Beloved Woman: Nancy Ward
Beloved Woman: Nancy Ward
In 1738, Nanye-hi—known to the settlers as Nancy Ward—was born in Chota, the capital of the Cherokee nation in Eastern Tennessee (modern day Monroe County.) Her mother was a member of the powerful Wolf Clan, and legend stated that her father was a white British officer, though her descendents claim that he was actually a member of the Delaware tribe (her interest in working with the whites likely gave rise to this rumor.) The Cherokee were a matriarchal society, with much of the power lying with the women. In 1757 when attempting another peace treaty with the whites, Nancy’s maternal uncle Attacullachulla, a gifted diplomat, couldn’t believe that no white women were present at the meeting. “Since the white man as well as the red is born of woman, why does not the white man admit women to their councils?” he exclaimed.
Little is known of her childhood save that her uncle Attacullachulla spent time with her training her to be a diplomat, but as an adult Nancy married a man named Tsu-la, better known as Kingfisher, and they had two children. Nancy and her husband were devoted to each other, and Nancy even followed Kingfisher into battle against enemy tribes. During the Battle of Taliwa against their Creek enemies in 1755, Nancy accompanied Kingfisher into the fray, laying behind a log for protection and chewing on the bullets of his rifle to render them ragged, which would deliver a more devastating wound to the enemy. Tragically, Kingfisher was killed, and an enraged Nancy grabbed his rifle and charged into the thick of the battle to avenge his death. Her courage rallied the other Cherokee warriors and they followed her, ultimately defeating the Creeks.
The Cherokee were so grateful for Nancy’s courage that they awarded her with a share of the booty that they had captured from the Creeks (an honor reserved only for warriors), gave her a seat on the Tribal Council, and bestowed upon her the title “Beloved Woman,” a name given to women who had shown extraordinary courage. The Cherokee women elected her as their leader, and Nancy was responsible for the treatment—and punishment—of captives.
In 1760, the Cherokee made an alliance with the local white settlers, promising to assist them in the French and Indian War if they helped to defend the Cherokee against their own enemies, the Creeks and Choctaws. Unfortunately, a group of frontiersmen murdered several Cherokees and the tribe, seeing this as an act of betrayal, broke the alliance with the whites, leading to a two year conflict with the Cherokees defeating British forces at Fort Loudin. It was during this time that Nancy met and married Bryant Ward, an English trader who lived among the Cherokee. They had a daughter and he taught her English … until he remembered that he already had a white wife in South Carolina and left to be with her.
In 1776 after a successful raid, Cherokee warriors brought a white captive to Nancy, a woman named Lydia Bean. Nancy spared the woman and took her into her own household to help her recover from her injuries. Mrs. Bean was so grateful for the mercy Nancy showed that she taught Nancy a new technique for weaving garments on a loom. This new technique revolutionized the Cherokee way of life; the women spent more time producing cloth and garments to sell, and the men took over the planting of crops. In addition, Mrs. Bean gave Nancy two of her own dairy cows and taught her how to care for them. These events helped reshape Cherokee society, turning them into culture more European in attitude. Sadly, this also meant that the Cherokee began the practice of keeping slaves to work on their farms. Nancy was one of the first to own black slaves.
With the white Americans constantly pushing into their territories and attacking their people in 1777, the Cherokee were divided on how to respond; Nancy’s cousin Dragging Canoe wanted to side with the British army and expel all white settlers, but Nancy wanted to continue to work with them. Dragging Canoe and his warriors began to attack white settlements in retaliation, but Nancy warned a white settlement on the Virginia border that they were about to be raided, saving many lives. Nancy even sent food to starving American militiamen, and when she and her family were captured by the Americans in 1780, the Americans eventually released them.
Determined to stop the fighting, Nancy established a peace treaty with the American army, permitting them to maneuver through Cherokee territory in order to fight the British, an agreement that helped the Americans win the Revolutionary War. A year later Nancy and her delegation met with the American ambassador John Sevier to renegotiate peace terms regarding new white settlements along nearby rivers. Sevier was stunned that the Cherokee would send a woman to negotiate--many white men believed that women had no place in politics. Annoyed, Nancy responded, “You know that women are always looked upon as nothing; but we are your mothers; you are our sons. Our cry is all for peace; let it continue. This peace must last forever. Let your women’s sons be ours; our sons be yours. Let your women hear our words.” Sevier, along with the men accompanying him, were moved by her words.
Still, that didn’t stop the Americans from trying to take Cherokee lands. Nancy protested loudly when the Cherokee began to sell off their lands to the white men. In 1819, too sick to attend a council debating the sale of land, Nancy sent a letter saying, “…don’t part with any more of our lands but continue on it and enlarge your farms and cultivate and raise corn and cotton and we, your mothers and sisters, will make clothing for you… It was our desire to forewarn you all not to part with our lands.” Her plea ignored, the lands were sold--including her own property, forcing her to move.
In her later years, Nancy opened an inn on Womankiller Ford on Ocoee River, and, according to legend, it was during this time that she had a vision of her people being forced to march by white soldiers. She passed away in either 1822 or 1824, thankfully not living to see the day when American president Andrew Jackson broke the law by overriding the Supreme Court’s decision to allow the Cherokee to keep their lands and forced several thousand Native American women, men, children and elderly to march on what became known as the Trail of Tears.
Nancy Ward works cited:
by David E. Jones
The Element Encyclopedia of Native Americans,
by Adele Nozedar
“Nancy Ward,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy_Ward
“Nancy Ward,” http://www.tnhistoryforkids.org/people/nancy_ward
“Nancy Ward,” https://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/nanye-hi-nancy-ward/