Nancy Ward (1738-1824) was the last “Beloved Woman” of the Cherokees. She earned the “Beloved Woman” title after the Creeks tribe killed her husband, a warrior, during a skirmish. Fighting alongside him, Ward became enraged at the Creeks for his death, and she rallied the Cherokee forces to a decisive victory. For her heroism, she was named “Beloved Woman,” a title reserved for wise women who have distinguished themselves in battle or who have been the wives or mothers of great warriors.
In becoming the “Beloved Woman,” Ward sat in on General Council meetings where she could participate fully, vote and pardon condemned prisoners. Reportedly, she did in fact pardon a prison by the name of Mrs. Bean, a white woman. Not only did Ward nurse Mrs. Bean back to health, she also set her free. Before she left, Mrs. Bean showed Ward the loom weave technique and how to raise dairy cattle. She also headed the Women’s Council and prepared the various ceremonies. In addition, another duty of hers was to act as a negotiator in treaty parlays. While her advancements and dedication to the tribe are highly regarded, she was also the first Cherokee to have African American slaves.
Previously, she had advocated for peaceful relations with the whites, but after years of broken promises, she no longer advised peace. Fearing the impending force removal, she married Bryan Ward, a white innkeeper. They became quite prosperous and she dead in 1824. Her son claimed that when his mother died, a white light ascended from her body and flew into the sacred mound at Chota, located in present-day Monroe County, Tennessee. In the 1970s and 1980s, the mound was destroyed during the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Tellico Dam Project.
The Nancy Ward Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution based in Chattanooga, Tennessee was named after her.
Bataille, Gretchen, ed. Native American Women. New York: Garland Publishing, 1993, 272-273.
Smith, David Ray. “Nancy Ward,” December 25, 2009, found online here.