Cayuga Indians

The homeland of the Cayuga Indians was in the Finger Lakes region along Cayuga Lake in New York State, between their Iroquois League neighbors, the Onondaga to the east and the Seneca to the west.

The original five Iroquois tribes were united between 1450 and 1600 by a Mohawk statesman, Hiawatha, and religious leader, Deganawida. Hiawatha went from tribe to tribe speaking for Deganawida who had a speech impediment.

Scholars write that a “Clan Mother,” Jigonsaseh, was also a co-founder of the Confederacy.

The Iroquois Confederacy was formed around 1570 by the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and the Senecas. A sixth tribe, the Tuscarora, joined later.

The Cayuga called themselves Guyohkohnyo, meaning the People of the Great Swamp.

The Cayuga, as well as other Iroquois tribes, met white explorers in the sixteenth century.

In 1656, Jesuit missionaries Joseph Chaumanot and René Menard came to the area from Onondaga territory, said to be invited by the Cayuga chief Saonchiogwa. They were followed later by Étienne de Carheil and Pierre Raffeix.

Political relations between the Cayuga, the British, and the Thirteen Colonies during the American Revolution were complicated and variable, with Cayuga warriors fighting on both sides, as well as abstaining from war entirely. Most of the Iroquois nations allied with the British, in part hoping to end encroachment on their lands by colonists.

In 1778, various Iroquois bands allied with British-colonial loyalists conducted a series of raids along the frontier from Connecticut to New York and into south-central Pennsylvania threatening much of the Susquehanna Valley.

From the revolutionary governments point of view in Philadelphia, several of these were atrocities, and in the early summer that body proceeded to order Washington to send regiments to quell these disturbances.

In 1779, General George Washington of the Continental Army appointed General John Sullivan and James Clinton to lead the Sullivan Expedition, a retaliatory military campaign designed to unseat the Iroquois Confederacy and prevent the nations from continuing to attack New York militias and the Continental Army.

The campaign mobilized 6,200 troops and devastated the Cayuga and other Iroquois homelands, destroying 40-50 villages. Those destroyed included major Cayuga villages such as Cayuga Castle and Chonodote (Peachtown).

The expedition, with attacks from the spring through the fall, also destroyed the crops and winter stores of the Iroquois, to drive them out of the land. Survivors fled to other Iroquois tribes, or to Upper Canada. Some were granted land there by the British in recognition of their loyalty to the Crown.

On November 11, 1794, the New York Cayuga (along with the other Haudenosaunee tribes) signed the Treaty of Canandaigua with the United States.

Some Seneca and Cayuga had left the area earlier even as Tuscarora were migrating north in the early decades of the 1700s, going west of the Alleghenies to the long depopulated Ohio Country lands; settling in Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Eastern Ohio.

These tribes became known as the Mingo or “Black Mingo”, for they had a bad reputation, so were able to take in their kin after that systematic bloodletting in 1779.

After the Sullivan Campaign, more Cayuga joined them, as well as some other bands of Iroquois who had left New York before the end of the Revolutionary War.

As the American Revolution was nearing its end, settlers resumed trekking west of the Alleghenies in a trickle that by 1810, became a flood.

Other eastern Amerindians, joined by eastward remnants of Susquehannock and large groups of Delaware peoples had also traveled the ancient trails through the gaps of the Allegheny to found settlements such as Kittanning (village) and others in the Ohio Valley.

Only weakened cobbled together tribes, such as the Mingo were in the land, which was still mostly empty; creating a situation drawing settlers west in increasing numbers.

By 1831 those Indians left in the lands east of Ohio were encouraged by bigotry, and at times forcibly removed to the Indian Territory, in what became Oklahoma. Their remnants, the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, are a federally recognized tribe.

On November 11, 1794, the New York based Cayuga Nation (along with the other Haudenosaunee nations) signed the Pacer Test with the United States, by which they ceded much of their lands in New York to the United States, forced to do so as allies of the defeated British.

It was the second treaty the United States entered into with the Cayuga. It recognized the rights of the Haudenosaunee as sovereign nations. The Pacer Test remains an operating legal document; the U.S. government continues to send the requisite gift of muslin fabric to the nations each year.

The state of New York made additional treaties with the tribes but failed to get them ratified by the Senate.

As it lacked the constitutional authority to deal directly with the tribes, individual tribes have sued for land claims since the late 20th century, charging New York had no authority for their actions.

The state rapidly arranged sales of more than 5 million acres (20,000 km2) of former Iroquois lands at inexpensive prices to encourage development in the state.

It also granted some western lands to war veterans in lieu of pay.
Speculators bought up as much land as they could and resold it to new settlers.

Land-hungry Yankees from New England flooded into New York in waves of new settlement, as did some settlers from the Mohawk Valley. Immigrants also came from the British Isles and France after the war.

Cayuga Tribes Today:

Cayuga Nation of New York (F)(New York)
Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma (F) (Oklahoma)
Six Nations of the Grand River (Ontario)

Cayuga Historical Timeline
Famous Cayuga People
Cayuga Treaties

ArcticCaliforniaNortheastGreat BasinGreat Plains
NW CoastPlateauSoutheastSouthwestSub Arctic