Erie

Almost no documentary evidence exists concerning the Erie people. Scholars have had to reconstruct their culture using a combination of archaeological information and characteristics of nearby, linguistically related tribes, such as the Huron and the peoples of the Iroquois League the Cayuga, Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk. Until the middle of the seventeenth century, the Erie lived along the shore of Lake Erie between the present-day cities of Buffalo, New York, and Erie, Pennsylvania. The Five Nations Iroquois, the Huron, the Erie, and a handful of tribes belonging to other language groups seem to have developed out of an Iroquois culture centered in southern Ontario. The Erie’s tribal history is closely intertwined with those of other Iroquoian-speaking peoples. When the French became aware of their presence in the early seventeenth century, the Erie were a loose confederacy of three villages centered in present-day New York State. Like other Iroquois, the Erie constructed longhouses, practiced corn agriculture in semipermanent settlements, and managed to build up a sizable population, perhaps between 8,000 and 12,000 by the 1640s. This figure is based on French estimates placing Erie military strength between 2,000 and 3,000 warriors. As in other Native American cultures in the area, Erie men were responsible for hunting and warfare, and women seem to have been the primary farmers. The destruction of the Erie people as a distinct culture has its roots in the complex pattern of warfare and resource competition that had begun before European colonization and disease, but these latter factors accelerated the tribe’s demise. In the seventeenth century, a series of devastating wars erupted as tribes competed for access to European trade in furs, firearms, and other goods. Iroquoian-speaking peoples also engaged in mourning wars. In a typical mourning war, warriors took up arms to take captives in an effort to seek revenge for or to replace deceased kin. This sort of warfare was intended to restore balance and harmony by offering condolence to the aggrieved party. This ancient practice took on new meaning as disease repeatedly swept through Iroquois country, placing new strains on the system, as all of the Iroquoian speakers sought to replace a large number of relatives. Two particularly devastating epidemics occurred in 1637 and 1639 41. The stakes also rose as Europeans became involved in the region. Between 1643 and 1647, the western Iroquois battled the Hurons annually, resulting in heavy casualties. During the middle of the seventeenth century, wars became longer-lasting and more deadly. In the 1640s, the Iroquois systematically destroyed the Huron confederacy, killing hundreds of people, adopting others into their confederacy, and sending thousands of refugees into the Great Lakes region. By 1649, the remaining Hurons had been defeated or dispersed. Other groups dispersed in like fashion were the Petun by 1650, the Neutral Nation by 1651, and the Wenro by 1638. In the 1650s, the Iroquois turned their attention toward the Erie, with disastrous results for the latter. The Iroquois had obtained firearms and become skilled in their use. By contrast, the more isolated Eries were poorly armed. As Iroquois demand for furs and captives increased, the Five Nations began to attack the Erie, whose significant population, combined with their linguistic and cultural similarities to the Five Nations, must have made them ideal candidates for adoption. Additionally, Erie villages were situated in such a way that Iroquois wanting to reach hunting territories in Ohio and the Great Lakes had to travel through them. A concerted campaign against the Erie commenced in 1654, and, by 1657, they had ceased to exist as a distinct political entity. Some individual Eries lived among the Five Nations, while others dispersed, perhaps reconstituting themselves as part of the Westo tribe of the Carolinas. One group of Eries did manage to survive until they surrendered to the Senecas in the 1680s. The Erie’s history demonstrates the disastrous consequences of colonization for some Native American groups and the rising power of the Iroquois confederacy during the seventeenth century. Eries also participated in the Iroquois settlement of the Ohio River Valley in the early decades of the eighteenth century. Matthew Jennings See also: Native American-European Conflict; Native American-European Relations; Native Americans. Bibliography McConnell, Michael N. “Erie.” In Encyclopedia of North American Indians, edited by Frederick E. Hoxie. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. 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, 1992. Erie Should Preserve Its Historical Foundation – Smart Growth … Erie Vacations: Package & Save up to $570 Expedia

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