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Iroquois Informers: Spies, Knowledge, and Empire in the Northeast Borderlands

Iroquois Informers: Spies, Knowledge, and Empire in the Northeast Borderlands

Greg Rogers, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Maine

Iroquois peoples occupied a unique position in the imperial northeastern borderlands. The Six Nations Iroquois, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, Cayuga, and Tuscarora that lived in the confederated villages of Iroquoia dwelled between rival British and French Empires. This precarious position prompted both power and peril for the confederacy. In addition, many other Iroquois chose to live in mission villages (domicilés), such as Kahnawake and Oswegatchie,in French Canada. These Indians were often engaged in the smuggling of furs to New York, raids against New England, diplomatic missions to Iroquoia and the British colonies, and informal travels to visit their kin to the south. The movement of both Six Nation and mission Iroquois enabled them to be purveyors of highly sensitive knowledge. Iroquois visiting forts to trade or attending a council in a colonial town heard rumors, interacted with officers and officials, and witnessed military activities firsthand. Scholars of the Six Nations have detailed the ways that they were able to share and withhold vital information from both the French and British in order to preserve their valued neutrality in conflicts such as the Seven Years War. However, the role of individual confederacy and mission Iroquois working as spies for the French and British has remained largely unexplored. Like James Fenimore Cooper’s character Magua in Last of the Mohicans, these real-life imperial operatives often exercised their mobility, switched loyalties, and engaged in dramatic exploits and intrigues. Read More.

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