The 6 Nations of The Iroquois Confederacy

Further ReadingIroquois Confederacy: The 3 Different Dates For Its Formation

From the 15th century up until shortly after the American Revolutionary War there existed a powerful nation of Native Americans called the Iroquois Confederacy. At its peak of power 6 nations made up this confederacy.

There are 6 nations that made up the Iroquois Confederacy.

  • Oneida
  • Cayuga
  • Seneca
  • Onodaga
  • Mohawk
  • Tuscarora (after 1722)

During its height of power the Iroquois Confederacy was the superpower in Eastern North America. From oral history traditions historians have pieced together that this union of people had a powerful economy, military, and rich history.

This article goes over the six nations which comprised the Iroquois Confederacy. Under each section you will find information surrounding the individual nation along with a further reading section should you wish to learn more about them.

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Without further ado, here are the 6 nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Oneida

Further ReadingOneida: The 3 Things They Did During The Revolutionary War

One of the six nations of the Iroquois is the Oneida.

This band of people are known for being one of the few Iroquois tribes that fought alongside the British Colonists during the American Revolutionary War. During the war the Oneida were responsible for some of the most daring and helpful events that helped form the United States.

The Oneida served 3 vital roles in the continental army. They provided supplies to the starving British Colonists during valley forge. The Oneida were used as spies against both other native tribes and the British. Finally, the Oneida were some of the best skirmishing light infantry in the continental army.

During the Battle of Barren Hill on March 20th, 1778, a skirmishing force of Oneida warriors managed to hold the British army back from the retreating continental army.

Within the Iroquois the Oneida were known to be honorable and wise amongst the Iroquois. Over the course of several centuries the Oneida would provide valuable resources to help prevent invasions from outside tribes.

As such one of the 6 nations that made up the Iroquois Confederacy was the Oneida.

Cayuga

The second nation, the Iroquois Confederacy was the Cayuga nation.

The Cayuga’s native name is “Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ” which translates to “People of the Great Swamp.” This name was because of the ancient homeland of the Cayuga people which today we call the finger lakes.

During the time of the Iroquois Confederacy much of his land was marsh and swampland. The Cayuga were especially adapted to building their longhouses in this terrain. As such this is more than likely why they obtained their native name.

It was not until the 18th century when Dutch travelers were visiting the Iroquois that the Cayuga got their western name. They obtained this name from the main lake they lived around, the Cayuga Lake.

During the American Revolution the Cayuga along with several of the other Iroquois nations allied with the British Crown against the British Colonists.

Today we know very little about the ancient Cayuga people. Historians are attempting to excavate the Cayuga lake to learn more.

Seneca

Further ReadingSeneca: 2 Things This Native Tribe Is Known For

Another one of the 6 nations of the Iroquois Confederacy was the Seneca. This tribe lived to the furthest west of all the tribes and as such came to be called the keepers of the western door.

The Seneca were known for two great things both by their people and by the British/Dutch colonists. The first thing was that the Seneca were amazing negotiators and diplomats.

During much of the 17th and 18th centuries The Seneca would be tasked with speaking for much of Iroquois International politics. For example in 1660 the Seneca would travel to New Amsterdam to negotiate for the end of hostilities during the Esopus Wars.

The Second thing that the Seneca were known for was their ability to extract tribute from non Iroquois tribes. In 1694 a Dutch Trader traveled to the Minnisink Tribe and overheard the chiefs discussing how they were fearful of not paying the Seneca their necessary tribute.

As such the Seneca remain one of the 6 main nations in the Iroquois Confederacy.

Onodaga

Further ReadingThe 3 Branch Government Structure Of The Iroquois Confederacy

One of the 6 nations of the Iroquois Confederacy was the Onondaga nation.

The Onondaga lived in the central part of the Iroquois Confederacy and housed the capital. Because of this they were known to be the center of politics for the Iroquois Confederacy and where the great council would meet.

From this great council the Onondaga would earn the title of the Central Fire-Keepers of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Historians in the 20th century argued that the Iroquois League was formed around 1450. In the Iroquois oral histories however the formation of their confederacy is far older to around the time of 1142.

For the longest time historians didn’t believe that this could have been possible but recent archeological evidence demonstrates that the Onondaga started large scale building around the year of 1142. This coincides with their oral histories.

As such one of the 6 nations of the Iroquois Confederacy was the Onondaga.

Mohawk

Further ReadingMohawk: The 3 Things This Native Tribe Was Known For

Another one of the 6 nations in the Iroquois Confederacy was the Mohawk tribe. This tribe is one of the most famous from movie adaptations. However, their history is far more interesting.

The Mohawk were the guardians of the eastern door of the Iroquois Confederacy. As such they would develop some of the most respected and feared warriors of North America.

Stories detail Mohawk warriors and chiefs building body armor to repel arrows.

Within the Iroquois Confederacy the Mohawk tribe was seen as honorable and economic. Their native name is Kanienʼkehá꞉ka which translates to “People of the Flint.” This along with archeological evidence demonstrates a strong economy within the Mohawk nation.

However, it was their reputation as warriors that cemented the Mohawk legacy. Directly to the east of the Mohawk was an ancient rival, the Mahican tribe. These Mahican’s would call the Mohawk people Maw Unk Lin which translates to “Bear People.”

From French reports we know that the Mohawk people had warriors which towered above the rest of the tribes. These warriors were extremely strong and confident in their abilities. The French were the first Europeans to encounter the Mohawk and the reports we have are of towering fighters who showed no fear.

This fighting spirit would continue into the American Revolution where the Mohawk fought on both sides of the conflict. Their military prowess was highly respected by both the British and British Colonists.

In fact a Mohawk warrior named Joseph Louis Cook would become a Lieutenant Colonel in the Continental Army, becoming the highest ranking native American during the conflict.

As such the Mohawk tribe was one of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Tuscarora

In 1722 the ancient Iroquois nation of the Tuscarora traveled north from the Carolina’s into the Iroquois Territory. This migration was triggered by the 1711-1713 conflict known as the Tuscarora War between the English Colonists and the Tuscarora.

The Tuscarora are believed to have left the lands of the Iroqoius sometime around the 12th or 13th centuries. Here they would migrate south to modern day Virginia and North Carolina.

Sometime around 1720 the Tuscarora would leave Virginia and North Carolina and migrate back and join the Iroquois Confederacy. After being sponsored by the Oneida the Tuscarora were allowed to join the confederacy.

Not much is known about the ancient Tuscarora. Historians estimate that at their peak they had 24 large towns and had a standing army of around 6,000 warriors. This would probably indicate that the population of the Tuscarora during the 16th and 17th century was around 60,000-80,000. Making them one of the most powerful tribes in North America.

However, after a century of fighting with the British Colonists the Tuscarora would return to the Iroquois Lands and be welcomed openly as another nation.

As such the Tuscarora are the 6th nation of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Conclusion

There you have it; an entire article on the 6 nations that make up the Iroquois Confederacy.

Iroquois history is a fascinating subject. From 1900 up to around 1990 most historians failed to understand the importance of oral history to native American culture. As a result of this historians failed to date the Iroquois Confederacy accurately. More than likely the Iroquois Confederacy was formed around the year 1142 instead of 1450.

Here at The History Ace I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If you enjoyed this article then subscribe to the newsletter and share around the internet.

Further, you can check out some of the other articles below.

Sincerely,

Nick