What Are Some Facts About the History of the Seneca Tribe?


Quick Answer

The Seneca was a tribe within the Iroquois confederacy, for a long time being its most populous member and leading it to a string of great military victories in the 17th century. The Seneca tribe's great power finally waned when it chose the losing British side in the Revolutionary War.

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The Seneca nation enjoyed the highest population number within the Iroquois confederacy. It made up half of its fighting force throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, making it indispensable in the Iroquois wars of conquest. The Seneca also successfully defended the Iroquois confederacy against several European incursions. Usually allied with the British, it found itself targeted by American revolutionaries in the late 18th century, suffering some heavy losses and beginning its decline.

The Seneca still played several historical roles throughout the 19th century, usually within the United States, which now ruled over it. The most famous Seneca figure in this period was Ely Parker, who served on General Grant's staff in the American Civil War. He helped write the surrender terms for General Lee in 1865 and was even present for the actual surrender.

The Seneca was an agricultural tribe. Its main crops were corn and squash. The men would clear land and hunt, while the women gathered fruits, vegetables, nuts and plants that could be used for medicinal purposes. Seneca women enjoyed better social status than females in other tribes and in fact held ownership over land and homes. Large family groups were led by matriarchal women.

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