The Iroquois Handbook

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Originally published in 1818 as HISTORY, MANNERS, AND CUSTOMS of The Indian Nations WHO ONCE INHABITED PENNSYLVANIA AND THE NEIGHBOURING STATES by the REV. JOHN HECKEWELDER OF BETHLEHEM, PA. Reverend Heckewelder lived with the Iroquois for thirty years, beginning in 1771, as a missionary. He loved them and learned all of their customs, and was finally commissioned by the U.S. Government to write down everything he knew about them. This book was the result.

Firsthand accounts, such as this one, are among the most valuable history books a nation can have. When it comes to the Indian tribes of North America, these printed firsthand accounts are very few, thus, all the more valuable. (See how to use it in a homeschool study HERE.)

In the case of Reverend Heckewelder’s work, we are given a priceless gift: a book laying out every aspect of the lives and customs of the Iroquois nation, divided into short sections for ease of reading and research. This volume is packed with history, anecdotes, and wonderful descriptions of everyday life. It is, in my opinion, the perfect history book!

If lions had painters! This proverbial saying applies with equal force to the American Indians. They have no historians among them, no books, no newspapers, no convenient means of making their grievances known to a sympathising world. Why, then, should not a white man, a Christian, who has spent among them the greatest part of his life, and was treated by them at all times with hospitality and kindness, plead their honest cause, and defend them as they would defend themselves, if they had but the means of bringing their facts and their arguments before an impartial public? – Rev. Heckewelder

Many people ask, “How can we trust just the American’s version of history, when they were the only people to write it down?” That’s a very good question. And works such as this one answer it beautifully. Rev. Heckewelder loved the Indian people he went to live with. He resided among them for many years (as you will read). It was his earnest desire to portray them as honestly as possible.

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Paperback; 476 pages.

This book is an amazing treasure of Native American History, colonial history, languages, geography, and so much more of 18th century life in New England. Here are some snippets:

“I have made use of the proper national name of the people whom we call Delawares, which is: “Lenni Lenape.” Yet, as they, in the common way of speaking, merely pronounce the word “Lenape,” I have, in most instances, when speaking of them, used this word singly. I have also made use of the word “Mengwe,” or Mingoes, the name by which the Lenape commonly designate the people known to us by the name of the Iroquois, and Five or Six Nations.

Yengees. This name they now exclusively applied to the people of New England, who, indeed, appeared to have adopted it, and were, as they still are, generally through the country called Yankees, which is evidently the same name with a trifling alteration.”

This type of language information is all throughout the book, explaining a large number of words and phrases we use today that are owed to the Iroquois nations. 

“The Lenape and their kindred tribes never have called the Iroquois “the Five or Six Nations.” In conversation, they call them the Mengwe, and never make use of any other but this generic name when speaking of them. In their councils, however, they occasionally distinguished them by the name Palenach endchiesktajeet.113 These two words, literally translated mean “the five divisions, sections or parts together,” and does not in any manner imply the idea of nations. Had they meant to say “the Five Nations,” they would have expressed it by the words Palenach ekhokewit; those which they used, on the contrary, expressly imply sectional divisions, and leave no doubt about their meaning.

The Iroquois themselves, as we have already seen, had adopted a name, Aquanoschioni, merely indicative of their close union. After, however, they came to be informed of the meaning of the name which the English had given them, they were willing to let it pass as correct. The Indians are very fond of high sounding names; I have known myself chiefs who delighted to be called Kings, after they had learned from us that the rulers of the English and French nations were distinguished by that title.

Thus the proper name of those six united tribes is in their own language Aquanoschioni. By other nations they are called MengweMaquasMingoes, and Iroquois. The Lenape call them by the first, the Mohicans and Dutch by the second, the English and Americans by the third, and the French by the fourth. I employ these different names indiscriminately in the course of this work.

As detached bodies or tribes, their names with the Lenape are the following:

  1. Sankhícani, the Mohawks, from Sankhican, a gunlock, this people being the first who were furnished with muskets by the Europeans, the locks of which, with their effect in striking fire, was a subject of great astonishment to them; and thus they were named, as it were, the fire-striking people.
  2. W’Tássone, the Oneidas. This name means the stone-pipe makers, and was given to them on account of their ingenuity in making tobacco pipes of stone.
  3. Onondágoes, the Onondagoes. This name signifies in their own language on the top of the hill, their town being so situated.
  4. Queúgue, Cayugas, thus called after a lake of the same name.
  5. Mæchachtínni, the Senecas. This name means Mountaineers, and was given them because they inhabited the hilly parts of the country.
  6. The Tuscaroras, the sixth and last tribe in the league, they call by the same name, yet I have never heard the Lenape speak of the six divisions or tribes; when they describe them in that manner, it is always by the number Five.”

See Gallery for sample pages.



Additional information

Weight 20 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × 2 in

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  1. Tauna

    We really enjoyed this book as a part of our homeschool studies this year. I skimmed through the whole thing myself and pulled in various sections to read aloud or assign to my older kids as independent reading. The study guide and book list that Knowledge Keepers provides for the book were also incredibly helpful. Altogether, it enriched our studies beautifully and we ALL learned a lot, including mama!

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