“The United States was the phoenix that arose out of the destruction of the Iroquois. ” This statement may seem strange as the Iroquois League, or Iroquois Confederacy as it later became known in 1722 with the addition of the Tuscarora, was one the most dominate Indian presences in North America during the 17th and 18th centuries. It originally consisted of the Five Nations of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca. The confederacy referred to themselves as the Haudenosaunee, or the People of the Longhouse with each tribe playing an important role in controlling and protecting
Iroquois land. They were viewed as a warring people, for whom warfare served to ease grieving, gain captives, and provide young men opportunity for advancement in Iroquois culture. As a result of their power, the Iroquois came into conflict with the British and French, allying with the side with whom they traded. Such was the case during the 17th century in the now termed ‘Beaver Wars’ where never-ending war heavily taxed the Five Nations, resulting in a reduced population of 5,000 and the loss of half of its wariors.
The depletion of its power led the Iroquois o institute a new form of diplomacy known as the Covenant Chain, which established peace with both the French and English with the Great Settlement in 1701. These accounts detailed in Timothy Shannon’s book Iroquis Diplomacy on the Early American Frontier, display that Iroquois diplomacy was ever fluid from the Great Settlement in 1701 to the American Revolution through its use of diplomacy for neutrality and benefit, ever fluid customs, and lastly place of power amongst other Indian Nations.
Iroquois’ diplomacy was ever fluid as they transitioned from being neutral ‘middleman’ to aggressive policy aker warriors throughout the 18th century. For one to understand the Great Settlement between the Iroquois and both the French and English, one must first understand the Covenant Chain, where if the Iroquois made a pact to trade with another power they were ‘linked in arms’ together peacefully. The Iroquois often drew from experiences to maintain the League when dealing with outsiders.
Therefore, diplomatic relations with outsiders were treated the same as if the relations were between kin, with the aim being peaceful and also prosperous as the, “diplomatic customs the Iroquois used o deal with Europeans derived from their own experience in construction and maintain their confederacy with each other. ” However, this is not to say that the Iroquois were neither shrewd nor selfish as, “negotiations with Indian and European counterparts involved occasional subterfuge, obfuscation and exaggeration… ut negotiation on the colonial frontier also demanded flexibility and innovation, the ability to create and maintain peace. ”
Both of these attributes, engaging peacefully as kin with the Europeans while as being shrewd, came into play hen the Iroquois negotiated The Great Settlement in July 1701. This was shrewd (Their negotiation was clever) because the Iroquois gave conflicted land in the Great Lakes to the British to war (fight) over, while also maintaining peace with the French.
Here the Covenant Chain played prominent role as it allowed for the Iroquois to establish peace with both major European powers through trade. Yet, over time, the Iroquois’ interpretation of the Covenant Chain changed from a ‘middlemen’ approach to facilitate peace between colonists and other tribes alike to one of aggressive expansion. One example f this middleman approach occurred in 1722, when then New York governor William Burnet asked the Iroquois to, “serve as brokers between the warring Abenakis and New Englanders” in exchange for a reward.
This was not uncommon as the Iroquois League was seen as a power by both colonists and other Indian tribes, and so used its role to facilitate trade between western tribes and also alliances between those tribes. Still, this role transformed once again later in the 18th century when the Iroquois took a more active role in European Warfare. They began serving as raiders for the British during the French nd Indian War, attacking French and French-Indian settlements as the Iroquois now relied upon British goods and thus tied them to the fortune of the British.
Another important aspect of Iroquois diplomacy during the 18th century that played a key role in was the customs utilized in conducting treaties. Many Iroquois were not literate and treaty making through ceremony, gift exchange, and language, instead of the ink on the treaty itself, since these records were often inaccurate accounts of the proceedings and terms. Many Indians believed that, “gifts given in diplomatic encounters stablished mutual obligations in a similar fashion between the giver and recipient.. or the objects involved gave tangible form to the emotions and relationships expressed in the negotiations: friendship, esteem, alliance. ”
However, as time progressed, the Iroquois expected larger donations of gifts during the treaty-making process for trade, as this was associated with the sincerity of the other party present. Many gifts, such as guns, axes, wool, etc. that the Iroquois eventually became reliant upon (just say “needed”) led them to depend on on European trade. In addition, ceremonies began to change as well for both Europeans and the Iroquois.
Just as the Europeans adopted the practices of the wampum belt and peace pipe, so to did the Iroquois adopt European customs, creating hybrid ceremonies. When meeting the British, the Iroquois would welcome them with a woods’ edge greeting, and the town would welcome the party with joy with the British adopting the practice in later years. By the 1740s, the Iroquois adopted more English customs, such as gun salutes, flying British colors and flute music to welcome guests, and wearing English dress to ymbolize their partnership.
Lastly, Iroquois power changed significantly from the Great Settlement in 1701 to the American hey valued the process of Revolution. During the early 18th century, the Iroquois had been decimated by constant warring, and therefore needed to turn to treaties with European powers to preserve its status. Yet, as time progressed, Iroquois power grew as it expanded its trade base and influence over other tribes that they then incorporated.
The Iroquois often expected weaker nations to defer to them in matters of diplomacy this led to the integration f the “sixth nation” of the Tuscaroras in the Susquehanna Valley into the Longhouse of the Iroquois and with it the change from the Iroquois League to that of the Iroquois Confederacy. This adoption of other tribes, or props as they were known then, into its own nation represents a flexibly that was required to maintain power on the frontier as they were able to adapt to different situations and extend their influence ever outward.
In addition, the Iroquois often sided with the powerful colonial as it extended its influence over tribes such as Forks Delaware and hen sold the land to the colonists, as they had been enemies with the Pennsylvanians and so had to be defeated as they threatened the Covenant Chain. This change in interpretation of the Covenant Chain under Chief Canastego was skewed to favor the Iroquois’ European allies. This often led to a reinterpretation of Iroquois history and so was used to Canastego’s advantage when negotiating new terms with both Maryland and Virginia over land claims and the establishment of independence from colonial governments.
The most famous display of Iroquois ower came at the Albany Congress of 1754, which included Benjamin Franklin and representatives of seven colonies, took place due to the Mohawks’ grievances over loss of trade to their Canadian brethren in return for guns that were being used against them in the Ohio Valley. They presented a wampum belt, requesting that William Johnson be reinstated as their agent, and the colonists recognizing the power the Iroquois had no choice to agree. This resulted in Johnson being reinstated along with trade thus insuring the prosperity of both Iroquois and colonist alike and an alliance with the British.