CAUGHNAWAGA. The Caughnawaga (Kahnawake) Indians are those Iroquois Indians who converted to Roman Catholicism, removed from the Iroquois homeland in upstate New York, and resettled in Canada during the seventeenth century. Caughnawaga was the name of the easternmost town of the Mohawks and a source of many of the original Canadian Iroquois. One of the first settlements of relocated Iroquois was at a Jesuit mission near Montreal, at a place the French called La Prairie. The Iroquois called it Caughnawaga (the more modern rendering is Kahnawake). The term "Caughnawaga Indians" can refer to the Iroquois community at Caughnawaga/Kahnawake or to the Canadian Iroquois generally. The Iroquois of Caughnawaga/Kahnawake proper were the Canadian Iroquois most directly affected by the American Revolution. They struggled to maintain neutrality during the Revolutionary War and were lobbied by both the British and Americans to join their respective sides.
Many captives taken during the colonial wars of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries had been settled in Kahnawake by the French governing authorities. Thus the town of Kahnawake was home not only to Catholic Iroquois who had migrated to Canada in the seventeenth century but also many people of mixed English and Iroquois ancestry. The people of Kahnawake maintained ties with the Indians and Europeans of New England. Several Caughnawaga/Kahnawake Indians were attending Dartmouth College when war began in 1775. The Caughnawaga Indians rejected Canadian governor Guy Carleton's offer to attack the Americans in 1775 and likewise refused to join Benedict Arnold's assault on Quebec in the winter of 1775–1776. However, in 1776, at the urging of Ethan Allen, they successfully petitioned to British commanders at Montreal to release a group of Stockbridge Indians in the American service who had been captured and sentenced to death. Interestingly, in 1780 a delegation from Kahnawake visited the French Expeditionary Force of General Rochambeau in Rhode Island. The Caughnawaga/Kahnawake Indians did not join either side in the war, remaining both neutral and advocates for peace. The Kahnawake community has maintained itself through the modern era; the Mohawks of Kahnawake are a First Nation of Canada, making their home in the First Nations Reserve Kahnawake 14 on the St. Lawrence River south of Montreal.
Calloway, Colin G. The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Demos, John. The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America. New York: Knopf, 1994.
Mohawks of Kahnawake. Official Web site at http://www.kahnawake.com.
Richter, Daniel K. The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.
revised by Leonard J. Sadosky