The Polly Cooper Shawl [and Valley Forge]
Condensed by Native Village
Polly Cooper shawl is among the Oneida people's greatest
relics. It is linked to George Washington and his sick
and starving army wintering at Valley Forge in 1777-78.
Their suffering was relieved by corn gifted to them by
Oneida Chief Skenandoah. Polly Cooper, an Oneida woman,
taught the soldiers how to prepare the corn as a
nutritional and medicinal food.
story has been passed down through the Oneida tribe for
An Oneida man, William Honyost Rockwell(1870
heard the story of his ancestor when he was a small
child. He wrote about Polly several times:
Washington is called the father of this country; an
Indian woman of the Oneida Nation should be called the
mother of this country. Her name was Polly Cooper. She
cooked for George Washington and his staff of officers
when they were located in Philadelphia. Polly Cooper
would not accept cash payment
for her part in the Revolutionary War. Isn't that just
like what a mother does for her children?
So the wives of the officers invited Polly Cooper to
take a walk downtown with them. As they were looking in
the store windows, Polly saw a black shawl on display
that she thought was the best article. When the women
returned to their homes, they told their husbands what
Polly saw that she liked so well. Money was appropriated
by congress for the
of the shawl, and it was given to Polly Cooper for her
services as a cook for the officers of the continental
Army. The shawl is still owned by members of the Oneida
Nation, descendants of Polly Cooper.
When I was a boy, I used to hear by people
talk about Polly Cooper's bravery, about how she cooked
and carried water to the soldiers. Whenever she had a
chance between the hours of cooking duty, Polly would
roll up her sleeves and take two pails of water, one
container in each hand, and go into the battlefield. She
would give water to quench the dry throats of the
soldiers on either side and she walked on both sides of
the firing line without fear of harm. Polly Cooper
gave water to the enemy soldiers as well as to the
men in the colonial army because she believed the war
was not over water or food. She knew that, when
the war was over, people would continue to
have all the water and food they needed no matter
which side won. Polly knew the war was about freedom in
thought, to develop principles for the good of all
living and the coming generations.
Polly Cooper's thoughts were that all men, no matter
what country they were fighting for, they all had
mothers. And the mothers didn't send their sons out to
kill other mothers' sons. All the old Indian people I
heard talk 50 years, 60 years, and 70 years ago favored
the mothers' right to govern people. Mothers carried the
child before it was born. They nursed and cared for it
in every way so that the infant knew the hands that held
it were a dependable love.
Before the Europeans came into the country, the Iroquois
women were the heads of domestic affairs. Since they
took upon themselves the responsibilities of the home,
it was therefore very natural they should have the right
to govern home affairs. I support the good judgment of
my Iroquois ancestors who yielded to womanhood for love
and a peaceful government (William Rockwell).
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