Town Destroyer

Town Destroyer

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Town Destroyer, also translated as Town Taker, Burner of Towns, or Devourer of Villages, was a nickname
A nickname is "a usually familiar or humorous but sometimes pointed or cruel name given to a person or place, as a supposedly appropriate replacement for or addition to the proper name.", or a name similar in origin and pronunciation from the original name....

 given to George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

 by Iroquois
The Iroquois , also known as the Haudenosaunee or the "People of the Longhouse", are an association of several tribes of indigenous people of North America...

 Indians. The name in its original language(s) has been given variously as "Caunotaucarius", "Conotocarious", "Hanodaganears", and "Hanadahguyus." Historians have given different origins of the nickname.


According to some historians, Washington was given the name in 1753 by the Seneca leader Tanacharison
Tanacharison or Tanaghrisson was an American Indian leader who played a pivotal role in the beginning of the French and Indian War. He was known to European-Americans as the Half King, a title also used to describe several other historically important American Indian leaders...

 (the "Half-King"). Tanacharison — Washington's guide and ally at the outset of the French and Indian War
French and Indian War
The French and Indian War is the common American name for the war between Great Britain and France in North America from 1754 to 1763. In 1756, the war erupted into the world-wide conflict known as the Seven Years' War and thus came to be regarded as the North American theater of that war...

 — bestowed the name on Washington because it was the Iroquois nickname given to Washington's great-grandfather John Washington
John Washington
John Washington was an English Virginia planter and politician. He was the immigrant ancestor and great-grandfather of George Washington, first president of the United States of America.-Early life and family:...

, who had emigrated to Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

 from England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 in 1657. John Washington was given the nickname because he had swindled American Indians out of some land, or, in another version of the story, after he had ordered the deaths of some American Indians during Bacon's Rebellion
Bacon's Rebellion
Bacon's Rebellion was an uprising in 1676 in the Virginia Colony in North America, led by a 29-year-old planter, Nathaniel Bacon.About a thousand Virginians rose because they resented Virginia Governor William Berkeley's friendly policies towards the Native Americans...

. When Tanacharison bestowed the name on George Washington, it may have been as part of Washington's ceremonial adoption as a Seneca, intended to compliment the young Virginian's military ardor.

Washington indeed referred to himself as "Conotocaurious" in a letter he wrote to Andrew Montour
Andrew Montour
Andrew Montour , also known as Henry Montour, Sattelihu, and Eghnisara, was an important métis interpreter and negotiator in the Virginia and Pennsylvania backcountry in the 1750s and 1760s....

 dated October 10, 1755, in which he entreated the Oneida to resettle on the Potomac:
"Recommend me kindly to our good friend Monacatootha
Scarouady was an Oneida leader at Logstown. He was called Monacatuatha or Monakaduto by the Lenape.Scarouady was half-king, along with Tanacharison, over Iroquois and Iroquois allies in the Ohio-valley region...

, and others; tell them how happy it would make Conocotarious to have an opportunity of taking them by the hand at Fort Cumberland
Fort Cumberland
Fort Cumberland can refer to:*Fort Cumberland *Fort Cumberland also known as Fort Beauséjour*Fort Cumberland Fort Cumberland is located in Cucumber Land, Cumber is short for Cucumber. Fort Cumberland was founded by Johnson Merrell, a moonshiner in 1687...

, and how glad he would be to treat them as brothers of our Great King beyond the waters."

In other accounts, Washington was given the nickname sometime after the 1779 Sullivan Expedition
Sullivan Expedition
The Sullivan Expedition, also known as the Sullivan-Clinton Expedition, was an American campaign led by Major General John Sullivan and Brigadier General James Clinton against Loyalists and the four nations of the Iroquois who had sided with the British in the American Revolutionary War.The...

 in the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

, which destroyed at least 40 Iroquois villages. Years later, in 1790, the Seneca chief Cornplanter
Gaiänt'wakê was a Seneca war-chief. He was the son of a Seneca mother, Aliquipiso, and a Dutch father, Johannes Abeel. He also carried the name John Abeel after his fur trader father...

 told President Washington: "When your army entered the country of the Six Nations, we called you Town Destroyer," a title that some Iroquois still use to describe any President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

. In relating this story, historian Barbara Graymont also notes that, as President, Washington had a good relationship with the Iroquois in the United States, so much so that the Seneca religious leader Handsome Lake
Handsome Lake
Handsome Lake was a Seneca religious leader of the Iroquois people. He was also half-brother to Cornplanter....

 (Cornplanter's half-brother) declared that Washington was the only white man allowed to enter the Indians' heaven.

The two versions of the nickname's origin are not necessarily contradictory. If Washington was first given the nickname during the French and Indian War, it may have gained new meaning for the Iroquois during the Revolution, when individual members of four out of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy fought against Washington's armies.