Iroquois Confederacy (Haudenosaunee)

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Armies >> Native American Peoples >> Iroquois Confederacy (Haudenosaunee)

Origin and History

Sometime between 1450 and 1550, five Iroquoian-speaking Native American nations (from east to west: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca) formed a confederacy, collectively known as the Haudenosaunee (Seneca), Rotinonshonni (Mohawk) (People of the Longhouse) League and later to the French as the “Iroquois Confederacy” and to the English as the “Five Nations.” This confederacy initially occupied a territory extending in large areas of present-day New York State up to the Saint-Laurent River near Montréal, west of the Hudson River, and south into northwestern Pennsylvania. The League was governed by 50 statesmen (royaner) chosen by clan matrons, who also had the power to remove them. The Mohawk guarded the eastern door and the Seneca the western door of the ‘longhouse’ and at its centre, in the territory of the Onondaga, was planted the Tree of Great Peace, from where roots have spread out welcoming others who obey the laws of the Great Peace.

The origin of the name “Iroquois” is unknown, even though several competing theories have been put forward.

When Jacques Cartier explored the Saint-Laurent in 1535, he found the valley of the river was also occupied by Iroquoian speakers with two large settlements at Stadacona (present-day Québec) and Hochelaga (present-day Montréal). By 1607, when Champlain arrived, these people had dispersed due to cold weather and famine, many joining the Mohawk and Oneida, and others moving west to the Huron (Wendat).

In June 1609 a Mohawk war party of 200 met a mixed body of 200 to 300 Ahrendahronon (a newly incorporated nation of the Huron [Wendat] Confederacy), a number of Montagnais and Iroquet Algonquins near Ticonderoga for a ritual battle, However, Champlain and his companions were present and surprised the Mohawk by firing arquebuses killing, he stated, two Mohawk headmen and mortally wounding another. The Mohawk scattered.

Another attack by the French and their allies on the Mohawk was made in 1610, followed in 1615 by attacks on the Oneida and Onondaga.

In 1628, the Iroquois defeated the Mahican people to establish a monopoly of the fur trade with the Dutch of Fort Orange (present-day Albany/NY). Following an unprecedented smallpox epidemic in 1634, 1635 marked the beginning of the “Mourning Wars” whereby raids were made for captives and to assuage the grief of those who had lost relatives. In 1638, the Iroquois attacked the Wenro people, whose territory was located west of the Seneca Nation. There is no evidence that the Iroquois had run out of beaver by 1640. However, although the ‘Beaver Wars’ are a 19th/20th century Euro-American construct, the fur trade was an important element of Iroquois military and diplomatic policy, where furs were necessary to purchase firearms and other goods.

In 1645, the Iroquois made peace with the Hurons , the Algonquins and the French, but the latter failed to keep to the terms of the treaty and war recommenced in 1646. In 1648 the Cord Nation of the Huron Confederacy was attacked by the Seneca and Mohawk and many were taken captive and adopted or otherwise dispersed. In 1649, the Iroquois (mostly of Senecas and Mohawks, including ex Huron warriors) destroyed two mission villages and dispersed the Huron Confederacy, 2200 being adopted into Seneca clans, others fleeing west to become the Wyandot, some joining the Neutrals and others going east to Québec, in their former homeland, to become the Lorette Huron. In the same year the Iroquois attacked the Tionontati (Petun) people, who had taken in Huron Bear nation refugees, and dispersed them.

In 1650, the Mohawk raided along the French frontier and attacked Algonquins at Québec and in the Maritimes. Between 1651 and 1652, the Neutral Nations inhabiting the country between Lakes Erie and Ontario were attacked by the Seneca, with Mohawk assistance, adopting ‘exceedingly large’ numbers and dispersing the rest. In 1651 and 1652, Mohawk and other Iroquois war parties ‘lurked in the woods’, cycling parties of men back and forth to home towns, around Trois-Rivières continually laying ambushes and terrorising the French. In 1653, the confederacy made peace with the French. In 1654, the Onondaga planted a Tree of Peace on an island in the Saint-Laurent opposite Québec.

From 1654 to 1657, the Iroquois led by the Onondaga conducted war against the Erie people. In 1655, 600 Erie were adopted by the Iroquois and in 1655 the rest dispersed into Virginia and Kentucky. In 1657, hundreds of Erie were adopted by the Seneca and Onondaga,

In 1658, in the middle of a smallpox epidemic, the Oneida reopened hostilities with Nouvelle-France as they were not receiving the trade benefits promised by the treaty. Jesuit missions in Onondaga were abandoned.

In 1660, the Jesuit Lalement claimed that those of solely Iroquois descent comprised 20 percent of the population.

In 1663, a war party of 800 Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca went to attack the Susquehannock fortified village of Andastogué, where ambassadors were invited in but seized by the Susquehannock who burnt them in view of the Iroquois army. The Iroquois army fled, taking additional casualties in the pursuit. The Lenape (Delaware) aided the Susquehannock.

Meanwhile, in 1662, a Mohawk and Oneida party of over 100 suffered a defeat at the hands of the Ojibwa and a Mohawk party of 30, who had been sent to collect tribute from the Abenaki were all killed bar one.

Iroquois Confederacy Territory - Copyright: Kronoskaf

In May 1664, an Iroquois army of 600, mostly Mohawk, attacked a Mahican village but sustained numerous casualties in the attempt. In September, the Dutch surrendered Fort Orange to the English who renamed it Fort Albany. The Iroquois made a peace treaty with the English and entitled it the ‘Silver Covenant Chain Treaty’.

In 1665, three nations of the Iroquois League (Oneida, Cayuga and Seneca) offered the French an alliance. In 1666, the French launched two offensives against the Mohawk and Oneida, burning crops and several villages. At this time an Onondaga army had been destroyed by the Susquehannock and Mahican, and Susquehannock raids caused alarm amongst the Oneida and Cayuga. In 1667, the Iroquois signed a peace treaty with the French and as a result extended the ‘rafters of the longhouse’ by establishing nine settlements along the Saint-Laurent and on the north shore of Lake Ontario settling in their hunting territories and former homelands; the Cayuga at the Bay of Quinté, and Mohawk and some Oneida at La Prairie. The Mohawk gradually relocated within their former homeland at Sault Saint-Louis (present-day Kahnawake) near Montréal (Hochelaga).

The Seneca conducted small raids on the Susquehannock people. In 1677, a treaty ended the war and the majority of the Susquehannock migrated towards and merged with the Seneca. The Cayuga, Onondaga and Oneida carried out raids on native peoples in Virginia and Maryland until these nations came into the Covenant Chain.

In 1676, the Mohawk assisted the English in their war against the Wampanoag people. In 1677, a formal alliance was established between the English and the “Five Nations”. The Iroquois Confederacy even established seven villages on the northern shores of Lake Ontario, but they were abandoned by 1701.

In 1680, an 800 strong Iroquois army led by the Seneca attacked the Illinois people and the French 400 km to the west aided by the Miami and Shawnee and captured between 400 and 1,200 people. This increased tensions with the French.

At the end of these wars, the influence of the Iroquois Confederacy extended from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean; and from the Saint-Laurent River to the Chesapeake Bay.

In 1684, the French launched an unsuccessful expedition against the Senecas, who had been attacking French and Algonquian fur traders in the Mississippi River valley. Between 1685 and 1686, the Iroquois with knowledge of French aggressive intent raided the Odowa and Tionnontate Huron in the Saginaw River valley.

In 1687, the French launched a new punitive expedition with French regular troops, Canadiens and Native Americans including Canadian Mohawk against the Seneca,, taking captive any Iroquois they met on the way including a party led by Ourehouare, a Cayuga headmen, of whom the ‘’most disorderly’ men of his party, were sent to be galley slaves in the Mediterranean. The French then ravaged the territory of the Seneca Nation, who otherwise suffered few casualties. In 1688, the Iroquois retaliated by destroying Fort Chambly, near Montréal and attacked Fort Frontenac. The war against the Odowa and Ojibwa continued. In 1689, the Iroquois burnt down the French village of Lachine near Montréal. In the same year, the Mohawk replanted the ‘tree of love and unity’ with the colonies of New York, New England, Virginia and Maryland.

During the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697), known in the English colonies of North America as the “King William's War,” the Iroquois were allied with the English.

In 1690, the French and allied Native Americans destroyed the Mohawk village of Schenectady although all the inhabitants survived. In 1691, Mohawks and Mahicans accompanied an English army and attacked La Prairie avoiding casualties to resident Mohawks.

In January 1693, Governor Frontenac led an expedition to destroy Mohawk towns. Three years later, in 1696, Governor Frontenac led another expedition, this time against the Oneidas and Onondagas. There was also an outbreak of smallpox amongst the Iroquois. In 1699 the French agreed to Iroquois peace proposals, extending the Tree of Peace to the ‘far nations’ allied to the French. The treaty was ratified in 1701.

In 1701, the English misinterpret a deed with the Iroquois that ceded large part of the territory they claimed north of the Ohio believing it to be a permanent surrender. Even so, the deed never reached England to be ratified.

During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713), known in the British colonies of North America as the “Queen Anne's War,” the “Five Nations” remained neutral.

Around 1722, the Tuscarora, an Iroquoian people who had been chased from the Carolinas by English settlers, joined the confederacy as its sixth member. From then on, the confederacy became known as the “Six Nations.”

At the Treaty of Lancaster in 1744, the Iroquois were deceived into selling all their remaining claims in the Ohio country to the colony of Virginia, thereafter falsely claimed by the Ohio Company of Virginia. ‘King George’s War’ breaks out and only the Mohawk declares war. In 1745, Sir William Johnson was appointed commissary of the Province of New York for Indian affairs. In 1748, Johnson was influential in enlisting and equipping the “Six Nations” for participation in the warfare with French Canada. He was placed in command of a line of outposts on the New York frontier. The Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle put a stop to offensive operations, which he had begun.

Role during the War

By the time of the Seven Years’ War, ‘the rafters of the longhouse’ extended into present-day Canada, westward along the Great Lakes and down both sides of the Allegheny mountains into present-day Virginia and Kentucky and into the Ohio Valley.


In 1755, Sir William Johnson, charged with leading the New England army to capture Fort Saint-Frédéric (Crown Point), tried to draw the Iroquois to the British side but found ‘... all Nations except the Mohawks extremely averse to taking any part with us.’ However, the Mohawk, remained unimpressed with British martial ability. By mid-August, only 50 Iroquois men had mustered. On August 26, the army, about 1400 strong, commenced its move towards Lake George arriving at the southern end on August 28. Two days later, Johnson’s 65-year-old Mohawk friend, statesman Theyanoguin (Hendrik) brought along another 200 Iroquois, mostly Mohawks. Meanwhile, Dieskau with a French army of 1,500, including 600 Native American allies, had moved south from Montréal up Lake Champlain. On September 5, he had reached South Bay and started his advance cross country towards Fort Edward. On September 7, three Mohawk scouts discovered the road made by the army. On the same day, Dieskau changed plans and turned towards Johnson’s camp at Lake George. His Kahnawake Mohawk refused to attack the fortified position but they changed their minds provided they led the advance guard.

Iroquois Statesman Theyanoguin (Hendrik) - Source: Wikimedia Commons

On September 8, Johnson considered sending two forces out, one towards South Bay and the other toward Fort Edward but Theyanoguin objected and threatened to withdraw the Iroquois making Johnson reconsider. Cancelling the South Bay plan, Johnson sent out 1,000 provincials along with Theyanoguin and the 250 Iroquois leading the scout. However, Dieskau’s scouts discovered the British force and he prepared an ambush in a ravine with Native Americans ordered to let the enemy to pass, so as to attack the rear, whilst the Canadiens took them in the flank.

At 10 a.m. Theyanoguin, mounted, at the head of the column was challenged by a Kahnawake warrior waiting in ambush asking who they were. Theyanoguin replied (according to Daniel Claus who was with him), ‘We are the six confederate Indian nations the Heads & Superior of all Indian nations of the Continent of America.’ The Kahnawake, who had already spoiled the ambush replied, ‘We are the 7 confederate Indian Nations of Canada & we come in conjunction with our Father the King of France’s troops to fight his Enemies the English without the least Intention to quarrel or trespass against any Indian nation.’ He then asked Theyanoguin to get out of the way, ‘... lest we transgress & involve ourselves in War among ourselves.’ Theyanoguin replied that the Six Nations were there to assist their English allies to resist French encroachments and that the Kahnawake should either join them or follow their own advice and get out of the way. It was then that the conversation was interrupted by a musket shot and the Combat of Lake George (‘The Bloody Morning Scout’) began. Who fired the shot is not known.

A ‘hot running fight’ ensued with some 30 Iroquois and 50 provincials killed in the initial exchange. The Iroquois and Massachusetts soldiers briefly tried to defend their position but then retreated towards Johnson’s camp. Theyanoguin was shot during the retreat, fell off his horse and was left behind. He tried to make his way back to camp but fell in with the French baggage guard and was stabbed with a bayonet or spear by a Native American woman, scalped and left to die.

Once back at the camp, the Mohawk took no part in the battle stunned by their, for them, catastrophic losses. Johnson was told by an Oneida spokesman, ‘You hung your War Kettle and now brother it seems you had such a great Fire under it that it made the Water boil over...’ now the battle was a success, ‘... all of us are determined to return our several Homes and Families for the present and so we bid you farewell.’ Johnson offered two shrouds to cover the dead and handed over the prisoners except Dieskau, insisting the campaign was not over. He then passed a wampum belt, saying. ‘I expect and desire by the Belt that you fulfil your engagements.’ However, the Iroquois could not be dissuaded. They had many corpses to cover and much to consider. At a council a month later Mohawk clan mothers declined to call for revenge. To add to this, at home the Iroquois were protesting against land encroachment and frauds by Euro-American squatters and speculators.


In 1756, Sir William Johnson was appointed ‘Superintendent of Indian Affairs’. The Covenant Chain was renewed at Fort Johnson in February. He urged the Iroquois to use their influence on the Ohio country Lenape [Delaware], who were attacking Euro-American squatters, to make peace. In the summer Onondaga and Oneida delegates travelled to meet Governor Vaudreuil who urged the Iroquois to stay neutral. In the winter, the French requested the Iroquois to take up the hatchet against the English but they remained neutral. For more than 50 years there had been three Iroquois factions: pro-English, pro-French and neutral.


In January 1757, a party of 60 Seneca warriors returned to Niagara after having made a raid in Virginia. At the beginning of May, several Seneca and Cayuga war parties went south on raids against the British. On August 6, 150 Mohawk warriors arrived at Fort Edward to assist the British, three days before Fort William Henry fell to the French.


In July 1758, 400 Iroquois warriors (probably Mohawks) took part in the British expedition against Carillon, arriving on July 7 but were reluctant to engage their Canadian Iroquois kin. Abercromby ordered Johnson to direct the Mohawk to Sugarloaf Mountain to cover the landing of the artillery. On arrival at their vantage point they let out war whoops to announce their presence to the French working a few hundred yard away. Not content with this, they entertained themselves by firing at the French lines, which were well out of range. Montcalm wrote that, ‘We did not amuse ourselves by answering them.’

In October, the Iroquois sent a large delegation to Easton, Pennsylvania to a conference between principally the Susquehanna and Ohio Lenape, and the Shawnee, with Pennsylvania. The Iroquois chastised Teedyuseung, the Susquehanna Lenape spokesman, claiming he had no authority except that which the League allowed. Teedyuseung recognised Iroquois League’s authority (the Lenape had been displaced by European encroachment in their territory onto land formerly occupied by Susquehannock who had left to join the Iroquois). In return Pennsylvania relinquished claims to lands west of the Susquehanna River, territory which it had purchased from the Iroquois in a shady transaction at Albany in 1754. The return bought peace from the Ohio Lenape even though Pennsylvania returned the territory to the Iroquois. The Ohio Lenape and Shawnee, unlike the Susquehanna Lenape, were recognised as being independent nations as part of the Iroquois League. In addition, Pennsylvania guaranteed these nations their territorial integrity (which led to the Royal Proclamation of 1763).

Later the same year, after the fall of Louisbourg and Fort Frontenac, and encouraged by Sir William Johnson, the “Six Nations” finally joined the British against the French or remained neutral.


In March 1759, 46 Mohawk warriors accompanied a detachment of 40 Rogers' Rangers to reconnoitre French positions around Carillon and attacked a party of woodcutters. A party of 30 Canadiens and some Native American warriors were sent to relieve the woodcutters, later backed up by about 150 French regulars. In this skirmish, five woodcutters were killed and six wounded while three French soldiers were wounded. One Mohawk warrior and a few rangers were wounded and one sergeant captured.

In April a conference at the upper Mohawk town of Canajoharie brought the League to support the British. Sir William Johnson offered General Amherst’s hatchet by throwing a war belt which the Mohawk immediately took up and danced with, followed by men of other nations. He hung kettles on fires between two rows of warriors and gave war feast. The Iroquois announced they were resolved to march wherever Johnson wanted them to go and followed the announcement by carrying out the war dance. Iroquois councillors urged Johnson to speedily march on Niagara.

In July, Iroquois warriors took part in the British expedition against Fort Niagara. On July 6, Iroquois warriors attacked a working party outside the fort. There were about 100 Seneca within the fort, who were bewildered that so many of their kinsmen accompanying the British army. On July 10, a truce was called for by Pierre Pouchot commanding the fort to allow Kaendaé, a councillor for the Niagara Seneca, to approach Sir William Johnson and the Iroquois to try and dissuade from attacking, berating them for ‘having plunged the League into bad business.’ For the next three days the Iroquois 'pine leaf chiefs' (war captains) tried to persuade Kaendaé that support for the French was no longer tenable and to let the Europeans fight their own battles. After this the Iroquois took no active part in the siege and Kaendaé and the Seneca were allowed to leave under a flag of truce on July 14. On July 24, 350 Iroquois, acting on their own initiative, were present in the woods behind the left flank of the British army at the engagement at La Belle Famille. Earlier on the morning they had met four French allied Iroquois from the Ohio carrying messages to Fort Niagara and agreed not to take part in the fighting avoiding conflict with their kin accompanying the French force. Following the fight, the Iroquois emerged from the woods to pursue the fleeing French fugitives, taking scalps and looting the dead. Later that afternoon Pouchot surrendered the fort. Having lost no one, the Iroquois contented themselves with the plunder of furs, skins and trade goods from Niagara and outlying storehouses.


In 1760, 700 Iroquois warriors assisted General Jeffrey Amherst during his advance on Montréal, which surrendered in September. The Iroquois played an important diplomatic role pleading with their Canadian kin to stay out of the fight and accept the British offer of amnesty.


In 1761, a party of Mohawk warriors took part in the British expedition against the Cherokee Indians.



The missionary William Andrews wrote in 1712 describing the hair and body ornaments of Mohawk men: ‘They paint & grease themselves much with bears’ fat clarified, cut hair off from one side of the heads and some of that they tie up in Knots upon the Crown with ffeathers, Tufts of ffur upon their Ears and some wear a Bead fastened to their Noses with a Thread hanging down to their Lips...’ However, by the mid-18th century men’s hairstyles seem to have become more ‘standardised’ being typically, a shaved head with a round patch of hair left on the crown to which ornamentation could be attached. Any beard hair and eyebrows were plucked out.

Young James Smith, during his Kahnawake Mohawk adoption rites of passage in 1755, which is also likely to apply to their League Mohawk and Iroquois kin generally, had his hair shorn to a patch 7.5 to 10cm (3 to 4 inches) square on the crown. The remaining hair was cut off with scissors and braided into three scalplocks, two of which were wrapped around with a narrow-beaded garter and the other plaited to the full length and silver broaches ‘stuck’ to it. Later when Smith’s face and body had been painted, a warrior bound one of the youth’s scalp locks erect for about six inches and tied a cockade of red feathers to it. Possibly the three scalplocks are congruent with the three eagle feathers adorning the Mohawk gustoweh. Certainly, hair is to do with the spirit of a person passing on into the Sky World following death, helped by the great celestial eagle-spirit; a feather of the eagle often adorned a man’s head. The head depilation practice may have grown out of a desire to honour Hinun, the Great Bald Eagle Man-being [aka the Thunderer - The bald eagle was the true ‘war eagle’ and snake killer; the earthly counterpart of Hinun, the Thunderer].

Koohassen, an Oneida warrior in 1801 - Source: Reger after Bonfils, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the accompanying illustration, Koohassen, an Oneida warrior wears a feather placed vertically through a piercing in the lower ear. His face is tattooed and wears a narrow armband possibly decorated with wampum and quill or beadwork.

Karonghyontye, a Mohawk warrior in 1776 - Source: from a portrait with Guy Johnson, painted by Benjamin West, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the accompanying illustration, the Mohawk warrior Karonghyontye wears a roach fixed with a hair braid from which three velvet straps decorated with silver studs descend from under the ornament. His ear rims have been split and wrapped to stand out. Other braids have also been plaited from the scalplock. His eyebrows are plucked out. He wears a choker around his neck and a wristband of woven wampum or beads (glass imitation wampum). He also carries a quill decorated knife sheaf hanging from his neck. His accoutrements are carried on woven fibre or skin straps embroidered with wampum or beads and on his left shoulder he wears a blanket of blue or black broadcloth edged with beadwork.

The length of the hair could also have been worn fairly short by some, for example as shown in the print of Koohassen, an Oneida warrior and in Benjamin West’s 1776 portrait of Karonghyontye (David Hill), a Mohawk captain, illustrates the scalp hair divide into several braids which reach down to just below the shoulders.


Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) feathers were the most favoured of all plumes worn by the Haudenosaunee. Worn on the head it symbolised both the Five Nations League and a link between the wearer and the Sky People, a prayer for life. Every Haudenosaunee man was entitled to wear an eagle feather.

A circular roach of red dyed deer hair and turkey beard secured with a bone spreader could be worn by passing a scalp braid through the spreader and secured with a wooden pin to the head. Benjamin West’s 1776 portrait of Karonghyontye shows what appears that there is a red painted bone socket into which a feather is fixed so that it revolves in the breeze or with movement.

A ‘helmet’ called the gustoweh  made of either buckskin or cloth covering a frame of wood splints and decorated with feathers was often worn by men at special occasions. Each nation could be identified by the number and positioning:

  • the Mohawk: three upright eagle feathers
  • the Oneida: two upright feathers and one down
  • the Onondaga: one feather pointing upward and another pointing down
  • the Cayuga: a single feather at a forty-five degree angle
  • the Seneca: a single feather pointing up
  • the Tuscarora: no distinguishing feathers

Council members wore gustoweh with white-tail deer antlers attached each side. Rice (2013) quotes the Peacemaker: ‘Like the buck deer, the representatives [royaner] will raise their antlers and watch over the people. The horns of the deer have power that can sense coming danger. The representatives will wear the horns of the deer in council in order to watch over the affairs of the people on the ground. They will place an eagle feather in between the horns so that they may see far ahead like the eagle and the cap it is placed in will be shaped like the Sky world.’


Tattooing of the face and body was practised as an alternative to painting. Tattoos in the form of some animal, such as an eagle, a snake or other figure were ingrained with powdered charcoal. Linear patterns were also used extensively. Warren Johnson (the brother of Sir William Johnson) wrote in 1760: ‘Several Indians, & Some white People blue their Faces, (in a kind of Ridges) & nick their Breasts, &C: which is done by pricking the Skin with Pins, till Blood comes, & then applying Gunpowder to it; which will remain for ever...’ Robert Rogers wrote in his Concise Account generically, but considered primarily regarding the Iroquois, that, ‘... they have the shapes of these animals curiously pricked and painted on several parts of their bodies...’


Pierre Pouchot, a French engineering officer writing in the late 1750s stated, generically, that men spent up to three or four hours decorating their head and goes on the say: ‘They practice of dressing their faces artistically in red, black and green, in fanciful designs, and which they often change two or three times a day, does not allow us to judge the natural colour except of eyes and teeth, which are very small but very white. The lips are stained with vermillion’. Robert Rogers observed one style: ‘Their heads are painted red down to the eyebrows, and sprinkled over with white down...’ and also that their, ‘... faces painted with divers colours, which are so disposed as to make an aweful appearance.’

Ears and Nose

An Iroquois warrior circa 1759 - Source: Detail from the painting, ‘The Death of General Wolfe’ by Benjamin West, 1770, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

James Gilbert wrote during 1755 at the encampment at Lake George that Mohawk men had ‘Jewels in Their noses’ and that ‘Their faces [were] painted all Colours’.

Robert Rogers wrote that: ‘The gristles of their ears are split almost quite round, and then distended with wire or splinters, so as to meet and tie together in the knap of their necks. These also are hung with ornaments, and have generally the figure of some bird or beast drawn upon them. Their noses are likewise bored, and hung with trinkets of beads...’

In the accompanying illustration, an Iroquois warrior bears fine linear tattoos including depictions of a bear‘s foot and snakes. He has strings of red and white beads and silver or tin cones adorning his hair, and a triangular silver pendant hanging from his ear. The blue blanket that girds his loins has bands of ribbons edged with white beads, while his shoulder bag (now in the British Museum) is finger woven exhibits with white bead designs incorporated, further decorated with brass or copper tinkle cones filled with red dyed deer or moose hair.

Necklaces and Neck Pouches

In the French and Indian War period, Pierre Pouchot stated that men, ‘… wear around the neck, a collar pendent like our order of knighthood [probably referring to the gorget worn by army officers at that period]. At the end is a plate of silver, as large as a saucer, or shell of the same size, or a disc of wampum.’ At the same time Robert Rogers wrote of the Haudenosaunee that, ‘Their breasts are adorned with a gorget, or medal of brass, copper, or some other metal; and that horrid weapon the scalping-knife hangs by a string which goes round their necks’

Pouchot notes that: ‘The forearm is ornamented with silver broaches, three or four fingers wide, and the arms by a kind of wristlets made of wampum or coloured porcupine quills with fringes of leather above and below’.

‘The Indians are fond of wearing rings upon all their fingers.’

Breechclout and Apron

Pierre Pouchot, writing between 1755 and 1760, generically, recorded men wearing, ‘... a breech-cloth, which is a quarter of an ell [about 45”] of cloth, which they pass under their thighs, crossing before and behind upon a belt around the waist. Sometime the cloth is embroidered. When they travel, to avoid being chafed by the cloth, they put it simply as an apron before them.’ Typically at this period the embroidery on breechclouts was likely to have been linear designs carried out with white seed beads. In 1776 Joseph Bloomfield wrote of the Haudenosaunee that: ‘They in general go naked except a Clout which they wear to cover their Nakedness. Once in a While throwing a Blanket over their Shoulders.’


The Iroquois wore tight fitting leggings with the seam up the front of the leg. Half leggings came into fashion around the turn of the 18th century. These were tied to the waist belt supporting the breechclout and held below the knee with garters, were made of blue or red duffel cloth. It is likely that skin leggings continued to be worn when hunting or at war, although in wet weather these would take longer to dry and hence uncomfortable. Sometimes skin leggings were worn over cloth ones. Full leggings were likely to have been worn in cold weather. A portrait of the Mohawk Karonghyontye is shown wearing skin side seam half leggings with a flap on the outer leg in 1776. This style is also likely to have been worn as well by some Haudenosaunee men during the 18th century possibly influenced by captured Algonquin speaking women. However, a portrait painted c.1805 Teyoninhokarawen (John Norton), adopted by the Mohawk still shows skin front seam full leggings being worn. Lyford (1942) states that those worn by warriors were fringed at the outer seam whilst those worn in time of peace were not fringed.

Young warriors especially required their womenfolk make their new leggings tight fitting. Proud of their shapely limbs some of these young men had their leggings sewn together whilst on their legs and were not divested until worn to shreds.

Military stockings were also traded or given as gifts to the Haudenosaunee men by William Johnson. In 1755 he wrote, ‘ Iroquois warrior was given a fine shirt, a pair of hose and ribbons...’

Richard Smith writing in 1769 describes, ‘Woolen Boots and Leather Moccisons compleat the Dress...’, by which ‘boots’ are taken to mean leggings.

Marbois stated, when attending a dance put on by the Oneida in 1784, that: ‘They have bare thighs, and legs covered with cloth gaiters or animal skins [i.e., half leggings].’


Pierre Pouchot observed that, generically, ‘... they wear garters of beads [probably loomed wampum in geometric patterns of white and dark blue or black], or porcupine quills [in red, black and white amongst the Iroquois], bordered four fingers wide, which are tied on the legs.’ Garters were also made of woven woollen fibres typically dyed red with white bead patterns incorporated into the weave.


Characteristically Iroquois moccasins were made of skin smoked with basswood to produce a dark brown colour. The moccasin was made of single skin with a puckered seam up the instep. The cuff of the men’s moccasin was separated at the heel so that the two sides spread apart, whereas the cuff on women’s moccasins was a continuous band. The cuffs of moccasins for best wear could have been decorated with embroidery of moose hair, or woven and embroidered porcupine quill work.


A European shirt, cut in contemporary European fashion, was also popular and could be daubed with grease and paint to waterproof it.


Broaches of silver, replacing those of copper or brass, became increasingly abundant through the 18th century in adorning clothing and also came to be used as money. There were several designs of broach. The simplest and most numerous was a ring across which a tongue extended like a buckle. This is affixed to cloth by pinching the material up so that the tongue penetrates it twice and when drawn back holds it firmly in place. Smaller ones can often line the edges of breechclouts, etc. whilst those of larger diameter decorated the upper body of shirts. Another very common broach fixed in the same manner is a circular ornate disc perforated with punched out or embossed regular patterns which can have embossed or crenulated edges sometimes known as a round buckle.

Iroquois Warrior with musket 1730 by J. Laroque - Source: Wikipedia

The accompanying illustration has probably been made based on a verbal description. The warrior appears to have his shirt wrapped around his waist and is wearing gaiters without leggings. The musket illustrated is large and with a bayonet which is unlikely to have been carried.

Blankets and Coats

Trade blankets, usually of blue or red woollen cloth, and skin robes were worn for warmth. At the time French blankets were considered of better quality than those supplied by the British.

During the 18th century European dress continued to be sought by the Iroquois. For some principal men certain items remained a symbol of their role amongst their people, particularly when dealing with Europeans who would have recognised the status of the wearer by his dress. Hats and coats (but not breeches) of European origin and of higher quality marked men as diplomatic mediators. An Oneida diplomat visiting the Pennsylvania Council in 1755 noted that, ‘The French are more politick than you. They never employ an Indian on any Business, but they give him fine cloathes [sic], besides other presents...’


Halters or tumplines were carried on raids for captives. These were a woven braid made of twined vegetable fibre some 350 cm long with a broad central portion for a neck band of about 70 cm and 7 cm wide which could be decorated with false embroidery with dyed moose hair in bold geometric patterns. Colours were white, grey, blue, orange and black and could have the edges of the centre portion beaded with white seed beads.


In the early 18th century, the Iroquois asked and were granted by New York that a ‘screweye’, a gunsmith, be stationed in every large village so that their firearms might be maintained. Forges were built and large stores of brass and spare gun parts installed in readiness for the almost constant stream of repair works on Iroquois guns, hatchets, knives and metal traps. By mid-century Iroquois gunsmiths had replaced the colonial craftsmen.

In 1693 Benjamin Fletcher, the Governor of New York, wished to present to leaders of the Haudenosaunee some heavy British military muskets. The gift was spurned and Fletcher appealed to the Committee of Trade to, ‘… procure 200 light fuzees for a present from their Majesties to the Five Nations of Indians; they will not carry heavy firelocks I did bring over with me, being accustomed to light, small fuzees in their hunting.’ These were forthcoming. In 1694 a New York State document relates a: ‘List of goods proper to be presented to the Five Nations of Mohaques, Onedes, Onondages, Cayouges, and Senekes within the River Indian at Albany’: ’50 guns as the Traders have from Liege, the barrel of 4½ foot long which used to cost at Amsterdam about eight stivers the foot, and the lock with all that belongs to its use the cost there twelve stivers. The stocks are better made at New York or Albany at 4s a peece.’

The French found it necessary to counter this demand for British fuzees and by the beginning of the 18th century were importing their own versions and the words carabine, mousqueton, and fusil-court started to appear on invoices of that period. The short and light musket became the standard firearm for the 18th century. The Seneca and Cayuga were probably armed with some that had been manufactured in France at the Tulle arsenal. The .62 calibre ‘fusil de chasse’ or hunting musket has a 44-inch octagon-to-round barrel and the lock plate is marked with the name of the arsenal spelt as TVLLE. After 1745 the ‘V’ changed to a ‘U’. Characteristically the stock had a drooped ‘cow’s foot’ butt. Sir William Johnson supplied the Iroquois with guns, knives, hatchets, and cutlasses by. In one list of goods, he asked for:

  • 400 Neat Long Substantial stocks to have some distinguishing mark on the Barrel and Lock of each

400 do. a better kind distinguished above

  • 200 do. 3 Feet Barrel for Boys, do. Wilson Maker
  • 100 pr. of Middling Pistols and Ramrod
  • 1000 Indian Cutlashes strong & of the cymiter Kind
  • 500 pipe Hatchets neat & strong without Handles
  • 50 dozn. of Long Fish Knives with Box Handles and sharp points
  • 50 do. of Buckhorn clasp Knives
  • 20 dozn. of Penknives Sorted

Johnson's list of arms was very specific and in keeping with exactly what the Haudenosaunee requested. He knew, with his thorough knowledge of the functioning of the Iroquois affairs, that failure to fulfil their requests could lose their support for the British crown.

A powder horn and a shot pouch would have been worn over the shoulder and high up under the arm to minimise them flapping about whilst moving. Shot pouches were often made of woven fibre with white bead patterns woven into the threads; bags of deerskin with sewn wampum panels with small white geometric patterns on a dark blue-black field or of black dyed skin with quillwork and white bead edging with a fringe of metal cones filled with red dyed deer hair (thunderbird and underwater panther designs are absent from Iroquois quillwork, where the Thunderer is envisaged as a man-being form). Straps were of woven fibre or loomed wampum. A knife was carried in a sheaf, often decorated with red, black and white quillwork, hung around the neck and a tomahawk or warclub was carried stuffed through a belt at the back.

Belts were either of skin wrapped twice around the body and tied at the front or of finger woven wool, being enriched by the addition of white beads, which were carried on a special thread in zig-zag or diamond and hexagonal designs V and W designs predominated in narrow sashes. Beads were also worked into the deep yarn fringes (20 inches to a yard long). Sashes were usually red but shades of blue, sage green, old gold and white were also made. Red sashes sometimes had three-quarters to one-inch-wide borders of dark green or other colours with white beads woven into the border. One sash dated 1741 is of black wool with a zig-zag pattern worked with white beads.

Pierre Pouchot described generically the equipment carried by Native American men. ‘They hung to this belt their mirrors and their tobacco pouch, which is the skin of an otter, beaver, cat or bird taken off whole and tanned, into which they put their pipe tobacco and steel. They have also a pocket hanging like a wallet, for carrying their balls and lead for hunting or war. They have an ox horn with a shoulder strap for carrying powder. Their knife is hung in a sheaf from the neck, and falls upon the breast. They also have a crooked knife or a curved sword, and they make great use of this.’ Warclubs, tomahawks would have been worn in the waist belt. James Bloomfield, writing in 1776, stated that the hatchet was stuck in the ‘girdle behind’ in time of war.

Warren Johnson writing in 1760 observed that: ‘... in Action have on, only a Lap [breechclout], & Indian Shoes, & their Ammunition Slung round them, with Balls in their Mouths which prevents their being thirsty.’


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Pouchot, Pierre, Memoir Upon The Late War In North America, Between The French And English, 1755-60. Volume II, Alpha Editions, 2021, pp. 189-191.

Rice, Brian, The Rotinonshonni: A Traditional Iroquoian History Through the Eyes of Yeharonhia: Wako and Sawiskera, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2013.

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Russell, Guns on the Early Frontiers: From Colonial Times to the Years of the Western Fur Trade, pp.14-16.

N.B.: the section Role during the War is mostly derived from our articles depicting the various campaigns, battles and sieges.


Larry Burrows for a major overhaul of the entire article