Nancy Ward

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Nancy Ward
Nanye'hi (Cherokee: ᎾᏅᏰᎯ: "One who goes about")
Beloved Woman of the Cherokee leader
Personal details
Bornc. 1738
Chota, Monroe County, Tennessee
Died1822 or 1824
Near Benton, Tennessee
Resting placeNancy Ward Tomb
Spouse(s)"Tsu-la" or Kingfisher; Bryant Ward
ChildrenCatherine Ka-Ti Walker, Littlefellow Histykeetee Fivekiller, and Betsy Ward
Parent(s)Mother, the sister of Attakullakulla

Nanyehi (Cherokee: ᎾᏅᏰᎯ: "One who goes about"), known in English as Nancy Ward (c. 1738 – 1822 or 1824), was a Beloved Woman and political leader of the Cherokee. She advocated for peaceful coexistence with European Americans and, late in life, spoke out for Cherokee retention of tribal lands. She is credited with the introduction of dairy products to the Cherokee economy.[1]


Nanyehi was born c. 1738 in the Cherokee capital, Chota (Cherokee: "City of Refuge"). Today it is within Monroe County, on the southeastern border of Tennessee. Her mother, the sister of Attakullakulla,[2] was a member of the Wolf Clan. (Note: Though her mother is often referred to as "Tame Doe", the name has no historical sources. It is associated with an 1895 novel about Ward by E. Sterling King.)[3] According to Nanyehi's descendant John Walker "Jack" Hildebrand, her father was "Fivekiller", a member of the Lenape (Delaware) tribe.[4][5] Some Lenape had migrated west across the Appalachian Mountains, far from their traditional mid-Atlantic coastal territories.

In her teens, Nanyehi married Tsu-la (Cherokee: Kingfisher). According to historian Emmet Starr, he was a member of the Deer Clan.[6] By the time she was 17, Nanyehi and Kingfisher had two children, Catherine Ka-Ti Walker and Littlefellow Hiskyteehee Fivekiller.[7][8]

In the 1755 Battle of Taliwa, when the Cherokee fought their traditional enemy, the Muscogee people (Creek), Nanyehi accompanied her husband to the field, located in what is now northern Georgia. She chewed his bullets before he loaded his gun, so that the jagged edges would inflict more damage.[6] After Kingfisher was killed in this battle, Nanyehi picked up her husband's rifle and led the Cherokee to victory.[9]

Beloved Woman[edit]

For her actions, the Cherokee awarded her the title of Ghigau (Cherokee: Beloved Woman), and made her the only female voting member of the Cherokee General Council.[10][7] She was also named the leader of the Women's Council of Clan Representatives, which authorized her to become an ambassador and negotiator for her people.[11]

Marriage to Bryant Ward[edit]

In the late 1750s, Nanyehi married again, to Irish trader Bryant Ward. She became known as Nancy, an anglicized version of her name. The couple had a daughter together, Elizabeth "Betsy" Ward. (She later married General Joseph Martin). Bryant Ward eventually returned to his base in South Carolina and his first wife, a woman of European descent. He had already been married to her when he married Nanyehi.[12]

Changes to Cherokee society[edit]

In the early 1760s, the Cherokee entered an alliance with the British colonists who were fighting the French and Indian War, the North American front of the Seven Years' War in Europe between Britain and France. Each side had Native American allies in North America. In exchange for their assistance, the British Americans promised to protect the Cherokee from the enemy Creek and Choctaw people.

The British built military stations and frontier posts in Cherokee land. These posts gradually attracted more European-American settlers. A group of European-American frontiersmen killed a group of Cherokee in present-day West Virginia, who were returning from having helped the British take over Fort Duquesne (at present-day Pittsburgh). Outraged, the Cherokee killed more than 20 settlers in retaliation. Conflict broke out that lasted two years, during which the Cherokee captured Fort Loudon on the Tellico River in August 1760.[13]

In her role as a Ghigau, Nancy Ward (as she became known to English-speakers) had the authority to spare captives. In 1776, following a Cherokee attack on the Fort Watauga settlement on the Watauga River (at present day Elizabethton, Tennessee), she saved settler Lydia (Russell) Bean, the wife of a man named William. She took Bean into her house and nursed her back to health from her wounds. Bean taught Nanyehi a new loom-weaving technique, which she taught others. The women had typically made garments by sewing a combination of processed hides, handwoven vegetal fiber cloth, and cotton or wool cloth bought from traders. Women wove all the cloth in the village for their garments.[14]

Lydia Bean had brought two of her dairy cows from the settlement. While she was living with Nanyehi, she taught the Cherokee woman how to care for the cows, milk them, and process the milk into dairy products. Both the animals and their products would sustain the Cherokee when hunting was bad.[14]

Starr wrote that Nancy Ward successfully raised cows and was said to have been the first to introduce that industry among the Cherokees.[6] Those Cherokee who adopted loom weaving and dairy farming began to resemble European-American subsistence farmers. Some Cherokee adopted the practice of chattel slavery, but these tended to be Cherokee in the Deep South, where they were developing cotton plantations. According to a 1933 account, Nanyehi was among the first Cherokee to own African-American slaves.[15]

After a truce, the Carolina Rangers and Royal Scots joined an expedition against Cherokee settlements, which burnt several captured towns. The Cherokee sought peace, making several land cessions.[16][17]

Revolutionary War[edit]

The Cherokee had to face multiple issues during the Revolutionary War. Most were allied with the British against the rebel colonists. They wanted to expel the settlers from their lands. Ward's cousin, Dragging Canoe, wanted to ally with the British against the settlers, but Nanyehi was trying to support the rebels.

In May 1775, a group of Delaware, Mohawk and Shawnee emissaries formed a delegation that headed south to support the British who were trying to gain the help of the Cherokee 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 forcing Cherokee bands to give up more of their land by 1777.[18]

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 by her people.[18] The British supported Dragging Canoe's war against the settlers and supplied him with weapons. But, in 1778, 700 soldiers under Colonel Evan Shelby attacked his territory. They reduced remaining Cherokee resistance to a minor conflict.[18]

In 1780, Ward continued warning Patriot soldiers of attacks, trying to prevent retaliatory raids against her people. According to Harold Felton, she sent cattle to the starving militia. Her efforts did not prevent another invasion of the Cherokee territory by the North Carolina militia. They destroyed more villages and demanded further land cessions. Ward and her family were captured in the battle, but they were eventually released and returned to Chota.[19]

In July 1781, the Beloved Woman Nanyehi negotiated a peace treaty between her people and the Americans. No longer facing a Cherokee threat, Americans sent troops from the western frontier to support George Washington's Continental army against the British General Cornwallis in the American Revolution.[2]

Ward continued promoting alliance and mutual friendship between the Cherokee and the rebel colonists, helping negotiate the Treaty of Hopewell (1785).[2] Nanyehi objected to the sale of Cherokee lands to whites, but her objections were largely ignored.[11] The Cherokee were under pressure in Georgia and Alabama from European-American encroachment. Some leaders believed that ceding lands bought them some time and helped preserve the Cherokee people. In 1808 and again in 1817, the Women's Council reportedly spoke out against the cession or sale to the United States of more lands.

In 1817 Nanyehi was too sick to attend the Cherokee council at which leaders discussed whether or not to move west of the Mississippi River, as was proposed by Georgia and the US government. She sent a letter to the council, 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."

Despite her efforts, in 1819 the Cherokee ceded their lands north of the Hiwassee River[20] and she was forced to join other Cherokee in moving south. [21]


Nanye'hi became a de facto ambassador between the Cherokee and the British and European Americans. She learned the art of diplomacy from her maternal uncle, the influential chief Attakullakulla ("Little Carpenter").[22] In 1781, she was among the Cherokee leaders who met with an American delegation led by John Sevier, to discuss American settlements along the Little Pigeon River in Tennessee. Nanyehi expressed surprise that there were no women negotiators among the Americans. Sevier was equally astonished that the Cherokee had entrusted such important work to a woman.

Nanyehi reportedly 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."[23] An American observer said that her speech was very moving.

On July 5, 1807, the Moravian mission school at Spring Place in the Cherokee Nation (now part of Georgia), was visited by three elderly Cherokee women. One had been widowed for 50 years and was said to be nearly 100 years old. She was described by the Moravians as "an unusually sensible person, honored and loved by both brown and white people."[24]

Said to be named Chiconehla, the woman purportedly fought against an enemy nation and was wounded numerous times. The missionaries wrote, "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. A relative, Margaret Scott, wife of James Vann (both Cherokee), translated for her. Historian Rowena McClinton believes Chiconehla was the woman also known as Nanye'hi, or Nancy Ward.[24]

Role of Beloved Woman[edit]

Ward has been mistakenly described as the last woman to receive the title of Beloved Woman. The "Cherokee Beloved Woman of Sugartown" was recognized in 1774 for seeking to prevent war with the Muscogee Creek.[25]

In the 1980s, the Eastern Band of Cherokee revived the use of the title, awarding Maggie Wachacha the title of Beloved Woman. They also honored several other women with this title in subsequent years.[26]

Death, burial, and legacy[edit]

Memorial to Nancy Ward, located near Benton, Tennessee.

Nancy Ward opened an inn in southeastern Tennessee at Womankiller Ford, on 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 in the late 1830s. She and her son Fivekiller are buried at the top of a hill not far from the site of the inn, south of present-day Benton, Tennessee.[21]

Nanyehi has been documented in historical papers and accounts. She is noted in the Calendar of Virginia State Papers,[31] the South Carolina State Papers, James Mooney's History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees,[32] and the Draper Collection.[33] Theodore Roosevelt mentions her in his book, The Winning of the West (1905).[34]

  • A statue of Nancy Ward, carved by James Abraham Walker around 1906, was sold in 1912. It stood in a cemetery in Grainger County, Tennessee for about 70 years, but was stolen in the early 1980s. The East Tennessee Historical Society is seeking the return of the statue to Tennessee.[35][30]

Nancy Ward is remembered not only as an important figure of the Cherokee people but is also considered an early pioneer for women in American politics. She advocated for a woman's voice during a turbulent period in her tribe's history.[36]


In her last years Nanyehi 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."[37]

President Andrew Jackson had long supported Indian Removal, and gained Congressional authorization by a law in 1830. The militia invaded Chota and destroyed the printing press used by the tribe to print their newspaper.

Some Cherokee in North Carolina evaded or otherwise arranged to stay in the state, becoming state and US citizens when they gave up tribal membership. Most remaining Cherokee were forced to relocate to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. In what they called the Nunna-da-ult-sun-yi, or Trail of Tears, they traveled in several large groups, primarily on foot, without proper clothing and provisions, approximately 800 miles. More than 4,000 Cherokees died along the way. [38][39]


  1. ^ "Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party: Heritage Floor: Nancy Ward". Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Nancy Ward, Tennessee Encyclopedia
  3. ^ The Wild Rose of Cherokee, Or Nancy Ward, "The Pocahontas of the West." University Press, Nashville: University Press (1895)
  4. ^ The Association of the Descendants of Nancy Ward, Biography of Nancy Ward, by David Hampton
  5. ^ "Nanyehi (Nancy Ward)". National Women's History Museum. Archived from the original on 2018-03-19.
  6. ^ a b c Starr, Emmet. History of the Cherokee Indians and Their Legends and Folk Lore. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Warden Company, 1921
  7. ^ a b "Nancy Ward" (PDF). New-York Historical Society.
  8. ^ "Ward, Elizabeth Betsy of Wolf Clan". Cherokee Registry.
  9. ^ Moore, Lisa L.; Brooks, Joanna; Wigginton, Caroline (2012). Transatlantic Feminisms in the Age of Revolutions. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 179. ISBN 9780199743490.
  10. ^ Calloway, Colin G. (1998). The American Revolution in Indian Country : Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities ([Repr.] ed.). Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press. ISBN 9780521475693.
  11. ^ a b "Nancy Ward Native American leader". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  12. ^ "Nanyehi (Nancy) Ward". National Women's History Museum. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  13. ^ Waldman, Carl (2006). Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes (3rd ed.). New York: Checkmark Books. ISBN 978-0816062744. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  14. ^ a b King, Duane H., ed. (2007). The Memoirs of Lt. Henry Timberlake : The Story of a Soldier, Adventurer, and Emissary to the Cherokees, 1756-1765. Cherokee, N.C.: Museum of the Cherokee Indian Press. p. 122. ISBN 9780807831267. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  15. ^ Davis, J. B. (1933). "SLAVERY IN THE CHEROKEE NATION". Chronicles of Oklahoma. 11 (4). Archived from the original on 10 March 2015. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  16. ^ The Keetoowah Society and the Avocation of Religious Nationalism in the Cherokee Nation, 1855-1867, U.S. GenNet, Inc.
  17. ^ Carl Waldman, Atlas of the North American Indian (New York: Facts on File Publications, 1985)
  18. ^ a b c Rhoden, Nancy L. (2000). The Human Tradition in the American Revolution. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources Inc. ISBN 978-0842027489.
  19. ^ Felton, Harold W. (1975). Nancy Ward, Cherokee. New York: Dodd, Mead. ISBN 9780396070726.
  20. ^ Articles of convention made between John C Calhoun, Secretary of War, and the Cherokees as the Treaty with the Cherokee, dated Feb. 27, 1819.
  21. ^ a b Rozema, Vicki (2007). Footsteps of the Cherokees : A Guide to the Eastern Homelands of the Cherokee Nation. Winston-Salem, N.C.: John F. Blair. ISBN 978-0-89587-346-0.
  22. ^ James, Edward T.; James, Janet Wilson; Boyer, Paul S. (1974). Notable American Women, 1607–1950 : A Biographical Dictionary (3. print. ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674627345.
  23. ^ Suzack, Cheryl, ed. (2010). Indigenous Women and Feminism: Politics, Activism, Culture. Vancouver: UBC Press. p. 43. ISBN 978-0774818087.
  24. ^ a b The Moravian Springplace Mission to the Cherokees, Vol. I, 1805–1813 (pp. 194–196), edited and translated by Rowena McClinton, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2007.
  25. ^ Corkran, David H. (1967). The Creek Frontier, 1540–1783. University of Oklahoma: Norman. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-8061-5284-4.
  26. ^ "History Feature: WNC’s 50 Most Influential People, Past and Present." Archived 2011-04-16 at the Wayback Machine Mountain Living in Western North Carolina. (retrieved 22 March 2011)
  27. ^ "Welcome to the Nancy Ward Chapter - Tennessee Society Daughters of the American Revolution". Retrieved 29 March 2015.
  28. ^ Cook, Bernard A., ed. (2006). Women and War : A Historical Encyclopedia from Antiquity to the Present. Santa Barbara, Calif. [u.a.]: ABC-Clio. p. 640. ISBN 978-1851097708. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  29. ^ "Nancy Ward Museum". Tennessee Department of Tourist. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  30. ^ a b "Nancy Ward". The Wakan Circle. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  31. ^ Hodge, Frederick Webb (1907). Handbook Of American Indians North Of Mexico. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. ISBN 978-0781240307.
  32. ^ Ellison, George (1992). James Mooney's history, myths, and sacred formulas of the Cherokees : containing the full texts of Myths of the Cherokee (1900) and The Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees (1891), as published by the Bureau of American Ethnology : with a new biographical introduction, James Mooney and the eastern Cherokees. Asheville, N.C.: Historical Images. ISBN 0914875191.
  33. ^ Harper, Josephine L. (2014). Guide to the Draper Manuscripts. Wisconsin Historical Society. ISBN 9780870206832.
  34. ^ Ricky, Donald B.; Capace, Nancy K. (1998). Encyclopedia of Illinois Indians. St. Clair Shores, Michigan: Somerset Publishers, Inc. p. 223. ISBN 978-0-403-09335-9.
  35. ^ Nancy Ward Statue: update on recent events and status of historic art sculpture Archived 2011-09-28 at the Wayback Machine; by D. Ray Smith, the Oak Ridger, December 22, 2008
  36. ^ Sutton, Jane S. (2010). The House of My Sojourn: Rhetoric, Women, and the Question of Authority. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 978-0-8173-1715-7.
  37. ^ "Tanasi Trail: Rapids to Railroads". Discover Tennessee. Retrieved 29 March 2015.
  38. ^ Satz, Ronald N. (1979). Tennessee's Indian peoples : from white contact to removal, 1540-1840 (1st ed.). Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. p. 93. ISBN 978-0870492310. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  39. ^ Levy, Janey (2006). Mapping America's westward expansion : applying geographic tools and interpreting maps (1st ed.). New York, NY: Rosen Central. p. 25. ISBN 978-1404204164. Retrieved 28 March 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Allen, Paula Gunn, The Sacred Hoop, Beacon Press, 1992.
  • American Indian Women: A Research Guide, edited by Gretchen Bataille and Kathleen Sands, Garland Publishing, 1991.
  • Green, Rayna, Women in American Indian Society, Chelsea House, 1992.
  • Native American Women, edited by Gretchen M. Bataille, Garland Publishing, 1993.
  • Dockstader, Frederick J., ed., Great North American Indians: Profiles in Life and Leadership. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1977
  • Felton, Harold W., Nancy Ward: Cherokee. New York: Dodd Mead, 1975
  • 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
  • Woodward, Grace Steele. The Cherokees. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963

External links[edit]