Nanye'hi (Cherokee: ᎾᏅᏰᎯ: "One who goes about")
|Beloved Woman of the Cherokee leader|
Chota, Monroe County, Tennessee
|Died||1822 or 1824
Near Benton, Tennessee
|Spouse(s)||"Tsu-la" or Kingfisher; Bryant Ward|
|Children||Catherine Ka-Ti Kingfisher, and Fivekiller and Betsy Ward|
|Parents||Mother, the sister of Attakullakulla|
Nanyehi (Cherokee: ᎾᏅᏰᎯ: "One who goes about"), known in English as Nancy Ward (ca. 1738–1822 or 1824) was a Beloved Woman of the Cherokee, which means that she was allowed to sit in councils and to make decisions, along with the chiefs and other Beloved Women. She believed in peaceful coexistence with the European-Americans and helped her people as peace negotiator and ambassador. She also introduced them to farming and dairy production bringing substantial changes to the Cherokee society.
Nanyehi was born around 1738 in the Cherokee capital, Chota (Cherokee: “City of Refuge”) in what today is known as Monroe County, Tennessee. Her mother, the sister of Attakullakulla was a member of the Wolf Clan. Though her mother is often referred to as "Tame Doe", the name is from a fictional story by E. Sterling King  and has no other historical source. James Mooney writes "it is said her (Nancy's) father was a British officer named Ward". However, according to Nanyehi's descendant John Walker "Jack" Hildebrand, her father was a member of the Delaware tribe.
About 1751 she married the Cherokee "Tsu-la" or Kingfisher, who according to Emmett Starr was a member of the Deer Clan. Starr writes that in the Battle of Taliwa against the Creeks Nancy lay behind a log in order to chew his bullets so that the resulting jagged edges might create more damage. Kingfisher was killed, and Nancy picked up his rifle and continued the fight leading her people to victory.
Afterwards, at the age of 18 she was awarded with the title of “Ghigau”, making her a member of the tribal council of chiefs. She was also named the leader of the Women’s Council of Clan Representatives and took over the role of ambassador and negotiator for her people.
She remarried to Bryant Ward with whom she had a daughter, Betsy, who later became the wife of General Joseph Martin. Bryant Ward was already married to a woman of European descent who lived in South Carolina. He returned to live with his first wife, but maintained relations with Nanye'hi.
Changes to Cherokee society
In the beginnings of the 1760s the Cherokees had entered an alliance with the American colonists who were fighting the French and Indian War. In exchange for their assistance the European-Americans promised to protect them against the Creeks and Choctaws. This led to the building of military stations and frontier posts in Cherokee land and with them, settlers came into the nation. After an incident in West Virginia where frontiersmen killed a group of Cherokees, who were returning from the conquering of Fort Duquesne helping the British, the Natives killed more than 20 settlers in order to get revenge. A two year lasting conflict began in which the Cherokees captured Fort Loudin defeating the British forces.
As a Ghigau, Nancy had the power to spare captives and in 1776, following a Cherokee attack on the Fort Watauga settlement on the Watauga River (at present day Elizabethton, Tennessee), she used that power to spare a Mrs. William (Lydia Russell) Bean, whom she took into her house and nursed back to health from injuries suffered in the battle. Mrs. Bean taught Nanyehi a new loom weaving technique, revolutionizing the Cherokee garments, which at the time were a combination of hides, handwoven vegetal fiber cloth, and cloth bought from traders. This weaving revolution also changed the roles of women in the Cherokee society, as they took on the weaving and left men to do the planting, which had traditionally been a woman's job.
Mrs. Bean also rescued two of her dairy cows from the settlement, and brought them to Nanyehi, who learned to raise the cattle and to eat dairy products, which would sustain the Cherokee when hunting was bad.
On June 12, 1793, a delegation had gathered at Hanging Maugh's preparing to proceed to Philadelphia in compliance with an invitation from the President. The delegation was attacked without warning by a company of whites led by Captain John Beard, and Nancy's daughter Elizabeth was killed. Captain Beard was tried before a court martial but was acquitted.
Emmet Starr writes that Nancy was a successful cattle raiser and is said to have been the first to introduce that industry among the Cherokees. The combination of loom weaving and dairy farming helped transform Cherokee society from a communal agricultural society into a society very similar to that of their European-American neighbors, with family plots and the need for ever-more labor. Thus some Cherokee adopted the practice of chattel slavery. Nanyehi was among the first Cherokee to own African-American slaves.
After a truce, Carolina Rangers and Royal Scots joined the British light infantry invading Cherokee territory burning crops and towns. The Cherokees surrendered giving up a large portion of their lands.
The Cherokees had to face multiple issues during the Revolutionary War. On one hand, they were helping the British on the other, they were arguing about whether to use force to expel the settler on their land or not. Ward’s cousin, Dragging Canoe, wanted to ally with the British against the settlers but the Cherokees’ Beloved Woman was trying to support them. In May 1775, a group of Delaware, Mohawk and Shawnee emissaries formed a delegation which headed south to support the British who were trying to gain the help of the Cherokees and other tribes. In July of the same year, Dragging Canoe led the Chickamauga Cherokee band in attacks against the European-American settlements and forts located in the Appalachians and other isolated areas of the region. State militias retaliated destroying Native villages and crops and forced the tribe to give up more of their land by 1777.
In July 1776, Ward, who was aiming for a peaceful resolution, warned a group of white settlers living near the Holston River and on the Virginia border about an imminent attack of her people.
The British supported Dragging Canoe’s war against the settlers supplying weapons but in 1778, 700 soldiers under Colonel Evan Shelby attacked his territory and limited the Cherokee resistance to a minor conflict.
In 1780, Ward continued warning American soldiers of attacks trying to prevent retaliations against her people. According to Felton she even sent food in form of cattle to the starving militia. Her efforts couldn’t prevent another invasion of the Cherokee territory by the North Carolina militia, who destroyed more villages demanding further land cessions. Ward and her family were captured in the battle but they were eventually released and returned to Chota.
One year later, in July, the Beloved Woman negotiated a peace treaty between her people and the Americans. After the treaty the Americans were able to send troops to support George Washington’s army against the British General Cornwallis in the American Revolution.
Ward continued promoting alliance and mutual friendship between the Cherokees and the colonists, as she showed during the negotiation of the Treaty of Hopewell (1785). She led the Cherokee in the implementation of farming and dairy production. Later on she advised her people not to sell land to the settlers but failed in the attempt.
Nanyehi objected to the sale of Cherokee lands to whites, but her objections were largely ignored. In 1808 and again in 1817, the Women's Council came out in opposition to the sale of more and more land. Since she was too sick to attend the Cherokee council in 1817 in which it was discussed whether to move west or not. She sent a letter writing: “…don’t part with any more of our lands but continue on it and enlarge your farms and cultivate and raise corn and cotton and we, your mothers and sisters, will make clothing for you… It was our desire to forewarn you all not to part with our lands," but despite her efforts in 1819 the lands north of the Hiwassee River were sold, forcing her to move.
Status of women
Nanyehi became a de facto ambassador between the Cherokee and the whites. She learned the art of diplomacy from her maternal uncle, the influential chief Attakullakulla ("Little Carpenter"). In 1781, when the Cherokee met with an American delegation led by John Sevier to discuss American settlements along the Little Pigeon River, Nancy expressed surprise that there were no women negotiators among the Americans. Sevier was equally appalled that such important work should be given to a woman. Nancy told him, "You know that women are always looked upon as nothing; but we are your mothers; you are our sons. Our cry is all for peace; let it continue. This peace must last forever. Let your women's sons be ours; our sons be yours. Let your women hear our words." An American observer said that her speech was very moving.
On July 5, 1807, the Moravian mission school at Spring Place, Georgia, in the Cherokee Nation, was visited by three elderly women, including a very distinguished lady who had been a widow of fifty years and almost one hundred years old. She was described as "an unusually sensible person, honored and loved by both brown and white people." "This old woman, named Chiconehla, is supposed to have been in a war against an enemy nation and was wounded numerous times...Her left arm is decorated with some designs, which she said were fashionable during her youth...." Chiconehla stayed for two days, entertained by the students and discussing theology with the missionaries with the aid of translating by her distant relative, Mrs. James Vann (Margaret Scott). The circumstances of this high status woman leave little doubt that this Cherokee named Chiconehla was identical to the person known as Nancy Ward.
Death, burial, and remembrance
Nancy Ward opened an inn in southeastern Tennessee on Womankiller Ford of what was then called the Ocowee River (present day Ocoee River). Her son cared for her during her last years. She died in 1822, or possibly 1824, before the Cherokee were removed from their remaining lands during the Trail of Tears. She and her son Fivekiller are buried at the top of a hill not far from the site of the inn, which is south of present-day Benton, Tennessee. In 1923 the Nancy Ward chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, based in Chattanooga, placed a memorial marker at the grave sites near Benton, Tennessee. The Polk County Historical and Genealogical Society currently maintains a Nancy Ward Room in their genealogy library until such a time as the museum is created. Polk County, Tennessee where Benton is located, is trying to raise money to create a Nancy Ward Museum.
After her death she was mentioned in many stories. Theodore Roosevelt mentions her in The Winning of the West (1905). She is also mentioned in the Calendar of Virginia State Papers, The South Carolina State Papers, James Mooney's History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees, and the Draper Collection. A chapter of the The American Daughters Of the Revolution in Tennessee carries her name.
Ward was the last woman to receive the title of Beloved Woman until the 1980s, when Maggie Wachacha was given the title.
A statue of Nancy Ward, carved by James Abraham Walker around 1906, was sold in 1912 and stood in a cemetery in Grainger County, Tennessee for about 70 years before it was stolen in the early 1980s. The East Tennessee Historical Society is seeking the return of the statue to Tennessee.
Nancy Ward is not only remembered as an important figure to the Cherokee people but is also considered an early pioneer for women in American politics as she advocated for a woman's voice during a turbulent period in her tribe's history.
The Trail of Tears
According to the web-site RootsWeb, Ward wrote to the President of the United States asking for help "Our people would have more hoes, plows, seed, cotton carding and looms for weaving. They would learn your way of cultivation. If you would send these things we will put them to good use." In her last years Ward repeatedly had a vision showing a "great line of our people marching on foot. Mothers with babies in their arms. Fathers with small children on their back. Grandmothers and Grandfathers with large bundles on their backs. They were marching West and the 'Unaka' (White Soldiers) were behind them. They left a trail of corpses the weak, the sick who could not survive the journey." After she passed away, President Andrew Jackson supported the State of Georgia's efforts to evict the Cherokee from their tribal lands and make it available for white settlers. The militia invaded Chota and destroyed the printing press used by the tribe to print their newspaper. When the Native Americans were rounded-up and forced into exile, only a few Cherokees managed to escape and find refuge in the mountains of North Carolina. In 1838,Cherokees were forced to relocate to land west of the Mississippi river. They traveled in several large groups primarily on foot, without proper clothing and provisions, approximately 800 miles. More than 4,000 Cherokees died as a result of President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830, now referred to as the Trail of Tears or the "Nunna-da-ult-sun-yi".
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- McClary, Ben Harris. "The Last Beloved Woman of the Cherokees." Tennessee Historical Society Quarterly 21 (1962): 352–64.
- Tucker, Norma. "Nancy Ward, Ghighau of the Cherokees." Georgia Historical Quarterly 53 (June 1969): 192–200
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- Nancy Ward at Find a Grave
- Descendants of Nancy Ward website
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- "Nanye-Hi (Nancy Ward) – Cherokee", by Julia White
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- Women Political Pioneers Newsweek/MSNBC.com
- More Nancy Ward Info