Another week, another Fierce Female to feature! This week I wanted to feature Nanyehi (later known as Nancy Ward) who was a Cherokee woman from America. She was an activist, political leader, peacekeeper, and advocate for the rights and land-retention of the Cherokee people in America.
In her late teens, Nanyehi was married to a man named Tsu-la, who she fought side-by-side with in the battle of Taliwa against the Muscogee. When Tsu-la was unfortunately killed, Nanyehi did not miss a beat and fought in his place, yielding his weapon and aiding the rest of her people as they eventually claimed the victory in that battle. Her bravery did not go unnoticed, and she was subsequently titled Ghigau, which means “beloved woman” in Cherokee. This was a huge achievement as it allowed her to vote in the Cherokee General Council – of which she was the only female member of at the time. Nanyehi also earned the role of leader for the Women’s Council of Clan Representatives.
Through this new role, Nanyehi was able to move forwards and negotiate on behalf of her people, ensuring that they were treated fairly in their new partnership with the American Colonists, who had recently begun fighting in the French and Indian war. It was a mutually beneficial partnership as each side promised to aid the other against their foes.
This, unfortunately, did not last as long as intended and a breach in the partnership was made on the side of the Americans. One thing led to another, and multiple people on both sides were killed in the hunt for revenge. Nanyehi held significant power throughout this time. She made the decision to spare a female captive and, in return, the woman taught Nanyehi a new skill with the loom that she had. This was an important moment as, from that moment onwards, Cherokee women no longer planted as their jobs but changed to weaving and clothing making.
Nanyehi went on to advise her people in many different treaty decisions with the Americans, and on their stance in upcoming wars that were impending upon them. She successfully negotiated a positive treaty with the American people on behalf of her people and fought in battle many times. She remarried, this time marrying an Englishman, Bryant Ward, changing her name to Nancy Ward as she continued to work diplomatically at maintaining and bettering the relationship between the American and Cherokee people.
Nanyehi lived a long and full life, and some say she single-handedly brought the Cherokee and American people together in peace during a time of impending war. Thanks to Nanyehi, progress was made. She has been mentioned by many historical people of note during that time, including Theodore Roosevelt, and many are rallying for a museum in her name!
She was famously quoted as saying, “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; our sons be yours. Let your women hear our words.”
Nanyehi advocated on behalf of women, Cherokee people, and anyone who needed her help. She was a true heroine who deserves to be remembered! Though many ignored her advice in relation to selling their land, she was diplomatic and continued to serve others until her final breath, when she died of old age.