It reveals the Founding Fathers’ respect for the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Just as a bald eagle sits as a lookout atop the Haudenosaunee Tree of Peace, a bald eagle appears on the U.S. bill. The concept of a cluster of arrows representing a strong union of individuals also originated with the Haudenosaunee. Seeking unity among the original Five Nations, the Peacemaker demonstrated how a single arrow was easily broken but many arrows bound together were not. The Haudenosaunee example of how unity could work influenced various American colonists who got to know them.
Getting to Know Each Other
Conrad Weiser was 17 years old when he went to live with the Mohawks in New York in the 1720s. Chief Quagnant taught him their language and customs. Weiser saw for himself the value of Haudenosaunee statesmanship. For nearly 17 years after his stay with the Mohawks, he helped negotiate treaties in Pennsylvania between the Haudenosaunee and the American colonists.
The Mohawks also adopted Irish merchant William Johnson. Johnson lived in New York. He became friends with Theyanoguin, a Mohawk leader known as Chief Hendrick. Johnson moved freely between Mohawk and colonial communities. In addition to being an advisor to the Haudenosaunee, he eventually became British Superintendent of Indian Affairs. In that role, he oversaw the relationship between the British and Native Americans who lived north of the Ohio River.
Making the Case for Unity
Most colonists didn’t know one another or nearby Native Americans well enough to develop mutual trust and respect. In 1744, a treaty council met in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to improve relations between the two groups. A tall Onondaga chief named Canassatego spoke at the council. The Haudenosaunee were concerned, the diplomat said, that the colonists were ill-prepared to deal with the military threat coming from France, who had established colonies in present-day Canada. France and Great Britain’s European rivalry was spreading to include North America.
“We heartily recommend Union and Good Agreement between you our Brethren,” said Canassatego. “Our wise Forefathers established Union and Amity between the Five Nations; this has made us formidable; this has given us great weight and Authority with our Neighboring Nations.”
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