Between the yearly ritual of fireworks and BBQs, has the true meaning behind Independence Day celebrations been forgotten? One unfamiliar patriotic woman that is inspiring and should be honored during this holiday is Nancy Ward. Not popularly associated with July 4th like other figures, she was just as important.
Born in 1738, Nancy Ward’s Cherokee name was Nan’yehi meaning “One who goes about.” She was considered a “Beloved Woman of the Cherokee” which allowed participation in councils and the authority to make important decisions along side her male counterparts. At the young age of 18, the Cherokee awarded Nan’yehi the title of “Ghigau” making her an integral part of the tribal council of chiefs.
Ms. Ward believed in peaceful coexistence with the new settlers. According to the National Women’s History Museum: “After the British encouraged members of the Cherokee Nation to attack frontier settlements in 1776, freed many of those taken captive, sparing them torture, burnings, and death. Two of the prisoners she saved were dispatched to warn other settlers about future attacks.” Ward helped the colonies fight against Great Britain, playing a crucial part in the American Revolution.
An intelligent and sincere negotiator with a conscious, Nancy Ward would be a refreshing alternative in today’s political climate. The Tennessee Encyclopedia: “Ward exerted considerable influence over the affairs of both the Cherokees and the white settlers and participated actively in treaty negotiations. In July 1781 she spoke powerfully at the negotiations held on the Long Island of the Holston River following settler attacks on Cherokee towns. Oconastota designated Kaiyah-tahee (Old Tassel) to represent the Council of Chiefs in the meeting with John Sevier and the other treaty commissioners. After Old Tassel finished his persuasive talk, Ward called for a lasting peace on behalf of both white and Indian women. This unparalleled act of permitting a woman to speak in the negotiating council took the commissioners aback. In their response, Colonel William Christian acknowledged the emotional effect her plea had on the men and praised her humanity, promising to respect the peace if the Cherokees likewise remained peaceful. Ward’s speech may have influenced the negotiators in a more fundamental way because the resulting treaty was one of the few where settlers made no demand for Cherokee land.”
Ward’s high ideals of peace must never be forgotten. Even though her people suffered greatly, Nan’yehi was an inspiration. Her philosophy is not an old concept but one that stands the test of time. She was a founding mother of this country and didn’t let the majority bias towards race or gender hinder peaceful efforts. Ms. Ward’s work was truly ground breaking during a turbulent historical time making her an unlikely and remarkable hero.
Nancy Ward: “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. Let our sons be yours. Let your women hear our words.”