Queen Aliquippa was a leader of the Seneca tribe of Native Americans during the early part of the 18th century. Little is known about her early life. Her date of birth has been estimated anywhere from the early 1670s to the early 1700s, but historians have indicated that she was born in the 1680s, probably in upstate New York.
The story of Queen Aliquippa begins long before white trappers had ventured into western Pennsylvania, so no accurate record of her early life exists.
The most commonly repeated story of Aliquippa’s life begins with the visit she made with her husband and infant son to Wilmington, Delaware, in the autumn of 1701. The family had made the trip from their home in the Conestoga Valley in central Pennsylvania to bid farewell to William Penn as he prepared to sail home to England.
By the 1740s, she was the leader of a band of Mingo Seneca living along the three rivers – the Ohio, the Allegheny, and the Monongahela – near what is now Pittsburgh. In the words of another Seneca chief of the era, it was not unusual for women to occupy a position of power with the Iroquois. “Women
have great influence on our young warriors,” he said. “It is no new thing to take women into our councils, particularly among the Seneca.” This was becoming increasingly true in the mid-1700s, as frequent skirmishes depleted the ranks of the male warriors, and the tribal system among the Iroquois began to break down.
At a mere 20 years old, Major George Washington of the Virginia colonial militia was sent by Governor Robert Dinwiddie to ask the French troops in the Ohio Valley to leave the region. After completing his mission, Washington struggled to John Fraser’s trading post, only to hear word that the Seneca queen was angry that he had bypassed her on the first leg of his trip. After taking some time to recover from his journey, the young major took a side trip to pay tribute to Aliquippa.
His journal entry of the visit to her in January 1754 was short and to the point, “I made her a Present of a Match Coat; & a Bottle of rum, which was thought much the better present of the two.” Washington could never have imagined that this tongue-in-cheek comment would eventually be immortalized in song and would be the best-remembered event of Aliquippa’s life.
After the fall of Fort Necessity on July 4, 1754, Aliquippa and the remainder of her clan moved onto the fortified homestead of frontier trader George Croghan. That place, called Augswich (present-day Shirleysburg, Huntingdon County, PA), was where the tired Seneca leader, then probably over 80 years old, lived out her last few months.
“...the most esteemed of their women do sometimes speak in council... He told me she was an empress; and they gave much heed to what she said among them...” ---T. Chalkley, 1706, Conestoga, Pennsylvania.
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