The Chonnonton were an Iroquoian-speaking peoples of the early 17th century who lived in the Hamilton-Niagara district of southwestern Ontario and across the Niagara River to west New York State.
The Chonnonton (Neutral) were an Iroquoian-speaking peoples of the early 17th century who lived in the Hamilton-Niagara district of southwestern Ontario and across the Niagara River to west New York State. They were known to the Huron-Wendat as the Attiwandaronk, meaning "people whose speech is awry or a little different," but their name for themselves was Chonnonton, or "people of the deer." In 1615 Samuel de Champlain named them "la Nation neutre" since they were then at peace with the Five Nations and the Huron.
The Chonnonton were the largest Aboriginal society in the Northeast during 1615-1650, numbering about 40 000 persons. They had an army of 4000 to 6000 warriors prior to the smallpox epidemics of 1638-40. They lived in longhouses in about 40 settlements that included large palisaded towns, villages and smaller specialized seasonal hamlets whose main concentration was distributed within a 32 km radius of Hamilton, Ont.
As agriculturists, the Chonnonton relied upon horticultural crops of corn, beans and squash; they also practised considerable hunting of deer, raccoon, black bear and the now extinct passenger pigeon. The diet was augmented by fishing and nut collecting, and tobacco was cultivated for ritual and trade purposes.
The men were heavily tattooed and in summer wore little if any clothing. They were extremely proficient at knapping chert arrowheads and scrapers, and while many women made pottery, it was gradually replaced by European brass containers that often were included as cemetery grave goods.
The Chonnonton had trading and war alliances with surrounding Iroquoian-speaking peoples, particularly the Petun, Huron, Wenro, Kakwa, Erie, Andasté , Massawomek and Iroquois further south. They were also allied with the Ottawa against the Algonquian-speaking Mascouten of Michigan and Ohio. The Mascouten were long-standing, bitter enemies, and in 1643 the Chonnonton army captured and brought back 800 prisoners, both male and female, torturing some of them. This was massive warfare and the Chonnonton usually were led into battle by their warrior-priest-chief, Tsouharissen ("Child of the Sun").
The Chonnonton army was also used to transport and protect their valuable deer hides and by-products to the Powhatan chiefdom on Chesapeake Bay, where exchanges were made for prized marine Snow Whelk shells. To ensure a steady supply of white-tailed deer hides and this profitable Aboriginal economy, the Chonnonton began penning the animals, thereby managing them.
Unlike other contemporaneous Northeastern Iroquoians, the Chonnonton had developed politically, economically and demographically beyond the confederacy level to a nascent chiefdom. Their paramount chief, Tsouharissen, with his council united some ten tribes, and a ranked society was clearly manifest. At his capital town, Ounontisaston (9.6 km southeast of present-day Brantford), the grand chief held court and personally adopted the French Recollet friar Joseph de la Roche Daillon in 1626. Daillon witnessed three large deer pens near this community. Fourteen years later the Jesuits Jean de Brébeuf and Joseph Marie Chaumonot visited the Chonnonton, but were not well received. After the death of Tsouharissen in about 1646, the chiefdom failed and the Iroquois were able to disperse and destroy the Chonnonton as a cultural entity in 1651. The last mention of the Neutral in French writing was in 1671.
J.E.M. Crerar, Rochester Museum & Science Centre, Research Records No. 23 (1994); W.C. Noble and J.E.M. Crerar, Archaeo-Zoologia VI, 2 (1993); W.C. Noble, Canadian Journal of Archaeology VIII, 1 (1984) and IX, 2 (1985), and Rochester Museum & Science Centre, Research Records No. 23; B.G. Trigger, ed, Handbook of North American Indians, vol 15: Northeast (1978).