ORIGINAL DESCRIPTIONS OF IROQUOIS LONGHOUSES BY EARLY EUROPEAN
These are copies of historical documents that describe the longhouses and villages as they
appeared in the early 1600s through the middle 1700s. Dean R. Snow, an archeologist, selected, and in
some cases, translated the documents and provided commentary as part of the background material for the
Iroquois Longhouse Exhibit at the New York State Museum. See the note at the end of the References
Champlain, 1616 (originally in French)
"Their cabins [cabannes] are in the shape of tunnels [tonnelles] or arbors, and are covered
with the bark of trees. They are from twenty-five to thirty fathoms long, more or less, and six
wide, having a passage-way through the middle from ten to twelve feet wide, which extends
from one end to the other. On the sides there is a kind of bench, four feet high, where they sleep
in summer, in order to avoid the annoyance of the fleas, of which there are great numbers. In
winter they sleep on the ground on mats near the fire, so as to be warmer than they would be on
the platform. They lay up a stock of dry wood, with which they fill their cabins, to burn in
winter. At the extremity of the cabins there is a space, where they preserve their Indian corn,
which they put into great casks made of the bark of trees and placed in the middle of their
encampment [au milieu de leur logement]. They have pieces of wood suspended, on which they
put their clothes, provisions, and other things, for fear of the mice, of which there are great
numbers. In one of these cabins there may be twelve fires, and twenty-four families. It smokes
excessively, from which it follows that many receive serious injury to the eyes, so that they lose
their sight towards the close of life. There is no window nor any opening, except that in the upper
part of their cabins for the smoke to escape.
"This is all that I have been able to learn about their mode of life: and I have described to
you fully the kind of dwelling of these people, as far as I have been able to learn it, which is the
same as that of all the tribes living in these regions. They sometimes change their villages at
intervals of ten, twenty, or thirty years, and transfer them to a distance of one, two, or three
leagues from the preceding situation, except when compelled by their enemies to dislodge, in
which case they retire to a greater distance, as the Antouhonorons, who went some forty to fifty
leagues. This is the form of their dwellings, which are separated from each other some three or
four paces, for fear of fire, of which they are in great dread." [Champlain 1907:313-314].
"Their lodges [cabannes] are fashioned like bowers [tonnelles] or arbors, covered with
tree-bark, twenty-five to thirty fathoms long more or less, and six wide, leaving in the middle a
passage from ten to twelve feet wide which runs from one end to the other. On both sides is a
sort of platform, four feet in height, on which they sleep in summer to escape the annoyance of
fleas of which they have many, and in winter they lie beneath on mats near the fire in order to be
warmer than on top of the platform. They gather a supply of dry wood and fill their cabins with
it, to burn in winter, and at the end of these cabins is a space where they keep their Indian corn,
which they put in great casks, made of tree-bark, in the middle of their lodge [au milieu de leur
logement]. Pieces of wood are suspended on which they put their clothes, provisions and other
things for fear of mice which are in great numbers. In one such cabin there will be twelve fires,
which make twenty-four households, and there is smoke in good earnest, causing many to have
great eye troubles, to which they are subject, even towards the end of their lives losing their
sight; for there is no window nor opening except in the roof of their cabins by which, the smoke
can escape. This is all that can be said and known of their ways; for I have described to you
completely, as far as they may be known, these dwellings of these people, which is also that of
all the tribes that dwell in these parts of the country. They sometimes change their village site
after ten, twenty, or thirty years, and move it one, two or three leagues from the former spot, if
they are not forced by their enemies to decamp and move to a greater distance, as did the
Onondagas, some forty to fifty leagues. This is the shape of their dwellings, which are separated
from one another about three to four yards for fear of fire which they greatly dread" [Champlain
Comment by D. R. Snow
The two preceding translations differ in some important ways, I have compared both with the
French transcription that accompanies one of them (Champlain 1929), and have found that the
translations are accurate (or at least not misleading except at one crucial point. One translates cabanne as
"lodge", the other as "cabin." One chooses "bowers" rather than"tunnels" as a translation for "tonnelles."
Neither disagreement obscures meaning. However, the translation of "logement" is critical: one source
translates it as "lodge" but the other translates it as "encampment," making the passage seem to mean that
the Indians kept their casks of corn outside their houses in the middle of the village. Further, both
translators err in translating "milieu" as "middle" rather than "midst." Champlain intended the reader to
grasp that bark casks were used to store corn within the houses, but not necessarily in their middles.
Sagard, 1632 (originally in French)
"As soon as I was seen from our town of Quieuindahian, otherwise called
Tequeunonkiaye, a place quite well fortified in their fashion, and capable of containing two or
three hundred households [mesnages] in the thirty or forty lodges [Cabannes] in it, there arose so
great an uproar throughout the town that everybody left the lodges to come and see me, and so I
was brought with great enthusiasm right into the lodge of my savage, and since the crowd was
very great in it I was forced to get on top of the platform to escape the pressure of the crowd"
"But because our hut had been built out of the proper season the covering consisted of
very bad tree-bark that cracked and split all over, so that there was little or no shelter to us
against the rain, which fell upon us everywhere, and from which we could get no protection
either by day or by night, nor from the snow during the winter, sometime, finding ourselves
covered with it when we rose in the morning" [Sagard 1968:81].
"Some of these [villages] are not enclosed or shut in, while the others are fortified by
strong wooden palisades in three rows, interlaced into one another and reinforced within by large
thick pieces of bark to a height of eight or nine feet, and at the bottom there are great trunks of
trees placed lengthwise, resting on strong short forks made from tree-trunks. Then above these
palisades there are galleries or watch-towers, which they call Ondaqua, and these they stock with
stones in war-time to hurl upon the enemy, and water to put out the fire that might be laid against
their palisades. The Hurons mount up to them by means of a ladder, very ill-made and difficult to
climb, and defend their ramparts with great courage and skill.
"These twenty-five towns and villages may be inhabited by two or three thousand
warriors at the most, without reckoning the ordinary people who may number about thirty or
forty thousand souls in all. The chief town formerly contained two hundred large lodges, each
filled with many households; but of late, on account of lack of wood and because the land began
to be exhausted, it has been reduced in size, divided in two, and rebuilt in another more
convenient locality. The towns on their frontiers and nearer to their enemies are always the best
fortified, in respect both of their enclosing walls, two lances high or thereabouts, and of their
gates and entrances, which are closed with bars and through which one is forced to pass turning
sideways and not striding straight in, and also in regard to the site. This they know very well how
to choose, taking care that it shall be adjoining some good stream, on a spot slightly elevated and
surrounded by a natural moat if possible, and that the circuit of the walls shall be rounded and
the town compact, yet with a good space left empty between the lodges and the walls so as to be
able the better to fight and defend themselves against the enemies' attacks, without omitting to
make sorties as opportunity offers. There are certain districts where they move their towns and
villages every ten, fifteen, or thirty years, more or less, and they do so only when they find
themselves too far away from wood, which they have to carry on their backs tied up and attached
to a collar resting and supported on their forehead; but in winter their custom is to make a kind of
sledge which they call Arocha, made of long boards of the wood of the white cedar, on which
they put their burden, and with rackets [snowshoes] tied to their feet draw their load over the
snow without any difficulty. They move their town or village [also] when in course of time the
land is so exhausted that their corn can no longer be grown on it in the usual perfection for lack
of manure; because they do not understand cultivating the ground nor putting the seed anywhere
else than in the usual holes.
"Their lodges, which they call Ganonchia, are constructed, as I have said, like arcades or
garden arbours covered with tree-bark, twenty-five to thirty fathoms long, more or less (for they
are not all of equal length), and six in breadth, with a passage down the middle ten to twelve feet
wide running from end to the other. At the two sides there is a kind of bench four or five feet
high, extending from one end of the lodge to the other, on which they sleep in summer to escape
the importunity of the fleas; of these they have a great many both because of their dogs, which
supply them in good earnest, and because of the water made there by the children; and in winter
they sleep below on mats near the fire for greater warmth, and lie close to one another, the
children in the warmest and highest place as a rule and the parents next, and there is no space
between them or separation either at the foot or at the pillow, no more above than below, and
they make no other preparation for sleeping than to lie down in the same place where they were
sitting and to muffle up their head in their robe, without other covering or bed.
"The whole space underneath these benches, which they call Garihagueu and
Eindichaguet, they fill with dry wood to burn in winter; but as to the great trunks or logs called
Aneincuny, which are used for keeping the fire in by being lifted a little at one end, they pile
these in front of their lodges or store them in the porches, which they call Aque. Al1 the women
help in collecting this store of wood; it is done in the month of March or April, and by means of
this arrangement every household is supplied with what is needed in a few days. They use only
very good wood, preferring to go far in search of it rather than to take green wood or what makes
smoke; for this reason they always keep up a clear fire with a small quantity of fuel; and if they
do not find trees that are quite dry they fell those which have dry branches, breaking these into
splinters and cutting them to an equal length, like the faggots in Paris. They do not make up
faggots of twigs, nor use the trunks of the biggest trees felled; they leave these to rot on the
ground because they have no saw for sawing them up, nor the means of breaking them in pieces
unless they are dry and rotten. We were not so particular, and were satisfied with what was
nearest to our hut, so as not to spend our whole time in this occupation. In one lodge there are
many fires, and at each fire are two families, one on one side, the other on the other; some lodges
will have as many as eight, ten, or twelve fires, which means twenty-four families, others fewer,
according as they are long or short. There is smoke in them in good earnest, which causes many
to have very serious trouble with their eyes, as there is neither window nor opening, except the
one in the roof of the lodge through which the smoke escapes. At each end there is a porch, and
the principal use of these porches is to hold the large vats, or casks of tree-bark in which they
store their Indian corn after it has been well dried and shelled. In the midst of the lodge are
suspended two big poles which they call Ouaronta; on them they hang their pots, and put their
clothing, provisions, and other things, for fear of mice and to keep the things dry. But the fish, of
which they lay in a supply for winter after it is smoked, they store in casks of tree-bark which
they cal1 Acha, except Leinchataon, which is a fish they do not clean and which they hang with
cords in the roof of the lodge, because if it were packed in any cask it would smell too bad and
become rotten at once.
"For fear of fire, to which they are very liable, they often put away in casks their most
precious possessions and bury them in deep holes dug inside the lodges, then cover them up with
the same earth, and this preserves them not only from fire but also from the hands of thieves,
because they have no chest or cupboard in their whole establishment except these little casks. It
is true that they rarely wrong one another, but still there are sometimes rascals who commit
offences when they think they will not be found out. This happens chiefly in the matter of
eatables" [Sagard 1968:91-95].
Comment by D. R. Snow
Sagard apparently copied and embellished Champlain's description, which Champlain published
after his 1616 voyage. Sagard repeats Champlain's phrases in the original French word for word, inserting
additional detail here and there. Where they agree, they should be treated as one source, not two.
Sagard's estimates of 200-300 households (by which he means family units consisting of a couple
and their children) in 30-40 longhouses leads to a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 10 households per
longhouse. We know that households came in pairs, each pair sharing a hearth and occupying facing
longhouse compartments. Consequently the real range of family units per longhouse must be stated in
even numbers, Saguaros figures thus lead to a range of 6-10 compartments and families, or 3-5 hearths per
house. Later he says that some longhouses might have as many as 8, l0, or 12 hearths, but these are
clearly being cited as unusually long examples. Besides, he appears again to have simply elaborated on a
statement borrowed from Champlain.
Brebeuf, in Le Jeune in Jesuit Relations, 1634-1635 (originally in French)
"'Now, in order to testify to you my deep grief and my desire to share in the common
misfortune, I have two bins of corn' (they held at least one hundred to one hundred and twenty
bushels); I give one of them freely to the whole village"' [JR8:95].
"I cannot better express the fashion of the Huron dwellings than to compare them to
bowers or garden arbors,-- some of which, in place of branches and vegetation, are covered with
cedar bark, some others with large pieces of ash, elm, fir, or spruce bark; and although the cedar
bark is best, according to common opinion and usage, there is, nevertheless, this inconvenience,
that they are almost as susceptible to fire as matches" [JR8:105].
"There are cabins or arbors of various sizes, some two brasses [fathoms] in length, others
of ten, others of twenty, of thirty, of forty; the usual width is about four brasses, their height is
about the same. There are no different stories; there is no cellar, no chamber, no garret. It has
neither window nor chimney, only a miserable hole in the top of the cabin, left to permit the
smoke to escape" [JR8:107].
Comment by D. R. Snow
Brebeuf seems confused about longhouse lengths. He says that the longhouses are about four
fathoms (brasses) in width, and archaeological evidence indicates that his fathom must be about 5.25 feet
or 1.6m. It seems unlikely that a house having a width of 21 feet (6.4m) could have a length of only half
that width. Perhaps Brebeuf intended to write "twelve" (douze) rather than "two" (deux). Whatever the
case, his range of 10-40 fathoms is not problematic, for it suggests lengths ranging from l6m to 64m,
lengths that correspond well with archaeologically known cases.
Unknown authors, in Jesuit Relations (originally in French)
Jesuit Relations, l636
"The largest cabin of the village is set aside for the reception of the company. They do
not hesitate to inconvenience themselves for each other on these occasions. The matter is
esteemed of such importance that, when a village is built, they purposely put up one cabin much
larger than the others, sometimes making it as much as twenty-five or thirty brasses [fathoms] in
Jesuit Relations, 1637
"On this same day the sorcerer Tonneraouanont, who was beginning to play his pranks in
this village, and had undertaken to cure the sick, came towards evening to have a sweat in our
cabin, to get some knowledge of this disease. They crossed four or five poles in a ring, making a
sort of little arbor, which they surrounded with the bark of a tree. They crowded within this,
twelve or thirteen of them, almost upon one another. In the middle there were five or six large
red-hot stones" [JR13:203].
Jesuit Relations, 1638-1639
"In each cabin there are five fireplaces, and two families at each. Their cabins are made
of large sheets of bark in the shape of an arbor, long, wide, and high in proportion; some of them
are 70 feet long" [JR15:153].
Jesuit Relations, 1639
"Some of us are charged with forty cabins, --in several of which there are four or five
fires, that is, eight or ten families.... " [JR16:243]
Jesuit Relations, 1639-1640
"In the cabins of the Savages, which are in length and form like garden arbors, the fires
are in the very middle of their breadth, and there are several fires along its length, according to
the number of families and the size of the cabin, usually two or three paces apart"
"They have no sooner arrived at the appointed place than the two parties take their places
on opposite sides of the cabin and fill it from top to bottom, above and below the Andichons,
--which are sheets of bark making a sort of canopy for a bed, or shelter, which corresponds to
that below, which rests upon the ground, upon which they sleep at night. It is placed upon poles
laid and suspended the whole length of the cabin" [JR17:203-205].
Jesuit Relations, 1640
"In these five missions there are thirty-two hamlets, and straggling villages, which
comprise in all about seven hundred cabins, about two thousand fires, and about twelve thousand
"These villages and cabins were much more populous formerly, but the extraordinary
diseases and the wars within some years past, seem to have carried off the best portion: there
remaining only very few old men, very few persons of skill and management." [JR19:127].
Bressani, Jesuit Relations 1652-1653 (originally in Italian)
"The latter [Huron] build enclosed towns, or fortified strongholds, with crossed stakes,
traversed with trunks of trees, to protect themselves from attacks of enemies; and make their
cabins 10, 15, 20, 30, or 40 cannes in length, of great pieces of bark supported by beams, which
serve to hold up their corn, to dry it in winter. But neither of them [Algonquin or Huron] have
any other bed than either some branches of trees, used by the former, or some bark or matting,
used by the latter, --without tables, benches, or anything of the kind, the earth or some bark
serving them for every purpose" [JR38:247].
Lafitau, 1724 (originally in French)
"These lodges are also in the form of a vault or arbour. They are five or six fathoms wide,
high in proportion and long according to the number of fires. Each fire has twenty or twenty-five
more feet in length than those with only one [fire], none ever exceeding thirty or forty feet. Each
of these lodges rests on four posts for each fire. These posts are the base and support of the entire
structure. Poles are planted all around, that is to say all along the two sides and on the two gable
ends, to hold the sheets of elm bark which form the walls and are bound to them with strips made
of the inner bast or second bark of white wood [basswood (Tilia americana L.)]. The square
frame being raised, the Iroquois make the roof framing with long poles bent in an arc which they
cover also with bark sheets a fathom long and from one foot to fifteen inches wide. These bark
sheets overlap like slates. They are secured outside with new poles like those which form the
arch inside and strengthened again by long pieces of split saplings which run the entire length of
the lodge from end to end and are fastened at the ends of the roof on the sides, or on the wings,
by pieces of wood cut with crooked ends which are spaced at regular intervals for this purpose.
"The bark sheets are prepared a long time before use. The trees are stripped, after
girdling, when the sap is running because that is the best time to peel them. After the outer
surface which is too rough is taken off, the sheets are piled compactly on top of each other so
that they; do not get badly warped and are allowed to dry in this way. The poles and wood
necessary for the construction of the building are prepared in the same way. When the time has
come to commence work, the youth of the village are invited and, to encourage them, a feast is
given. In less than one or two days, all the work is under way and is being accomplished rather
by the number of hands working at it than by the workers' diligence.
"After the body of the building is finished, those interested in it then work, at their
leisure, to decorate it inside and make in it the necessary compartments suitable for their habitual
uses and needs. The open space in the middle is always the fireplace from which the rising
smoke escapes through an opening cut in the top of the lodge directly above, which serves also to
admit daylight. These buildings, having no windows at all, are lighted only from above in the
same way as the famous Temple of the Rotunda built by Agrippa which is still seen intact in
Rome. This opening is closed by one or two movable bark sheets drawn together or back, as is
judged suitable, at the times of the heavy rains or certain winds which would cause the smoke to
back draught into the lodges and make them very uncomfortable. I am speaking here only of the
lodges constructed in the Iroquois form, for those built round and like icehouses have not even
openings in the top so that they are much darker and the people in them are always at the mercy
of the smoke.
"Along the fires on each side a platform [cubicle] extends twelve to thirteen feet long by
five or six feet deep and almost as high. These platforms [cubicles], shut in on all sides, except
that of the fire, serve them as beds [to sleep on] and benches to sit on. Reed mats and fur pelts
cover the bark which forms the floor of the berths. On this bed, scarcely suited to encourage
softness or laziness, the Indians, wrapped in the same clothing which they wore during the day,
stretch out without other preparation. For the most part they do not know what it is to use a
pillow. Some of them, nevertheless, since they have seen the French way, make one of a piece of
wood or a rolled up mat. The most delicate use those made of deer or moose skin but, in a short
time, they are so greasy, dirty and disgusting to look at, that only people as dirty as the Indians
can make themselves comfortable on them.
"The bottom of the platform [cubicle] on which they lie is at most one foot above the
earth. They elevate it this much to avoid dampness. They do not make it any higher because they
want to avoid the smoke which is unendurable in the houses when one is standing erect, or is
raised a little too high.
"The sheets of bark which cover the platforms [cubicles] above and make the ceiling of
the bed, take the place of wardrobe and larder. There, visible to all, they put their dishes and all
their little household utensils. Between the berths are placed great bark casks in tun shape, five to
six feet high, where they put their maize when it is shelled."
"The Iroquois lodges have exits at the two ends. At each end there is a kind of lobby or
separate small apartment and an outer vestibule.
"In these lobbies as well as in the free space between the platforms [cubicles], the
Iroquois make little cabinets on the two sides where they stow the mats for the young people
when the family is large or keep their own when they do not need to be near the fire. These
cabinets are raised three to four feet high to keep them free of fleas. Underneath, they put their
supply of kindling wood.
"Their outer vestibule is closed with sheets of bark in winter and serves as a woodshed
for the heavy wood. In summer, however, they open it on all sides to get fresh air. During the hot
season, they put their mats on the flat roof of these vestibules which is not raised as high as their
lodges. They lie thus in the open air without minding the dew."
"The doors of the lodges are of moveable sheets of bark hung from above, with neither
key nor lock. In the past, nothing was closed in Indian houses. When they were gone a long time
on a campaign, they contented themselves with fastening their doors with wooden bars to protect
them from the village dogs. During all the centuries before our arrival, they lived in great
security and without much distrust of each other. The most suspicious took their most precious
possessions to their friends' homes or buried them in holes made for the purpose under their beds
or in some part of their lodge where no one knew they were hidden. Now some of them have
trunks or little boxes. Others strengthen their lodges at the gables with grossly made planks and
install in them wooden doors with bolts bought from the Europeans whose proximity has taught
them, often at their own expense, that their property was not always safe.
"They double their doors to protect themselves from cold and smoke and make a sort of
second door of blankets of skin or wool. In the usual spells of cold weather their lodges are warm
enough, but, when the northeast wind blows and one of those rigorous spells of Canadian
weather lasting from seven to eight days on end comes, cold enough to split stones, when the
cold has penetrated the lodges, I do not know how they can survive there as little covered as they
are, especially those who sleep far from the fires. During the summer, they [the lodges] are cool
enough, but full of fleas and bedbugs, and stink very badly when they [the Indians] dry their fish
in the smoke" [Lafitau 1977:19-22].
Comment by D. R. Snow
Lafitau depends upon earlier sources, but organizes and expands upon the information. It is
unfortunate that the word "platform" is used in the translation quoted here, because it makes his
description seem garbled. If the word "cubicle" is substituted where I have indicated in brackets, the
confusion disappears. The cubicles are clearly elongated boxes walled on five sides, open only towards
the fire. Each is 12-13 feet long, leaving space totaling 8 feet at one end or both ends within the
compartment for cabinets and casks for storing corn. If main hearths were spaced an average of 21 feet or
6.4m apart, then compartments must have been similarly long. I am consequently distinguishing between
cubicles that took up 2/3 of the lengths of the compartments and the compartments themselves. This
makes all the documentary sources and archaeological cases I have seen entirely consistent with one
The cubicles were 12-13' long and 5-6' deep, with ceilings 5-6' high and bottoms raised 1' above
the earthen floor of the compartment. Few of these dimensions make sense if a two-dimensional platform
is envisaged. We know from various sources that the Indians kept firewood under the cubicles and
household belongings on top of them. The cubicles did not abut one another end to end because they were
shorter than the distances between the fires that warmed them. Thus there were open spaces between the
cubicle ends and the partition walls separating compartments, and in these were located storage casks and
perhaps other items. Highly detailed archaeological research on an undisturbed site is needed to determine
where cubicles were located within compartments and what other uses and activities went on in the spaces
between cubicles occupying the same side of a longhouse.
Lafitau and his translator distinguish very usefully between the "lobby", which is an extension of
the longhouse beyond the end compartment [used] for storage, and the "vestibule," which is a flat-roofed
porch extending beyond the lobby. The lobbies were apparently less heavily built than the main
compartments, and served as storage areas, particularly in the winter. The vestibules were still more
flimsy, and had light walls that could be removed in summer. The progressively less substantial nature of
the structures at the ends of the longhouses explains why archaeologists typically have trouble defining
Bartram, 1743 (copied as originally written)
"We alighted at the council house, where the chiefs were already assembled to receive us,
which they did with a grave chearful complaisance, according to their custom. They shew'd us
where to lay our baggage and repose ourselves during our stay with them, which was in the two
end apartments of this large house. The Indians that came with us were placed over against us.
This cabin is about 80 feet long and 17 broad, the common passage 6 feet wide; and the
apartments on each side 5 feet, raised a foot above the passage by a long sapling hewed square
and fitted with joists that go from it to the back of the house. On these joists they lay large pieces
of bark, and on extraordinary occasions spread matts made of rushes; this favour we had. On
these floors they set or lye down every one as he will. The apartments are divided from each
other by boards or bark, 6 or 7 foot long, from the lower floor to the upper, on which they put
their lumber. When they have eaten their homony, as they set in each apartment before the fire,
they can put the bowel over head, having not above 5 foot to reach. They set on the floor
sometimes at each end, but mostly at one. They have a shed to put their wood into in the winter,
or in the summer to get to converse or play, that has a door to the south. All the sides of the roof
of the cabin is made of bark, bound fast to poles set in the ground and bent round on the top or
set aflat for the roof, as we set our rafters. Over each fire place they leave a hole to let out the
smoak, which in rainy weather they cover with a piece of bark, and this they can easily reach
with a pole to push it on one side or quite over the hole. After this model are most of their cabins
"The fine vale of Onondago runs north and south, a little inclining to the west, and is near
a mile wide, where the town is situated and excellent soil. The river that divides this charming
vale is 2, 3 or 4 foot deep, very full of trees fallen across or drove on heaps by the torrents. The
town in its present state is about 2 or 3 miles long, yet the scattered cabins on both sides the
water are not above 40 in number; many of them hold 2 families, but all stand single and rarely
above 4 or 5 near one another; so that the whole town is a strange mixture of cabins interspersed
with great patches of high grass, bushes and shrubs, some of pease, corn and squashes, limestone
bottom composed of fossils and sea shells" [Bartram 1973:58-59; cf. Bartram 1974:40-41].
Weiser, 1743 (originally in German)
"On the 21st we arrived at Cachiadachse, the first Town of the Onondagoes. About noon
I heard that the Messenger I had sent from Oswego had missed his Way and did not arrive there.
I therefore immediately sent a Messenger from this place to the Chief Town about five miles off
to acquaint the Chiefs of that Nation of my coming with a Message from Onas [the Proprietor of
Pennsylvania] on behalf of Assaryquoa [the Governor of Virginia]. They dispatched Messengers
that Day to Summon the Council of the Six Nations. My Messenger came back & inform'd me
that the House of Annwaraogon was appointed for our Lodging; we set out and arriv'd there at
three o'Clock in the Afternoon" [Meiser 1973:115].
"Whilst we were drinking & smoking, news came that a Deputation of the Nanticoke
Indians arrived at Cachiadachse from Maryland; the House of Canasetego was ordain'd for them,
since the Town House was taken up by Onas & Assaryquoa" [Weiser 1973:119].
Comment by D. R. Snow
Weiser's comments clearly identify the house described and illustrated by Bartram as a special
"Town House," presumably a structure built and maintained to house visitors. Its deviation from earlier
standard longhouse plans is therefore understandable. It was narrower than traditional longhouses, and
contained twice as many cubicles than would have been the case for traditional residential longhouses.
The form was traditional in many important respects, but this was a guest house for visitors; Onondaga
families now lived in dwellings of a much newer style.
Bartram's description is clear in telling us that the 1743 Onondaga were living in scattered
two-family houses. Each was the structural equivalent of the traditional longhouse compartment, which
had a central fire and two families sharing it from facing cubicles. Bartram says that some houses had
traditional rounded roofs while others had flat gabled roofs in the European style. We can conjecture that
the houses designed to hold two families also had gabled roofs. This would be consistent with the pan-
Iroquoian trend toward small dispersed cabins built along European 1ines in the middle of the eighteenth
The more traditional longhouse used to lodge visitors was 80' long but only 17' wide. Both the 6'
passage and the 5' (5.5'?) deep cubicles are less than traditional standards. The floor and ceiling heights of
the cubicles were at about the traditional levels, and partitions were also traditional. Thus the traditional
longhouse form was retained in somewhat modified form for public and/or ceremonial purposes in 1743,
while newer residential structures were rapidly replacing it for most Iroquois families.
- Bartram, J.
- 1973. A Journey from Pennsylvania to Onondaga in 1743 by John Bartram, Lewis
Evans, and Conrad Weiser, Edited by W.J. Bell, Jr., pp. 29-92. Imprint Society, Barre,
- 1974. Observations on the Inhabitants, Climate, Soil, Rivers, Productions, Animals, and
Other Matters Worthy of Notice Made by Mr.John Bartram, in his Travels from Pensilvania to
Onondago, Oswego and the Lake Ontario, In Canada. In Selected Works by Eighteenth-Century
Naturalists and Travellers, edited by K.B. Sterling, pp. 9-79. Arno Press, New York
- Champlain, S. de
- 1907. Voyages of Samuel de Champlain, 1604-1618. Barnes and Noble. New York.
- 1922-1936. The Works of Samuel de Champlain in Six Volumes. Edited by H. P.
Biggar. The Champlain Society, Toronto.
- JR = Jesuit Relations (pamphlets published by the Jesuits in France to report activities of their
- 1959 The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents 1610-1791. 73 volumes. Edited by
R.G. Thwaites, Pageant, New York.
- Lafiteau, J. F.
- 1977. Customs of the American Indians Compared with the Customs of Primitive Times,
Vol. 2. Edited by W. N. Fenton and E. L. Moore. Publications of The Champlain Society 49,
- Sagard-Theodat, G.
- 1968. Sagard's Long Journey to the Country of the Hurons (1632). Edited by G.M.
Wrong. Greenwood Press. New York.
- Weiser, C.
- 1973. Conrad Weiser's Report of His Journey to Onondaga on the Affairs of Virginia. In
A Journey from Pennsylvania to Onondaga in 1743 by John Bartram, Lewis Evans, and Conrad
Weiser, Edited by W. J. Bell, Jr., pp. 113-132. Imprint Society, Barre, Massachusetts.
Notes About References.
Although firsthand descriptions of longhouses were published in the later 1500s and in the
1600s shortly after French, Dutch, and English explorers and missionaries returned home, most of
these pamphlets and books are now very rare. Some personal and official accounts were not
published at all. Fortunately, during the past century, interest in these descriptions led to their re-
publication in English translation, with additional notes provided by their translator and editor. As
you can see from the list of references above, Dr. Snow relied upon recent editions of these works,
since these are more readily available. It does seem strange, however, to be reading a firsthand
description dating to the 1600s of an Iroquois longhouse, and then see that it was published in the
Dr. Snow has recently published an article titled, "The Architecture of Iroquois
Longhouses," in which he also discusses the references above and many other firsthand
descriptions and illustrations of longhouses. Snow, D. R., 1997, The Architecture of Iroquois
Longhouses. Northeast Anthropology. Number 53, p. 61-84