Oskanondonha (1710-1816) was an Oneida "pine tree chief". He was born an Iroquoian-speaking Susquehannock (also called Conestoga) but was adopted into the Oneida people. Alternate spellings for his name include Skenando, Skenandoa, Skonondon, and Shenandoah. When he accepted Christianity, he was baptized as John.
During the colonial years, he supported the English against the French in the Seven Years War. Later, during the American Revolutionary War, he supported the colonials and led a force of 250 Oneida and Tuscarora warriors in western New York in their support. A longtime friend of the minister Samuel Kirkland, a founder of Hamilton College, his request to be buried next to him was granted. In the procession at the funeral of Skenando were Oneida, students and officers from Hamilton College, Mrs. Kirkland and her family, and many citizens of Clinton, New York.
During the Seven Years War (also called the French and Indian War in the United States), the chief Skenando favored the British against the French and led the Oneida in their support. He was said to have saved colonists in German Flatts from a massacre. During the next decades, he formed more alliances with the ethnic German and British colonists in central and western New York. He was notable for his height, estimated to be 6'5" and was said to have a commanding presence.
Samuel Kirkland, a missionary minister who first went to the Iroquois country of western New York in 1764, encountered Chief Skenando there and mentioned him in letters. Kirkland returned to the area in 1766 and worked with the Oneida for the remainder of his life. After Kirkland persuaded the chief to become baptized, Skenando took the name "John". Many of the Oneida converted to Christianity before the American Revolutionary War.
In part due to his friendship with Kirkland, Chief Skenando favored the colonials and led the Oneida to be their allies during the Revolutionary War. He led many Oneida to fight against the British and their Iroquois allies from four nations of the Confederacy. He commanded 250 warriors from the Oneida and Tuscarora tribes. Today the silver pipe given to him in appreciation in the 1800s by New York Governor Daniel D. Tompkins is displayed at Shako:wi, the Oneida Nation museum at their reservation near Syracuse.
Together with their warriors fighting against the British and allies from Pennsylvania to the Canadian border, the Oneida oral tradition tells that Chief Skenando provided critical food to General George Washington and his men during their harsh winter at Valley Forge in 1777-1778 by sending them corn. Washington is said to have named the Shenandoah River and valley in his honor. In addition, Polly Cooper, an Oneida woman, aided the troops by teaching them how to cook corn properly and care for the sick. Washington gave her a shawl in thanks, which is displayed at Shako:wi.
Skenando was the father-in-law of the Mohawk war leader Joseph Brant, who allied with the British during the revolution. Brant had Skenando jailed at Fort Niagara in 1779 during the war when the Oneida was on a peace mission to the Iroquois. Skenando or Shenandoah is claimed as an ancestor by the Oneida singer Joanne Shenandoah.
After the war, Kirkland continued to be involved with the Oneida. About 1791 he started planning a seminary, a boys' school to be open to Oneida as well as European-American young men of the area. In 1793 he received a charter from the state for the Hamilton Oneida Seminary, and in 1794 completed its first building, known as Oneida Hall. By 1812, the seminary developed into the four-year institution known as Hamilton College.
Upon the death of Skenando, at his wish (and with the Kirkland family's approval) he was buried beside his friend (who had died in 1808) on the grounds of Kirkland's home in Clinton, New York. Today the property is known as Harding Farm. As a measure of the respect for the chief, the procession at his funeral in 1816 included his one surviving son and other Oneida people, students and officers from Hamilton College, the widow Mrs. Kirkland and other members of her family, and numerous citizens. In 1851, both bodies were reinterred in the cemetery of Hamilton College, of which Kirkland was a co-founder.
Legacy and honors
- A monument to Skenando was erected by the Northern Missionary Society at the cemetery. Its long inscription recognizes his leadership, friendship with Kirkland, and important contributions to the colonists during the war.
- John Warner Barber, Henry Howe, Historical Collections of the State of New York, "Account of the Death of Skenandoa"], Published for the authors by S. Tuttle, 1842, pp. 362-364, accessed 5 July 2011
- Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Skenando". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton
- Michael Nassar, "Five Native American Treasures Within Driving Distance", New York Daily News, 15 July 2008
- "Cultural Heritage: American Revolution", 5 July 2010, Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin
- "The Revolutionary War", 5 July 2010, Oneida Indian Nation