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Drawn portrait of Han Yerry Tewahangaraghkan

Han Yerry Tewahangaraghkan

Everyone had choices to make during the American Revolution—some of those choices changed lives forever.

Complex relationships

The outbreak of the American Revolution forever altered Han Yerry Tewahangaraghkan’s life, and the centuries-old alliance of Haudenosaunee.

Born around 1724 in the Mohawk Valley to an Oneida mother and German father, Han Yerry Tewahangaraghkan’s skillful straddling of the colonial and Native worlds of the New York frontier prepared him for the complex relationships between Indigenous Americans and European colonists.

Forced to choose a side

By the 1750s Tewahangaraghkan ("He Who Takes Up the Snow Shoe") and his wife, Tyonajanegan ("Two Kettles Together"), lived in the Oneida town of Oriska near the British post at Fort Stanwix. The American Revolution forced Tewahangaraghkan and Tyonajanegan to make a choice: ally themselves with the Patriots, or British forces? Like most members of the Oneida, they chose to support the Patriots. As a prominent member in the Wolf Clan, Tewahangaraghkan organized a group of warriors to assist the Continental Army. The opportunity to fight came in the summer of 1777.

Map showing the path of St. Leger's movement east from Fort Oswego.

Earlier that spring, in support of British General John Burgoyne’s plan to capture Albany, Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger led a column east from Fort Oswego through the Oneida homeland to rendezvous with Burgoyne.

Map showing the arrival of St. Leger near Fort Stanwix.

, now garrisoned by Continental troops, lay directly in St. Leger’s path. On August 3, St. Leger arrived and initiated a siege.

Map showing Herkimer's troop movement toward Oriska.

Patriot General Nicholas Herkimer set out to relieve Fort Stanwix. Tewahangaraghkan and his Oneida warriors joined Herkimer at Oriska, along with Tyonajanegan and their son Cornelius.

Map showing the Battle of Oriskany

On the morning of August 6, Herkimer’s command marched into an ambush laid by the Royal Regiment of New York, Hesse-Hanau Jaegers and British-supporting Iroquois.

Illustration showing the Battle of Oriskany.

The . was close and bloody. Tewahangaraghkan initially directed the fighting on horseback before dismounting to join Cornelius and Tyonajanegan on the firing line.

Proving himself in battle

When a ball struck his wrist, Tyonajanegan took on the task of loading her husband’s musket. Despite the wound, Tewahangaraghkan refused to yield, and by the end of the day killed nine of the enemy, some in hand-to-hand combat. St. Leger ultimately lifted the siege. Tewahangaraghkan quickly recovered from his wound and spent the rest of the year leading scouts for the Continental Army.

Map showing Valley Forge.

In the spring of 1778, Tewahangaraghkan and his warriors joined General George Washington’s army at .

Photo of the Isaac Potts house at Valley Forge

Shortly after his arrival at the encampment, Tewahangaraghkan purportedly dined with Washington at the , which Washington used as a headquarters.

Image: Isaac Potts house at Valley Forge; Dan Davis

Map showing the location of the Battle of Barren Hill

On May 20, 1778 the Oneidas fought at the Battle of Barren Hill under the direction of the Marquis de Lafayette, losing six warriors in the engagement. Their remains rest in the cemetery of St. Peter’s Church in Whitemarsh Township, a suburb of Philadelphia.

Deserved recognition

Tewahangaraghkan and his warriors returned to New York that summer. In April 1779, as a result of his conduct, Congress commissioned Tewahangaraghkan as a captain.

In June 1825, during Lafayette’s second tour of the United States, one of Tewahangaraghkan’s sons and two other Oneida chiefs traveled to Utica, New York to see their old commander. No doubt Lafayette remembered their service at Barren Hill some forty-seven years earlier. Despite throngs of citizens who came out to see him, Lafayette granted the Oneidas a private audience. Together, the old comrades in arms recalled their time in the Continental Army. Lafayette offered a gift of cash to them, which they accepted, before departing.