Conotocaurious (Town Destroyer) was a nickname given to George Washington by Iroquois Native Americans. The name in its original language(s) has been given variously as "Caunotaucarius", "Conotocarious", "Hanodaganears", and "Hanadahguyus." It is translated as "Town Taker", "Burner of Towns", "Devourer of Villages", or "he destroys the town". Historians have given different origins of the nickname.
According to some historians, Washington was given the name in 1753 by the Seneca leader Tanacharison (the "Half-King"). Tanacharison—Washington's guide and ally at the outset of the French and Indian War—bestowed the name on Washington because it was the Iroquois nickname given to Washington's great-grandfather John Washington, who had emigrated to Virginia from England in 1657. John Washington was given the nickname because he had swindled American Indians out of some land, or, in another version of the story, after he had ordered the deaths of some American Indians during Bacon's Rebellion. When Tanacharison bestowed the name on George Washington, it may have been as part of Washington's ceremonial adoption as a Seneca, intended to compliment the young Virginian's military ardor.
Washington indeed referred to himself as "Conotocaurious" in a letter he wrote to Andrew Montour dated October 10, 1755, in which he entreated the Oneida to resettle on the Potomac:
- Recommend me kindly to our good friend Monacatootha, and others; tell them how happy it would make Conocotarious to have an opportunity of taking them by the hand at Fort Cumberland, and how glad he would be to treat them as brothers of our Great King beyond the waters.
In other accounts, Washington was given the nickname sometime after the 1779 Sullivan Expedition in the American Revolutionary War, which destroyed at least 40 Iroquois villages. Years later, in 1790, the Seneca chief Cornplanter told President Washington: "When your army entered the country of the Six Nations, we called you Town Destroyer," a title that some Iroquois still use to describe any President of the United States. In relating this story, historian Barbara Graymont also notes that, as President, Washington had a good relationship with the Iroquois in the United States, so much so that the Seneca religious leader Handsome Lake (Cornplanter's half-brother) declared that Washington was the only white man allowed to enter the Indians' heaven.
The two versions of the nickname's origin are not necessarily contradictory. If Washington was first given the nickname during the French and Indian War, it may have gained new meaning for the Iroquois during the Revolution, when individual members of four out of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy fought against Washington's armies.
- Ellis, p. 5, 8; Bacon's Rebellion: Randall, pp. 12-3; ceremonial adoption: Lewis, p. 113.
- Charles Augustus Hanna, 1911 The Wilderness Trail Vol I p. 236.
- Graymont, p. 192, 221.
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- The life of George Washington Vol I,II,III & IV by JOHN MARSHALL
- Ellis, Joseph J. Excellency: George Washington. New York: Knopf, 2004. ISBN 1-4000-4031-0.
- Graymont, Barbara. The Iroquois in the American Revolution. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1972. ISBN 0-8156-0083-6; ISBN 0-8156-0116-6 (paperback).
- Lewis, Thomas A. For King and Country: The Maturing of George Washington, 1748-1760. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. ISBN 0-06-016777-7.
- Randall, Willard Sterne. George Washington: A Life. New York: Henry Holt, 1997. ISBN 0-8050-2779-3.