‘What Happened To The ‘Neutrals’?’

This is the tribe that occupied southwestern Ontario until the 1650s, when fellow Iroquois tribes from what is now the U.S. rendered them extinct. In modern terminology, they were ‘victims of genocide’ {although they were far from passive}: 

“It is 1625… and I have just stepped into the few recorded pages of the Iroquoian ‘Neutrals’. What I saw, riveted my attention.

“I was not prepared for the total nakedness of these people. Their skin was saturated by blood scarring, with charcoal-pierced tattoos of snakes, monstrous beasts and “Oki” spirits. They were the tallest, finest-bodied people among the Huron, Petun and Five Iroquois Nations. There were no hunchbacks, club feet or one-eyes in the villages. Unlike the other Iroquoians, there was no specific style of hair… no head-dress… but curls were not allowed.

“They were a “musket-less” people, with war clubs, leather elk shields and arrows. Around their neck was a pouch of tobacco, flint, calumet and totems. Their skin was heavily oiled from head to toe, and pungent. Their sight-detection was very keen. They could follow scent. Their endurance and aloofness to cold and heat was beyond European tolerance. These people had a sixth sense for travelling — they could go anywhere without getting lost. Their eloquent speech was expressive and their memory power was considered astonishing.

“They were called Attiwandaronk by the Huron & Petun, meaning ‘a dialect that is off-kilter’. The Iroquois Five Nations called them ‘Alirhagenrat’ or ‘Rhagenratka’. The French explorer Champlain, in 1606, refers to them as the ‘Neutres’ because of their neutral situation between the warring Iroquois & Huron…

“These Neutrals had a unique hierarchy of leadership, very different from surrounding nations. One man ruled supreme, an actual Neutral King. When he spoke, there was absolute silence… his final decision was law, stringently adhered to. This kingship also allowed them to muster large warrior force under one command, making them very effective in war and alliances.

They had towns of over 2,000 people, with smaller satellite villages and hunt-fish-farm camps. Their territory extended east to the Genesee River in the United States, across southern Ontario {north of Lake Erie} and beyond Lake St Clair. Their major towns were located deep within, between the Grand River and Hamilton — a safe distance from the warring western Sioux nations. But they were one day’s travel from the eastern Seneca and four days from the Huron-Petun…

Neutral Village -- Hughes
Neutral Village — Hughes

“Many interior villages had no palisades, with double-palisaded towns up to 10 acres. Lesser villages had a single palisade enclosing 1-5 acres. Within, the longhouses were 30 ft wide and 120 ft long, with often 12 families per longhouse. And there was a ‘longhouse code’… that whatever ‘nation’ was in their longhouse…was safe from physical death.

“These Neutrals held power in a strange way. They had flint-chert beds along Lake Erie. But their edge was being the “artisans of flint napping”. They even repaired flint. This excelled skill and trade position may have been part of their “neutrality”. They are the only known nation to actually remain in a constant state of neutrality between the warring Huron and Five Nations.

“According to legend, the ‘Aondironnons’ tribe of the Neutrals were assigned the position of neutrality by Dekanawideh and Hiawatha. This neutrality between the Huron and Five Nations was ruled by Jikonsaseh, the “Queen of Peace”, whose town fell to the Seneca around 1647 {!}. The Seneca claim to have guarded and protected her after that {!}.

“The Neutral were not passive… war and torture was their thirst. They thrived on it. Cruelty, torture and cannibalism was an addictive taste. They easily mustered warrior forces of 4,000 men. Their alliances with the Anadaste, Erie, Ottawa and Wenrehronon made them a formidable foe.

“Torture was a three-day affair…
{For the rest of this graphic paragraph, go to the link at the bottom…}
“The finale was being burned alive.

“Among most Iroquoian nations, the women would be quickly dispatched on the spot or taken captive. The burning of women was taboo… an unwritten code. But the Neutrals violated this with pleasure.

The Neutrals warred with over 17 ‘nations’. In one recorded battle in 1643, they sieged and captured a Mascoutin (small-prairie Sioux) palisaded town of over 2,000. The Neutral burned 50 of the best surviving warriors and took 800 into captivity. The old ones unable to travel had their eyes poked out and mouths girdled so they could not eat. They were left behind to wander and die.

“At the peak of power, the Neutrals became careless with their alliances. Gambling, feasting and war was their lifestyle… they ruled unhindered. In 1635, a new sound of flint came from the east… musket fire! And with it, a dreadful whisper…

“The Iroquois are digging the grave of the great Neutral nation, and the war cry of the Seneca will be the mourning funeral for the Neutral dead.”

“In 1652,this prophecy was fulfilled…” 

–‘I am Attiwandaron… A Neutral… Who Are You?’,
Grand River Rafting



It looks like Lake Erie and Lake Ontario have switched places since 1650!

“Attiwandaronks, or Neutral ‘Nation’. They dwelt south of the Huron, on the northern borders of Lakes Erie and Ontario. They had, indeed, a few towns beyond those lakes, situated east of the Niagara river, between the Iroquois and the Eries. They received their name of ‘Neutrals’ from the fact that in the war between the Iroquois and the Hurons, they remained at peace with both parties.

“This policy, however, did not save them from the fate which overtook their Huron friends. In the year 1650 the Iroquois set upon them, destroyed their towns, and dispersed the inhabitants, carrying off great numbers of them, as was their custom, to be incorporated with their own population {They were ‘genocided’ — both physically and culturally – out of existence…}.

“Of their language, we only know that it differed but slightly from the Huron. Whether they were an offshoot from the Huron or from the Iroquois is uncertain. It is not unlikely that their separation from the parent stock took place earlier than that of the Iroquois, and that they were thus enabled for a time to avoid becoming embroiled in the quarrel between the two great divisions of their race.”



“At one time, the Neutral inhabited a large area between the upper Thames and Niagara rivers, and may have numbered 40,000 people. They belonged to the Iroquoian cultural group, and as such, were closely related to the Huron and Petun (or Tobacco) tribes around Georgian Bay and to members of the Iroquois Confederacy in what is now northern New York State (the Seneca, Cayuga, Onandaga, Oneida and Mohawk).

“The Neutral, known to their Huron neighbours as the Attiwandaronk…were far from peace-loving and were for many years embroiled in fierce warfare with the “Fire Nation”, the Mascouten Indians of present-day Michigan…”


Reconstructed Lawson Site at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology
Reconstructed Lawson Site at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology

“The Neutral lived in longhouses in about 40 settlements that included large, fenced-in villages, most of which were concentrated within a 32-km radius of present-day Hamilton, Ontario. Many encampments were situated along the Grand River in the Grand Valley region, which provided an abundant supply of water.

“As agriculturists, the Neutral relied on horticultural crops of corn, beans and squash; they also hunted deer, raccoon, wolves, wild cats, squirrels, beavers and turkeys. They augmented their diet with fish, wild apples and chestnuts, and cultivated tobacco for ritual and trade purposes.

“In addition to hunting, the Neutral also extracted flint (chert), to make arrowheads for war. In exchange for goods, the Neutral traded flint weaponry with the Huron-Wendat and the Haudenosaunee… By supplying flint weaponry to both sides, and staying out of the conflict, the Neutral remained neutral…

The Neutral were a ranked society, governed by elected chiefs. Village chiefs presided over various tribal affairs, including trade, war, government, intertribal affairs, justice, feasts and ceremonies…

During the 17th century, the confederacy developed into a chiefdom, with paramount warrior-priest-chief Tsouharissen (“Child of the Sun”) at the very top of the socio-political hierarchy. With his council, Tsouharissen united about 10 ‘indigenous’ groups within ‘Neutralia’, a term coined by Dr. William Noble to describe a geographic area with a high concentration of Iroquoian-speaking peoples. Tsouharissen’s absolute authority over the Neutral was unparalleled in other Northeastern Iroquoian nations at that time. After the death of Tsouharissen in about 1646, the chiefdom failed…

“After the Iroquois Wars, the Neutral scattered to the west and south of their former homeland, becoming assimilated with other ‘indigenous’ ‘nations’. In July 1653, a band of 800 Neutral survivors were found living in Skenchioe (present-day Tuscola County, Michigan), west of their historic tribal land.

“The last reference to the Neutral…in French records was in 1672. Today, no Neutral ‘nation’ exists, but their descendants are believed to reside in present-day Haudenosaunee communities…”



Warlike and aggressive, the neutrality of the Neutrals applied only to wars between the Huron and Iroquois. Otherwise, this confederacy was anything but peaceful. For the most part, the Huron considered the Neutrals as hostile (but not enemies), and relations between them were usually tense, even when they visited each other’s villages for trade.

Men filled most positions of leadership, but some Neutral villages were known to have been ruled by women. In most ways, the Neutrals closely resembled the Huron and Iroquois. Their villages of bark-covered longhouses were fortified and usually built in high, easily-defended locations.

“Diet depended mostly on agriculture (corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, and tobacco) supplemented by hunting and fishing. Meat and fish constituted a relatively small portion of their diet, and as much as 80% of their calories came from agriculture and the gathering of wild fruits and vegetables. The Iroquian peoples of this region grew at least 15 varieties of corn, 60 types of beans, and six kinds of squash.

“Early French reports on the Neutrals are sketchy, because the Huron protected their trade relationship with the French and discouraged direct contact. While the Huron welcomed French traders and priests to their own villages, they told the Neutrals that the French fur traders carried sickness, and described Jesuit “Blackrobes” as evil witches with spells and magic. These stories were effective, and the French usually met with a chilly, and sometimes hostile, reception when they tried to visit the Neutrals…

“The Neutrals’ territory extended entirely across the Niagara Peninsula of southern Ontario into southeastern Michigan, and to find the necessary furs, they began to expand west for hunting. This soon had the Neutrals encroaching into the lands of the Algonquin-speaking tribes who lived in Lower Michigan, and brought war…”


PHOTO: Tish Farrell

c.1600: “The Attawandaron had a population of around 35,000 and Wendat numbered around 25,000. Some settlements had over 3,500 people.
(The French called the Attawandaron “Neutral”…and the Wendats “Huron”.)

c.1600-1640: “There was a series of wars between the Wendat-French alliance (established over trading beaver pelts) and the Iroquois-Dutch alliance, as they fought over hunting grounds.

c.1640-1700: “The area…is now the territory of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy.

“Remaining Wendat populations are absorbed into Haudenosaunee populations and reduced further by famine and European disease. Only a few hundred remain, and migrate north in small bands.

The last recorded Attawandaron settlement was in 1671, in Niagara. The Attawandaron are now an extinct ‘nation’.”


https://magic.piktochart.com/output/2451948-rivera-reportLawson Plaque

“Since the mid-19th century, archaeologists have excavated artifacts found in a 500-year-old pre-contact Neutral village. Known as the ‘Lawson site’, the area occupies a flat plateau, naturally protected on three sides by steep slopes down to the confluence of Snake Creek and Medway River, in present-day northwestern London, Ontario.

“Although 75% of the Lawson site remains undisturbed, it has yielded more than 30,000 artifacts that provide crucial data about the daily lives of the Neutral… Canada has also commemorated the remains of a Neutral village at ‘Southwold Earthworks’ near St. Thomas, Ontario. The Neutral inhabited Southwold from about 1500 to 1650 A.D.. Today, the area is recognized as a ‘National Historic Site of Canada’.”


See also:
‘The Toronto Purchase’:

‘The Myths of Caledonia’:

‘Before the white man came? War’:
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