Thaonwentsawakon, aka Paul
Kanienkehaka (Mohawk), circa 1683 - circa 1748

Note: All narratives about people are, to the extent possible, based on primary and secondary historical sources. Some narratives necessarily contain invented, yet plausible, scenarios and personal attributes. Please see About This Narrative to learn more about how this person's narrative was created.

Thaonwentsawakon, aka Paul - Prologue | The Attack | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |


image name: Paul.jpg

Thaonwentsawakon (Paul) participated in the raid on Deerfield to find a captive to adopt for his sister.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Among the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) warriors who raided Deerfield in 1704 was a young man who captured Eunice Williams, the daughter of the Reverend John Williams and his wife Eunice. At 21, this man had two names. His Kanienkehaka name was Thaonwentsawakon, a traditional name of the Bear clan, meaning "He embraces the Earth." His mother was both a Bear clan matron—a woman of status who had the power to choose council representatives—and a convert to Catholicism. Thaonwentsawakon was given his Bear clan name as an infant, in a naming ceremony at the Midwinter Festival. When he turned 16, his recently converted mother asked him to be baptized, and he was given the name Paul by the Jesuit priest at the nearby mission church.


Thaonwentsawakon was born in Kahnawake, a Kanienkehaka community on the Saint Lawrence River near the French settlement of Montreal. Kahnawake was at the northern reach of the traditional Kanienkehaka homeland, Kanienkeh or "land of the flint." Thaonwentsawakon's grandparents were among a group of people from a town of the same name in present-day northern New York state who moved north in the 1670s. They established the new community of Kahnawake after a peace treaty with the French had been signed. The Kanienkehaka wanted to assert their claim to that portion of their traditional home territory before the French or their Native allies laid claim to it. There was also good fur trading to be done with the French, as they had enjoyed with the Dutch and then the English in Albany, New York.

Another reason for the move to the northern edge of Kanienkeh was to be near Catholic priests. Like Thaonwentsawakon's mother, some of the Kanienkehaka and people they had adopted from other nations had converted to Catholicism. Kahnawake had a Catholic mission, but people also followed traditional ways.

Growing Up

As a young child, Thaonwentsawakon and his sisters and brothers spent time with his mother and aunts, helping them plant and harvest corn, squash, and beans in the fields surrounding the village. When Thaonwentsawakon was about eight years old, he began spending more time with other boys. Although they still helped the women with some chores, the boys spent more time in the forest and at play in games that honed their hunting and fighting skills, such as shoot-arrow and snow-snake. Thaonwentsawakon's best friends were two cousins around his age, one who lived in his own longhouse (his mother's sister's son) and one in another Bear longhouse next door, his father's brother's son. Thaonwentsawakon's father and his brother belonged to the Turtle clan, the predominant clan in Kahnawake. Both had married women from another clan, as was proper.

image name: Longhouse1.jpg

Kahnawake longhouses
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

When Thaonwentsawakon turned 14, he went alone to the forest and fasted for a week. He was disappointed that he did not have a real vision experience, but he did feel strongly that he was now on the path to manhood. After his return, he drew closer to his father, and spent time with him preparing for his first hunt that fall. In the next few years, he grew tall and strong—almost six feet—and after his first expedition on the warpath, he had his face tattooed with diagonal lines.

An Uncle's Duty

When Thaonwentsawakon's sister married, she and her husband moved across the fire from Thaonwentsawakon's fireside family in the longhouse. Thaonwentsawakon was proud when his niece was born and grew into a pretty, healthy baby by the time of her naming at the next Green Corn Festival. In the ceremony, their cousin announced the names of the baby's father, mother, mother's clan, and the baby's own name twice. Then Thaonwentsawakon, as the baby's maternal uncle, carried her up and down the room, singing "My head is firm, I am of the Rotinonsionni," celebrating this new member of the great Confederacy of the Iroquois.

Everyone loved that little girl, and everyone sorrowed when she died of the white man's pox at the age of six. Many others, especially young children and old people, died of that disease brought to Kanienkeh by the white man. The medicine people prepared strong medicines, and called for a lacrosse game to be played to enhance the medicines' power. Thaonwentsawakon played as never before, winning praise from all for his skill, but still his niece died. Thaonwentsawakon's sister seemed unable to recover from her grief, even after their Turtle and Wolf clan cousins performed all of the condolence rituals perfectly and with great compassion.

A Call to War

As the Midwinter Festival approached, the Kahnawake village council debated whether to join with the French and their Wôbanaki allies in a raid on an English settlement in Wôbanaki homelands. Attacking New England would be a way to capture potential adoptees to replace people who had died of the pox, and would be safer than attacking the English in New York, where the Kanienkehaka would run the risk of killing their brethren who were allies of the English there.

The tradition of the "mourning war" had been practiced for hundreds of years among the Nations of the Rotinonsionni. In this tradition, grieving women called on their male relatives to go on the warpath for the purpose of bringing back captives who would take the names and places of deceased family members. In addition, Kahnawake tradition tells that a church bell the village had purchased, which had been stolen by English privateers while being shipped from Europe, was in the English settlement of Deerfield. The council decided to send a party to join the raid.

During the Midwinter Festival, Thaonwentsawakon's sister, still sick with grief, dreamed of a little girl with a Bible. When the Turtle and Wolf clan cousins guessed her dream, Thaonwentsawakon knew that he would be joining the war party in search of a captive to replace his niece. When he sang his own song, he felt renewed and strong and ready for his quest.

A few days into the New Year, the war-chief for the expedition struck a red hatchet into the war-post and began to dance. Thaonwentsawakon joined him, desire for the battle rising in his chest as he too danced and other warriors gathered around with war cries. The war-chief exhorted them to be brave and never cowardly, and then he sang the war song from Kaianerekowa, the Great Law:

Now I am greatly surprised
And, therefore, I shall use it —
The power of my War Song.
I am of the Five Nations
And I shall make supplication
To the Almighty Creator.
He has furnished this army.
My warriors shall be mighty
In the strength of the Creator.
Between him and my song they are
For it was he who gave the song
This war song that I sing! (1)

Thaonwentsawakon, aka Paul - Prologue | The Attack | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

The Attack
February 29, 1704

image name: Thaon_attack.jpg

Thaonwentsawakon claimed the captive he was looking for: a young girl to take the place of his niece.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Thaonwentsawakon was full of hope as he entered the English settlement of Deerfield. The 21-year-old Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) warrior from Kahnawake, who had also been baptized Paul by a Jesuit priest, sought a captive to fulfill the ritual demands of the mourning war. Thaonwentsawakon joined a group of Kanienkehaka and Wôbanakiak, 20 of them in all, in surrounding a large house near the west gate of the village. Such a large house would surely contain many children, and here he could find a young girl to replace his dead niece and console his sister's grief.

As they surrounded the house and readied themselves to attack, a gunshot rang out, followed by shouts. Whether or not the rest of the attackers were inside the palisade, Thaonwentsawakon's party had to move quickly before their target could be defended. They rushed toward the house and broke through the doors and windows with hatchets and war-clubs. Once inside, they separated to search the house. Thaonwentsawakon and three others entered a children's bedroom, where he saw two girls sharing a bed—one nearly a grown woman, but another young, almost the same age as his niece. He did not hesitate, but ran straight to the young girl and pulled her out of bed, saying the words that claimed her as his captive. She screamed and cried, but seemed too frightened to struggle.

The other children were claimed by warriors in his group. Thaonwentsawakon carried his captive to her mother's room, where a Wôbanaki who spoke English told the mother to dress her warmly for a long journey. Thaonwentsawakon saw the other raiders grabbing blankets, pots, and firearms and stashing them on their persons. He ran through the house looking for something to take, and found a musket and a blanket, which he tied across his shoulders. Then he helped guard the captives until they were ready to move out, staying close to his little girl all the while.

Thaonwentsawakon, aka Paul - Prologue | The Attack | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

The March
February 29 - March 1, 1704

image name: Thaon_march.jpg

Thaonwentsawakon gave Eunice moccasins for the journey.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Thaonwentsawakon had carried his little girl away from the burning English town to the gathering point a mile away. At the campsite, he gave the girl some moccasins that had belonged to his niece, to help her walk in the snow and survive the journey. An English-speaking Wôbanaki had asked the girl her name, and now Thaonwentsawakon called her Eunice and tried to calm her fears as they waited for the rest of the raiders and captives to join them. He wiped the red war paint from his face. He smiled at her and told her that he would take care of her and bring her to a beautiful village full of people who would love her. He knew she didn't understand his words but hoped she would feel his kindly intent.

Although Thaonwentsawakon was victorious in his quest for a child to adopt and restore wholeness to his longhouse family, he did not feel like rejoicing. Several men from his village had been wounded and one had died. Would there be more mourning wars in which others would die, and more wars after that? He also saw that Eunice would not be able to keep up with the march on her own, and he needed to protect her against suggestions that those who would slow the march should be killed. He would carry her on his back or shoulders, and he knew he could call on his cousins to help him.

Thaonwentsawakon, aka Paul - Prologue | The Attack | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

Parting Ways
March 1 - 8, 1704

Thaonwentsawakon tried to distract Eunice, the young captive who was destined to be adopted into his longhouse family in place of his sister's daughter, dead of smallpox. He had to separate her now from her brother Stephen, and tomorrow from her father John Williams, as the raiding party broke into small bands for the final leg of their journeys. Thaonwentsawakon was looking forward to traveling the rest of the way with his close kinsmen, and to reaching the eastern border of their homeland, Kanienkeh, across Lake Champlain. Their food supplies had been meager for the past few days; not only would hunting be easier in a small band, but when they reached Kanienkeh they might find Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) camps where they could rest and get warm.

The last eight days had been difficult for everyone. Thaonwentsawakon and his cousins had taken turns carrying Eunice up the frozen Connecticut River through ankle-deep slush, except on occasion when she rode on one of the sleds. Eunice's mother had been killed on the second day of the march, and Eunice still cried out for her in her sleep. Remembering how he had carried his niece at her naming ceremony, Thaonwentsawakon treated Eunice as kindly as he could. She no longer seemed afraid of him, and he had tried to keep her away from her father so she would rely on Thaonwentsawakon as her caretaker.

Thaonwentsawakon signaled to the Kanienkehaka men whose captives were Eunice's brothers Samuel and Warham that it was time to set off northwest along the White River. Eunice would be comforted that her siblings were traveling with them, at least for awhile.

Thaonwentsawakon, aka Paul - Prologue | The Attack | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |


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View of Kahnawake in the mid-18th century showing longhouses and the mission church and buildings; ink and watercolor; artist unknown.
Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France, Cabinet des Estampes, Paris.

Upon reaching Kahnawake, Thaonwentsawakon brought Eunice directly to his sister’s kanohnses, or longhouse. No need for running the gauntlet like the adult captives; this child would be brought directly into the house and quickly given a warm reception. The women of the longhouse emerged upon hearing the sounds of the men as they sang out their cries, signaling a safe and successful return. One of Thaonwentsawakon's sisters rushed to him with tears in her eyes and gathered up the tiny girl and quickly brought her inside. They removed her English clothing and gently bathed her, and then the young children brought her clothes newly prepared for her and, with beaming smiles, offered them to her. The women helped her dress into the warm woolen skirts and leggings and finished with a beautiful pair of moccasins given by a young Kanienkehaka girl named Tsioianiio. Through an elaborate ceremony, Eunice received a new name and from that day she was known as, Waongote, meaning "a person stood up and planted," or "they took her and place her as a member of the tribe."

The hardest part of his responsibilities in his family's mourning ritual was over; Thaonwentsawakon's duties were realized. With this little captive, he had brought his family great happiness, which he would always remember. Eunice slowly began to accept her new family and culture. She and Thaonwentsawakon would always share a strong bond throughout her lifetime. Thaonwentsawakon would be a constant in her life. He taught her about Orenda in everything that Shonkwaiatison has created. He made her a Kiiatoni, a doll. Inside the doll's head, he placed its Orenda. It felt like a rock to her. He explained to Waongote that kiiatoni’s Orenda was like her own. The more you give away what Shonkwaiatison gave you at birth, the bigger it grows. So, share, love, laugh… and give of yourself. When the time came, he participated in the ritual where she was given her adult name, Kanenstenhawi, and he stood up for her when she married—both in the longhouse and in the mission church. He was there when she gave birth to all her children. Once, he even sang the welcoming song which all Kanienkehaka boys receive at birth. Like a father, he kept a watch over Kanenstenhawi, and when she needed help he was always there. Some mornings, she would rise with the sun, and as she emerged from the longhouse, she would find a basket of fish, freshly caught at the door. She knew where it came from.

Thaonwentsawakon, aka Paul - Prologue | The Attack | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

1704 - 1748

Thaonwentsawakon passed into the Skyworld in 1748, at the age of 65. He lived a long and prosperous life in Kahnawake. He traveled to many places and saw many exciting things. His time was one of change, yet the traditions of his people provided him a solace that was unshakable. In the years after the raid on Deerfield, he developed an interest in the old ways and began to actively learn and practice the long rituals of his people. For Thaonwentsawakon, it was not a conflict to know the Catholic ways and the Kanienkehaka ways. He was able to balance them both and became a man who many admired for his convictions. When he passed away, it was one of Kanenstenhawi's children who prepared a new pair of moccasins for his burial.

Thaonwentsawakon, aka Paul - Prologue | The Attack | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

About This Narrative

According to Kahnawake oral tradition, Paul was a relative of a woman who had lost a daughter in the smallpox epidemic that struck the Saint Lawrence valley in 1701. She was inconsolable, and in the Iroquois tradition of the mourning war, called upon her male relatives to conduct a raid to gain captives who might replace her loss through adoption. This tradition is the only thing we know about Paul, so the Paul who appears in this narrative is a "composite character" based on information about Kanienkehaka lifeways both before and during conflict with the Europeans. The name "Thaonwentsawakon" is borrowed from the Kahnawake Survival School publication 7 Generations. It is the name of a fictional composite character, a 15-year-old Bear clan boy living in Kahnawake in roughly the same time period as our character. This narrative was written by Freda Brackley.

See Further Reading for a list of sources used in creating this narrative. For a discussion of issues related to telling people's stories on the site, see: Bringing History to Life: The People in The Many Stories of 1704.

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