The Untold Story of Queen Aliquippa
“...the most esteemed of their women do sometimes speak in council...
He told me she was an empress; and they gave much heed
to what she said among them...”
---T. Chalkley, 1706, Conestoga, Pennsylvania.
Queen Aliquippa is a woman who had an impact on history, but about whom we know very little. “Yet, it was her loyalty to the English which helped to set into motion a series of events that facilitated the start of the French and Indian War. This . . . war eventually led to English control of most of North America and set the stage for the American Revolution (Fort Necessity Battlefield, 2008). Her name, Aliquippa, is a Seneca word for “hat” or “cap.” Her life began long before white trappers entered the area in which she lived, and that is one reason why little is definitively known about this woman.
In addition, that which is written about her is not only sometimes vague, but confusing and contradictory. For example, during her lifetime she was referred to as "Queen of the Delawares,” (Lenape). In addition to being Delaware, others say she was Seneca, Mingo Seneca and Mohawk. Hilliard (1996) says that it is likely that she was a Seneca, but her family may have been part of a small faction of that tribe that broke away and moved to the Conestoga Valley (the area of current Lancaster, PA). This group was later referred to as the Mingo, but they still retained their ties to the Seneca tribe and the Iroquois League. However, her close alignment with the British prior to the French and Indian Wars (1754 –1763) would suggest that she was not Mingo, as the Mingo were a number of loosely organized groups of American Indians who remained neutral during the French and Indian Wars.
Young Major Washington Visits Queen Aliquippa
Indeed, as Hilliard (1996) points out, the French explorer Celeron who came down the Allegheny River in1749 wrote: "The Iroquois inhabit this place and it is an old woman of this nation who governs it. She regards herself as a sovereign. She is entirely devoted to the English" [emphasis added]. Snipe (1976) also points out that Aliquippa was not Mohawk because if she were, Conrad Weiser would be aware of it. Weiser, was not only an adopted son of the Mohawk nation, he also served as an interpreter for the Iroquois and helped coordinate Pennsylvania’s Indian Policy. Therefore, it does seem to be very clear is that Aliquippa was not only a Native American leader during a large portion of the 18th century, but a member of one the five nations of The Iroquois League (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca), most probably Seneca.
For the sake of clarity, and to help us better position Aliquippa within the historical context of her time it is important to take a moment to explain a bit about the Iroquois League. The Iroquois League is not, as some often assume, an individual tribe or a nation. Rather, the Iroquois League is, as the name implies, a group with common goals As Cook (2000) points out formation of the League was finalized some time between the mid fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. At the time of European contact the Iroquois League was the most powerful Native American group.
Originally, there were five nations, as noted above. Later, the Tuscarora joined the league, as a consequence there are currently six nations within the League. Therefore, identifying an American Indian as Iroquois does not place her or him within a specific tribe or nation. Rather, that identification merely notes that this individual belongs to one of the nations that comprise the Iroquois League. Thus, identifying Aliquippa as Iroquois adds some validity to notion that she was Seneca.
Aliquippa’s date of birth is not known, but based on the fact that as a young woman she visited William Penn in 1701 suggests that she was born in the latter part of the 1600’s. Hilliard (1996) says that she was born in the 1680’s somewhere in upstate New York. Hilliard goes on to say that another version of Aliquippa’s life indicates that she was born in 1706, along with a twin sister named Snow in the Face, in a village called Indian Ridge in Washington County, PA.
This would place the location of her birth approximately halfway between the current locations of Pittsburgh, PA and Wheeling, WV, a significant distance from upstate New York. Another question raised by this story is how Aliquippa was able to travel to see Penn in 1701, along with a husband and child when she was not born until five years later. Since Aliquippa’s visit with Penn is well established, we have to question the validity of this story.
It is likely that her father was a man of importance, but there are no further details about him (Hilliard, 1996). As with Aliquippa, her husband is alternately described as Seneca, or Mingo. She had at least one son, named Canachquasy. History tells us that like her father, Aliquippa’s husband was also a leader, and that Aliquippa outlived her husband. As a consequence, she came to a position of some significance in her community. It was not unusual with the members of the Iroquois League to have women in positions of power during this era, and this remains consistent today.
According to Hillard (1996), a Quaker settler named Thomas Chalkey, told of a tribe ruled by Aliquippa lived in western Chester County, PA, (southeastern PA) in the early 1700s. In the 1730’s she and her family moved to the western part of Pennsylvania settling near the Forks of the Ohio in the vicinity of the current town of McKee’s Rocks, PA . Once in this area, Aliquippa's band of about thirty families lived at various times along the Youghiogheny, Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio rivers.
No matter where she lived, Aliquippa seemed to receive great respect, not only from the members of her village, but from the white explorers, traders and even diplomats. What is more, evidence suggests that she expected it, as well. For example, as Snipe (1976) and Hilliard (1996) point out, in 1748 Conrad Weiser traveled through the area where Aliquippa lived on his way to a council meeting at Logstown, PA (near present-day Ambridge on the north shore of the Allegheny, above the forks of the Ohio River). Weiser quickly found out not only how much respect Aliquippa commanded, but how quickly she became angry when she felt insulted. When she found that Weiser had gone to Logstown without stopping in her village, she demanded that he come and pay tribute to her. He quickly complied only to be further chided for not bringing enough gunpowder with him to give to her village. Weiser satisfied her that he would leave what he could and get more to her as soon as possible. After that visit, Weiser noted in his journal: "We dined in a Seneka town where an old Seneka woman reigns with great authority. We dined at her house and they all used us very well.”
In 1752, Weiser again reported visiting her, this time at “Aliquippa's Town” located on the Ohio at the mouth of Chartier’s Creek (a tributary of the Ohio River near McKees Rock and Pittsburgh). It seems that the ambassador learned his lesson four years ago; his journal mentions that his boat was hailed by a Delaware Indian village on the opposite bank of the Ohio, but he chose to put in at Aliquippa's Town first.
In January, 1754, a 21 year old Major by the name of George Washington, was sent by Virginia’s Lt. Governor Dinwiddie to ask the French troops in the Ohio Valley to leave the region. Washington traveled from Virginia to Logstown. There he met with the local Iroquois leaders. Unfortunately, for Major Washington, he failed to pay his respects to Queen Aliquippa, who by then was living on the Monongahela at the mouth of the Youghiogheny (present day McKeesport, PA).
After completing his mission, Washington had an arduous trek to John Fraser's trading post at the mouth of Turtle Creek (present day Braddock, PA). While there he learned that Aliquippa was angry that he had bypassed her on the first leg of his trip. After taking some time to recover from his journey, the young major took a side trip to the mouth of the Youghiogheny. Unfortunately, the journal entry that Washington made regarding this visit is probably the best known portrayal of Queen Aliquippa. Washington wrote: "…she expressed great concern that we passed her in going to the fort. I made her a Present of a Match Coat; & a Bottle of rum, which was thought much the better present of the two." This single verse of the Robert Schmertz song "The Forks of the O-hi-o" tells the story of Washington’s visit:
Now Queen Allaquippa was the Indian skipper of a tribe down Logstown way;
And George said, "I better win this lady Indian, and without delay.
So he took her a coat and a jug of whisky, and stayed a day or so,
And he came back a ridin'and a lookin'and a walkin' to the forks of the 0-hi-o.
At this juncture, there are two important points that should be made clear. First, the apparent willingness of the British to accede to her wishes is a clear acknowledgement of her power and influence and, thus, a means to continue her support. Therefore, we can conclude that Aliquippa was a vital British ally. Second, Aliquippa was generous in return. While on their way to Logstown, three commissioners of Virginia stopped to visit Aliquippa at Aliquippa’s Town (on the south bank of the Ohio River, below the mouth of Cartier’s Creek). On May 30, 1752, the commissioners Patton, Fry and Lomax made the following journal entry:
The goods being put on board four large canoes lashed together, the Commissioners and others went on board also, to go down the river with colors flying. When they came opposite the Delaware town, they were saluted by the discharge of firearms, both from the town and opposite shore where Queen Allaquippa lives; and the compliment was returned from the canoes. The company then went on shore to wait on the Queen, who welcomed them, and presented them with a string of wampum, to clear their way to Logstown. She presented them also with a fine dish of fish to carry with them, and had some victuals set which they all ate of. The Commissioners then presented the Queen with a brass kettle [sic], tobacco and some other trifles and took their leave.
For years the Indians had unsuccessfully encouraged the Pennsylvania government to build a fort in the Ohio River Valley. Instead, the French built Fort Duquesne at the Forks of the Ohio in 1754.
In the same year, according to Fort Necessity National Battlefield (2008), Washington and his troops were at Great Meadows (now Farmington, PA) when Tanacharisson an Iroquois also known as Half King brought a message to Washington that the French were nearby. On May 28th, Washington, Tanacharisson and their men surrounded the French at an outcropping of rocks about six miles from Great Meadows.
During the ensuing conflict, the French lost about 13 men. This confrontation left the young Washington badly shaken. Concerned that the French might relate, Washington returned to Great Meadows and built Fort Necessity (Fort Necessity National Battlefield, 2008).
In early June, Tanacharisson and Aliquippa brought about 100 people, mostly women and children, to Great Meadows. Washington did not have sufficient supplies, so he requested that the women and children be taken to Aughwick (now Shirleysburg, PA), and placed under British protection.
Around mid June representatives from 10 different Native American nations came to Great Meadows for a council. At this time, Washington noted: "Queen Alliquippa desir'd her Son (who is really a great Warrior) might be taken into Council, as She was declining and unfit for Business and that he should have an English Name given him" (Fort Necessity National Battlefield) Washington gave Canachquasy the name of Col. Fairfax and told him it meant "first in council.”
The subsequent council did not go well for Washington. The American Indians were well aware that the French outnumbered the British. They also knew that at 22 years of age Washington had little successful military experience. What is more, the Iroquois council had previously ordered the Indians to stay neutral. Their first priority was the safety of their women and children, therefore the warriors decided to take their families to Aughwick and left Washington and his men to fight the French. To make matters worse, the colonialist also refused to take part.
Despite this setback Washington began to improve fortifications of what was now called Fort Necessity. In addition, he received supplies, and reinforcements arrived from Virginia and South Carolina. In late June Washington received word that the French were approaching from Fort Duquesne. At this point, Washington had somewhere between 300 to 400 men. On the morning of July 3rd approximately 600 French and 100 of their Native American allies approached Fort Necessity and took up positions in the woods.
According to the National Park Service Archive, the battle raged sporadically throughout that rainy day. Finally, around 8 PM, the commander of the French forces requested a truce to discuss the surrender of Washington and his troops. After several hours of negotiation, surrender was agreed upon, put in writing and signed by Washington and Mackay, the commander of the troops from South Carolina.
After Washington surrendered Fort Necessity to the French, life did not go well for the Indians at Aughwick. The Albany Congress’ unsuccessful attempt to create better relations with the Native Americans thereby failed to strengthen colonial defenses against the French. As Stories from PA History web site notes, “Indeed, the only thing [the Albany Congress] did seem to accomplish was another land purchase by agents for the Penn family that threatened to alienate more Indians in western Pennsylvania”. This so-called “land purchase” included most of central Pennsylvania land west of the Susquehanna River.
In December of 1754, George Croghan, the Indian agent at Aughwick wrote, “Hear is the Half King’s famely in pour condition and Alequeapy ye old Quine is dead and left several children . . . .” At the time of her death Aliquippa was well into her seventies.
According to the web site, Stories from PA History, “By the end of 1754, the fate of the Ohio Country and its inhabitants seemed sealed.” The loss of these two important British allies weakened the pro-British attitude of the Native Americans of the area.
Aliquippa led American Indians through turbulent times. In her life, Aliquippa met with traders, diplomats and generals. The range of her influence is unknown. However, as Barczak (2003) noted, “If [not] for Queen Aliquippa, Pittsburghers might be speaking French . . . instead of English.” In the autumn of 2003, the people of western Pennsylvania paid homage to the “Queen.”
Historians believe that the meeting between Aliquippa and young, gift-bearing Major Washington took place on a hilltop overlooking the Monongahela River. Legend says that the exact site is near modern day McKeesport, PA, just a few miles from the town that bears her name. History also tells us that Aliquippa was buried at the site where the meeting between her and Washington took place.
On October 26, 2003 a marker was dedicated to Queen Aliquippa in Highland Park, McKeesport, PA. The inscription says:
“An influential leader of the Seneca Nation in this area and ally of the British during the time of the French & Indian War. Encamped near here when George Washington paid respect to her, 1753. Died 1754; according to legend, buried nearby.”
The honor of this plaque notwithstanding, what an ironic twist of history that Aliquippa’s
full and lengthy life could be summarized so pithily. We must remember that what little we know about Aliquippa was written mainly by people who were not members of her race. And, despite the fact that the 18th century is known as the Age of Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, women were viewed as inferior to men in almost every way. Women were intellectually inferior to men. Women were the major source of temptation. Women went from being property of their fathers to being property of their husbands. Therefore, we can assume that the men who wrote of their encounters with Aliquippa were influenced by this 18th century perspective. As a consequence, we might conclude that Aliquippa’s race, and sex provides further explanation as to why there is such a dearth of information—accurate information—about this powerful woman. Although she was an important ally, she was, nonetheless, a woman.
There is no question that Aliquippa had great influence over Native Americans as well as the French and the British. Furthermore, without Aliquippa the American Revolution might not have taken place. As a consequence, young Major Washington’s life, as well as our own, would likely be decidedly different.
In the end we have but one question to ponder. Would Aliquippa make different choices if she knew at the time what the ensuing decades would bring to the American Indians both east and west of the Mississippi?
Barczak, E. (2003, October, 25). Paying homage to a queen of history. Tribune-Review. Retrieved from http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/s_161816.html
Cook, B. (2000). Iroquois Confederacy and the Influence Thesis. Retrieved from http://www.campton.sau48.k12.nh.us/iroqconf.htm
Fort Necessity National Battlefield. (February 2008; rev. June 2009) National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.
Hilliard, R. (Autumn 1996). Queen Aliquippa; A history. Milestones Vol. 21 No. 3. Retrieved from http://www.bchistory.org/beavercounty/BeaverCountyTopical/NativeAmerican/QueenAliquippMA96.html
National Park Service Archive. http://www.nps.gov/archive/fone/fonehist.htm Last updated: January 6, 2005
Schmertz, R. (n.d.). On the Forks of the Ohio. Retrieved from
Snipe, C. H. (Spring 1976). The Queen Aliquippa Legend. Milestones. Vol. 2 No. 2. Retrieved from http://www.bchistory.org/beavercounty/BeaverCountyTopical/NativeAmerican/QueenAliquippaM1976.html
Stories from PA History. (n.d.) http://explorepahistory.com/story.php?storyId=6&chapter=2