Nonhelema was born around 1718, about 2 years before her most famous brother, Hokolesqua, Cornstalk. They had 2 younger brothers, Silverheels, and Nimwha. The family migrated to Pennsylvania from West Virginia or Maryland around 1730 as the Shawnee and other tribes were increasingly pushed westward by the expansion of white settlements into the continent’s interior. From there they relocated to Ohio Territory near present day Chillicothe on the Scioto River.
According to the journal of Indian agent George Morgan, their father was named White Fish, and Cornstalk seemed to confirm that in a 1775 speech. However, according to the records of the Moravian missionaries, Cornstalk was the son or grandson of a well-known Pennsylvania Shawnee chief named Paxinosa, or “Hard Striker”, who has been mistakenly identified by some writers as Tecumseh’s father. I’ve found some accounts online that link the two names, so both may be correct. Nonhelema first married an unnamed Shawnee man, then later in life married the Shawnee chief Moluntha. She had several children, including a son, Thomas McKee, from her relationship with Indian Agent Colonel Alexander McKee and another son, Captain Butler/Tamanatha, with Colonel Richard Butler.
|Grenadier Squaw Historical Marker|
The Shawnee had both male and female chiefs, and Nonhelema became chief of the largest Shawnee village on the Pickaway Plains in Ohio Territory. Her town lay on the south bank of Scippo Creek southeast of present-day Circleville, a short distance from Cornstalk’s Town on the creek’s north bank. The cabin of Nonhelema’s friend John Logan, a notable Mingo orator and war chief, also lay nearby. The unprovoked slaying of his entire family by Virginians at Yellow Creek precipitated Lord Dunmore’s War.
|Lord Dunmore by Joshua Reynolds|
Nonhelema’s participation in colonial frontier wars apparently convinced her that the survival of her people depended on living peacefully with the Americans. By the Revolution Nonhelema had become a peace chief, and she spent the rest of her life working toward that end. However, hers and Cornstalk’s peace proposals were opposed by a large faction of the Shawnee, who hoped to use an alliance with the British to reclaim the lands taken from them by settlers. By the winter of 1776, the nation was divided between those who advocated neutrality in the war between the Americans and the British, led by Nonhelema and Cornstalk, and those who allied with the British, led by men such as Black Fish and Blue Jacket.
|View of area around Nonhelema's Town|
Some online accounts claim that Nonhelema was baptized in 1772 by Zeisberger and took the English name Katherine, with the nickname of Katy. This is quite plausible given the many connections between her family and the Moravians. The History records that in 1776 Cornstalk arrived at Gnadenhütten, one of the towns of the Indian believers, with more than 100 men, women, and children in his retinue, and that “His behaviour was courteous, and he shewed a particular friendship for the missionary Jacob Schmick.” Judging from the actions of Nonhelema and Cornstalk during the Revolution in working for peace between the Americans and the native peoples, both were deeply influenced by the Moravian doctrine of nonresistance.
|Modern replica of Fort Randolph|
With her herds gone and her people’s hostility toward her growing, Nonhelema was forced to flee for protection to the town of the Lenape’s principal chief, White Eyes, near the Lenape capital of Coshocton, Ohio. In 1780 she served as guide and translator for the U.S. inspector general of cavalry, when he traveled to Illinois to treat with the Indians there. She petitioned Congress in 1785 for a 1,000-acre grant in Ohio, as compensation for her services during the Revolution. Congress denied this claim but granted her a pension of daily rations and an annual allotment of blankets and clothing. When General Benjamin Logan led Kentucky militia against the Ohio Shawnee the following year, Nonhelema and her husband and family surrendered to the troops. Even so, a soldier killed Moluntha, and Nonhelema was held at Fort Pitt. While there she helped the commander compile a Shawnee-language dictionary. She died sometime after her release in December 1786.
|Plaque on Nonhelema's memorial|
Nonhelema story includes many difficult and sad circumstances, but she was a great leader among her people at a critical time in their history. Is there a women you particularly admire who is or was a great leader for our time? If so, please share her name and what you most admire about her.
Image of Fort Randolph by Kevin Myers at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1793388
J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is also an author, editor, and publisher. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. Northkill, Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series coauthored with Bob Hostetler, won Foreword Magazine’s 2014 INDYFAB Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Book 2, The Return, released April 1, 2017. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year.