“Obscured in the miasma of internecine warfare with an aggressive and expansive Iroquois Confederacy, there remains little ethnographical literature for the Tutelo Indians of Monascane, central Virginia. Within the Frank G. Speck papers archived at the American Philosophical Society, there is, however, an intriguing correspondence from a Native Elder living on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario. During the mid 1930s, Chief Samuel Johns entered into a brief correspondence with the noted University of Pennsylvania anthropologist, Dr. Frank Gouldsmith Speck. Johns initially wrote Speck from Middlemass, Ontario on September 4, 1934. In his first letter, Johns revealed his Tutelo ancestry and requested historical information regarding the tribe.
On December 31, 1934, Johns again wrote Speck informing him of historical findings that report the Tutelo country along the east branch of the Susquehanna River near present day Athens, Pennsylvania. Subsequently on January 8, 1935, Johns, apparently replied to Speck, informing him of some Tutelo tradition and requesting that he visit the reserve during “the balmy month of May.” Finally on June 2, 1935, Johns responded to Speck with arrangements for his visit, including dinner plans.
There is also a curious decline from Johns to “write up a short history of our people…on the reserve,” although he immediately recants and offers to give it a try. Given Johns interest in the Tutelo, then surely this reference to “our people on the reserve” implicates the history of the Tutelo among the Six Nations at Grand River.
While these letters of Chief Johns reveal an interesting insight into the enduring complexity of American Indian identity,2 in this essay, I offer the letters for review and explore the literary and humanistic qualities of this correspondence. In this ethnocritical assessment of these letters, there are five themes that merit our consideration. These include an assessment of oral tradition, a Native kinship ethos, socio-cultural traditions, Tutelo history, and the Native regard for anthropology specifically Dr. Frank Speck as anthropologist.
Although Speck gave considerable effort to recording Tutelo traditions, there remains the question of a Tutelo history. While this essay cannot begin to recreate that history given its purpose of assessing the ethnoliterary characteristics of the Johns’ letters, there are compelling reasons to investigate the concerns raised by Chief Johns. Particularly significant are the historical ties of the Tutelo to Virginia and their tribal migration to Ontario. It is to these ends that I will attempt to address Chief Johns’ inquiry and supply some short history of the Tutelo while addressing his letters to Speck.
During the late nineteenth century considerable excitement was generated among anthropologists to discover a Siouan language among Chief Samuel Johns’ Correspondence with Dr. Frank G. Speck the Six Nations Iroquois near Brantford, Ontario. Credit for discovering the Tutelo linguistic relationship with the Dakota Siouan language family was given to the philologist Horatio Hale. While residing at Clinton, Ontario, Hale made a visit to an old Native man named Nikungha (Nikonha) said to be the last survivor of the Tutelos. Reported by Anderson:
This venerable Indian, who has died since Mr. Hale’s visit, at the advanced age of a hundred and six years, or thereabout, resided on the Reserve of the Six Nations, near Brantford.
The Tuteloes, of whom he was the last representative of pure blood, had been looked upon by ethnologists as an Iroquois tribe, chiefly because holding a place in the Iroquois confederacy. But the list of words obtained by Mr. Hale from Nikungha showed conclusively that the Tutelo language belonged not to the Iroquois but to the Dakotan stock.
In his 1883 report on the subject, Hale notes that the Tutelo were among several tribes speaking a Dakota language in Virginia and the Carolinas when encountered by European explorers. Said to be of the Monacan Confederacy, the most closely allied tribes with the Tutelo were the Saponi, Keyauwee, Occaneechi and Eno or Schoicories according to Lawson.
Classified amid the Monacan Division of Eastern Siouan nations, the Tutelo together with the Saponi were known as Nahyssans and they were one of three Monacan tribal confederations during the colonial contact era. As Aboriginals, these Monacan tribes occupied the Virginia Piedmont, Blue Ridge and Valley provinces, as well as, westward along the New River into present-day West Virginia. Of these, the Nahyssan group, including the Yesang or Tutelo and the Monasukapanough or Saponi occupied the central Piedmont, Blue Ridge and Valley region near contemporary Lynchburg living in an area of general expanse from present-day Charlottesville to Roanoke.
Mooney informs us that until 1670, these Monacan tribes had been “little disturbed by whites,” although they were given to much shifting about due to “the wars waged against them by the Iroquois.” Initial contacts with colonial explorers and the Nahyssans, Yesang and Saponi, began in the 1670s with the German physician-explorer, John Lederer, as well as, the trade oriented Batts and Fallam expedition. It was, apparent, however, that independent Indian traders had already made commercial and social inroads among the central Virginia tribes. By the time of Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, the Nahyssan tribes had begun to ally themselves together in close association near their Occaneechi confederates on a series of islands in the presently known Roanoke River near contemporary Clarksville, Virginia. Prompted to this defensive strategy by their implacable enemies from the north, the Iroquois, the Nahyssans were forced to seek security in treaty alliance with the Virginia colony.
By 1685 Iroquois raids directed at the Tutelos in Virginia triggered the colonial governor of Virginia, Lord Howard of Effingham, to treat with the Hodenosaunee at Albany. The Iroquois had been harassing the Tutelos, who were under the supervision and protection of Virginia, with the intent of driving them “into the Covenant Chain as direct tributaries of the Five Nations rather than through the intermediation of Virginia.”
Lord Howard’s treaty concluded with a pledge from the Iroquois to stay behind the mountains and beyond the Virginia settlements, however, the Hodenosaunee “demanded that the Virginians send one of their allied tribes to become an Iroquois tributary.” While Lord Howard assumed he had secured the League’s agreement to halt their wars upon the Virginia tribal tributaries, including the Tutelos, it was by no means settled and the Iroquois continued to raid the Nahyssans.
In accordance with the frontier policy of Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood, these Nahyssan tribes agreed in 1714 by treaty to occupy and possess the Fort Christanna Reservation near present-day Lawrenceville, Virginia. A mutual protection compact, the 1714 treaty provided for a reservation of six miles squares, a palisaded fort with cannons and a group of armed rangers for defense, and a school for Indian children, as well as, a governing factor commanding the post and administering Indian affairs under the authority of the Virginia Indian Company.
Continuing their depredations against the Nahyssans, the Iroquois in 1777 launched an attack upon a visiting delegation of Catawba leaders who were camped outside the fort as invited guest of the Virginia government. While Iroquois raiding parties continued to boldly march home through the colonial settlements of Virginia in 1719, Spotswood began negotiation with the governors of Pennsylvania and New York seeking a means to secure peace with the Hodenosaunee, Iroquois Confederacy. As his concerns increased, Spotswood communicated his fears regarding these “Northern Indians” to the Virginia executive council declaring that the Iroquois were “threatening to come in greater Numbers to Fall upon the English of the Colony and so cut off and destroy the Sapponie Indians.”
Governor Spotswood, accordingly, petitioned the New York government and the Hodenosauee for a conference designed to secure a lasting peace. In September 1722, during the treaty conference at Albany, the Iroquois revealed their bitter hatred towards the Nahyssan tribes.
Though there is among you,” they replied to the Virginians, “a nation, the Todirichones, against whom we have had so Chief Samuel Johns’ Correspondence with Dr. Frank G. Speck inveterate an enmity that we thought it could only be extinguished by their total extirpation, yet, since you desire it, we are willing to receive them into this peace, and to forget all the past.”
Even afterwards, in 1729 when renewing the covenant of 1685 with Virginia and Maryland, the Iroquois deputies presented a wampum belt to Governor Spotswood “in token of their friendship, and blandly requested permission to exterminate the Totero [Tutelo].” Indeed, Mooney concluded, The great overmastering fact in the history of the Siouan tribes of the east is that of their destruction by the Iroquois.”
Apparently a variation of Todirichrone, Totera was a common term used by the Iroquois to describe the Virginia and Carolina Siouans. The emergence of the term Tutelo evidences an Algonquian corruption of Totera. While Tutelo is commonly used in historical records and became a mainstay in ethnographical jargon, the people themselves used the name Yesang or Yesah, real men, when identifying their nation.
As noted earlier, the Tutelos who migrated north, first as tributaries of the Iroquois and second as national confederates of the Hodenosaunee, were, in fact, Nahyssans comprising remnants of the Saponi, Yesang, and Occaneechi tribes.
For the most part, the bitter enmity existing between the Tutelo and
the Iroquois was extinguished by virtue of the 1722 Treaty of Albany.
During the somewhat indeterminate decade that followed the treaty, the Tutelos placed themselves under the protection of the Six Nations or Hodenosaunee and moved northward across Virginia to Shamokin, present-day Sunbury, Pennsylvania, at the forks of the Susquehanna River.
At Shamokin, the Tutelo together with several Algonquian tribes including the Delaware, Munsee-Mahican, Nanticoke, Conoy, and later the Shawnee were collectively brought under the governance of an Oneida Chieftain, Shikellamy, who served as viceroy for the Iroquois conquered lands and peoples in the Susquehanna region. By September 1753, during the great Council of the Six Nations held at Onondaga, the Cayugas resolved to “strengthening their castle’ by taking in the Tedarighroones.”
Following this induction into the Hodenosaunsee, the Great League of the Iroquois or Six Nations, the Tutelo joined their Cayuga sponsors at the South end of Cayuga Lake near Ithaca, New York. Opposite the present Buttermilk Falls State Park, the Tutelo town was known as Coreorgonel. In 1779, during the American Revolutionary War, Lt. Colonel Henry Dearborn under the command of Lt. General John Sullivan attacked and destroyed the town.
As a result, the Tutelo and their Cayuga sponsors accompanied Mohawk leader Joseph Brant to Ontario, Canada and British sanctuary on the Six Nations Reserve near present day Brantford. Establishing themselves on an elevated bench along the Western bank of the Grand River, the Tutelo numbered two hundred when they began life on the Reserve. In 1832, an Asiatic cholera epidemic broke out among them and destroyed the greater part of the tribe. When a second plague arrived in 1848, the Tutelo ceased to exist as a nation and the few survivors fled the Heights to merge among the Cayuga. As a result, the Tutelo legacy is remembered today only in the suburban Brantford name, Tutelo Heights.
By 1870 only one full-blooded Tutelo was thought to be living, his name was Nikonha, “mosquito,” and he was a pensioner from having served in the War of 1812. Accompanied by the government interpreter, Chief George Johnson, Hale sought out Nikonha and supplied the following description.
His appearance, as we first saw him, basking in the sunshine on the slope before his cabin, confirmed the reports, which I had heard, both of his great age and of his marked intelligence. “A wrinkled, smiling countenance, a high forehead, half-shut eyes, white hair, a scanty, stubby beard, fingers bent with age like a bird’s claws,” is the description recorded in my note-book. Not only in physiognomy, but also in demeanor and character, he differed strikingly from the grave and composed Iroquois among whom he dwelt. The lively, mirthful disposition of his race survived in full force in its latest member. His replies to our inquiries were intermingled with many jacose remarks, and much good-humored laughter.
Despite going by the Cayuga name Nikonha, “mosquito,” he gave a Tutelo name Waskiteng which may have been another reference to the mosquito or its effect. Waskiteng or Nikonha informed Hale that his father, Onusowa, was a Chief among the Tutelos and that his mother had died when he was young. As a result, Waskiteng was raised by his uncle for whom there is no record.
Married to a Cayuga wife, the “Old Mosquito” had for many years spoken only the language of her people until Hale prevailed upon him to render nearly one hundred Tutelo words in their first meeting. Despite Waskiteng’s status as the presumed last full-blooded Tutelo, Hale reported that there were nonetheless:
several half-castes, children of Tutelo mothers by Iroquois fathers, who know the language, and by the native law (which traces descent through the female) are held to be Tutelos.
One of them, who sat in the council as the representative of Chief Samuel Johns’ Correspondence with Dr. Frank G. Speck the tribe, and who, with a conservatism worthy of the days of old Sarum, was allowed to retain his seat after his constituency had disappeared, was accustomed to amuse his grave fellow-senators occasionally by asserting the right which each councilor possesses of addressing the council in the language of his people, — his speech, if necessity requires, being translated by an interpreter. In the case of the Tutelo chief the jest, which was duly appreciated, lay in the fact that the interpreters were dumbfounded, and that the eloquence uttered in an unknown tongue had to go without reply.
Although Hale supplies no reference to the identity of this Tutelo Chief, an apparent contemporary of “Old Mosquito” was known as John Tutela or Göhe, “Panther” in Cayuga. He died March 6, 1888 at one hundred years old. Despite surviving Waskiteng or Nikonha some seventeen years, he too had fought in the War of 1812 and shortly before his death he bequeathed a hickory stick, the symbol of chieftainship, which he had cut in 1812 at Queenston Heights, to a Canadian Inspector Dingham.
Another Tutelo descendant, John Key, Nastabon (One Step) likewise survived “Old Mosquito.” It was said that Nastabon, John Key, lived without kith or kin and with no other living person with who he could speak his own language. He died March 23, 1898 at 78 years old.
Either of these two individuals could have been the old chief of whom Hale referenced among the Six Nations Council meetings. Certainly John Tutela’s hickory staff reflects the symbolism of a Chief while Nastabon’s [or Key’s] sold knowledge of the language gives him credibility for the post.
In 1885, knowledge of the Tutelos was also given to J. N. Hewitt by the Cayuga Chief, James Monture, and confirmed by Chief John Buck, the Firekeeper at the Oshweken Council House of the Six Nations Reserve. Buck was the Tutelo Tribal Chief and representative in the Six Nations Council until his death in 1935. He held the name Dikáhku that he understood to denote “Chief” in the Tutelo language. The Hewitt record describes the Five Confederated Nations—Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas—whom each have “an Imperial Council Fire’ by themselves at their localities to transact their people’s affairs.” It further details the circumstances under which the Tuscaroras, Delawares, Tutelos and Nanticokes were enjoined into the Hodenosaunee. According to this account, the
“Tutelos were entertained in the bosom of the Oneidas, and has two Chiefs, and they are not permitted to speak or to take part in the Confederate Council. And were clothed [in] Women’s Clothes, and the duty assigned to them is the same as the Tuscaroras.” This duty assigned them “is, when the Confederate Lords [are] abroad, on their mission in behalf of the…[Tutelos] localities, they shall entertain the Confederate Lords in their Wigwam and give them corn bread and corn-soup with Bear’s meat in it.” Monture and Buck concluded that “all of the Four [Tuscarora, Delaware, Tutelo and Nanticoke] above mentioned Nations were in a destitute condition when they were sheltered under the spreading branches of the ‘Tree of the Great Peace’.
The figurative reference “Clothed in Women’s Clothes” refers to the inability of the Tutelo pursuant to Iroquois decree to conduct sovereign warfare and thus symbolizes their dependent relationship to the Hodenosaunee.
While this brief sketch of Tutelo history is sufficient to establish their place among the Hodenosaunee at the Six Nations Reserve, it does not begin to exhaust that history. Its purpose in this essay has been to largely supply an historical background sufficient to assess the ethnoliterary criticism of Chief Johns’ correspondence. Accordingly, it is appropriate that we turn to a review of Chief Johns’ four letters to Dr. Speck.” From: A Tutelo Heritage: An Enthnoliterary Assessment of Chief Samuel Johns’ Correspondence With Dr. Frank G. Speck