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Native Woman Crush Wednesday: Nanye-hi of the Cherokee Nation


nancyward_cherokeeNanye-hi, or Nancy Ward was apart of the Cherokee Nation and lived in the area now known as Eastern Tennessee. Having been born in 1738, Nanye-hi grew up in the time of European colonialism and warfare. In her lifetime she had two children and her husband was killed during the 1755 Battle of Tailwa during a Cherokee raid on the Creeks.

While in the Battle, Nanye-hi fought along with her people and the Cherokee people won. The actions she was known for in the battle was biting the lead bullets of her husband’s gun in order to make them sharper and more deadly. These actions had made her one of the “Beloved Woman” of her Cherokee clan.

As a Beloved Woman, honored woman are able to make decisions in tribal government. Nanye-hi, according to the National Woman’s History Museum, was the head of the Women’s Council, apart of the Council of Chiefs, and was fully in charge of the tribe’s prisoners.

In her early twenties, Nanye-hi married Bryant Ward, a trader who was known to live among the Cherokee Nation. They had a daughter together and Nanye-hi had learned English and taken the Anglo-American name, Nancy Ward. Meanwhile, Bryant Ward had another wife and children in South Carolina; however, he continued to visit back and forth to both families.

During this time, the Cherokee Nation was involved with the English in its attempts to breakdown the colonies. However, with her nation in this mindset, Nanye-hi tried to maintain peace. In doing so she had let two prisoners free to warn settlers of an attack, which in turn had created discourse between her and the tribe. The tribe then decided to kill all the prisoners and in defense of her position Nanye-hi tried to save the prisoners from execution.

She was able to save only one however. Lydia Bean, who later helped Nanye-hi learn how to make butter and cheese, which had contributed to her decision to buy and raise cattle. This decision was one of the first that introduced cattle into the Cherokee Nation’s economic standing.

Although the battles between the settlers and the Cherokee Nation continued, because of Nanye-hi’s reverence between both sides, her tribe’s clan was left alone.

By 1781, Nanye-hi’s tribe was captured by the settlers. While imprisoned “the settlers ordered the Cherokee to conduct a peace treaty and selected [Nanye-hi] to lead the negotiations.” In her new position she spoke to the settlers saying that women only

Monument for Nanye-hi "Nancy Ward" erected in 1923, by the Daughters of the American Revolution
Monument for Nanye-hi “Nancy Ward” erected in 1923, by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

want pant peace for those she cares for. This speech changed the minds of the settlers’ commissioners and returned some of the lands back to the Cherokees.

This peace lasted 7 years until a chief was killed and the negotiations ended.

By 1817, Nanye-hi was the last Beloved Woman of the Cherokee, and was seventy-nine when she plead to her nation to keep as much of their land as possible for the next generation.

She lived the rest of her life running an inn after her land was sold. She died in 1822. Today, there is a monument from 1923 (featured left) by the Daughters of the American Revolution by her grave in Benton, Tennessee.

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