Friday, November 9, 2012

American Indian History – Nanyehi/Nancy Ward

Whenever you’re driving through the mountain and foothill areas of East Tennessee or North Carolina, you are traveling through the former homeland of the Cherokee Nation.  Today the Eastern Band of the Cherokee primarily reside in North Carolina…but until approximately the end of the first 3rd of the 1800’s, their settlements and towns were scattered along both sides of the Smoky or Appalachian mountains.

The Tennessee side of the mountains is home to many sites of importance to the history of the Cherokee Nation…and to American history in general.  Among these sites are the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, ( Fort Loudoun, ( or, and the sites of the former Cherokee de-facto capitals of Tanasi and Chota. ( But on this drive through Polk County Tennessee…it was all about Nancy or Nanyehi…
This is the entrance to the memorial and gravesite for Nanyehi…”One who goes about”, also known in English as Nancy Ward.  Nanyehi was born ca. 1738 at Chota in what is now East Tennessee.  She was a ‘Ghigau’, a Beloved Woman of the Cherokee Nation.  This meant that she was allowed to sit in councils and make decisions, along with the chiefs and other Beloved Women.

Nanyehi was born as ‘Tsituna-Gus-Ke’ or Wild Rose.  Her parents were Tame Doe and Francis Ward “Fivekiller”, the son of Francis Ward of Ireland.  (Note: Some sources claim that her father was a member of the Delaware tribe) Tame Doe’s father was Attakullakulla…a famed and influential Cherokee leader.  In any case, Tsituna-Gus-Ke learned the English language from her mother.  As she was growing up, it is said that she had visions of helping spirits…and she was renamed “Nanye’hi” or “One who is with the Spirit People”.
Note: The plaque at the beginning of the path to Nanyehi’s grave site, shows a painting or drawing of a beautiful young Indian woman.  One wonders why that picture was used at the memorial as it is artist George Catlin’s 1836 portrait of and Indian woman named Ah-hee-te-wah-chee.  Nancy Ward/Nanyehi died at least 12 years prior to Catlin's work...
Nanyehi married ‘Kingfisher’ when she was 14 years old.  In 1755, her reputation grew after she fought in the battle of Taliwa against the Creeks.  After both her father and her husband were killed in battle, she picked up Kingfisher’s weapon and kept fighting, leading her people to victory.

At the age of 18, she was awarded the title of ‘Ghigau’.  She was also named the leader of the Women’s Council of Clan Representatives and she took over the role of ambassador and negotiator for her people.  Nanyehi remarried, this time to her cousin, a South Carolina colonist and trader, Bryant Ward…a nephew of Francis Ward. 
Note: It sounds a bit strange…or a bit like some of the early arrangements amongst European royalty…but Nanyehi and Bryant Ward had a daughter named Elizabeth.  She became the wife of Revolutionary War General Joseph Martin…who already had a wife.  Actually the General was married, became a widower and then remarried…all while being married to Elizabeth.  He claimed that it was common on the frontier and that it made good diplomatic sense.  For more on this interesting character, go to
As a Ghigau, Nanyehi had the power to save captives and in 1776, following an attack on Fort Watauga, (now Elizabethton Tennessee); she used that power to spare a Mrs. William Bean…who Nanyehi nursed back to health. 
From Mrs. Bean, Nanyehi learned a new loom weaving technique, revolutionizing the Cherokee garments and changing the roles of women in Cherokee society.  The women took on the task of weaving and the men were now left to do the planting.  Two dairy cows had also been rescued and the Cherokee learned to raise cattle and eat dairy products…very helpful when hunting was bad.  This all contributed to transforming the Cherokee society from a communal agricultural society to a society very similar to the European-American model.  As such, with family farms and the need for more labor, some Cherokee adopted the practice of slavery…

During the Revolutionary War, the Cherokee were divided on whether to help the British against the settlers or to support the settlers.  Nanyehi supported the settlers.  After attacks by other Cherokee against the settlers resulted in the retaliatory attacks which destroyed many Cherokee villages and caused the loss of more land, Nanyehi sought a peaceful resolution.  This culminated in a treaty between her people and the Americans…which allowed the Americans to free up more troops to support General Washington’s army in his struggles against British General Cornwallis.

In the years that followed, Nanyehi pushed for the expansion of Cherokee farms while she and the Women’s Council opposed the sale of more and more land to the whites…but their objections were largely ignored.   In the early 1800’s, Nancy/Nanyehi and her son Fivekiller opened an inn on Womankiller Ford of the Ocoee River.  Her son took care of her until her death.  She was in her 80’s when she died.  She died before the Cherokee were forced from their remaining lands in the east and were forced to follow “The Trail of Tears” west beyond the Mississippi River.  In her final years, she reportedly had a vision showing a “great line of our people marching on foot…with the ‘Unaka’/white soldiers behind them.”
This memorial to Nanyehi/Nancy Ward is located just south of Benton Tennessee on old US Hwy. 411.  Her son Fivekiller, as well as another family member, is buried beside her.  The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore Tennessee holds an annual Nancy Ward Cherokee Heritage Days celebration in her honor.  Nanyehi is not only remembered as an important figure to the Cherokee people, but she’s also considered as an early pioneer for women in American politics.
Most of the information contained in this blog came from the plaque at her grave site and from Wikipedia at  For those history buffs from East Tennessee, you might want to check out what happened when she met with John Sevier in 1781…
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for riding along and sharing this historical stop along the byways of America!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. I love this post David, I have to read again I love!
    and I love american indian history!!and love cherokee (always I wanna be an indian woman!
    Have a nice weekend you both!

  2. what a history lesson...fascinating!