10.24.2015

Betsey Guppy Chamberlain

American-Native American mill girl

Native American Mill Girl

During the 1830s and 1840s, Betsey Guppy Chamberlain (daughter of an Algonquian woman) worked in the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts and wrote stories for two workers' magazines. A brave and pioneering author, Chamberlain wrote the earliest known Native American fiction and some of the earliest nonfiction about the persecution of Native people.

Image: Betsy Guppy Chamberlain, right
With another Lowell Mill girl

Early Years
Betsey Guppy was born December 29, 1797 in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. She was the daughter of William Guppy and Comfort Meserve Guppy. She was of mixed race: American and Algonquian Indian. Betsey married Josiah Chamberlain on June 25, 1820, and they had two children; he died July 19, 1823. Unable to do the work alone, she was forced to sell their farm and work in the mills in Lowell, Massachusetts to support herself and her children. The mills paid good wages, but the hours were long.

1.13.2013

Madeline La Framboise

female fur trader in northern and western Michigan

Native American Bussinesswoman

La Framboise was one of the most successful fur traders in Michigan, while it was still considered the Northwest Territory. At that time, fur trading was a difficult, dangerous and male-dominated occupation. Madame La Framboise was one of the most prominent early businesswomen in the territory.

Madeline Marcotte was born in February 1780 at Mackinac Island, the daughter of a French-Canadian fur trader Jean Baptiste Marcotte and Marie Nekesh, an Ottawa Indian. Madeline was only 3 months old when her father died. She was raised among her mother's people in an Ottawa village at the mouth of the Grand River near Grand Haven Michigan. She must have been a person of some status there, as her grandfather was Chief Kewinoquot.

11.20.2012

Frances Slocum

Indian captive kidnapped as a child from a Pennsylvania Quaker family

Abducted by Indians in Pennsylvania

Frances Slocum, or Maconaquah, (1773-1847) was an Indian captive who was taken from her family home in Pennsylvania in 1778 by the Delaware Tribe. She was raised by an elderly Miami Indian couple in what is now Ohio and Indiana. Slocum was reunited with her white relatives in 1838, but remained with her adopted Native American family for the rest of her life.

Image: The austere woman portrayed in this painting by artist John Froehlich is much less Frances Slocum and far more Maconaquah.

Childhood and Early Years
Frances Slocum was one of ten children born to Jonathan and Ruth Tripp Slocum, a Quaker family who emigrated from Rhode Island to the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania in 1777. During the Revolutionary War, the Slocums remained in the settlement while many others fled before the Battle of Wyoming in July 1778. During that battle British forces and Seneca warriors destroyed a nearby fort and killed over 300 American settlers.

8.17.2012

Marie Dorion

Native American on the Astor Expedition

painting depicting Marie Dorion and her young boys lost in the winter wilderness of Oregon Country
Image: Marie Dorion - Escape 1814 by John Clymer

Marie Dorion (1786–1850), a Native American of the Iowa tribe, was the only female member of the Astor Expedition (1811-1812) from Missouri to Oregon Country. Her journey followed that of Sacagawea by six years, but Dorion's 3,500-mile trek was both longer and much more difficult. Her epic story shows the strength and perseverance needed to survive in the unforgiving wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.

Childhood and Early Years
A member of the Iowa tribe, Marie was probably born in 1786. It appears that Marie did not to have a Native American name. She was most likely baptized in the Roman Catholic Church early in her life; she also gave Christian names to her sons, Jean Baptiste and Paul.

While still a teenager, she married Pierre Dorion, whose father was French Canadian; his mother was a member of the branch of the Sioux Nation that lived near modern Yankton, South Dakota. Pierre and Marie settled in this area just after the nineteenth century began, and some consider him "the first white resident of South Dakota."

Men of French heritage had far better relations with Native American women than other Europeans, and they often assimilated into their wives' tribes. Pierre Dorion made a living in the fur trading business that centered in St. Louis, Missouri. Fur trading involved almost constant travel, and Marie often accompanied him on buying and selling trips through what would become the states of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas.

The Astor Expedition
New York fur magnate John Jacob Astor had determined to expand his fur trading empire beyond the Great Lakes. Astor's plans were to create a company that would control the entire existing fur trade, and to extend it all the way to the Pacific. However, his presence there was not welcomed by the British who had claims in that area and Canadian enterprises, including the North West Company and the Hudson Bay Company.

Astor understood that his proposal for the expedition was as much political, as it was commercial, but he was not willing to "concede so lucrative a trade to their British and Canadian counterparts without a spirited contest." In 1810 Astor and his working partners established the Pacific Fur Company. Soon thereafter his sea company founded a fur trading post they named Fort Astoria on the Columbia River in Oregon Country - the first U.S. settlement on the Pacific Coast.

In 1810, ambitious young St. Louis merchant Wilson Price Hunt, age 29, was hired to lead an expedition seeking an overland route from Missouri to Oregon Country. Along the way, Hunt's mission was to identify locations where fur trading posts could be established that could also serve as way stations to expedite communications between Astor's Eastern headquarters and the Western trading posts.

Hunt's orders were to get the best scouts and translators for the journey by paying more than the Canadian companies. As interpreters, Hunt hired half Yankton-Sioux, Pierre Dorion and his wife Iowan Marie Dorion, and paid them a nice advance. Between the two they knew several Indian dialects plus English, French and Spanish.

Marie, the only woman on the expedition, probably did not yet know that she was pregnant. Son Jean Baptiste was five and Paul was a toddler of two when the young family set out on the long, unmapped journey from Missouri to Fort Astoria. During the nation's three centuries of westward expansion, men had discovered the advantages of having a native woman along when they ventured into new territory.

7.17.2012

Jane Johnston Schoolcraft

author, storyteller and recorder of Ojibwe oral history

Native American Author and Poet

Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (1800-1842) was the first Native American literary writer. She was also the first known Indian woman writer, the first known American Indian poet and the first known poet to write poems in a Native American language. Now, critics speculate about the extent to which Jane also contributed to her husband's writings, for which she was rarely given credit. So pensively joyful, so humbly sublime - this final line of her poem "Pensive Hours" aptly describes Schoolcraft's writing.

Childhood and Early Years
Jane Johnston Schoolcraft was born on January 31, 1800 in Sault Ste. Marie in the upper peninsula of what is now the state of Michigan. Her Ojibwe name was Bamewawagezhikaquay, which translates as Woman of the Sound that Stars Make Rushing through the Sky. One writer describes Schoolcraft as having been "intelligent, gentle, gracious and deeply religious," and, physically, "fairly tall and slender, with dark eyes and hair, which she wore in ringlets."

4.26.2012

Polly Cooper

Oneida Woman Who Saved Washington's Army

Polly Cooper was an Oneida woman who took part in an expedition to aid the Continental Army during the American Revolution at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania during the bitterly cold winter of 1777-78. Cooper has long been held up as an example of the courage, generosity and indomitable spirit of the Oneida people.

Image: George Washington, Polly Cooper and Chief Skenandoah at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC

When the Revolution began, the Oneidas decided to fight side by side with the Americans, thus becoming the young country's first ally. In the summer of 1777, a pary of Oneidas fought at the Battle of Oriskany, a significant engagement in the Saratoga campaign. The Oneidas help General Nicholas Herkimer and his 800 Tryon County militiamen stop the British forces, preventing them from entering the Mohawk Valley and marching east along the valley to Albany.

2.19.2012

Sacagawea

bronze monument of Sacagawea with her baby on the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Native American on the Lewis and Clark Expedition

On February 28, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson won approval from Congress for a project that would become one of America's greatest stories of adventure. It would be led by Jefferson's secretary Meriwether Lewis and Lewis' friend William Clark. Sacagawea, a Lemhi Shoshone Indian, was the only woman to accompany the 33 members of the permanent party to the Pacific Ocean and back.

Image: Sacagawea and Jean-Baptiste Monument
Sacagawea Center in Salmon, Idaho

As to the pronunciation and spelling of her name, Captain Clark wrote that the "great object was to make every letter sound" in recording Indian words in their journals. He therefore recorded her name as Sacagawea (Sah-cah' gah-we-ah), a combination of the Hidatsa words for bird (sacaga) and woman (wea) - always with a 'g' in the third syllable.

12.22.2008

Cherokee Women's Rights

Cherokee maiden

Women's Rights in Cherokee Society

Image: Loving Sun
Marianne Caroselli, Artist
(I know the Cherokee did not live in teepees; I just love this painting.)

In the early 18th century, the Cherokee existence was one marked by balance guided by oral tradition. Their belief in balance in all aspects of life didn't leave room for a system of hierarchy that oppressed women. Men primarily assumed the roles of hunters, while women took responsibility for agriculture and gathering.

At the time of European contact, the Cherokee controlled a large area of what is now the southeastern United States. Of the southeastern Indian confederacies of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries (Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw), the Cherokee were one of the most populous and powerful, and were relatively isolated by their hilly and mountainous homeland.

12.03.2008

Molly Brant

Molly Brant Native American Heroine

American Revolution Loyalist


Molly Brant Plaque
Kingston Ontario



Molly Brant was an important Mohawk woman in upstate New York and Canada in the era of the American Revolution, particularly in the Mohawk Valley, the area surrounding the Mohawk River, sandwiched between the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains. Her younger brother, Joseph Brant, grew into a celebrated Mohawk statesman in his own right and rubbed shoulders with the likes of U.S. General George Washington and King George III of England.

Molly Deganwadonti was born in 1736, the daughter of Peter Tehonwaghkwangeraghkwa and his wife Margaret, both Mohawks of the Wolf clan from Canajoharie – the site of a barricaded long house village of the Mohawk tribe of the Iroquois Nation in New York. After Peter's death, Margaret married Brant Kanagaradunkwa, a Mohawk sachem of the Turtle clan, who owned a colonial-style frame house and lived and dressed in the European style.

Although not much is known of Molly's life at Canajoharie during the 1740s and 1750s, from her infancy through her teenage years and into her early twenties, it is likely that she lived in Nickus Brant's house. She was well educated in the European ways of life, with her formal education likely taking place in an English mission school, as she learned to speak and write English well.

Molly Brant's political activity began when she was 18 years old. In 1754, she accompanied a delegation of Mohawk elders to Philadelphia to discuss fraudulent land transactions. This trip may have been part of her training in the Iroquois tradition, for she was to become a clan matron.

A British officer during the French and Indian War, William Johnson dealt honestly with the Mohawk, who appreciated his mastery of their language. His victory over the French and Algonquin in 1755 at the Battle of Lake George, New York, earned him a British knighthood. Johnson was eventually appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the province of New York.

During this time, Molly met Sir William Johnson, and moved into his house, Old Fort Johnson, before the birth of their first son Peter in September 1759. Molly was about 23, while William was 44 years old. She became Johnson's common-law wife in a traditional Mohawk ceremony. Johnson couldn't formally marry her because Molly was considered of a lower class. The couple had nine children together, eight of whom survived.

Johnson had acquired 600,000 acres of land in the Mohawk Valley, making him one of the richest men in the colonies. He was a successful colonial trader, and adapted well to Native ways. The Mohawk called him Warraghiyagey, a man of many interests, in tribute to his irrepressible curiosity.

12.01.2008

Queen Aliquippa

Seneca leader

Native American Leader

Image: Young Major George Washington Visits Queen Aliquippa

Queen Aliquippa was a leader of the Seneca tribe of Native Americans during the early part of the 18th century. Little is known about her early life. Her date of birth has been estimated anywhere from the early 1670s to the early 1700s, but historians have indicated that she was born in the 1680s, probably in upstate New York.

The story of Queen Aliquippa begins long before white trappers had ventured into western Pennsylvania, so no accurate record of her early life exists. The information that can be found is extremely fragmented, so sorting through the fact and fiction of her life will be left to the reader.

11.18.2008

Nancy Ward

beloved female leader of the Cherokee

Nanyehi / Nancy Ward: Cherokee Woman

From the English rendition of Nanyehi, One Who Goes About, named for the mythological Spirit People, Nanyehi was a major Cherokee figure of the Southern frontier who became an almost legendary person due largely to her queenly manner and resolute personality. In her youth, Nanyehi had the nickname Tsistunagiska, Wild Rose, from the delicate texture of her skin which was likened to rose petals.

Nanyehi (nan yay hee) was born into a powerful family of the Wolf clan about 1738 at Chota, near Fort Loudon in eastern Tennessee. Her father was Fivekiller, a Cherokee-Delaware man, and her mother was Tame Deer, the sister of Chief Attakullakulla. Nanyehi's childhood was one of constant terror, as warfare with European settlers and with other tribes meant that no day passed without the threat of violence.

11.10.2008

Marguerite Kanenstenhawi / Eunice Williams

Eunice Williams kidnapping

Captured at the Deerfield Massacre

Image: Depiction of Eunice Being Led Away from Deerfield
Eunice's captor hurried her toward the north gate
Illustration copyright Francis Back

Eunice Williams was born in Deerfield, Massachusetts, on September 17, 1696, the daughter of Puritan minister the Reverend John Williams and his wife Eunice Mather Williams. The girl who would grow up to become the most famous "unredeemed captive" had a conventional New England Puritan upbringing until the age of seven. Her family's wealth and prominence made her early life a bit more privileged than that of other young Deerfield girls, and her fate as an adopted Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) better known.

On February 29, 1704, in the pre-dawn hours, a force of about 300 French and Native allies launched a daring raid on the English settlement of Deerfield, Massachusetts, that became known as the Deerfield Massacre.

9.21.2008

Marie Rouensa Aco Philippe

early Illinois house

Illinois Native American Woman

Image: Kaskaskia House in French Illinois

Marie Rouensa, aka Aramepinchone – daughter of Mamenthouensa, Chief of the Illiniwek Confederation – might have lived and faded into utter obscurity had it not been for her conversion to the Catholic faith and her subsequent role in the church and the community of Kaskaskia. Over the course of her lifetime, she not only served as the vehicle for the conversion of others to the Catholic faith, but she also accumulated significant wealth, status, and power, which she subsequently left to her offspring.

At that early time, women, particularly Indian women, were important contributors to a family's financial success, and race didn't seem to matter as much as connections. Marie had no difficulty finding French husbands (she married twice), and her descendants were well received at every level of society – two of her granddaughters married aristocratic officers from France and Switzerland.

9.17.2008

Molly Ockett

Native American village

Abenaki Healing Woman

Image: Abenaki Village
This late 16th century drawing of an East Coast Algonquian village conveys something of Pigwacket's appearance in the decades before Molly Ockett's birth. A description of the semi-abandoned Pigwacket village made in 1703 by an English scouting party: "an acre of ground, taken in with timber [palisaded], set in the ground in a circular form with ports [gates], and about one hundred wigwams therein."

Her Indian name was Singing Bird. Her Christian name was Marie Agatha. She probably pronounced it Mali Agget which sounded like Molly Ockett to the English settlers. Many Abenaki in this region were Catholic and received Christian names at their baptism by French Catholic missionaries. These names were written phonetically from the Indian pronunciation. A major focal point of Molly's world was Pigwacket, the ancient Indian enclave at present-day Fryeburg, Maine, a short distance east of the present border between Maine and New Hampshire.

8.28.2008

Mary Musgrove Bosomworth

Native Americans Georgia Colony

Queen of the Creek?

Image: General James Oglethorpe
Meeting with Tomochichi and Mary Musgrove

Mary Musgrove was born Coosaponakesee sometime around 1700, at Coweta Town on the Ockmulgee River in northern Georgia. Her father was an English trader from the South Carolina Colony and her mother was a Creek Indian of royal blood – a niece of the emperor of the Creek Nation. Mary spent her first 10 years among her mother's people, becoming thoroughly acquainted with the Creek language and ways. Despite her mixed heritage Musgrove was considered a full member of Creek society and the Wind Clan. In this matrilineal society children took the clan identities of their mothers.

8.08.2008

Madame Montour

Pennsylvania colony history

The Year: 1727

Elizabeth Catherine Montour, better known as Madame Montour, was born in 1667 at Three Rivers, Canada, the daughter of Frenchman Pierre Couc and his Algonquin Native American wife (name unknown). Madam Montour spent several years in the early 1700s at Forts Mackinac and Detroit where her relatives were engaged in the Indian trade.

Catherine acquired the Montour surname when she married a Seneca brave named, Roland Montour. He appears to have been the father of some of her children, but little is known about him, not even details of his death. By this point in her life, she was known as Madame Montour, was living in New York in the area of the Genesee River.

7.12.2008

Queen Anne of the Pamunkey

Pamunkey Native Americans

Queen of the Pamunkey Native Americans

Image: Pamunkey Sarah Langston Major and her family

The Pamunkey Native American tribe were the most powerful tribe in the great Powhatan Confederacy, which consisted of 35 tribes with a population of some 10,000 people under the leadership of Chief Powhatan. His territory encompassed the entire coastal plain of Virginia, from south of the James River to near Washington, DC. The chief was living among the Pamunkey when the English colonists first arrived in Virginia.

Queen Anne (ca. 1650 - ca. 1715) became the chief of the Pamunkey tribe when her aunt Cockacoeske died. Due to her authoritative position, she was always called Queen Anne by the colonists.

5.08.2008

Iroquois Women

clan mother of the Iroquois tribe, who revered and respected women

Women in Iroquois History

Image: Jigonsaseh
Head Clan Mother of the Iroquois

The Iroquois were one of the most powerful Indian races, controlling land all the way down the eastern seaboard of North America and several hundred miles inland. A woman's place in Iroquois culture was very different from that in European cultures. Iroquois women enjoyed social equality and respect that was not shared by colonial American women.

The Iroquois Confederacy was composed of five different tribes, who banded together shortly before European contact. The tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy and other Northern Iroquoian-speaking peoples, including the Huron, lived in the region including what is now New York State and the Great Lakes area.

4.25.2008

Kateri Tekakwitha

Native American woman

Native American Roman Catholic Nun

Lily of the Mohawks, as she is popularly known, was the first recorded Native American Roman Catholic nun in North America. She was born in 1656 at Gandawague Castle near Fonda, New York, to a Mohawk father and a Christianized Algonquin mother. Her mother had been taken captive by the Iroquois and given as wife to the chief of the Mohawk clan, the boldest and fiercest of the Five Nations.

When she was four, Kateri lost her parents and little brother in a smallpox epidemic that left her disfigured and half blind. She was adopted by two aunts and an uncle, who succeeded her father as Mohawk chief, but she was left largely on her own.

4.23.2008

Squaw Sachem

Native American women

Native American Leader

Image: Squaw Sachem Sells Her Land to John Winthrop, from a mural painting by Aiden L. Ripley, 1924

When the first English colonists arrived in the Boston area, the only inhabitants of the region were members of the Massachuset tribe. The Massachuset occupied valleys of the Charles and Neponset Rivers in eastern Massachusetts, including the present site of Arlington, which the natives called Menotomy, meaning place of swiftly running water. The name Massachuset means those of the great hills, probably with reference to the ring of hills surrounding the Boston Basin.