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Nanyehi (Cherokee: ᎾᏅᏰᎯ: "One who goes about"), known in English as Nancy Ward (ca. 1738–1822 or 1824) was a Beloved Woman of the Cherokee, which means that she was allowed to sit in councils and to make decisions, along with the chiefs and other Beloved Women. She believed in peaceful coexistence with the European-Americans and helped her people as peace negotiator and ambassador. She also introduced them to farming and dairy production bringing substantial changes to the Cherokee society.. Nancy Ward, a mixed-blood Cherokee woman who lived during the eighteenth century, was the Cherokee Nation's last "Beloved Woman." At a time when the Cherokee Nation was frequently at battle with American troops and white settlers who had occupied their traditional lands, Ward made repeated attempts to establish peace between the various parties.
Nancy Ward was born in the Cherokee town of Chota, a member of the Wolf Clan. Her mother, whose actual name is not known, is often called Tame Doe, and was a sister of Attakullakulla. Her father was probably part Delaware, also known as the Leni Lenape. Her first husband was the Cherokee man Kingfisher. Nanye-hi and Kingfisher fought side by side at the Battle of Taliwa against the Creeks in 1755. When he was killed, she took up his rifle and led the Cherokee to victory. This was the action which, at the age of 18, gave her the title of Ghigau.
Nancy Ward first married Kingfisher, who was killed in Battle with the Creeks. They had two children, Catherine and Fivekiller. Nancy then married Bryant Ward and their child was Elizabeth Ward, the Cherokee wife of General Joseph Martin.
In the revolutionary War, Ward warned the whites of an impending attack by her cousin Dragging Canoe, an act that has made her a Patriot for the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.
As a Ghigau, Nancy had the power to spare captives. In 1776, following a Cherokee attack on the Fort Watauga settlement on the Watauga River (at present day Elizabethton, Tennessee), she used that power to spare a Lydia (Russell) Bean, wife of Captain William Bean, whom she took into her house and nursed back to health from injuries suffered in the battle. Mrs. Bean taught Nanye-hi how to weave, revolutionizing the Cherokee garments, which at the time were a combination of hides and cloth bought from traders. But this weaving revolution also changed the roles of women in the Cherokee society, as they took on the weaving and left men to do the planting, which had traditionally been a woman's job. Mrs. Bean also rescued two of her dairy cows from the settlement, and brought them to Nanye-hi. Nanye-hi learned to raise the cattle and to eat dairy products, which would sustain the Cherokee when hunting was bad.
The combination of weaving and raising of animals turned the Cherokee from a communal agricultural society into a society very similar to that of their European-American neighbors, with family plots and the need for ever-more labor. Thus the Cherokee began buying and selling slaves. Nanye-hi was among the first Cherokee to own black slaves.
Around the same time Sequoyah introduced the first written language for the tribe. A complete Bible was first printed in the 1830's, hence the Cherokee were considered one of the Five Civilized Tribes.
Nanye-hi objected to the sale of Cherokee lands to whites, but her objections were largely ignored. In 1808 and again in 1817, the Women's Council came out in opposition to the sale of more and more land.
Nanye-hi became a sort of ambassador between the Cherokee and the whites, learning the art of diplomacy from her maternal uncle, the influential chief Attakullakulla ("Little Carpenter"). In 1781, when the Cherokee met with an American delegation led by John Sevier to discuss American settlements along the Little Pigeon River, Nanye-hi expressed surprise that there were no women negotiators among the Americans. Sevier was equally appalled that such important work should be given to a woman. Nanye-hi told him, "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 son's be ours; our sons be yours. Let your women hear our words." An American observer said that her speech was very moving.
On July 5, 1807, the Moravian mission school at Spring Place, Georgia, in the Cherokee Nation, was visited by three elderly women, including a very distinguished lady who had been a widow of fifty years and almost hundred years old. She was described as "an unusually sensible person, honored and loved by both brown and white people." "This old woman, named Chiconehla, is supposed to have been in a war against an enemy nation and was wounded numerous times...Her left arm is decorated with some designs, which she said were fashionable during her youth...." Chiconehla stayed for two days, entertained by the students and discussing theology with the missionaries with the aid of translating by her distant relative, Mrs. James Vann (Margaret Scott). The circumstances of this high status woman leave little doubt that this Cherokee named Chiconehla was identical to the person known as Nancy Ward.
Near the end of her life, Nancy Ward reportedly had a vision in which she saw a "great line of our people marching on foot. Mothers with babies in their arms. Fathers with small children on their back. Grandmothers and Grandfathers with large bundles on their backs. They were marching West and the 'Unaka' (White Soldiers) were behind them. They left a trail of corpses the weak, the sick who could not survive the journey." The vision was to prove prophetic.
After her hometown of Chota was attacked and much of it destroyed by Colonel Arthur Campbell shortly after the Battle of King's Mountain, she lost her home and was taken in protective custody by U.S. officials. Granny Ward, as she was affectionately known then, opened an inn in southeastern Tennessee on the Ocoee River, at a place called Woman Killer Ford, near present-day Benton. She died in that place in 1822 (some sources say 1824). According to her son, Fivekiller, Nancy was buried in her home town of Chota.
Over the years that followed, Nancy became the subject of many tales and legends. She is reportedly mentioned in Teddy Roosevelt's Book on The West, The Virginia State Papers, The South Carolina State Papers, Mooney's Book, and The Draper Collection. A chapter of The American Daughters Of the Revolution in Tennessee has been named after her. There is also a Descendants of Nancy Ward Association in Oklahoma.
Nancy Ward was the last woman to receive the title of Beloved Woman until the late 20th century. She is not only remembered as an important figure to the Cherokee people but is also considered an early pioneer for women in American politics as she advocated for a woman's voice during a turbulent period in her tribe's history.
In 1923 the Nancy Ward chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution based in Chattanooga, placed a memorial marker next to Fivekiller's grave in Benton, Tennessee. Polk County, Tennessee, where Benton is located, is trying to raise money to create a Nancy Ward Museum.
A statue of Nancy Ward, carved by James Abraham Walker, stood in a cemetery in Grainger County, Tennessee for about 70 years before it was stolen in the early 1980's.
The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee holds an annual Nancy Ward Cherokee Heritage Days celebration in her honor.
"Nanyehi: The Story of Nancy Ward," a two-act musical theater production was written and orchestrated by award-winning songwriter, Becky Hobbs, and playwright, Nick Sweet, in 2010. The musical has been performed in various locations in Georgia, Oklahoma, North Carolina and other locations since then.