Beloved Woman

Nanyehi (One who goes about) was born in 1738 in the Cherokee capital (now in southeastern Tennessee). Her uncle was an influential chief in the Cherokee nation and had a great influence over Nanyehi’s life. Her uncle believed in cooperation with the colonists who had moved on to Cherokee land. He believed in peaceful co-existence.

At age 17, Nanyehi was married and had two children. When her husband went to war against the Creek Nation, she joined him. Her husband was killed and Nanyehi used his rifle to defeat the Creek warriors. For her bravery, she was named Ghigau (Beloved Woman). The Cherokee believed that the Ghigau had authority from the spirit world, and she was allowed to be a part of tribal governance. The Cherokee nation gave women much more say in tribal affairs than what was provided to women in America for many years. One of the powers she had was to determine the fate of prisoners who were captured. This turned out to be a very influential power.

Nanyehi married an Englishman and changed her name to Nancy Ward. This was an effort to create bonds between the Cherokee and settlers. Her husband was already married and returned to his English family. Nanyehi maintained the relationship, and the families were friendly.

As settlers began to encroach on the Cherokee territory, tensions began to rise. There was conflict within Nanyehi’s family. Her uncle urged restraint while her cousin wanted to drive the settlers out of the territory. Nanyehi released three prisoners so they could warn the settlers and evacuate women and children. While the raid was only partially successful, the settler village was destroyed and a woman was captured and returned to the Cherokee village. The intent was to burn her alive.

Nanyehi intervened and nursed the woman back to health. In return, the woman taught Nanyehi a new way to weave cloth. She also gave the Cherokee valuable knowledge in caring for cattle and producing dairy products. This allowed the Cherokee to sustain themselves by farming rather than hunting.

When the Revolutionary War began, the Cherokee nation was conflicted about which side to support. Nanyehi hoped for an ultimate peace with the settlers and negotiated a peace treaty with the settlers. This allowed the settlers to focus on the British.

While the settlers won the war, Nanyehi’s hope for peaceful coexistence with the settlers was short-lived. She opposed the sale of Cherokee land to the settlers. But the Cherokees were forced from their land. Before her death, Nanyehi had a vision of the Trail of Tears.

While Nanyehi lived in the 18th and 19th Centuries, she is a model for the role of women in today’s society. She sought peaceful coexistence when we still need to pursue that ideal. She was a diplomat when we still need those who can work to bring people together. She was a strong and caring woman, much revered by her people. We still need women of influence in our national leadership. She was beloved. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had leaders today who are beloved by all?                                                                                                                *   *   *

“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 our sons; our sons be yours. Let your women hear our words.”  – Nanyehi

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