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Honoring history

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – “The Great Indian Road,” a main travel route created by the Iroquois for travel through Virginia and surrounding states, was recently commemorated by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources with a highway marker during a dedication ceremony held Sept. 19 at Shenandoah University in Winchester.

The road has had several names in its history. Today it is U.S. Route 11 in Winchester; but the Iroquois called it Jonontore and the settlers knew it as the Philadelphia Wagon Road. Native people used it to travel through what is now Virginia and surrounding states.

In 1743, the Iroquois who traveled the road asserted to treaty makers that numerous settlers had broken promises by settling along the confines of its route. A year later, the Lancaster Treaty was created to clarify the road’s direction and acknowledge Iroquois rights to travel through Maryland’s Frederick County to the south.

Representatives of the six nations of the Iroquois League of Nations (Haudenosaunee Confederacy) who attended the dedication ceremony were eager to comment on the positive strides made toward the Native community.

Mary Ann Robins, Onondaga, remarked, “Any time Native Americans are put out there in a positive light, or there is anything that honors us, is something great. We are pushed aside and when you look at all the nations in this country, we are still the ones that struggle for identity. And we are the only people in the world that have a blood quota put to us to prove who we are. So today this is positive, to let people know we are still here is a good thing.”

Mitchell Bush, Onondaga/Mohawk, also commented on the events that took place. “It’s interesting: I was talking to my sister, who is a Faithkeeper, and it is pretty significant that they honor our presence in Virginia. We have had a treaty relationship with the governor of Virginia since 1743 that we would be friendly to the Virginia Indians. I made a joke with [Onondaga Faithkeeper] Oren Lyons that I guess I’m coming down to Virginia to ensure we stay friends with the Virginia Indians.”

The ceremony and the historical marker were funded by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. The road marker itself was developed collaboratively between the Virginia Indian Heritage Program and the Community History Project of Shenandoah University. Additional support for the dedication was provided by the Shenandoah University Institute for Government and Public Service.

What does the marker say?
 
“The Great Indian Road, called Philadelphia Wagon Road by many settlers, was developed by Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) warriors traveling in the 1700s through the Great Valley of the Appalachians (which they called Jonontore) from Cohongaronto (north of the Potomac), to raid the Catawba in the Carolinas. In 1743, Iroquois headmen complained that Europeans had settled along the road, a treaty violation. The Lancaster Treaty of 1744 clarified the road’s direction and acknowledged the Iroquois’ right to travel through Frederick County to New River settlements and farther south. This road later brought immigrants to the Valley in Conestoga wagons. Today, U.S. Route 11 generally follows the historic road.”



Powhatan Red Cloud-Owen, Mohawk/Chickahominy, began the festivities with the introduction of Karenne Wood, Monacan and director of the Virginia Indian Heritage Program, part of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

Wood greeted the crowd in Monacan and expressed her honor at attending the significant event. “It is my honor to be a part of this project to help bring awareness to peoples throughout the commonwealth that Indians have always been here and will continue to participate in our history.”

The crowd was welcomed by Bryon Lee Grigsby, SU’s senior vice president and vice president for Academic Affairs; the history of the Great Indian Road was then discussed by Warren Hofstra, a Stewart Bell professor of history at SU. He began by stating, “I can’t tell you what an honor it is for me to speak to you about the Great Indian Road that ran through the Shenandoah Valley. How appropriate is it that we are sitting right on the spot where Native Americans moved north and south through the Shenandoah?”

Additional positive remarks were made by Joanie Evans from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. “Since the inception of our program, the focus has been to commemorate the people, places and groups of significance to Virginia History to inform and educate the public. These markers bring pride to the communities that have them.”

Final remarks were made by Michael Nephew, Seneca/Cayuga and president of the American Indian Society of Washington, D.C. “It is a privilege and an honor to be here. We [the Iroquois] used to travel through here. A lot of people don’t realize the Iroquois came through here. Having this marker really signifies a lot more than you realize.”

Songs of thanks were sung by Steve Hill, Seneca, and his family. The marker was then unveiled for the attendees, to warm applause.

Eloise Smith, Onondaga Eel Clan, easily summed up the day’s event. “I think this is a very honorable thing. I am proud to be here to witness it.”





The ceremony and the historical marker were funded by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. The road marker itself was developed collaboratively between the Virginia Indian Heritage Program and the Community History Project of Shenandoah University. Additional support for the dedication was provided by the Shenandoah University Institute for Government and Public Service.



What does the marker say?


“The Great Indian Road, called Philadelphia Wagon Road by many settlers, was developed by Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) warriors traveling in the 1700s through the Great Valley of the Appalachians (which they called Jonontore) from Cohongaronto (north of the Potomac), to raid the Catawba in the Carolinas. In 1743, Iroquois headmen complained that Europeans had settled along the road, a treaty violation. The Lancaster Treaty of 1744 clarified the road’s direction and acknowledged the Iroquois’ right to travel through Frederick County to New River settlements and farther south. This road later brought immigrants to the Valley in Conestoga wagons. Today, U.S. Route 11 generally follows the historic road.”