Nancy Ward

The year 1738 was a hard one for the Cherokee of the Carolinas, northern Georgia, and East Tennessee. A smallpox epidemic had killed many of their number, at least in Tennessee and the white colonists were moving closer to Cherokee land. [1] The old ways of Cherokee life were beginning to disappear. It was into this environment of violent culture clashes that the little girl who would come to be known as Nancy Ward was born. In a time of severe and heartbreaking change for her people, she tried to find middle ground, living with the European settlers in peace and using her influence as a powerful and respected woman of the tribe to find terms both races could embrace. Nancy Ward, a Beloved Woman of the Cherokee, used her influence throughout her life as a diplomat and a peacemaker between the whites and the Cherokee Nation.

            The Cherokee, or Ani'-Yun'wiya[2] traditionally lived in three areas of the Southeastern United States: The Lower Towns of South Carolina and northern Georgia, the Middle and Valley Towns in western North Carolina, and the Overhill Towns of East Tennessee. The southern Appalachians alone held approximately eighty Cherokee communities.[3] Each village had its own government modeled on the larger, national government, meaning that each village had its own advisers, chiefs, and officials.[4] An integral part of the Cherokee government was the clan system. In all, there were seven Cherokee clans: the Bird, Ani Tsis'qua; the Wolf, Ani Waya; the Red Paint, Ani Wodi; the Deer, Ani Awi; the Long Hair, Ani Gilohi; the Blue Paint, Ani Sahoni; and the Wild Potato, Ani Godagewi.[5] These clans were large family groups, including all descendants of an ancient ancestor. This strengthened the national government with familial ties present in each town and bound the widespread Cherokee nation together.[6]

            The Cherokee were a matrilineal people, meaning that every child was a member of his or her mother's clan.[7] Women held considerable power in Cherokee society: they owned the home, legally controlled the children, and had an equal voice in the council.[8] “Beloved Women,” or “Agi-ga-u-e,” wielded even greater political power, possessing sole power over prisoners and heading the Women’s Council.[9]

            Nancy Ward, the most famous Beloved Woman, was born in 1738[10] in Chota, the Cherokee capitol situated by the Little Tennessee River in present-day Monroe County, Tennessee.[11] Her given name, Nanye'hi translates as “One who goes about,” a name derived from Nunne'hi, the Spirit People of Cherokee mythology.[12] Her mother, Tame Doe, was the sister of Attakullakulla, the chief of the nation at the time of Nancy's birth.[13] The identity and ethnicity of her father remains unknown: some scholars say he was a British officer, but most Cherokee historians believe him to be a member of the Delaware tribe.[14] Emmet Starr, a noted Cherokee historian, asserts that Nancy Ward was a full-blooded Cherokee.[15] Whatever her origin, Nanye'hi was raised as a Cherokee woman and married a Cherokee man named Kingfisher.[16] By age seventeen, Nanye'hi was the mother of a boy, Fivekiller, and a girl, Catherine.[17] Later that same year, however, Nanye'hi's life would be changed forever.

            In 1755, the Cherokees went to war against the Creeks, a neighboring tribe. Kingfisher was killed in the Battle of Taliwa, but Nanye'hi, who was beside him, snatched his gun, rallied the dwindling Cherokees, and led her people to a decisive victory. Upon her return to Chota she was named Agi-ga-u-e, sometimes translated as “War Woman” as well as “Beloved Woman.” This position gave Nanye'hi great power: she had complete control of any prisoners of war, headed the Women's Council and sat on the Council of Chiefs,[18] along with acting as final arbitrator of any tribal debates and serving as an interpreter between the Cherokees and the whites as needed.[19] She also had ceremonial duties, including preparing the Black Drink, the focus of a pre-war ritual.[20] As a Beloved Woman, Nanye'hi used her powers to the fullest extent.

            Nanye'hi 's policy of peace between whites and Cherokees began when she was very young. She secretly provided food for European settlers at Fort Loudoun, the first British settlement in Tennessee, when she was still a teenager.[21] During her adulthood she saved more lives by sending warning to the settlers of Watauga of an approaching Cherokee army led by her cousin Dragging Canoe in 1776.[22] Also in 1776, she saved the life of Lydia Bean, the wife of the first permanent white settler of Tennessee, who had been captured and was going to be burned. Nanye'hi kept Lydia Bean at her house for a time before sending her with a guard back to Watauga.[23] History does not document how many times she performed similar acts, but it is certain she saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives, both Cherokee and white, through either her personal power over prisoners or other warnings she sent to the Tennessee forts.

            Nanye'hi 's influence over both Native and white affairs did not stop at her rescues. She became so well known to the white community that she was mentioned in a 1781 letter by President Thomas Jefferson about the importance of cementing a peace treaty with the Cherokee.[24] During her life she spoke at two different treaty negotiations: first at the Treaty of Long Island in what is today Kingsport, Tennessee, and secondly at the Treaty of Hopewell in South Carolina.[25] In July of 1781, on Long Island in the Holston River, she addressed the U.S. Treaty Commission, giving one of her most famous speeches that eloquently expressed her hope for peace.

You know that women are always looked upon as nothing; but we are your mothers; you are our sons. Our cry is all for peace; let it continue. This peace must last forever. Let your women's sons be ours; our sons be yours. Let your women hear our words.[26]


Although the white commissioners had planned to ask for all land north of the Little Tennessee River, the Treaty of Long Island was one of the few where the settlers made no demands for Cherokee territory, exhibiting how Nanye'hi used her influence for the good of her people.[27]

            She spoke again at the Treaty of Hopewell in Hopewell, South Carolina.[28] During the negotiation of this first treaty between the Cherokee and the new United States government,[29] she again spoke to the commissioners with an emphasis on continuing the established peace.

I am fond of hearing that there is a peace. . . . I look on you and the red people as my children. Your having determined on peace is most pleasing to me, for I have seen much trouble . . . I hope yet to bear children, who will grow up and people our nation . . . we hope the chain of friendship will never more be broke.[30]


Her speech stirred another response: the commissioners promised that all homesteaders would leave Cherokee land within the next six months. This did not happen,[31] but the very fact that such a promise was made to the Cherokee expresses again the influence Nanye'hi possessed.

            As more and more of the Cherokee's treaties were broken by the U.S. Government, Nanye'hi became wary of the new country. She firmly believed that no more land could safely be given to the white settlers, who were never satisfied. Several times she spoke in partnership with the Cherokee Women's Council to the General Council, beseeching the head men of the tribe not to sell more of the tribe’s ancestral land.[32] “We do not wish to go to an unknown country . . . over the Mississippi. . . .Your mothers, your sisters ask and beg of you not to part with any more of our lands.”[33] This petition would not be successful, but Nancy Ward never stopped trying to secure the traditional homeland of her people, even when she was the only one standing against the entire United States government.

            Nanye'hi's adult life was not spent entirely in peace talks and treaty negotiations. In the 1750's she remarried; this time to an English trader named Brian Ward, whose surname she took. Their marriage is considered by some to be the first civil ceremony performed in Tennessee.[34] Nancy had a daughter, Elizabeth, with Ward, but he was also married to a white woman, and when he returned to his first family, she and Elizabeth visited him many times and were received with respect.[35]

            Nancy Ward also spent time learning new skills from Lydia Bean, the first of many white captives she saved. Lydia taught Nancy the arts of spinning yarn and thread, assembling a European harness loom, and weaving cloth, and Nancy taught these techniques to the Cherokee women.[36] She was also introduced by Lydia to raising cattle and dairying and was able to share that too with the Ani'-Yun'wiya,[37] insuring a steady supply of food even when hunting was unsuccessful. Being able to make their own cloth also lessened the dependence of the Cherokee on white traders.[38] Nancy Ward's domestic contributions to Cherokee life are no less important than her political actions.

            Later in her life, when she had all but retired from political activity, Nancy moved back to Chota and took in orphaned children, earning her the affectionate title of Granny Ward.[39] In 1819, however, Nancy's life was changed again by the Hiwassee Purchase, which forced her to move away from Chota, the town of her birth.[40] She moved south, to a house on the Ocowee River near present-day Benton, Tennessee.[41] There, by the side of the Federal Road, she ran an inn until her death in 1822 at the age of eighty-four.[42] Eyewitnesses said that when she died, a light rose from her body, circled the room, and then fluttered out the door, heading for Chota to finally rest on a hill in the town Nancy had loved.[43] Whether or not this account is true, fourteen years before the Trail of Tears[44] Nancy was laid to rest on a hill in what is now Polk County[45] between her son Fivekiller, Hiskyteechee, and her brother Longfellow, Tuskeeteechee.[46] The grave remained unmarked for over 100 years before the Nancy Ward Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a monument over it in 1923.[47] A bronze tablet placed on the stone pyramid reads: “In memory of Nancy Ward, Princess and Prophetess of the Cherokee Nation. The Pocahontas of Tennessee, Constant Friend of the American Pioneer. Born 1738, Died 1822.”[48] The body of Nanye'hi rests there today, the remains of the last Beloved Woman until the late 1980's[49] and one of the Cherokee Nation's most well-known and influential members.

            The daughter of Tame Doe died on the very eve of violent change for the Cherokee, yet her life and contributions are still remembered. Along with her domestic lessons, including dairying and weaving, Nancy Ward greatly influenced the political history of her people. Her speeches and political advocacy kept the Cherokee on their ancestral land for as long as possible and helped cement a number of treaties with the U.S. Government, even though many of these were later broken. She never gave up on her desire for peaceful coexistence with the white settlers and saved countless lives to further that goal. Even when many of her own people wanted war, Nancy Ward never wavered from her path of peace and, as a Beloved Woman, she could and did translate her convictions into action. Nanye'hi will always be remembered for her contributions to the Cherokee Nation and her efforts as a peacemaker and diplomat. Today she is a symbol of strength and hope for people of all races who desire peace among cultures and nations. The legacy of Nancy Nanye'hi Ward lives on; she was a mother, a grandmother, a diplomat, a Beloved Woman, a peacemaker, a teacher, and a Cherokee woman.


[1]    Carroll Van West, The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture (Nashville: Rutledge

      Hill Press, 1998), 1033.

[2]    Theda Perdue, The Cherokee (Philadelphia:Chelsea House Publishers, 2005), 1.

[3]    Jim Stokely and Jeff D. Johnson, ed., An Encyclopedia of East Tennessee (Oak Ridge, TN:

      Children's Museum of Oak Ridge, 1981), 90.

[4]    Brenda C. Calloway, America's First Western Frontier: East Tennessee (Johnson City, TN: The Overmountain Press, 1989), 35-36.

[5]    Valerie Brestel-Ohle, Lessons from the Eastern Cherokee: Resources from the Nancy Ward                Cherokee Heritage Day 2000 (Tennessee: Wisdom Keepers Inc., 2000), 6.

[6]    Calloway, America's First Western Frontier: East Tennessee, 36.

[7]    Stokely, An Encyclopedia of East Tennessee, 91.

[8]    Calloway, America's First Western Frontier: East Tennessee, 36.

[9]    Stokely, An Encyclopedia of East Tennessee, 495.

[10]  Ibid.

[11]  Roy G. Lillard, “The Story of Nancy Ward: 1738-1822,” DAR Magazine, January 1976: 43.

[12]  Van West, The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 1033.

[13]  Stokely,  An Encyclopedia of East Tennessee, 495.

[14]  Calloway, America's First Western Frontier: East Tennessee, 37.

[15]  Lillard, “The Story of Nancy Ward,” 43.

[16]  Stokely, An Encyclopedia of East Tennessee, 495.

[17]  David Ray Smith, “Nancy Ward: 1738-1822” in The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and        Culture. Available [Online]: <> [25       January 2009].

[18]  Stokely, An Encyclopedia of East Tennessee, 495.

[19]  Julia White, “Nanye-Hi (Nancy Ward)–Cherokee” in Woman Spirit. Available [Online]:        <> [25 January 2009].

[20]  Van West, The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 1033.

[21]  Marrin Robertson, “She Saved a Thousand Lives: Tennessee's Pioneers Owed Much to        Nancy Ward,” The Nashville Tennesseean Magazine, October 1955: unpaginated.

[22]  Lillard, “The Story of Nancy Ward,” 43.

[23]  Stokely, An Encyclopedia of East Tennessee, 495.

[24]   Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Washington D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1903), 163.

[25]  Smith, “Nancy Ward, 1738-1822.”

[26]  Brestel-Ohle, Lessons from the Eastern Cherokee: Resources from the Nancy Ward Cherokee Heritage Day 2000, 10.

[27]  Smith, “Nancy Ward, 1738-1822.”

[28]  Karen L. Kilcup, ed., Native American Women's Writing c. 1800-1924: An Anthology        (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2000), 26.

[29]  White, “Naney-Hi (Nancy Ward)–Cherokee.

[30]  Kilcup, Native American Women's Writing c. 1800-1924: An Anthology, 28.

[31]  Van West, The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 1033.

[32]  Brestel-Ohle, Lessons from the Easter Cherokee: Resources from the Nancy Ward Cherokee    Heritage Day 2000, 11.

[33]  Kilcup, Native American Women's Writing c. 1800-1924: An Anthology, 29.

[34]  Lillard, “The Story of Nancy Ward,” 158.

[35]  Stokely, An Encyclopedia of East Tennessee, 495.

[36]  Brestel-Ohle, Lessons from the Eastern Cherokee: Resources from the Nancy Ward        Cherokee Heritage Day 2000, 10.

[37]  White, “Naney-Hi (Nancy Ward)–Cherokee.”

[38]  Brestel-Ohle, Lessons from the Eastern Cherokee: Resources from the Nancy Ward        Cherokee Heritage Day 2000, 10.

[39]  Ibid,. 496.

[40]  Ibid.

[41]  Emma Dunn, “The Wild Rose of Cherokee or Nancy Ward: The Pocahontas of the West,”        Pathways, July-September 1983: 65.

[42]  Stokely, An Encyclopedia of East Tennessee, 496.

[43]  Ibid.

[44]  “Nancy Ward” in Gale Cengage Learning. Available [Online]:     <> [25 January 2009].

[45]  Dunn, “The Wild Rose of Cherokee or Nancy Ward: The Pocahontas of the West,” 65.

[46]  Lillard, “The Story of Nancy Ward,” 158.

[47]  Smith, “Nancy Ward, 1738-1822.

[48]  John S. Shamblin, “Monument to Nancy Ward Who Warned Watauga and Holston         Settlements of Redskin Army,” Knoxville News Sentinel, October 1923: not paginated.

[49]  “Nancy Ward” in Gale Cengage Learning.


Primary Source:

Jefferson, Thomas. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Washington, D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson          Memorial Association, 1903

This was a fascinating source, as it had copies of many documents the president had written. It was amazing to see Nancy Ward’s name in a letter written by this famous man and gave me a primary source that was very valuable.


Kilcup, Karen L., ed. Native American Women's Writing c. 1800-1924: An Anthology. Malden,           MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2000. 27-29.

This source was incredibly helpful to me because it was the only primary source I could find from a society that did not record their history in books and from a time period that was so long ago. The direct quotes of Nancy Ward’s speeches as recorded by the U.S. Treaty Commissioners were very interesting.

Secondary Sources:

Alderman, Pat. Nancy Ward: Cherokee Chieftainess. Johnson City, TN: Overmountain Press,             1978.

This source gave a lot of detailed information, which was good to read and gave me an in-depth look at many aspects of Nancy Ward’s life, such as the battle that made her a Beloved Woman.


Barrett, Carole and Harvey Markowitz, eds. American Indian Biographies. Revised edition.             “Ward, Nancy.” Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, Inc., 2005. 527-528.

This article was very helpful because it gave a very broad overview of Nancy Ward’s life, which was helpful when I was planning my paper.


Brestel-Ohle, Valerie, ed. Lessons from the Eastern Cherokee: Resources from Nancy Ward             Cherokee Heritage Day, 2000. Vonore, TN: Wisdom Keepers, 2000.

This pamphlet was amazing to find and fun to read because it not only had good information on Nancy Ward, it also had incredibly detailed information on the Cherokee Nation as a whole, which was helpful for my background paragraph and really interesting as well.


Calloway, Brenda C. America's First Western Frontier: East Tennessee. Johnson City, TN:             Overmountain Press, 1989.

Selections from this book gave me detailed information on traditional Cherokee clothing and shelter along with general information about Nancy Ward.


Cox, Grent and Alan Yanusdi. Heart of the Eagle: Dragging Canoe and the Emergence of the       Chickamauga Confederacy. Milan, TN: Chenanee Publishers, 1999.

This book was interesting because it was written from the point of view, not of Nancy Ward, but of Dragging Canoe, her cousin. It only had information on her actions that directly concerned Dragging Canoe but what information it had was very helpful and included details that I hadn’t found in other sources.


Dunn, Emma. “The Wild Rose of Cherokee, or Nancy Ward: The Pocahontas of the West.”             Pathways (July-September 1983): 63-65.

This was an easy read that provided some general information on Nancy Ward’s life as a whole along with some details about specific occurrences, including her speech at the Treaty of Hopewell. It was interesting to read something in speech format as well.


Garraty, John A. and Mark C. Carnes. American National Biography. Vol. 22. “Ward, Nancy.”           New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. 645-646.

The article presented Nancy Ward’s life in a simple, concise way that was very helpful to me especially as I was starting my researching and figuring out what parts of her life to highlight in my paper.


Lillard, Roy G. “The Story of Nancy Ward: 1738-1822.” DAR Magazine (January 1976): 43;             158.

This source, among other things, gave a lot of information about Nancy Ward’s background and childhood before she became a Beloved Woman.


 “Nancy Ward.” Gale Cengage Learning. <             whm/bio/ward_n.htm> (accessed January 25, 2009).

I had not expected to find a website with such a depth of information, so this was a pleasant surprise. It outlined the important details of Nancy Ward’s life well, even though it did not go into any of the smaller occurrences written about in some other sources.


Perdue, Theda. The Cherokees. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishers, 2005.

Although this book did have some information on Nancy Ward, it was much more effective in providing information on the Cherokee as a group.


Robertson, Marvin. “She Saved a Thousand Lives: Tennessee's Pioneers Owed Much to Nancy Ward.” The Nashville Tennessean Magazine (October 16, 1955). Not paginated.

This source was interesting and highlighted Nancy Ward’s various rescue efforts on behalf of the white settlers of the area, an aspect of her life that was less well-covered in most of the other sources I read.


Shamblin, John S. “Monument to Nancy Ward Who Warned Watauga and Holston Settlements             of Redskin Army.” Knoxville News-Sentinel. October 20, 1923. Not paginated.

This magazine article was helpful in that it provided me with the full quote of the plaque on Nancy Ward’s monument. Aside from that it basically restated a lot of what I had already read.


Smith, David Ray. “Nancy Ward: 1738-1822.” The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and             Culture. Tennessee Historical Society of Nashville. <             imagegallery.php?EntryID=W017> (accessed January 25, 2009).

A very reliable website, this source was helpful in outlining the basic story of Nancy Ward’s life and still got into some of the details I needed for my paper.


Stokely, Jim and Jeff D. Johnson, eds. An Encyclopedia of East Tennessee. Oak Ridge, TN:             Children's Museum of Oak Ridge, 1981. 495-6; 90-91.

This was the first source I read and it was one of the best I got. The information was clear, detailed, and matched up with almost every other source I studied.


Van West, Carroll. The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Nashville, TN: Rutledge          Hill Press, 1998. 1033.

The encyclopedia article was mainly helpful in confirming a lot of what I read in other places but it also had some interesting information, such as that Nancy came to be known as “Granny Ward” because of all the orphans she provided for.


White, Julia. “Nanye-Hi (Nancy Ward) – Cherokee.” Woman Spirit.             <> (accessed January 25,       2009).

This article was very short and only provided basic information about Nancy Ward. This was still helpful, however, because it helped me to understand the general outline of her life and career as a diplomat and peacemaker.

Works Consulted

Finger, John R. Tennessee Frontiers: Three Regions in Transition. Bloomington, Indiana:             Indiana University Press, 2001.

Although no new information was presented in this book, it was a fascinating read and really helped me put Nancy Ward’s work in the perspective of a changing society.