Map of the current state of New York showing the Iroquois Six Nations' lands.

Picture Source

During the American Revolution, both the new American government and the British sought to ally with the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), a centuries-old powerful confederacy of six allied nations located in present day New York: the Mohawks, Oneidas, Cayugas, Senecas, Onondagas, and after 1713, a group of Tuscaroras driven from their homeland in what is currently Virginia and North Carolina by war and colonial oppression. Under the Great Law of Peace, the confederacy’s oral constitution, each nation retains its own governance, practices, and language, while uniting for common defense and the preservation of peace. Haudenosaunee, meaning, “people of the long house,” refers not only to the tribes’ traditional houses—which the confederacy symbolically evokes—but also to the kinship, harmony, and peacemaking that structures Haudenosaunee communities. The American Revolution, however, fractured the confederacy. Unable to agree on a unified strategy, most Mohawks, Cayugas, Senecas, and Onondagas allied with the British; many Oneidas and Tuscaroras sided with the American rebels. During the war, some of the Continental Army’s fiercest violence, notably the 1779 Sullivan Expedition, was directed at Haudenosaunee communities to punish British-allied tribes and deter them from challenging the westward expansion of the United States after the war—efforts which the Six Nations continued to resist long after the Revolution. This kit allows you to explore the Haudenosaunee’s diplomatic approaches to navigating the violence and disruption of the American Revolution and their postwar efforts to protect their lands from the encroachment of the new United States. –Prof. Lauren Duval

Please note: the links in these kits go to either a source on the web, an OU Libraries’ resource, requiring you to login with your OUNetID (4×4), or a companion Canvas page, requiring you to enroll here before you can access the document. The links open in a new window/tab. Report link problems to lscrivener@ou.edu.

Primary Sources: Original Documents from the Time

Choosing Sides

“Peacemaker Story [The Great Law of Peace].” In Haudenosaunee Guide for Educators., 2–3. [Washington, D.C.]: National Museum of the American Indian Education Office, 2009. (Pages 2-3 of document / 4-5 of PDF.)

“Journals of the Continental Congress – Speech to the Six Nations; July 13, 1775.” The Avalon Project. Yale Law School.

“Oneida Declaration of Neutrality, 1775.” The American Yawp Reader: A Documentary Companion to the American Yawp.

“Message from the Six Nations, 16 May 1776.” Founders Online. National Archives and Records Administration.

“‘The Disturbances in America give great trouble to all our Nations’: Mohawk Joseph Brant Comes to London to See the King, 1776.” History Matters. George Mason University.

“Speech to the Six Nations, December 7, 1776,” Journals of the Continental Congress, Volume 6, 1010–1011, Library of Congress. (Companion Canvas page.)

“Speech to the Six Nations, December 3, 1777,” Journals of the Continental Congress, Volume 9, 994–998, Library of Congress. (Companion Canvas page.)

“Board of War Report, June 11, 1778.” Journals of the Continental Congress, 587-591. 

“The War for Independence Through Seneca Eyes: Mary Jemison Views the Revolution, 1775–79.” History Matters. George Mason University.

“Speech to Oneida Indians, July–August 1778.” Founders Online. National Archives and Records Administration.

The Sullivan Expedition (1779)

Schuyler, Major General Philip. “Letter to George Washington,” March 1-7, 1779. Founders Online. National Archives and Records Administration.

Washington, George. “Letter to Major General John Sullivan,” May 31, 1779. Founders Online. National Archives and Records Administration.

Sullivan, Major General John. “Letter to George Washington,” September 28, 1779. Founders Online. National Archives and Records Administration.

The Journal of Lieut. John L. Hardenbergh of the Second New York Continental Regiment from May 1 to October 3, 1779, in General Sullivan’s Campaign against the Western Indians.Auburn, N.Y.: [Knapp & Peck, printers], 1879. (Contains multiple diaries, see especially chapter entitled, “Expedition Against the Cayugas.”)

Sullivan, John. “Major Gen. Sullivan’s Official Report.” In Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan against the Six Nations of Indians in 1779…, edited by Frederick Cook, 296–306. Auburn, N.Y.: Knapp, Peck & Thomson, Printers, 1887.

An Uneasy Peace

Kappler, Charles Joseph, ed. “Treaty with the Six Nations, 1784.” In Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, Volume II: Treaties, 5–6. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1904.

“A Confederation of Native peoples seek peace with the United States, 1786.” The American Yawp Reader: A Documentary Companion to the American Yawp.

“Treaty With the Six Nations : 1789.” The Avalon Project. Yale Law School.

Seneca Chiefs. “Letter to George Washington.” December 1, 1790. Founders Online. National Archives and Records Administration.

Washington, George. “Letter to the Seneca Chiefs.” December 29, 1790. Founders Online. National Archives and Records Administration.

Seneca Chiefs. “Letter to George Washington.” January 10, 1791. Founders Online. National Archives and Records Administration.

Washington, George. “”Letter to the Seneca Chiefs.” January 19, 1791. Founders Online. National Archives and Records Administration.

Seneca Chiefs. “Letter to George Washington.” March 17, 1791. Founders Online. National Archives and Records Administration.

King, Rufus. “Letter to Alexander Hamilton.” March 24, 1791. Founders Online. National Archives and Records Administration.

Oneida Indians. “Letter to George Washington.” April 7, 1793. Founders Online. National Archives and Records Administration.

Kappler, Charles Joseph, ed. “Treaty with the Six Nations, 1794.” In Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, Volume II: Treaties, 34-37. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1904.

Secondary Sources: What Historians Have Written

Fitz, Caitlin A. “‘Suspected on Both Sides’: Little Abraham, Iroquois Neutrality, and the American Revolution.” Journal of the Early Republic 28, no. 3 (August 3, 2008): 299–335.

Kane, Maeve. “‘She Did Not Open Her Mouth Further’: Haudenosaunee Women as Military and Political Targets during and after the American Revolution.” In Women in the American Revolution: Gender, Politics, and the Domestic World, edited by Barbara Oberg, 83-102. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019. (Companion Canvas page.)

Lee, Wayne E. “From Gentility to Atrocity: The Continental Army’s Ways of War.” Army History, no. 62 (2006): 4–19.

Martin, James Kirby. “Forgotten Heroes of the Revolution: Han Yerry and Tyona Doxtader of the Oneida Indian Nation.” In Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation, edited by Alfred F. Young, Gary B. Nash, and Ray Raphael, 199–215. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. (Companion Canvas page.)

Pearsall, Sarah M.S. “Madam Sacho: How One Iroquois Woman Survived the American Revolution.” Humanities 36, no. 3 (June 2015).

Taylor, Alan. “The Divided Ground: Upper Canada, New York, and the Iroquois Six Nations, 1783-1815.” Journal of the Early Republic 22, no. 1 (2002): 55–75. 

Tiro, Karim M. “A ‘Civil’ War? Rethinking Iroquois Participation in the American Revolution.” Explorations in Early American Culture 4 (2000): 148–65.