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The Tammanies or Tammany Societies were named for the Delaware chief Tamanend or Tammany revered for his wisdom. During the American Revolutionary War admiring colonists dubbed him St. Tammany, the Patron Saint of America.[1]

Tammanies are most well known today for New York City's Tammany Hall—also popularly known as the Great Wigwam—but that society was not limited to New York. Indeed, there were Tammany Societies throughout the colonies, and later, the young country, reflecting a great popular interest in frontier and Indian life, customs and language.

The Smithsonian's highly respected Handbook of Indians North of Mexico has this to say about the Tammanies:

...it appears that the Philadelphia society, which was probably the first bearing the name, and is claimed as the original of the Red Men secret order, was organized May 1, 1772, under the title of Sons of King Tammany, with strongly Loyalist tendency. It is probable that the "Saint Tammany" society was a later organization of Revolutionary sympathizers opposed to the kingly idea. Saint Tammany parish, La., preserves the memory. The practice of organizing American political and military societies on an Indian basis dates back to the French and Indian war, and was especially in favor among the soldiers of the Revolutionary army, most of whom were frontiersmen more or less familiar with Indian life and custom. . .
The society occasionally at first known as the Columbian Order took an Indian title and formulated for itself a ritual based upon supposedly Indian custom. Thus, the name chosen was that of the traditional Delaware chief; the meeting place was called the "wigwam"; there were 13 "tribes" or branches corresponding to the 13 original states, the New York parent organization being the "Eagle Tribe," New Hampshire the "Otter Tribe," Delaware the "Tiger Tribe," whence the famous "Tammany tiger," etc. The principal officer of each tribe was styled the "sachem," and the head of the whole organization was designated the kitchi okeemaw, or grand sachem, which office was held by Mooney himself for more than 20 years. Subordinate officers also were designated by other Indian titles, records were kept according to the Indian system by moons and seasons, and at the regular meetings the members attended in semi-Indian costume. . .[2]

The defining purpose of the Tammany Societies was to delight in all things Native American—titles, seasons, rituals, language, costumes and so forth as this 1812 notice of a meeting of Wigwam No. 9 in Hamilton, Ohio illustrates:

NOTICE.--The members of the Tammany Society No. 9 will meet at their wigwam at the house of brother William MURRAY, in Hamilton, on Thursday, the first of the month of heats, precisely at the going down of the sun. Punctual attendance is requested.
"By order of the Great Sachem. "
The ninth of the month of flowers, year of discovery 323. William C. KEEN, Secretary [3]

This notice is virtually a carbon copy of the kind of notices that appeared regularly throughout the young nation for decades. Only the details of time, place, and perhaps Native rituals to be observed changed. Although the New York Tammanies came to be part of the Democratic political machine, politics was never a very important part of the New York Tammanies' agenda; their notices were like the one above and virtually never mentioned political activity. A political rally or parade was little more than merely another opportunity to delight in what they perceived as Indian regalia, customs and language.


  1. ^ Weatherford, Jack (1991). "America's Patron Saint". Native Roots: How the Indians Enriched America. New York: Fawcett Columbine. ISBN 0-517-57485-3. 
  2. ^ Frederick Webb Hodge, editor, Handbook of Indians North of Mexico (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 30. GPO 1911), 2:683-684
  3. ^ "Tammany Society" from "A Historical and Biographical Cyclopedia of Butler County, Ohio"