Iroquois and the Revolutionary War - Iroquois History answers questions

Iroquois and War

trade beads
Trade beads made in Venice in the 1600s
and traded in North America

When the first European traders came to the north Atlantic coast, about 1600 AD, the Iroquois were very interested in trading with them. People sold the Dutch traders lots and lots of beaver furs, and in exchange they got glass beads and wool blankets and lots of other cool stuff. In 1609, the first deaths occurred among the Iroquois from measles that they caught from the Dutch traders.

Village of Secotan
Southern Iroquois village (modern
North Carolina), 1500s AD

Soon the Iroquois found themselves involved in a war with the Algonquins to their north. Using steel weapons they got from the French, the Algonquins took over a lot of Iroquois land (in modern New York State) and drove the Iroquois to the south, and even forced the Iroquois to pay tribute to the Algonquins.
But by 1629 the Iroquois were running out of beaver in their own land, and they wanted to get the northern land back again so they could hunt there. The Iroquois got steel knives and spears from the Dutch, so they could fight the Algonquins, and they took back a lot of their land.

Fort Orange 1624
The Dutch settlement at Fort Orange (modern Albany) in 1624

By the 1650s, thanks to their unified confederacy and guns they got from the Dutch, the Iroquois had become very strong, and not only the Algonquins but also the French were afraid of them and went out of their way not to annoy them. They pushed the Shawnee to their south off their land, and the Iroquois took it over, while the Shawnee had to move into Cherokee land. But in the 1630s, smallpox epidemics brought by Dutch children killed more than half of the Iroquois people and made them much weaker. In 1667, the French finally fought the Iroquois, and forced them to accept French traders on their land.

Iroquois village 1720s
An Iroquois village in the 1720s

The Iroquois were still not getting along with the French in the 1700s, so they took the British side in the wars between the British and the French, while the Algonquin took the French side.

Hendrick 1740
The Mohawk chief Tiyonaga in 1740

After the war, in 1763, the British governors promised that no European settlers would move into Iroquois land, but nobody really paid any attention to this, and people just kept moving in anyway.

During the American Revolutionary War a few years later, therefore, some of the Iroquois stayed on the side of the British, while others (the Tuscarora and the Oneida) sided with the Americans and their French allies. So the unity of the Iroquois Confederacy broke down. After the war, a lot of Iroquois who had fought on the British side left the United States of America and settled in Canada. The Iroquois who stayed in New York State soon lost most of their land to angry settlers who resented their having fought on the side of the British. Some Iroquois still live in New York State; others, like some Cayuga, Oneida, and Seneca, moved west to Oklahoma or Wisconsin.

Bibliography and further reading about the Iroquois:

weetamoo iroquois

Weetamoo: Heart of the Pocassets, Massachusetts, 1653 (Royal Diaries), by Patricia Clark Smith (2003). Part of the Royal Diaries series. The writing isn't good, but it's an exciting story, and a true one, about a powerful woman (She's actually Wampanoag, not Iroquois, but there's no page on the Wampanoag yet).

The Iroquois: The Six Nations Confederacy, by Mary Englar (2006). Includes chapters on modern Iroquois.

Early Iroquois history
Algonquin history
Cree history
American history home

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

Help support! (formerly "History for Kids") is entirely supported by your generous donations and by our sponsors. Most donors give about $10. Can you give $10 today to keep this site running? Or give $50 to sponsor a page?

Getting ready to go back to school? Homeschooling? can help students with ancient Mesopotamia, Africa with ancient Egypt, classical Greece, the Roman Empire, ancient China and Japan, ancient India, medieval Europe and Islam, and much, much more. Check out our pages on what school was like in ancient times - Egyptian schools, Roman schools, Islamic schools.