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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.
The Mohawk were primarily an agricultural people. They planted
extensive gardens around their villages. The three main crops (corn, beans,
and squash) were called the "three sisters" due to their important role in
sustaining the life of the Iroquois. Other crops included artichokes,
pumpkins, sunflowers (for the seeds and the oil) tobacco and various herbal
plants, grown in small quantities for teas or medicines.
Growing crops was almost exclusively the work of women and girls. Men and boys rarely participated. This is interesting, since some
estimates are that corn comprised 60-65% of the diet. Add the other
vegetables, and more than 80% of the diet came from women's activities!
Wild plants contributed no more than 1% of the diet, but the
Iroquois were familiar with a number of edible nuts, tubers, berries etc.,
which added variety to the diet. Men and boys finding berries in the
woods, would eat their fill and maybe take a handful to munch on later, but
would not collect plant foods for others. This was again, women's work. Women and girls would take baskets, collect the berries (or whatever) to
take back to the village for all to share.
Most cooking seems to have consisted of soups or stews
containing whatever happened to be available thrown together, cooked and served on wooden plates with wooden spoons.
Their food sources led to a definite annual cycle for the Iroquois which is discussed on Cycles: