TEHOWAGHERENGARAGHKWEN (Tehonwawenkaragwen, Thowaghwenkarakwen; he wrote both Tehowagherengaraghkwen and Thomas Davis), Mohawk war chief; b. c. 1755, probably in what is now New York State; m. and had at least one son; fl. 1776–1834.
Thomas Davis, a member of the wolf clan and cousin of Joseph Brant [Thayendanegea*], fought as an ally of the British throughout the American revolution and rose to the rank of war chief. After their defeat he accompanied Brant to the lands granted the Six Nations on the Grand River (Ont.), where he lived for the next half-century. During the War of 1812 he again served the crown. Having fought alongside the British and lived for years on the Grand River near white settlers, he knew how to speak English.
Physically, Davis was an impressive-looking man. The Reverend Alvin Torry remembered him as “tall, well-formed, and as straight as one of his own forest pines.” He was also a fine orator, a person with a natural dignity and presence and one who “prided himself on his stoical indifference in all minor matters, which moved the mass around him.” As an older man he was preoccupied with one subject alone, religion.
In the early 1820s religious questions tormented Thomas Davis until he had no peace. He had been baptized an Anglican, but there was no resident Anglican missionary at the Grand River in these years. The Reverend Ralph Leeming* of Ancaster visited, and catechists such as Henry Aaron Hill [Kenwendeshon] conducted church services in his absence. Davis felt alcohol was ruining his people. About 1820 he gave up drinking and began holding prayer meetings at his farmhouse on the Grand River about five miles north of the Mohawk village (present-day Brantford). Daily he blew a horn calling his Mohawk neighbours, a number like him being nominal Anglicans, to prayer. Then he read to them portions of the Bible and the Church of England prayers in Mohawk. One day a white settler passed by the farmhouse and heard the horn. After learning why it was blown, the settler, who was a Methodist, asked if the Indians wanted a Methodist preacher to call. As they did indeed, Edmund Stoney, a local Methodist preacher, began his visits. Alvin Torry, an ordained Methodist Episcopal minister, also preached there regularly, beginning in the late spring of 1823.
At Davis’s invitation, a small, but growing, Methodist Indian community settled on and around his farm, which became known as Davisville or Davis’s Hamlet. Through Peter Jones*, a Mississauga Ojibwa convert, many Mississaugas joined the faith as well as Mohawks. By the fall of 1824 the one room in Davis’s home used for meetings proved insufficient for the approximately 30 native Methodists. At this point the pious chief gave over his entire house for religious meetings and a Methodist day-school, and retired to a log cabin in the woods until a new mission house was completed in the spring.
After the Mississauga converts left for their new mission station on the Credit River early in 1826, the Indian Methodist movement on the Grand River became completely Iroquois. Within ten years the number of adherents had swelled to some 150 out of a total population of less than 2,000 on the reserve. A decade after Torry first preached at his home Davis remained an enthusiastic church member. When the Reverend William Case* met him in March 1834 he found the aged chief in excellent health, “reading in the Gospel of Matthew without glasses” and still “much in the habit of reading and expounding the Scriptures to his people.”
Davis’s zeal for Methodism stemmed from several sources. As a nominal Anglican he apparently genuinely believed in the Christian message. To him the reformed Longhouse religion expounded by the Seneca prophet Skanyadariyoh (Handsome Lake) had little appeal. Secondly, as he clearly stated at a Methodist camp meeting in 1825, he had material expectations of the faith. If the Indians remained true Christians, the chief believed that “when their moccasins were worn out, God would send them more; that if their corn was poor, He would provide; and that, after toil and hunting were over, He would take them to heaven.” Thirdly, the temperance aspect of Methodism appealed to him. He knew that Methodists must renounce alcohol, which he regarded as the greatest scourge of reservation life.
Thomas Davis, as an older man, had sought the regeneration of his society. To a certain extent he succeeded among his nominally Christianized neighbours. John Brant [Tekarihogen], an Anglican, recognized as much when he wrote on 27 May 1826 of the “good effects” of Davis’s efforts. Davis probably died in the late 1830s; a letter of November 1840 refers to him as “the late Chief.”
PAC, MG 19, F6, 1: 78; RG 10, D3, 104, file 1834. UCC,Central Arch. (Toronto), Credit Mission, record-book. Victoria Univ. Library (Toronto), Peter Jones coll., Eliza Jones Carey papers, diary, 25 Aug. 1834. J. [S.] Carroll, My boy life, presented in a succession of true stories (Toronto, 1882), 42–43. William Case, “River Credit, U.C., March 20, 1834,” Christian Advocate and Journal (New York), 16 May 1834: 151; reprinted in Christian Guardian, 28 May 1834: 114. John Douse, “Earliest missionary letters of Rev. John Douse, written from the Salt Springs mission on the Grand River in 1834 and 1836,” ed. A. J. Clark, OH, 28 (1932): 41–46. Methodist Episcopal Church, Canada Conference Missionary Soc., Annual report (n.p.), 1825. Alvin Torry, Autobiography of Rev. Alvin Torry, first missionary to the Six Nations and the northwestern tribes of British North America, ed. William Hosmer (Auburn, N.Y., 1864), 77–78. Valley of Six Nations (Johnston). John West, A journal of a mission to the Indians of the British provinces, of New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, and the Mohawks, on the Ouse, or Grand River, Upper Canada (London, 1827), 279–81. G. F. Playter, The history of Methodism in Canada . . . (Toronto, 1862).