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Mohawk History & Genealogy
My ninth great-grandmother, Ots-Toch or Alstock, who was born circa 1620 in the Mohawk village of Canajoharie, New
York, was the reason for my delving into the culture and traditions of the Mohawk nation. Ots-Toch married a Dutch settler,
Cornelis Van Slyke, but never left the Mohawk village. I became intrigued with her story and wanted to know more about her
heritage and mine. Brian Brown generously shared his own research, much of which you can read on these pages.
This is one aspect of Iroquoian culture that underwent
considerable change in the late 1600s and early 1700s, with the
availability of beads, trade cloth etc. from European sources. My focus
will be on clothing styles as described by early European (mainly French)
visitors in the early 1600s.
In summertime, children of both sexes who were less than 12-13 years
old went naked. Older boys and men wore a loincloth. Women
and older girls wore nothing above the waist, and a wrap around knee-length
skirt which extended to the knees. Around the village, everyone went
barefoot in warm weather. Since deer skin moccasin soles wear out through heavy
use, they saved them by not wearing them when not needed. Away from the
village, moccasins would be worn. Also, a man or a boy would sometimes wear
leggings when away from the village. These were two tubes of deerskin that
covered the legs from the ankle to the hip. Leggings were used as protection from thorns, poison ivy, etc. The leggings were tied by cords to the
waistbelt. Women and girls also wore leggings, but since their skirts
protected the upper legs, their leggings just extended to the knee and tied
above the knee.
Kilts, which look a lot like skirts, were occasionally worn by
Iroquoian men on formal, dress-up occasions, but seem not to have been part of
the day-to-day wear.
Nudity among adults in warm weather was apparently not uncommon in the 17th Century.
In winter, both sexes wore fur-lined, full length robes, however, we know
relatively little about their winter attire. The Jesuits mentioned mittens
of fur, fur-lined moccasins insulated with dried grass and fur caps. I
suspect that they wore several layers of fur-lined clothing with a blanket or
robe pulled over the shoulders, but that is partially conjecture based upon
incomplete data and a few early sketches.
Girls wore their hair long and loose. Women seem likewise, to have
favoured long hair worn loose. If a 17th century Mohawk boy were to
appear in modern attire on the street today, his hair would pass
without notice, although people would think it a little shaggy, but not overly long.
When a boy was about 15, he began to pluck his hair except for a strip
down the middle, which was greased to stick up. This is the famous "Mohawk"
hairdo - a somewhat incorrect name, since most tribes of the
eastern U.S. and southeastern Canada wore a similar style. An older boy
or adult male wore his hair in a "Mohawk" until he was past the age for
participation in warfare. Modern illustrations and museum exhibits
portraying Iroquois warriors with long braided hair are simply inaccurate.
Men plucked their beard. For that matter, both sexes removed any
hair on their bodies below the neck. It was apparently considered
unattractive and animal-like.
Both sexes had their ears pierced in infancy or early childhood. Small
beads of clay, copper, bone, etc. were used as ear ornaments. Other
ornaments (necklaces, armbands etc.) seem primarily to have been worn for
dress-up occasions. Paint likewise, was worn when someone wanted to
dress up. We think of natives as wearing paint for war, which they did, but
they also used it for parties, feasts or ceremonies.. Evidence of
Iroquois use of feathers in the hair is limited, but they probably did wear
them. Mohawk warriors were known in later periods to wear tattoos. There are few references to tattooing in early writings. More likely, tattooing came into style later but it is also possible the early Jesuits simply did not mention it.
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Your Name in History
Find out if your Surname is part of the Our Name in History Collection! Just type your surname into the search box
|The Van Slyke Family in America A Genealogy of Cornelise Antonissen Van Slyke, 1604-1676 and his Mohawk Wife Ots-Toch, including the story of Jacques Hertel, 1603-1651, Father of Ots-Toch and Interpreter to Samuel de Champlain
Dawes Commission Index, 1896 records of Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, Creek and Chickasaw
Dawes Commission Index, 1898-1914 Index of tribal enrollment applications for Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, Creek and Chickasaw