The Iroquois were linguistically related to neighbouring nations such as the HURON, PETUN and NEUTRAL, and to more distant communities including the Cherokee and Tuscarora. There are also suggestions of ancient relationships to the Siouan and Caddoan language families of the Great Plains.
Ancestors of the Iroquois
The ancestors of the Iroquois can be traced backwards in New York state by archaeological evidence to at least 500 BC, and possibly as far back as 4000 BC. The distinctive Iroquois culture of the historic period seems to have developed by about 1000 AD. Archaeology suggests that during the 15th century individual villages joined together to form the five historic nations, and that by the 16th century the continuation of this process had resulted in the formation of the League of the Iroquois. With the coming of the FUR TRADE in this historic period, the Five Nations embarked on successful campaigns to subjugate or disperse neighbouring groups. The Huron were forced to abandon their homeland after two villages were destroyed in 1649; the Petun, Neutral and Erie all succumbed to Iroquois arms in the next decade. Their military reputation was well respected in territory as distant as the Maritime provinces and the western Great Lakes.
The French maintained trading and military alliances with many of the enemies of the Iroquois; hence, Iroquois and NEW FRANCE were often at war (see IROQUOIS WARS). During periods of peace some Iroquois were converted to Catholicism and persuaded to settle on the St Lawrence. The Iroquois remained firmly tied to the Albany, NY, trade and rivalry between the French colony, and the Dutch and English at Albany precluded a lasting peace between New France and the Iroquois. The Iroquois frequently raided French settlements on the St Lawrence and, in 1660 at the Long Sault and in 1689 at Lachine, Qué, sent large armies to attack the colony. France successfully attacked Iroquois towns in 1666, 1687, 1693 and 1696.
Treaties with both the French and English in 1701 marked a shift in Iroquois policy toward neutrality with European powers in North America. At this time population losses for the league, owing to both disease and war, had been considerable, even though the Iroquois had absorbed large numbers of war captives and refugees and had incorporated them into their society. Despite official neutrality, the Mohawk under the influence of Sir William JOHNSON did on occasion take the field as English allies, and the Seneca at times fought beside French armies, as at the defeat of General Braddock in 1755.
Except for the Oneida, who fought for the American cause, the Iroquois supported the LOYALISTS and British in the American Revolution, joining that conflict in 1777. The Mohawk lost their homes to neighbouring rebel settlers, and most Seneca, Onondaga and Cayuga towns were burned in 1779. In turn the Iroquois and their allies, under the leadership of Joseph BRANT and others, repeatedly attacked and burned rebel forts and settlements, driving the frontier east to Schenectady, NY. After the war, many Iroquois followed Brant to settle on a land grant secured for them by Governor Frederick HALDIMAND on the Grand River and others settled on the Bay of Quinte.