Tyonajanegen and Hanyery: Native New Yorkers
By Tara Mae
During the American Revolution, certain Native American tribes aligned with either the British or the rebelling colonists. The Oneida Indian Nation of New York proved a great friend to the Continental Army, and was one of the United States first allies. At the Battle of Oriskany, Hanyery (Han Yerry) Tyonajanegen, an Oneida warrior, rallied support and lent his skill to the confrontation. Tyonajanegen (Two Kettles Together), his wife and a fighter in her own right, fought in the battle and then spread the news to other tribes and colonists.
Limited information is available about Tyonajanegen’s early life. She married Hanyery circa 1750, and had four children. Born in 1724, Hanyery was known for being calm and cool in battle. He became chief warrior of the Wolf clan. They were founding and prominent members of the Oneida village of Oriska. Tyonajanegen and Hanyery, who may have had a European father, were on good terms with the European settlers and sold produce to them and other travelers. They reportedly had a thriving farm that included a framed house and barn as well as an assortment of livestock and crops. The family was among the wealthiest of the tribe.
In 1768, the British pressed the Oneida into ceding a portion of its territory, including Oniska, with the Treaty of Fort Stanwix. The villagers were understandably infuriated and did not forget this coercion. By 1777, many of the Oriska Oneida, including Hanyery and his brother Han Yost Thahoswagwat, had joined the efforts of the Continental Army. Tyonajanegen was not one to be left behind, and her skills would prove invaluable to her husband’s survival and an asset to the patriots, especially during the Battle of Oriskany. The Oneida were later formally recognized for this alliance.
Considered to be a pivotal battle of the Saratoga campaign, as well as one of the bloodiest of the war, it was waged on August 6, 1777 and lasted six hours. General Herkimer, 800 soldiers, and 60 Oneidas were ambushed by the British Army, who were assisted by members of the Mohawk tribe. Hanyery, in his fifties, was renowned as a top warrior, and Tyonajanegen aided the patriots’ cause by carrying and delivering messages.
The war marked a fracturing in the Iroquois Confederacy. It was the first break that existed since the treaty was signed circa 1200. The Five Nations of the Iroquois, comprised of the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Oneida tribes, had pledged not to go to war with each other. In 1722, the Tuscarora tribe joined the confederacy. Each tribe was considered a guardian of a different part of what is now New York state. Conflicting arrangements with different groups of European settlers had already caused strife within the confederacy, which initially voted to be neutral during the war.
This stance proved impossible as the tribes were pressured by the British and colonists to join the fight. Unable to agree on a course of action, the confederacy split. The Oneida, Tuscarora, and a faction of Mohawks were on the side of the patriots. They acted as scouts, guides, and even soldiers for the Continental Army. Those who favored the British largely did so with the belief that it was the best way for the tribes to keep their lands.
At the Battle of Oriskany, Hanyery and TyonajanegenIfff were joined by one of their sons. Tyonajanegen rode into battle, armed with two pistols, and fought alongside the men. When Hanyery was shot in the wrist and unable to fire his gun, she began reloading the gun for him. After the battle ended, Tyonajanegen rode on horseback to relay the news of it to local colonists and Native Americans. Although the British technically won the battle, the victory was undermined by malcontentment of their Iroquois allies, who were infuriated by how involved they were forced to be in the fight. The Battle of Oriskany solidified a schism among the Six Nations that would prove hard to mend.
In retaliation for the Oneida’s participation in the battle, a group of pro-British Iroquois burned Oriska to the ground, destroying the family’s home and belongings. In 1779, the newly formed American government gave Hanyery a commission as a captain to the Oneidas. He dined with George Washington at Valley Forge. He participated in different conferences held at at Fort Stanwix, Johnson Hall, and Fort Herkimer. Hanyery died in 1794. Tyonajanegen lived until 1822.
Congress officially recognized the sovereignty of the Six Nations with the Treaty of Canadaigua. Signed by President Washington, it asserted the tribe’s authority to oversee its lands and affairs without interference from other governments. Although it has been challenged and tested, the agreement still exists today.