Published on March 4, 2011 by Aquarius
Nancy Ward (1738 – 1824) was a Beloved Woman of the Cherokee Nation. In the Cherokee tradition the title Beloved Woman, or Ghigau, was given to those women who were allowed to join with the men of the tribe in council and make decisions.
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Nanye-hi (One who goes about) was Nancy Ward’s Cherokee name. She was born in Chota in the Wolf Clan. Chota is a historic Overhill Cherokee site in Monroe County, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States.
For much of its history, Chota was the most important of the Overhill towns, serving as the de facto capital of the Cherokee Nation from the late 1740s until 1788. Chota is in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. A monument at the site was built directly above the ancient site of the Cherokee village and represents the seven clans and the nation as a whole.
Several prominent Cherokee leaders were born or resided at Chota, among them Attakullakulla, Nanye-hi’s Uncle on her mother’s side. Not much is known about Nanye-hi’s parents. Her mother was called Tame Doe and it was assumed that her father was part Delaware, of the Leni Lenape tribe.
Nanye-hi’s first husband was Kingfisher, a Cherokee warrior. During the Battle of Taliwa in Ball Ground, Georgia, 1755 the two of them fought side by side against their enemies, the Creeks, over land rights. Nanye-hi was only 18 years old at the time. When her husband, Kingfisher was killed in that battle, she took up his gun, and singing a war song, led the Cherokees to victory. This act of bravery on her part won her the title of “Warrior Woman”, and lasting respect as a Cherokee tribal leader.
Being a Ghigau, Nancy was not only allowed to sit in on counsel with the male leaders, but also had the power to spare captive. One such captive was Lydia Russell who was injured during a battle at Fort Watauga settlement which is now Elizabethton, Tennessee. Lydia (Mrs. William Bean) was spared and taken into Nancy’s home. Nancy nursed the woman back to health and for her kindness and friendship Lydia taught Nancy how to weave.
This new craft of weaving that Nancy learned brought to the traditional Cherokee woman a new role in life. The women took on the task of weaving and the planting they had been doing was left to the men of the tribe.
Lydia managed to retrieve two of her dairy cows from the settlement and taught Nancy how to raise cattle and how to use and eat the dairy products from them. This helped to supplement the diet of the people.
These new things Nancy learned from Lydia changed the way of life considerably for the Cherokee people. Rather than a communal agricultural society they had become more like their European neighbors. They now had family plots to care which required more labor – so the Cherokee now needed to get involved in the buying and selling of slaves.
About the same time that Nancy and Lydia were revolutionizing the way of life of the Cherokee, Sequoyah created the syllabary that gave the Cherokee people their first written language. In the 1830′s, the Cherokee Bible was printed. Thus, the Cherokee were considered one of the Five Civilized Tribes.
In her later life Nanye-hi took on the role of an ambassador between the Cherokee and the white settlers. From her maternal uncle, Chief Attakullakulla, she learned the art of diplomacy. When John Sevier, delegation leader of the whites complained with shock that such important work was assigned to a woman, Nanye-hi replied: “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 son’s be ours; our sons be yours. Let your women hear our words.” One observer from the white settlement remarked that her speech was very moving.
Nancy died in 1822 (or 1824). Her son, Fivekiller, said that she was buried in Chota, her home. Nancy is remembered as an important figure to not only the Cherokee, but also as an early pioneer for American women in politics.