Gayusuta and Washington

Gayusuta and Washington

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Great Woman: Nonhelema of the Shawnee

If behind (or alongside) every great man there stands an even greater woman, then Cornstalk and Moluntha were two very fortunate men.  Nonhelema (c 1720-1786), sister to Cornstalk and wife of Moluntha was a leader and a warrior in her own right. 

No one knows where Nonhelema was born, but she settled with her brother Cornstalk in the Ohio Valley around the time of the French and Indian War (1756-1762).  She was married three times, to two unidentified Shawnee men and last to Moluntha, who was already several years older than her.  In addition, she had relationships with two White men, one was British Indian Agent, Alexander McKee, with whom she had a son named Thomas.  The other was with an American officer, General Richard Butler.  Her son by that union, named Tamantha, later became a noted warrior in his own right.

Like other brother and sister teams in Native history, Cornstalk relied heavily on his sister's assistance and judgment.  She could preside over a village, lead warriors into battle or do whatever else needed done to protect and provide for her people and support the endeavors of her brother and husband.  She was present at the Battle of Bushy Run during Pontiac's Rebellion in 1764, where she led warriors alongside Cornstalk.  Later, she and Cornstalk believed that peace with the Americans was the best path forward.  After his assassination in 1777, Nonhelema continued his policy of assisting the Americans, passing a warning that several Shawnee had traveled to Fort Detroit to join the British.  She lent Native clothing to two American soldiers so they could travel to Fort Donnelly to warn the outpost there of an impending attack by Loyalists with Native auxiliaries.  In retribution, her cattle herds were destroyed and she moved her band to Coshoctan to be near Lenape leader White Eyes and his men.  In 1780, she served as a guide and translator for French ex-patriot officer Augustin de la Balme during his campaign in what is now Illinois.

Despite her proven loyalty to the Americans, Nonhelema would be repaid in terrible treachery.  In 1786, she and her husband Moluntha, both elderly, were captured during the Northwest Indian War.  Benjamin Logan, the leader of the expedition, commanded that no Natives be mistreated.  Hugh McGary, whom we've already run across in a previous post, had his own score to settle.  As Moluntha stood rolling tobacco leaves in his hand to smoke, McGary demanded to know whether he had been at the Battle of the Blue Licks.  Not understanding the question, Moluntha nodded yes and repeated, "Blue Licks!"  McGary took that for an affirmative and struck Moluntha over the head with a tomahawk.  He also injured Nonhelema, who tried to protect her husband.  Simon Kenton tackled McGary until he could be arrested and restrained from doing further harm.  Nonhelema was detained at Fort Pitt, and occupied herself helping to compile a dictionary of Shawnee words and their meanings.  She was later released and died shortly thereafter.

A monument to her still stand in Pickaway County, Ohio. 



  1. Are there any existing sketches or photos of Nonhelema?

  2. I have been researching the 1800s and 1st Nations in Ohio/Amherstburg area all year, this is the first story I have read about a woman. Thank you