Published on April 22, 2012 by Amy
Polly Cooper was an Oneida woman who took part in an expedition to aid the Continental army during the American Revolution at Valley Forge in the winter campaign of 1777-78.
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The harvest for the previous year among the Oneidas had produced an abundant amount of corn and knowing that George Washington and his army at Valley Forge were low on supplies, Chief Shenendoah (aka Oskanondohna) sent an expedition to help with the food shortage. Among them was one woman by the name of Polly Cooper. Cooper would also be among a group of people who would choose to stay behind and continue to help the American Army.
She aided not only in caring for the many sickly soldiers but also taught them the nutritional and medicinal purposes of various foods. Most importantly, she showed them how to use hulled corn to make a soup that was an essential part of the Iroquois diet. Cooper was even known to walk among the soldiers during battle to provide water to the soldiers. Polly Cooper and the generous gift of the Oneida certainly helped lead to a victory by George Washington and his troops in leading the British out of Valley Forge and Pennsylvania.
Despite her hard work, Cooper refused to be paid for her service. According to legend, one day the officer’s wives took Cooper shopping in nearby Philadelphia. Though she had little interest in the items for sale and purchased nothing, the women took notice of a particular black shawl that Cooper admired. After informing their husbands, funds were appropriated by Congress for the purpose of buying the shawl to be given to Cooper in appreciation for her services.
Among the Iroquois tribes, it was common to give gifts during an official agreement. The story of the shawl of Polly Cooper is an important one among the Oneida people as it symbolizes their relationship and loyalty to the development of the United States. Today, the shawl is a treasured artifact that remains with the descendants of Polly Cooper.
In the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, in Washington, D.C., there is a statue is called “Allies in War, Partners in Peace.” It was created by Utah-based sculptor Edward Hlavka and celebrates the friendship between the Oneida Nation and the United States.
Polly Cooper continued to show her loyalty to the young United States when she served again as a cook during the War of 1812.