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Queen Aliquippa (or Allequippa, or Allaquippa, depending on your preference), like so many other figures throughout history, seems to be best remembered not for her lifetime achievements, but for her brief encounter with someone who went on to far greater renown, a callow, young militia officer named George Washington. The mention of Aliquippa's. name in young Major Washington's journal in 1754 has over the ensuing years been the thing for which she is best remembered. It seems odd that a woman of such obvious influence and power in early western Pennsyvania history has been defined by a sarcastic remark penned by a 20 year old soldier.
The story of Queen Aliquippa begins long before 1754, in fact before white trappers were even venturing into western Pennsylvania. For this very reason, though, no accurate record of her life exists. The information that can be found is extremely fragmented, and in several cases contradictory, so sorting through the fact and fiction of her life will be left to the reader.
The most commonly repeated story of Aliquippa's life begins with her visit, along with her husband and infant son, to Wilmington, Delaware in the autumn of 1701. The family had made the trip from their home in the Conestoga Valley in central Pennsylvania to bid farewell to William Penn as he prepared to sail home to England. Previous to this time, details of her life are practically non-existent, but at least two different historians have indicated that she was born in the 1680s, perhaps in 1685, probably in upstate New York. She was probably a member of the Seneca Indian tribe, but her family may have been part of a small faction of that tribe that broke away and moved to the Conestoga Valley. This group was later referred to as the Mingos, but they still retained their ties to the Seneca tribe and the Iroquois federation.
A second version of her early life has her being born in 1706, along witha a twin sister called Snow in the Face, in a Washington county village called Indian Ridge. According to this story, the twins' father, Oppaymolleh, was a village chief, from whom Aloquippa inherited her influence among her tribe. One unexplained detail of this version is the difficulty that Aliquippa would have had in traveling to Wilmington in 1701 (with a husband and son, no less), when she wasn't born until five years later.
In all likelihood, her father was a man of importance, perhaps a chief, with the Mingos. Her husband may have been a chief as will, but this is another point of confusion. One historian surmises that her husband was Connodaghtoh, a Mingo who died shortly after the 1701 encounter with William Penn. Another names Allemykoppy, a Seneca chief, as her mate. At least one other reference states that she was married to the Seneca chief Alleguippas. (While Alleguippas was in central and western Pennsylvania around the same time period as Aliquippa, it seems most likely that the two have been linked only by the similarity of their names.) Whatever the case, she seems to have outlived her husband, and apparently inherited his position of importance in the community. In the words of another Seneca chief of the era, Tanacharison (or the Half-King as the British called him), it was not unusual for women to occupy a position of power with the Iroquois. "Women have great influence on our young warriors," he said, "It is no new thing to take women into our councils, particularly among the Senecas." This was becoming increasingly true in the mid-1700s, as frequent skirmishes depleted the ranks of the male warriors and the tribal system among the Iroquois began to break down.
According to a Quaker settler named Thomas
Chalkey, a tribe ruled by Aliquippa lived in western Chester County
in the early 1700s, but they moved to the western part of the
state in the 1730s. Once in this area, Aliquippa's band of Senecas,
which numbered about thirty families, is repoited to have lived
at various times along the Youghiogheny, Monongahela, Allegheny,
and Ohio rivers.
Wherever they moved, Aliquippa seemed to
command respect, not only from the Indian families under her rule,
but from the white explorers and traders who were beginning to
slowly trickle into the region. In 1748, Conrad Weiser, Pennsylvania's
ambassador to the Indian nations, traveled through the area on
his way to a council meeting at Logstown (near present-day Ambridge),
and quickly found out not only how much respect the aging leader
commanded, but how quickly she became outraged when she felt slighted.
When she found that Weiser had gone to Logstown without stopping
in her village (which Weiser places on the north shore of the
Allegheny, above the forks of the Ohio), she sent word to him demanding that he come and pay tribute. Not wishing to offend her, he quickly complied only to be further chided for not bringing enough gunpowder to give to her village. Diplomat that he was, Weiser satisfied her that he would leave what he could and get more to her as soon as possible.
Aliquippa was apparently willing to cooperate far more with the colonists than the French trappers who came through the area. Unlike many of her contemporaries, who sided alternately with whoever offered the best deal at the time, Aliquippa remained fiercely loyal to the British throughout her life. When the French explorer Celeron came down the Allegheny River in 1749 to claim the Ohio country for the king of France, Aliquippa refused to receive him in her village. His journal entry of the thwarted visit hints again at her imperious attitude. "The Iroquois inhabit this place and it is an old woman of this nation who governs it," he wrote, "She regards herself as a sovereign. She is entirely devoted to the English."
Although the 'queen', as the English took to calling her, refused council with the French, her village always held a warm reception for the British. In 1752, Weiser again reported visiting her, this time at 'Aliquippa's Town', located on the Ohio at the mouth of Chartiers Creek. It seems that the ambassador had grown wiser in the four years since his last visit; his journal mentions that his boat was hailed by a Delaware Indian village on the opposite bank of the Ohio, but he chose to put in at Aliquippa's Town first.
About a year and a half later, in January, 1754, another future diplomat was to learn the same lesson. At a mere 20 years old, Major George Washington of the Virginia colonial militia, was sent by Governor Robert Dinwiddie to ask the French troops in the Ohio Valley to leave the region. Washington traveled from Virginia to Logstown for a council with the local Iroquois leaders, but failed to drop in on Queen Aliquippa, who by then was living on the Monongahela at the mouth of the Youghiogheny (presentday McKeesport).
After completing his mission, and narrowly avoiding an untimely demise on several occasions, Washington struggled to John Fraser's trading post at the mouth of Turtle Creek (present-day Braddock) only to hear word that the ancient Seneca queen was angry that he had bypassed her on the first leg of his trip. After taking some time to recover from his journey, the young major took a side trip to the mouth of the Yough to pay tribute to Aliquippa. His journal entry of the visit was short and to the point, "I made her a Present of a Match Coat; & a Bottle of rum, which was thought much the better present of the two." Washington could never have imagined that this tongue-in-cheek comment would eventually be immortalized in song and would be the bestremembered event of Aliquippa's life.
Washington and Aliquippa crossed paths again only six months later when he was under siege at Ft. Necessity. Aliquippa and her son, Kanuksusy, were among the Indians who traveled to the Great Meadows to hole up with Washington's small troop at the fort. It was here that a more telling incident of Washington's opinion of Aliquippa occurred. Washington, now a militia lieutenant colonel, wanted to hold a small ceremony honoring the queen for her loyalty and service to the British cause. Begging ill health, Aliquippa asked that her son be honored in her place. Washington agreed, and the ceremony went on. As part of the event, Kanuksusy was given the English name Colonel Fairfax, after one of Washington's Virginia benefactors.
After the fall of Ft. Necessity on July 4, Aliquippa and the remainder of her clan moved on to the homestead of frontier trader George Croghan. The homestead, called Augswich (present day Shirleysburg, Huntingdon County), was where the tired Seneca leader, then probably over 80 years old, lived out her last few months. On December 23, 1754, Croghan's blunt journal entry records her passing, "Alequeapy, ye old quine is dead."
Gone was a woman who left her mark on the landscape of western Pennsylvania, both figuratively and literally. Her courage and strength of commitment to the British cause were passed on to her son, who was later decorated by the Pennsylvania Provincial Council for his bravery during Braddock's defeat; and many other members of the Seneca tribe in the region as well. Due in large part to their loyalty, the British were able to wrest control of the continent from the French. With her obvious influence among the tribes of this area, and her unwavering support of the colonists, Aliquippa undoubtedly contributed in some measure to their victory.
In a more measurable sense, Aliquippa's presence can still be seen today on any map of western Pennsylvania. Of course the city of Aliquippa was named for her (although, contrary to popular opinion, she probably never lived where it is located) as were several other areas near Augswich, where she died. These include Alliquippa's Ridge and Alliquippa's Gap. Maps from the early 1700s also refer to Chartiers Creek as Allaquippa's Creek, and Brunots Island as Allaquippa's Island.
The fact that these many places were named for her fittingly points out what may have been the two defining characteristics of her life. The first was the wanderlust that led her to travel with her tribe across the rugged Allegheny Mountains and then to move them from one site to another across the region. The second was the esteem in which she was held by her peers, both Iroquois and European. Tagging each of these locations with her name speaks volumes about the influence of this ancient Seneca woman, about whom so little else is known.