Smithsonian

Colonial commissioners addressing Iroquois leaders in Philadelphia, August, 1775

This statement, made by representatives of the newly united colonies, draws parallels between the structure of the Iroquois Confederacy and the colonies, which joined in an effort to gain independence from Britain.

Our business with you, besides rekindling the ancient council-fire, and renewing the covenant, and brightening up every link of the chain is, in the first place, to inform you of the advice that was given about thirty years ago, by your wise forefathers, in a great council which was held at Lancaster, in Pennsylvania, when Canassatego spoke to us, the white people. . . .

Brothers, Our forefathers rejoiced to hear Canassatego speak these words. They sunk deep into our hearts. The advice was good. It was kind. They said to one another: “The Six Nations are a wise people, Let us hearken to them, and take their counsel, and teach our children to follow it.” Our old men have done so. They have frequently taken a single arrow and said, Children, see how easily it is broken. Then they have taken and tied twelve arrows together with a strong string or cord and our strongest men could not break them. See, said they, this is what the Six Nations mean. Divided, a single man may destroy you; united, you are a match for the whole world. We thank the great God that we are all united; that we have a strong confederacy, composed of twelve provinces. . . . These provinces have lighted a great council fire at Philadelphia and sent sixty-five counsellors to speak and act in the name of the whole, and to consult for the common good of the people.

Credit: Colonial commissioners addressing Iroquois leaders in Philadelphia, August 1775.