From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Tanacharison or Tanaghrisson
Seneca tribe leader
Personal details
Born c. 1700
Near Buffalo, New York
Died October 7, 1754
Paxtang, PA
Cause of death pneumonia
Known for Fought in French and Indian War
Nickname(s) Half King

Tanacharison or Tanaghrisson (c. 1700 – 4 October 1754) was a Native American leader who played a pivotal role in the beginning of the French and Indian War. He was known to European-Americans as the Half King, a title also used to describe several other historically important Native American leaders. His name has been spelled in a variety of ways.

Early life[edit]

Little is known of Tanacharison's early life. He may have been born into the Catawba tribe about 1700 near what is now Buffalo, New York. As a child, he was taken captive by the French and later adopted into the Seneca tribe, one of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. He would later claim that the French boiled and ate his father. His early years were spent on the southeastern shore of Lake Erie in what is now western New York state.

Becoming a leader[edit]

Tanacharison first appears in historical records in 1747, living in Logstown (near present Ambridge, Pennsylvania), a multi-ethnic village about 20 miles (30 kilometers) downstream from the forks of the Ohio River. Those Iroquois who had migrated to the Ohio Country were generally known as "Mingos", and Tanacharison emerged as a Mingo leader at this time. He also represented the Six Nations at the 1752 Treaty of Logstown, where he was referred to as "Thonariss, called by the English the half King". At this treaty, he speaks on behalf of the Six Nations' Grand Council, but also makes clear that the Council's ratification was required, in accordance with the Iroquois system of government.

According to the traditional interpretation, the Grand Council had named Tanacharison as leader or "half-king" (a sort of viceroy) to conduct diplomacy with other tribes, and to act as spokesman to the British on their behalf. However, some modern historians have doubted this interpretation, asserting that Tanacharison was merely a village leader, whose actual authority extended no further than his own village. In this view, the title "half king" was probably a British invention, and his "subsequent lofty historical role as a Six Nations 'regent' or 'viceroy' in the Ohio Country was the product of later generations of scholars."[1]

French and Indian War[edit]

In 1753, the French began the military occupation of the Ohio Country, driving out British traders and constructing a series of forts. British colonies, however, also claimed the Ohio Country. Robert Dinwiddie, the lieutenant governor of Virginia, sent a young George Washington to travel to the French outposts and demand that the French vacate the Ohio Country. On his journey, Washington's party stopped at Logstown to ask Tanacharison to accompany them as a guide and as a "spokesman" for the Ohio Indians. Tanacharison agreed to return the symbolic wampum he had received from French captain Philippe-Thomas Chabert de Joncaire. Joncaire's first reaction, on learning of this double cross, was to mutter of Tanacharison, "He is more English than the English." But Joncaire masked his anger and insisted that Tanacharison join him in a series of toasts. By the time the keg was empty, Tanacharison was too drunk to hand back the wampum.[2] Tanacharison traveled with Washington to meet with the French commander of Fort Le Boeuf in what is now Waterford, Pennsylvania. The French refused to vacate, however, and to Washington's great consternation, they tried to court Tanacharison as an ally. Although fond of their brandy, he remained a strong francophobe.

Tanacharison had requested that the British construct a "strong house" at the Forks of the Ohio and early in 1754 he placed the first log of an Ohio Company stockade there, railing against the French when they captured it. He was camped at Half King's Rock on May 27, 1754 when he learned of a nearby French encampment and sent word urging an attack to Washington at the Great Meadows, about five miles (8 km) east of Chestnut Ridge in what is now Fayette County, Pennsylvania (near Uniontown). Washington immediately ordered 40 men to join Tanacharison and at sunset followed with a second group, seven of whom got lost in heavy rain that night. It was dawn before Washington reached the Half King's Rock.

After a hurried war council, the English and Tanacharison's eight or nine warriors set off to surround and attack the French, who quickly surrendered. The French commander, Ensign Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, was among the wounded. With the French words, "Tu n'es pas encore mort, mon père!" (Thou art not yet dead, my father), Tancharison sank his tomahawk in Jumonville's skull, washed his hands with the brains, "and scalped him," but not before eating a portion of Jumonville's brain.[3] Only one of the wounded French soldiers was not killed and scalped among a total of ten dead, 21 captured, and one missing, a man named Monceau who had wandered off to relieve himself that morning.

Monceau witnessed the French surrender before walking barefoot to the Monongahela River and paddling down it to report to Contrecoeur, commanding at Fort Duquesne. Tanacharison sent a messenger to Contrecoeur the following day with news that the British had shot Jumonville and but for the Indians would have killed all the French. A third and accurate account of the Jumonville Glen encounter was told to Jumonville's half-brother, Captain Louis Coulon de Villiers, by a deserter at the mouth of Redstone Creek during his expedition to avenge his brother's murder.

Washington was without Indian allies at the battle of Fort Necessity, his hastily erected stockade at the Great Meadows. Tanacharison scornfully called it "that little thing upon the meadow" and complained that Washington would not listen to advice and treated the Indians like slaves. He and another Seneca leader, Queen Aliquippa, had taken their people to Wills Creek. Outnumbered and with supplies running low, Washington surrendered the fort, later blaming Captains George Croghan and Andrew Montour for "involving the country in great calamity".[4]

Tanacharison was "one of the sachems who had confirmed Croghan in his land grant of 1749" (Wainwright, 49), 200,000 acres minus about two square miles at the Forks of the Ohio for a British Fort. Thomas Penn and Pennsylvania planned to build a stone fort, but Croghan realized that his deeds would be invalid if in Pennsylvania and had Andrew Montour testify before the Assembly in 1751 that the Indians did not want the fort, that it was all Croghan's idea, scuttling the project.[5]

In 1752 Croghan was on the Indian council that granted Virginia's Ohio Company permission to build the fort. Tanacharison's introduction of Croghan to the Virginia commissioners is further evidence that Croghan organized and led the 1748 Ohio Indian Confederation that Pennsylvania recognized as independent of the Six Nations and appointed Croghan as the colony's representative in negotiations:

Brethren, it is a great while since our brother, the Buck (meaning Mr. George Croghan)has been doing business between us, & our brother of Pennsylvania, but we understand he does not intend to do any more, so I now inform you that he is approv'd of by our Council at Onondago, for we sent to them to let them know how he has helped us in our councils here and to let you & him know that he is one of our people and shall help us still & be one of our council, I deliver him this string of wampum.[6]

The Ohio Company fort was surrendered to the French by Croghan's half-brother, Edward Ward, and commanded by his business partner, William Trent, but Croghan's central role in these events remains suppressed, as he himself was in 1777, when Pittsburgh's president judge, Committee of Safety chairman, and person keeping the Ohio Indians pacified since Pontiac's Rebellion was declared a traitor by General Edward Hand and exiled from the frontier.

It was to Croghan's Aughwick plantation that Tanacharison and Queen Aliquippa took their people in 1754 where the old queen died and Tanacharison became seriously ill and was taken to John Harris.


Tanacharison moved his people east to the Aughwick Valley near present Shirleysburg, Pennsylvania. He would take no active part in the remainder of the war. He died of pneumonia on October 4, 1754 on the farm of John Harris at Paxtang, Pennsylvania (near present-day Harrisburg, Pennsylvania).


  1. ^ Michael N. McConnell, A Country Between: The Upper Ohio Valley and Its Peoples, 1724-1774 (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1992), p. 75.
  2. ^ Brands, H. W. (2000)"The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin" First Anchor Books Edition, March 2002. ISBN 0-385-49540-4.
  3. ^ Fred Anderson, Crucible of War (Vintage Books, 2001), p. 6.
  4. ^ Nicholas Wainwright, George Croghan; Wilderness Diplomat (U. of N. Carolina Press, 1959), p. 65.
  5. ^ Wainwright, 43
  6. ^ Wainwright, 49-50

Further reading[edit]

  • Hunter, William A. (1974). "Tanaghrisson". In Halpenny, Francess G. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. III (1741–1770) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. 
  • Lengel, Edward G. General George Washington (2005)
  • White, Richard. The middle ground: Indians, empires, and republics in the Great Lakes region, 1650-1815 (1991)