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Map showing tribal lands of the Tutelo prior to 1600
Total population
Extinct as a tribe [1]
Regions with significant populations
West Virginia, Virginia (until 1740s), Ontario (1779-ca. 1900) (descendants assimilated into Cayuga nation)
Siouan Tutelo language
Related ethnic groups
Occaneechi, Manahoac, Monacan, after 18th century: Cayuga

The Tutelo (also Totero, Totteroy, Tutera; Yesan in Tutelo) were Native American people living above the Fall Line in present-day Virginia and West Virginia. They spoke a dialect of the Siouan Tutelo language thought to be similar to that of their neighbors, the Monacan and Manahoac nations.

Under pressure from English settlers and Seneca Iroquois, they joined with other Virginia Siouan tribes in the late 17th century and became collectively known as the Nahyssan. By 1740, they had largely left Virginia and migrated north to seek protection from their former Iroquois opponents. They were adopted by the Cayuga tribe of New York in 1753. [2] [1] Ultimately, their descendants migrated into Canada. [1]


The English name Tutelo comes from the Algonquian variant of the name that the Iroquois used for all the Virginia Siouan tribes: Toderochrone (with many variant spellings). The Tutelo autonym (name for themselves) was Yesañ, Yesáh, Yesáng, Yesą, Yesan, Yesah, or Yesang. This may also be connected with the name Nahyssan, as well as earlier colonial-era spellings, such as Monahassanough (John Smith). [3]

The name Oniasont appeared on 17th-century French maps. Amateur historian Charles A. Hanna believed that name of the Nahyssan recorded in West Virginia and western Virginia during the same period, i.e. the Tutelo, a Siouan language-speaking people. Others theorize that Honniasont may have been considered an Iroquoian language.


Aside from getting many native plants from their natural habitat, the Tutelo people have been linked to Tutelo Strawberry Corn and may have grown predecessor varieties of Boston Mallow Squash and Oronoco Tobacco. Boston Mallow was developed by horticulturalists in Boston, MA in the 19th century from seed said to have been traceable back to a group of Natives in the vicinity of Buffalo, NY around the end of the Revolutionary War. Some documents seem to suggest the Iroquois had sent a group of people there to reestablish farms ravaged during the war and they were led by the then chief of the Tutelo and may have therefore been mostly Tutelo. [4]

Corn would have been a fairly recent arrival to their home region at the time of contact and they probably did not come to Virginia with it, as they may have with other seed varieties. This shows in their word for corn- mandahe- seemingly being an amalgamation of the Algonquian word Mandamin and the Iroquoian word nehe.



Tutelo oral history states that they originated in Ohio and likely only a few centuries before European arrival. Their language shares many loan words with the Mosopelea language, the only Fort Ancient language on record, suggesting that they were once neighboring cultures. Since Tutelo housing was similar to that of Monongahela culture, and their burial mounds were similar to those found in northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

17th century

The Tutelo historic homeland was said to include the area of the Big Sandy River on the West VirginiaKentucky border, which they called the "Totteroy River." The Iroquois drove them from this region during the later Beaver Wars (c. 1670), after which the Iroquois established the Ohio Valley as their hunting ground by right of conquest. Charles Hanna believed their name, first appearing as Oniasont on 17th-century French maps, to be a variation of the name of the tribe recorded in West Virginia and western Virginia at the same time period, as Nahyssan and Monahassanough, i.e. the Tutelo, a Siouan language-speaking people. [3]

Although previously known to the Virginia colonists by their other names, a form of Tutelo first appeared in Virginia records in 1671, when the Batts and Fallam expedition noted their visit to "Totero Town" near what is now Salem, Virginia. A few years later, the Tutelo joined the Saponi to live on islands located where the Dan and Staunton rivers join to become the Roanoke River. It was just above the territory of the Occaneechi. [5] For a time, the Tutelo had a settlement on the banks of the New River. Many of the sherds collected there and the small triangular points, suggest a mid- to late 16th-century or an early 17th-century date. [6]

Between 1671 and 1701, Tutelo abandoned their homelands and joined the Occaneechi. [1]

18th century

In 1701, they were noted as living at the headwaters of the Yadkin River in North Carolina. After 1714, the Saponi and Tutelo, collectively known as a Nahyssan, resided at Junkatapurse around Fort Christanna in Brunswick County, Virginia, near the border with North Carolina. [5]

After the signing of the 1722 Treaty of Albany, the Iroquois ceased their attacks upon the Tutelo. [7] In the 1730s, Tutelo people moved north to Shamokin, Pennsylvania, [1] and sought the protection of the Oneida viceroy, Shickellamy (had a Tutelo wife). [7] After 1753, the Cayuga formally agreed to take in the Tutelo, who moved to the south side of Cayuga Lake and eastern Cayuga Inlet, [1] near present-day Ithaca, New York. [2]

The Tutelo village of Coreorgonel was located near present-day Ithaca, New York and Buttermilk Falls State Park. [8] There they lived under the protection of the Cayuga until Coreorgonel, along with many other Iroquois towns, was destroyed during the American Revolutionary War by the Sullivan Expedition of 1779. It was retaliation for British-Iroquois raids against the American rebels. [9]

The Tutelo went with the Iroquois to Canada, where the British offered land for resettlement at what became known as the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation. In 1785, 75 Tutelos lived among 1,200 residents on the Six Nations reserve. [10] They continued to live among the Cayuga and were eventually absorbed by them through intermarriage. [11] The last known full-blooded Tutelo speaker, Nikonha or Waskiteng ("Old Mosquito") died in 1870 at the age of 105. [12] He had given extensive linguistic material to the scholar Horatio Hale, who confirmed the Tutelo language as a Siouan language. His father's name was Onusowa, a Tutelo chief who established a village in New York state. During the Revolutionary War in 1779. Their village was attacked during the Sullivan Expedition, which was an American operation to destroy the pro-British elements of the Six Nations in New York.

19th century

John Key, also known as Gostango (meaning "Below the Rock") and Nastabon ("One Step") survived Nikonha as the last recorded fluent speaker of the Tutelo language. He died on March 23, 1898, at 78 years old. Chief John Buck ( Onondaga/Tutelo, ca. 1818–1893) was a Haudenosaunee firekeeper at the Oshweken Longhouse on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario. He recounted Tutelo stories to American ethnologists John Napoleon Brinton Hewitt and Frank Speck. [13]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Ricky, Donald (1999). Indians of Louisiana. Somerset Publishers. pp. 271–22. ISBN  9780403098644.
  2. ^ a b Vest, "An Odyssey among the Iroquois," p. 129.
  3. ^ a b Hanna, Charles (1911). The Wilderness Trail (Volume 2 ed.). G. P. Putnam's sons. pp. 117–119.
  4. ^ Tutelo Spirit Adoption Ceremony, Speck, Frank G. ; pgs 14-15 (1942)
  5. ^ a b John Reed Swanton, The Indian Tribes of North America, 1906, p. 74
  6. ^ Patricia Robin Woodruff, Archeological Dig into a Floyd Native American Village Site Floyd Magazine, Fall/Winter 2014, p. 42
  7. ^ a b Jay Hansford C. Vest, "An Odyssey among the Iroquois," p. 128.
  8. ^ Vest, "An Odyssey among the Iroquois," p. 134.
  9. ^ Vest, "An Odyssey among the Iroquois," pp. 139–39.
  10. ^ Vest, "An Odyssey among the Iroquois," p. 144.
  11. ^ Vest, "An Odyssey among the Iroquois," pp. 144–47.
  12. ^ Robert Vest, 2006, "Letters of Chief Samuel Johns to Frank G. Speck".
  13. ^ Vest, "An Odyssey among the Iroquois," p. 147.