For hundreds of years, New York State had been inhabited by the six nations of the Iroquois. During the colonial period, the French, English, and Dutch vied for land in what would become the Empire State due to its strategic location. Once the American Revolution broke out, New York found itself in the thick of the conflict, including one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
The Battle of Oriskany occurred on August 6, 1777 when the local Tyron County militia attempted to come to the relief of the besieged Fort Schuyler (also known as Fort Stanwix) . Oriskany was one of the bloodiest battles in the North American theater of the American Revolutionary War and a significant engagement in the Saratoga campaign during the war. Brigadier General Nicholas Herkimer assembled a militia of about 800 men supported by 60 Oneida warriors marched from Fort Dayton to the besieged Fort Schuyler . “Upon hearing of Herkimer's advance, British and Loyalist troops under Sir John Johnson and Col. John Butler, and Indian forces led by Mohawk Joseph Brant, set a trap in a boggy ravine west of Oriskany Creek. As the unsuspecting American troops crossed the swampy bottom and marched up the ravine, the British attacked. The patriots fought in brutal hand-to-hand combat, and in spite of heavy losses, caused the Seneca and the Mohawks, followed by the British and Loyalists to retreat” .
During the Battle of Oriskany, as well as others, Native Americans helped on both sides of the conflict. Joseph Brant led troops on the siege of Fort Schuyler for the British, and Tyonajanegen (Two Kettles Together), rode on horseback and fought alongside her husband, a Native American who fought for the American side, during this same battle as well.
Tyonajanegen was a member of the Oneida Nation, and by many accounts she was the first Native American woman to serve in the American military . During the battle, Hon Yerry, Tyonajanegen’s husband, was shot through the right wrist in order to disable him from loading his gun while he was on horseback . Tyonajanegen had two pistols which she used to load and give to her husband, and she would use them to fight in the battle as well . After the battle, Tyonajanegen notified the other colonists of the bloodshed that ensued after the British ambush of the colonists at Oriskany .
In some cultures, such as the Oneida and the Vikings and others, it was custom that the wives fought alongside the husbands in battle, to show their commitment to their relationship and their husbands. There were other women who fought during the American Revolutionary War; women like Mary Ludwig Hayes McCauley and Margaret Corbin who followed her husband into battle and women like Deborah Sampson who disguised themselves as men to fight for the American cause. Still, others like Tyonajanegen fought valiantly for the American cause, and helped to win our freedom from an oppressive government.
Lisa Hoffman, Indian Women Celebrated as Unsung Heroes: National Exhibit Highlights Their Role in Armed Services (Seattle: Scripps Howard News Service, 2003). http://www.seattlepi.com/national/article/Indian-women-celebrated-as-uns...
Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser (3 September 1777), pg. 2