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The Polly Cooper Shawl [and Valley Forge]
Condensed by Native Village

The Polly Cooper shawl is among the Oneida people's greatest relics. It is linked to George Washington and his sick and starving army wintering at Valley Forge in 1777-78. Their suffering was relieved by corn gifted to them by Oneida Chief Skenandoah. Polly Cooper, an Oneida woman, taught the soldiers how to prepare the corn as a nutritional and medicinal food.

Polly's story has been passed down through the Oneida tribe for generations. An Oneida man, William Honyost Rockwell(1870 1960), heard the story of his ancestor when he was a small child. He wrote about Polly several times:

George Washington is called the father of this country; an Indian woman of the Oneida Nation should be called the mother of this country. Her name was Polly Cooper. She cooked for George Washington and his staff of officers when they were located in Philadelphia. Polly Cooper would not accept cash payment for her part in the Revolutionary War. Isn't that just like what a mother does for her children?

So the wives of the officers invited Polly Cooper to take a walk downtown with them. As they were looking in the store windows, Polly saw a black shawl on display that she thought was the best article. When the women returned to their homes, they told their husbands what Polly saw that she liked so well. Money was appropriated by congress for the
purpose of the shawl, and it was given to Polly Cooper for her services as a cook for the officers of the continental Army. The shawl is still owned by members of the Oneida Nation, descendants of Polly Cooper.

When I was a boy, I used to hear by people talk about Polly Cooper's bravery, about how she cooked and carried water to the soldiers. Whenever she had a chance between the hours of cooking duty, Polly would roll up her sleeves and take two pails of water, one container in each hand, and go into the battlefield. She would give water to quench the dry throats of the soldiers on either side and she walked on both sides of the firing line without fear of harm. Polly Cooper
gave water to the enemy soldiers as well as to the men in the colonial army because she believed the war was not over water or food. She knew that, when the war was over, people would continue to have all the water and food they needed no matter which side won. Polly knew the war was about freedom in thought, to develop principles for the good of all living and the coming generations.

Polly Cooper's thoughts were that all men, no matter what country they were fighting for, they all had mothers. And the mothers didn't send their sons out to kill other mothers' sons. All the old Indian people I heard talk 50 years, 60 years, and 70 years ago favored the mothers' right to govern people. Mothers carried the child before it was born. They nursed and cared for it in every way so that the infant knew the hands that held it were a dependable love.

Before the Europeans came into the country, the Iroquois women were the heads of domestic affairs. Since they took upon themselves the responsibilities of the home, it was therefore very natural they should have the right to govern home affairs. I support the good judgment of my Iroquois ancestors who yielded to womanhood for love and a peaceful government (William Rockwell).

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