This post was written by Christine Calvo, AHMC Cataloging Assistant.
On October 29, 1754, John Harris Jr. wrote to Philadelphia politician Richard Peters about a visit from an Iroquois leader “Monacatootha” and “Severall others.” Harris was the son of John Harris Sr. (1673 – 1748), the namesake of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. John Harris Sr. was known for establishing the first store and trading post on the Susquehanna River, on what was then the American frontier. The store was opened by John Harris, Sr. in 1733 and was frequented by frontiersman and Iroquois warriors.
By 1754 Harris, Jr. was considered a confidant of the Iroquois nation. He wrote that Monacatootha and other members of the Six Nations were “in a very low Condition,” especially the “half-king” Tanacharison, who was suffering from an unknown illness.
Tanacharison (or Tanaghrisson, born in 1700) was known as the “Half-King of the Iroquois of Ohio Country.” European settlers who wanted to trade with designated representatives of the Ohio Council of the Six Nations created the title of “Half-King.” This title had no meaning to the Six Nations themselves. The governing body of the Six Nations was the council at Onondaga, who had dictated a position of neutrality should conflict arise.
Tanacharison had defied the dictate and did not heed to neutrality. During the French and Indian War, he joined a 21-year-old George Washington to fight against the French, after being offered autonomy over their land should their battle be victorious. Tanacharison left Ohio with a few hundred Iroquois. Having only one victorious battle alongside Washington, the Iroquois surrendered their fort to the French at Fort Necessity after a siege on July 4, 1754. From September 4 – 7, 1754, Tanacharison, his family and several others traveled to Harris’ home from a council meeting at Aughwick, Pennsylvania, with the Shawnees and Delawares. At the meeting, the Shawnees refused to take Tanacharison and his people back or offer them safety, since they had defied their law of neutrality. The best place for them to seek refuge for the time being was at Harris’ home in Paxtang, Pennsylvania. Tanacharison would shortly pass away on October 4, 1754, after being brought to Harris’ farm.
In Harris’ letter, he writes that he asked Tanacharison’s family about the funeral procedures of the Six Nations. The family replied:
“…their answer was that they looked upon him to be like one of ourselves and as he died among us we might bury him as we thought proper that if he was buried well it would be very good, which I did much to their Satisfaction.”
Since Tanacharison’s had been turned away by the Six Nations, a traditional burial did not appear to be an option. In the letter, Harris expressed his willingness to be hospitable to Tanacharison’s family. Harris wrote that he would “continue to give his [Tanacharison’s] family necessary provisions till they remove.”
Cataloging of the American Historical Manuscript Collection (AHMC), a group of 12,000 small and unique manuscript collections, is made possible by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Peck Stacpoole Foundation, and the Pine Tree Foundation of New York.