Iroquois and War
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.