History Files


Native Americas

Tribal Leaders: Shicellamy of the Lenape

edited by Mick Baker from original source material, 20 May 2016

The real name of Chief Shicellamy (or Shikellamy) was Ongwaterohiathe, meaning 'it has caused the sky to be bright for us', sometimes rendered as 'our enlightener'. This famous Oneida chief has also been called Swataney.

When a tribe was conquered by the Six Nations, a deputy or vice -gerent was sent by the Iroquois or Six Nation Council to watch over the tribe. Shicellamy was such a deputy, sent by the Great Federal Council of the Six Nations 'Onondaga' in 1728 to watch over the Delaware, Shawnee, and the other tribes in the Susquehanna river valley in what is now the state of Pennsylvania.

This chief was highly respected, by not only the Six Nations, but by the white colonial folk as well. He was always known as being friendly towards the settlers and on many occasions treated them with great kindness.

He never drank the white man's 'firewater' because, as he once said, 'I never wish to be a fool'. He tried to prevent the sale of this accursed drink to those Indians who were under his trust. One of his first acts as vice-gerent was to send word to the colonial officials that unless they stopped peddling rum amongst his people, friendly relations between the Six Nations and the colony of Pennsylvania would cease. This ultimatum to the Pennsylvania government was delivered in 1731.

Due to the harm that peddlers of strong alcoholic drinks were causing among their people, many Indians were moving west to the Ohio Valley where the French were trying to alienate them from English interests. The English had reason to fear friendly relations between the Six Nations and the French. Shicellamy was asked by the English to go to Onondaga and invite the Six Nation Chiefs to visit Philadelphia, the object being to secure the friendship and alliance of the Six Nations in case of a war with France and also to try to get the Ohio Indians to return to the Susquehanna country to act as a bulwark against the enemy.

Though they mistrusted the English, three of the Six Nations sent delegates to the council of '1732'. At Philadelphia the English were very concerned and uneasy about whether the Six Nations were their friends or whether they would favour the French. They were put at ease by one of the speakers of the confederacy who informed them that the governor of (then-French) Canada, Charles de la Boische de Beauharnois, had met them in council, as the English had suspected, and had told them that he intended to make war upon the English colonies and wished the Six Nations to remain neutral.

Following the making of this request, the answer from the Iroquois speaker to the French governor was as follows:

"Onondiio [their name for the French governor], you are very proud! You are not wise to make war with Corlear (the English governor of New York), and to propose neutrality to us.

"Corlear is our brother. He came to us when he was little and a child. We suckled him at our breasts. We have nursed him and taken care of him until he is grown-up to be a man, He is our brother and of the same blood. He and we have but one ear to hear with, one eye to see with and one mouth to speak with.

"We will not forsake him nor see any man make war upon him without assisting. We shall join him and, if we fight with you, we may have our father, Onondiio, to bury in the ground. We would not have you force us to do this but be wise and live in peace."

Pennsylvanian Colonial Records Vol. 3

Delaware tribe
A contemporary sketch of an unidentified tribe of Delaware Indians, although the mass of European influences - especially in terms of dress - suggest that it is from a slightly later period in time than the early 1700s

Unfortunately, this loyalty was later repaid in very poor fashion. Officials of the state of New York gradually removed the rights and gave lie to the promises that were made to the Indians of the Six Nations.

In the execution of his office Shicellamy conducted a good many important embassies between the Six Nations and the government of Pennsylvania. It was through this chief that the signing of the Treaty of 1736 was attended by delegates from all of the Six Nations, with them gathering at the council hall in Philadelphia.

Over a hundred Iroquois attended this council, during which the Iroquois deeded to the state of Pennsylvania all of their Susquehanna lands. When most of the delegates had returned home, and several weeks later, another deed was drawn up by the whites and those Indians who had remained, 'most of them drunk', signed away lands owned by the Delaware Indians.

Due to this act, the Delaware and other Indians sought the alliance of the French and from 1755 to 1764 Pennsylvania was drenched in the blood of an Indian war. Old William Penn, a sincere and honest man, never stooped to crooked dealings with the Indian people. His sons, however were not of the same make as their father, but were apparently more interested in 'personal profit and trickery'. The results of this shameful act was one of the bloodiest wars in colonial history.

Because of the help that had been supplied by Shicellamy in cementing friendship between the Six Nations and the colony of Pennsylvania, a future nation, the United States, was made possible. If the Six Nations and the French had formed an alliance, there can be no doubt that the result would have been the destruction of all the English colonies on the eastern coast.

Shicellamy was the mediator between the colony of Pennsylvania and the Six Nations. He was the key to the friendship of the Iroquois.

Old Shicellamy became ill with fever and passed away on 6 December 1748. Said the Moravian missionary, Zinzindorf, of him:

"He was truly an excellent and good man, possessed of many noble qualities of mind, that would do honour to many white men. laying claims to refinement and intelligence. He possessed of great dignity, sobriety and prudence, and was particularly noted for his extreme kindness to the inhabitants with whom he came in contact."

Chief Shicellamy's village was Shamokin, where he spent most of his time between 1728 and 1748, and where the great chief died and was buried.

Nearby are two monuments erected to this great Indian. The inscription on one of the monuments reads as follows:

"Erected as a memorial to Shikellamy, also Swataney, 'Our Enlightener', the representative of the Six Nations, in this province. First sent to Shamokin 'Sunbury' in 1728. Appointed Vice-Gerent in 1745, died Dec. 6, 1748. He was buried near this spot. This diplomat and statesman was a firm friend of the Province of Pennsylvania erected by Augusta Chapter D. A. R. in cooperation with Pennsylvania Historical Commission, June 1915."

The other monument bears the following inscription:

"SHIKELLAMY - Oneida Chief and overseer or Vice-Gerent of the Six Nations, asserting Iroquois dominion over conquered Delaware and other tribes. He lived at Shamokin Indian Town, Sunbury, from about 1728 until his death, 1748 - said to be buried near here."

After his death, Shicellamy was succeeded by his son, John Shikellamy, also known as John Logan and Tachnachdoarus ('spreading oak'). Another one of Shikellamy's sons, James Logan, was named for James Logan, the Quaker Provincial Secretary of Pennsylvania and de facto superintendent of Indian affairs. One of these two sons - historians have disagreed upon which - later became well known in American history as 'Chief Logan', who played a pivotal role in Dunmore's War in 1774 and who issued a frequently-quoted speech known as 'Logan's Lament'. A third son was named John Petty, after a trader. Two of his sons were killed in battle.



Main Sources

Weslager, C A - The Delaware Indians - A History, Rutgers University Press (Reprint Edition (1 January 1990)

Online Sources

Access Genealogy

First Nations: Issues of Consequence

Legends of America



Text copyright Mick Baker. An original feature for the History Files.