WILLIAMS, THOMAS (also known as Tehoragwanegen, Teholagwanegen, Tehora Kwanekeu, and Thomas Théoragwanegon), Iroquois chief; b. c. 1758 in Caughnawaga (Kahnawake, Que.); d. there 16 Sept. 1848.
The grandson of Eunice Williams* and the great-grandson of the Reverend John Williams* of Deerfield, Mass., Thomas Williams was the son of Sarah Williams and a Caughnawaga man whose identity is unknown. Raised in the Catholic Indian community at Caughnawaga, perhaps by his maternal aunt, he spent hunting seasons in the area of Lac Saint-Sacrement (Lake George, N.Y.) and apparently enjoyed an unexceptional Indian boyhood. In the early 1770s he was recruited by Levi Frisbie, agent for Eleazar Wheelock, to attend Moor’s Indian Charity School in Hanover, N.H. Williams accepted the invitation, but ill health, possibly smallpox, prevented his attendance.
Williams became a chief at Caughnawaga in 1777, and led some of the Indian allies of Major-General John Burgoyne* that year during the battles at Fort Ticonderoga (near Ticonderoga, N.Y.), Bennington, Vt, and Saratoga (Schuylerville, N.Y.). He was credited by his son and biographer Eleazer Williams* with having done so primarily to prevent “the effusion of [American] blood,” but the claim is an unlikely one and it is impossible to detail his activities. According to the same source, the following year Williams joined an abortive raid into the Mohawk valley. In March 1780 he carried out a daring mission with Lieutenant Joseph Launière of the Indian Department. The members of the expedition made a brief attack on the American base at Machias (Maine) but gave up because of their small numbers and, after delivering dispatches to the British at Fort George (Castine), returned to Quebec. In May Williams reportedly accompanied Sir John Johnson*’s expedition against the Mohawk valley and was present at the attack on Colonel Frederick Visscher and his family. During this period he also participated in the raids led by Lieutenant Richard Houghton against American frontier settlements, including the attack of 16 Oct. 1780 on Royalton, Vt, which concluded his service to the British cause.
After the war Williams resumed seasonal activities in upstate New York and became acquainted with officials there. For several years, possibly as early as 1789 but certainly by 1793, he acted with Atiatoharongwen*, Ohnaweio (Good Stream), William Gray, and others as a deputy of the Seven Nations of Canada in their negotiations with the state of New York over land claims in the area of the Saint-Régis mission. The Seven Nations of Canada, as they called themselves, were Catholic mission Indians consisting of Iroquois from Caughnawaga and Saint-Régis (Akwesasne), Iroquois, Algonkins, and Nipissings from Lac-desDeux-Montagnes (Oka), Hurons from Jeune-Lorette (Wendake), and Abenakis from Saint-François-de-Sales (Odanak). They were both distinct and geographically separate from the Six Nations. Williams was a signatory to the treaty of 1796 which established the St Regis Reservation in New York State. The following year, according to his son, he was entrusted by the British authorities in Quebec with a secret reconnaissance mission to Lake Champlain. His success in this enterprise contributed to the defeat of the conspiracy said to have been promoted by David McLane*.
Following his grandmother Eunice’s example, Williams periodically visited his New England relatives, and in 1800 he took two of his sons to Longmeadow, Mass., to be educated. In the spring of 1803 he was hired by McTavish, Frobisher and Company to serve in a fur-trade brigade leaving for Fort Moose (Moose Factory, Ont.). Williams thus joined the ranks of the Iroquois from Caughnawaga who accompanied traders west, reaching beyond the Red River to the Prairies and to the Rocky Mountains.
When the War of 1812 broke out, Williams was among the Indians who left Caughnawaga in 1813 to side with the Americans, accepting a standing invitation issued by President Thomas Jefferson. The American general Henry Dearborn attested to his influence in persuading many of the Indians of Lower Canada not to take up arms against the Americans, and recommended that Williams be compensated for his assistance. His military services during the war, which according to his son included action at the battle of Plattsburgh, were later formally acknowledged by the House of Representatives’ committee on military affairs. He and his heirs petitioned for years and received occasional support from congressional committees, but there is no evidence that the American government ever awarded a pension in recognition of his services or compensation for his loss of property in Lower Canada, which was estimated at between $7,000 and $14,000. Williams’s espousal of the American cause had made his return to Caughnawaga impracticable and by 1816 he had moved to the St Regis Reservation. There, he continued to represent his tribe in their dealings with the state of New York, acting as a deputy for negotiations in 1816, 1818, and 1824, and finally for the treaty of 1825, which further defined the reservation.
Williams had married Konwatewenteta (Konantewenteta), also known as Mary Ann Rice, on 7 Jan. 1779. The couple had 12 or 13 children between 1780 and 1807. Most of the information regarding Williams’s career comes from his son Eleazer, who became a missionary among the Oneida and at Saint-Régis and who later capitalized on the absence of documentation recording his birth to pose as the “Lost Dauphin” of France. Information from Eleazer must be used warily and considered unreliable unless confirmed by other data.
It is not known when Williams returned to Caughnawaga, but certainly he had done so well before his death “in the 90th year of his age.” His widow lived there until her own death on 1 May 1856, and his descendants continue to do so.
ANQ-M, CN1-74, 25 avril 1803. BL, Add. mss 21771, 21773, 21777, 21792–93, 21809–10 (mfm. at PAC). Mo. Hist. Soc. (St Louis), Eleazer Williams coll. Wis., State Hist. Soc., Eleazar Williams papers. New England Hist. and Geneal. Reg. (Boston), 3 (1849): 103. N.Y., Commissioners of Indian Affairs, Proceedings of the Commissioners of Indian Affairs . . . , intro. F. B. Hough (2v. in 1, Albany, N.Y., 1861). U.S., House of Representatives report, 31st Congress, 2nd session, no.89, 3 March 1851; 34th Congress, 3rd session, no.83, 16 Jan. 1857; 35th Congress, 1st session, no.303, 17 April 1858, and no.459, 29 May 1858; Senate report, 31st Congress, 2nd session, no.311, 20 Feb. 1851; 35th Congress, 1st session, no.86, 24 Feb. 1858. Boston Daily Journal, 17 Oct. 1848. Handbook of American Indians north of Mexico, ed. F. W. Hodge (2v., Washington, 1907–10), 2: 723–24. E. J. Devine, Historic Caughnawaga (Montreal, 1922). J. H. Hanson, The lost prince: facts tending to prove the identity of Louis the Seventeenth, of France, and the Rev. Eleazar Williams, missionary among the Indians of North America (New York, 1854). F. B. Hough, A history of St. Lawrence and Franklin counties, New York, from the earliest times to the present time (Albany, 1853). W. W. Wight, Eleazer Williams – his forerunners, himself (Milwaukee, Wis., 1896). Eleazer Williams, Life of Te-ho-ra-gwa-ne-gen, alias Thomas Williams, a chief of the Caughnawaga tribe of Indians in Canada (Albany, 1859).
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Cite This Article
Geoffrey E. Buerger, “WILLIAMS, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/williams_thomas_7E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Geoffrey E. Buerger|
|Title of Article:||WILLIAMS, THOMAS|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1988|
|Year of revision:||1988|
|Access Date:||June 1, 2023|