Two Row Wampum Treaty

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The Two Row Wampum Treaty, also known as Guswhenta or Kaswhenta and as the Tawagonshi Agreement of 1613 or the Tawagonshi Treaty, is an agreement said to have been made between representatives of the Five Nations of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) and representatives of the Dutch government in 1613 in what is now upstate New York.[1] The agreement is considered by the Haudenosaunee to be the basis of all of their subsequent treaties with European and North American governments, including the Covenant Chain treaty with the British in 1677 and the Treaty of Canandaigua with the United States in 1794.

The pact's existence is a source of debate with some scholarly sources maintaining that a treaty between the Dutch and Kanienkeh (Mohawk Nation) did not take place or took place at a later date.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9] In August 2013, the Journal of Early American History published a special issue dedicated to exploring the Two Row Tradition.[10] Evidence of an agreement consists of the wampum and oral tradition. The authenticity of a written agreement is questionable.[1]


Soon after Henry Hudson's 1609 exploration of the Hudson River and its estuary, traders from the United Provinces of the Netherlands set up factorijs (trading posts) to engage in the fur trade. At the time the Iroquois Mohawk and the Mahican territory abutted in the mid-Hudson Valley. The Dutch traded with the indigenous population to supply fur pelts, particularly from beaver, which were abundant in the region. By 1614, the New Netherland Company was established and Fort Nassau was built, setting the stage for the development of the colony of New Netherland.[11]

The wampum[edit]

A representation of the original Two Row Wampum treaty belt.

The 1613 agreement was recorded by the Haudenosaunee in a wampum belt known as the Two Row Wampum.[1] This wampum records the meaning of the agreement, which declared peaceful coexistence between the Haudenosaunee and Dutch settlers in the area.[1] The pattern of the belt consists of two rows of purple wampum beads against a background of white beads.[1] The purple beads signify the courses of two vessels — a Haudenosaunee canoe and a European ship — traveling down the river of life together, parallel but never touching.[1] The three white stripes denote peace and friendship.

Haudenosaunee tradition also records the specific meaning of the belt as follows, in the form of a Haudenosaunee reply to the initial Dutch treaty proposal: "You say that you are our Father and I am your Son. We say 'We will not be like Father and Son, but like Brothers.' This wampum belt confirms our words. [...] Neither of us will make compulsory laws or interfere in the internal affairs of the other. Neither of us will try to steer the other's vessel."[12]

The treaty is considered by Haudenosaunee people to still be in effect.[1] The Haudenosaunee tradition states "As long as the Sun shines upon this Earth, that is how long our [Two Row Wampum] Agreement will stand; Second, as long as the Water still flows; and Third, as long as the Grass Grows Green at a certain time of the year. Now we have Symbolized this Agreement and it shall be binding forever as long as Mother Earth is still in motion."[13]

The wampum of the pact is stored in Canada and in 2013 was presented in festivities along the Hudson River celebrating the 400th anniversary of the treaty.[14][15]

The written document[edit]

The existence of written treaty was first made public in an article in 1968 by history professor and documents collector L.G. van Loon.[1] He claimed to have acquired it from an unnamed person on the Mississaugua Reservation in Canada.[1]

In 1987, academics Charles Gehring, William Starna, and William Fenton published a scholarly article in the New York History journal entitled “The Tawagonshi Treaty of 1613: The Final Chapter" in which they declared the document a fake because it contained grammatical anachronisms; because a blend of handwriting styles from the 17th and 20th Centuries was used; because the names of villages and not chiefs are used; and because the writing is too smooth to be made by a 17th Century quill pen.[1]

It contains ca. 40 grammatical anachronisms. On grammatical grounds it is likely that the text was written in the 20th century.[16]

Other scholars point out that the problems of language and pen strokes can be explained by the fact that it was copied by hand years after 1613.[1]

Robert Venables, a retired Cornell University professor, is among those who consider the document to be valid.[1]

The document was given to the Onondagas and remains near Syracuse, New York.[1]

Oral tradition[edit]

Onondaga leaders argue that oral tradition accompanied by the wampum is further evidence that an agreement was made in 1613.[1] Andy Mager of the Syracuse Peace Council was quoted in The Post-Standard as saying “We believe the Haudenosaunee oral history of the treaty...We believe the basic outlines of a treaty and that a treaty was negotiated between representatives of the Dutch and the Haudenosaunee in or around 1613.”[1]

Interpretations of the treaty[edit]

The Netherlands have been called upon as allies by Haudenosaunee in international affairs, notably at the League of Nations in 1923 in a conflict with Canada over membership and at the United Nations in 1977, requesting the Haudenosaunee passport to be honored internationally.The Dutch government honored the passport until 2010. It remains unclear if the policy will be changed in recognition of the 400th anniversary of the treaty.[17]

The Two Row Wampum continues to play a role in defining the relationship between citizens of New York State and Haudenosaunee residents of the region. In 2006, a dispute over whether Onondaga Nation students could be permitted to wear native regalia at their graduation ceremony at Lafayette High School in LaFayette, New York, was resolved in part through the school board's consideration and application of the principles of the Two Row Wampum.[18]

Larger disputes concerning extant treaties based on the Two Row Wampum, such as the Treaty of Canandaigua, remain unresolved through litigation and pending land claims.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Coin, Glenn (August 9, 2012). "400 years later, a legendary Iroquois treaty comes under attack". The Post-Standard. Retrieved 20 August 2013. If the paper treaty is fake, Starna said, so is the idea of any formal agreement made in 1613. 
  2. ^ Jennings, Francis (1995), The History And Culture Of Iroquois Diplomacy An Interdisciplinary Guide to the Treaties of the Six Nations and Their League, Syracuse University Press, ISBN 9780815626503 
  3. ^ Venables, Robert ((undated)). "The 1613 Treaty". Retrieved 2013-01-06.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  4. ^ Fenton, William Nelson (1998), The Great Law and the Longhouse: A Political History of the Iroquois Confederacy, University of Oklahoma Press, p. 269, ISBN 0-8061-3003-2 
  5. ^ Benjamin, Vernon (2000). "The Tawagonshi Agreement of 1613 A Chain of Friendship in the Dutch Hudson Valley". Retrieved 2013-01-06. 
  6. ^ Venables, Robert W. (September 2012). "An Analysis of the 1613 Tawagonshi Treaty". Onondaga Nation. Retrieved 2013-01-06. 
  7. ^ Coin, Glenn (August 9, 2012). "400 years later, a legendary Iroquois treaty comes under attack". The Post-Standard. Retrieved 2013-01-06. 
  8. ^ Van der Sijs, Nicoline (August 2012), "‘De laatste spreker van Low Dutch’ L.G. van Loon vervalste de geschiedenis van het Nederlands in Amerika (The last speaker of Low Dutch LG van Loon LG falsified the history of the Dutch in America)", Onze Taal 
  9. ^ Gehring, Charles T.; Starna, William A. (2012). "Revisiting the Fake Tawagonshi Treaty of 1613" (PDF). New York State Historial Society. Retrieved 2012-01-06. 
  10. ^ Early Iroquoian-European Contacts: The Kaswentha Tradition, the Two Row Wampum Belt, and the Tawagonshi Document.
  11. ^ Gehring, Charles T.; Starna, William A. (2009), "Dutch and Indians in the Hudson Valley: The Early Period", America's First River The History and Culture of the Hudson River Valley (SUNY Press), ISBN 978-0-615-30829-6 
  12. ^ James Wilson (March 2000). The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America. Grove / Atlantic Incorporated. pp. 115–116. ISBN 978-0-8021-3680-0. Retrieved 23 July 2013. 
  13. ^ David Blanchard (1980). Seven generations: a history of the Kanienkehaka. Kahnawake Survival School. p. 124. Retrieved 23 July 2013. 
  14. ^ "NY scholars claim Indian treaty document is fake". The Wall Street Journal. January 1, 2012. Retrieved 2013-01-07. 
  15. ^ Koch, Ingmar (August 23, 2012). "Vals of echt? De wampum bewijst het. (Fake or real? The wampum proves it.)". Ingmar bladert en schrijft. Retrieved 2013-01-07. 
  16. ^ Hermkens, Harrie; Sijs, Nicolien van der; Noordegraaf, Jan (2013). "Tawagonshi-verdrag is vervalst (Tawagonshi-treaty has been forged)" (PDF). Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Retrieved 2013-03-06. 
  17. ^ Wiemers, Serv (January 3, 2013). "De Indianen rekenen terecht op Nederland (The Indians rightly count on the Netherlands)". De Volkskrant (Amsterdam). 
  18. ^ Syracuse Post-Standard, May 18, 2006

Further reading[edit]

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