Published on February 3, 2013 by Amy
Nanyehi (Cherokee: ᎾᏅᏰᎯ: “One who goes about”), known in English as Nancy Ward (ca. 1738–1822 or 1824) was a Beloved Woman of the Cherokee Nation, which means that she was allowed to sit in councils and to make decisions, along with the chiefs and other Beloved Women. She believed in peaceful coexistence with the European-Americans and helped her people as peace negotiator and ambassador. She also introduced them to farming and dairy production bringing substantial changes to the Cherokee society.
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Nanyehi was born around 1738 in the Cherokee capital, Chota (Cherokee: “City of Refuge”) in what today is known as Monroe County, Tennessee. Her mother, the sister of Attakullakulla was a member of the Wolf Clan. Though her mother is often referred to as “Tame Doe”, the name is from a fictional story by E. Sterling King and has no other historical source. James Mooney writes “it is said her (Nancy’s) father was a British officer named Ward”. However, according to Nanyehi’s descendant John Walker “Jack” Hildebrand, her father was a member of the Delaware tribe.
About 1751 she married the Cherokee “Tsu-la” or Kingfisher, who according to Emmett Starr was a member of the Deer Clan. Starr writes that in the Battle of Taliwa against the Creeks Nancy lay behind a log in order to chew his bullets so that the resulting jagged edges might create more damage. Kingfisher was killed, and Nancy picked up his rifle and continued the fight leading her people to victory.
Afterwards, at the age of 18 she was awarded with the title of “Ghigau”, making her a member of the tribal council of chiefs. She was also named the leader of the Women’s Council of Clan Representatives and took over the role of ambassador and negotiator for her people.
She remarried to Bryant Ward with whom she had a daughter Betsy, who later became the wife of General Joseph Martin.
Nanyehi objected to the sale of Cherokee lands to whites, but her objections were largely ignored. In 1808 and again in 1817, the Women’s Council came out in opposition to the sale of more and more land.
Nanyehi became a de facto ambassador between the Cherokee and the whites. She learned the art of diplomacy from her maternal uncle, the influential chief Attakullakulla (“Little Carpenter”). In 1781, when the Cherokee met with an American delegation led by John Sevier to discuss American settlements along the Little Pigeon River, Nancy expressed surprise that there were no women negotiators among the Americans. Sevier was equally appalled that such important work should be given to a woman. Nancy told him, “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.” An American observer said that her speech was very moving.
On July 5, 1807, the Moravian mission school at Spring Place, Georgia, in the Cherokee Nation, was visited by three elderly women, including a very distinguished lady who had been a widow of fifty years and almost one hundred years old. She was described as “an unusually sensible person, honored and loved by both brown and white people.” “This old woman, named Chiconehla, is supposed to have been in a war against an enemy nation and was wounded numerous times…Her left arm is decorated with some designs, which she said were fashionable during her youth….” Chiconehla stayed for two days, entertained by the students and discussing theology with the missionaries with the aid of translating by her distant relative, Mrs. James Vann (Margaret Scott). The circumstances of this high status woman leave little doubt that this Cherokee named Chiconehla was identical to the person known as Nancy Ward.
Nancy Ward opened an inn in southeastern Tennessee on Womankiller Ford of what was then called the Ocowee River (present day Ocoee River). Her son cared for her during her last years. She died in 1822, or possibly 1824, before the Cherokee were removed from their remaining lands during the Trail of Tears. She and her son Fivekiller are buried at the top of a hill not far from the site of the inn, which is south of present-day Benton, Tennessee. In 1923 the Nancy Ward chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, based in Chattanooga, placed a memorial marker at the grave sites near Benton, Tennessee. Polk County, Tennessee, where Benton is located, is trying to raise money to create a Nancy Ward Museum. The Polk County Historical and Genealogical Society currently maintains a Nancy Ward Room in their genealogy library until such a time as the museum is created.
After her death she was mentioned in many stories. Teddy Roosevelt mentions her in his works Book on The West, The Virginia State Papers, The South Carolina State Papers, Mooney’s Book, and The Draper Collection and a chapter of the The American Daughters Of the Revolution in Tennessee carries her name.
Ward was the last woman to receive the title of Beloved Woman until the 1980s, when Maggie Wachacha was given the title.
A statue of Nancy Ward, carved by James Abraham Walker, stood in a cemetery in Grainger County, Tennessee for about 70 years before it was stolen in the early 1980s.
The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee holds an annual Nancy Ward Cherokee Heritage Days celebration in her honor.
Nancy Ward is not only remembered as an important figure to the Cherokee people but is also considered an early pioneer for women in American politics as she advocated for a woman’s voice during a turbulent period in her tribe’s history.