel on Historical Fiction. One of the other panelists was Ben Farley who read from his novel, Three Thousand Days and Nights, a narrative of love and war (French and Indian War), ambition and loss, set in the wilderness, hamlets, villages and towns of New France and the Colonies. It's published by JogglingBoard Press. Fantastic book, which I purchased because I want to learn more about that time period.

    1. Thanks Susan, I spent some time today looking at several F&I War titles on Amazon and ended up leaving them in my cart, unable to decide which might be the best (wish I could afford them all). It's good to have a recommendation. And novels set in the time period can be just as helpful. Sometimes more so.

  4. Great post, Lori! I'm so thrilled that you're bringing this rich history to life in your own books. Readers will be blessed. I don't have anything to add as you're one step ahead of me (well, many actually) as I don't know that much about the Iroquois, just the Shawnee and Plains Indians. Thanks for sharing your research here!

    1. Laura, This is the sort of cache of research titles I wish I'd run across a few years ago while researching Willa's story, instead of having to track them down and order many of them sans review, not knowing if they would prove helpful, but hopeful that they would. I want to leave them behind me for others to find, knowing that every title on this list proved helpful in some way in recreating the 18th century lives of the Iroquois.

      You and Joan are my go-to girls for all things Shawnee. :)

  5. Hello Lori;

    It's Kelly

    the word Mohawk in our native writing is

    there are 12 letters in our language consist of:
    a e i o y h k n r s t w


    These are concidered the 6 nations of the Kakwa:ko Iroqu later spelled (Iroquois)and the correct spelling

    Kanien'kehá:ka - Mohawk
    Oneniote'á:ka - Oneida
    Kaion'kehá:ka - Cayuga
    Shotinontowane'á:ka - Seneca
    Ononta'kehá:ka - Onondaga
    Taskaroraha:ka - Tuscarora

    Just a little more info.

  6. Thanks Kelly, for sharing the correct spellings. I've seen quite a few variations presented in books and on the web. Some are easier for English speakers to decipher than others.

  7. Lori thank you for the awesome post, I love reading about all the Indian Nations, so interesting. I will check some of them Books out you posted, I'm not an Author just an avid Reader.
    Many Blessings

    1. Ingrid, so glad you found some titles to interest you on my list. Feel free to email me at lori_benton26[at]hotmail[dot]com if you ever want to talk about more titles, including novels, about Native American tribes. Thanks for commenting!

  8. No information to add, but I find your information and research commendable.

  9. Lori - My story also takes place on the 18th century frontier, in part in the Iroquois country. Here are a few other good research sources:

    - The League of the Haudenosaunee by Lewis Henry Morgan. Although a century and a half old, Morgan's ethnographic work was a foundational study for many books that would follow. The information about tools and customs of daily life is incredibly detailed. But keep in mind that most of Morgan's research focused on the Senecas. Interestingly, one of his major sources of information was a Seneca named Ely Parker who went on to become an Army Lieutenant Colonel for the Union in the Civil War and an aide to General Grant.

    - The Indian Peoples of Eastern America, edited by James Axtell. This volume is a collection of primary source descriptions of Iroquois and other Eastern Woodlands cultures, mostly in the colonial period. The sources are almost all European or European-American, but Axtell does a great job pointing out which parts of the writings provide accurate insights and which should be taken with a grain of salt.

    - The American Revolution in Indian Country by Colin Calloway. This book takes a unique and valuable perspective by focusing each chapter on a specific location that was crucial for interactions between whites and Native Americans during the Revolution. The locations most relevant to the Iroquois include Onoquaga and Fort Niagara.

    Captivity narratives written or recounted by white captives who assimilated (to varying degrees) into Iroquois culture, such as Mary Jemison, can provide a valuable, first-person perspective on Iroquois daily life and period ways of thinking, speaking, and interacting. Collections of Iroquois myths and folktales can also serve as a great window into their culture since they are stories that many Iroquois would've grown up hearing and retelling.

    Finally, if you get a chance to travel to New York, I'd highly recommend visiting Old Fort Niagara, which is pretty well preserved, and the Ganondagan site, which includes a full-size replica longhouse, cornfields, and "living museum" in the surrounding woods. Ganondagan also hosts a variety of cultural events throughout the year including demonstrations of Iroquois sports, music, food, dance, etc.

    Good luck with your research and your WIP!

    1. Thanks so much for these, Matt. I'm just today catching this reply of yours, but I'm jotting down those titles. Out of them all I've only read Mary Jemison's story.

      I have a list of places to visit in New York. I'm hoping to do so some time next year. But not firm plans yet.


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