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Solar eclipse marks the beginning of the Iroquois Confederacy

My wife Alice regularly brings home copies of the Indian Time news journal, a publication put out by the Ahkwesahsne Mohawk Nation Territory in northern New York. It was with great interest that I came across an article entitled Dating the Iroquois Confederacy by Bruce E. Johansen.

What really attracted my attention was that a total solar eclipse marked the beginning of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, one of the oldest living democracies on Earth. Yet, there is a lot of controversy as to which solar eclipse that was.

Photo on right: Tree of Peace

Bruce E. Johansen refers to the research done by Barabara A. Mann and Jerry L. Fields, which uses eclipse data as well as oral history to place the ratification of the Iroquios Confederacy to the total solar eclipse of August 31, 1142.

I looked up the August 1142 total solar eclipse at the NASA Eclipse Web Site, which lists the date as August 22 (not August 31), 1142. Perhaps the discrepancy depends on whether one is using the Gregorian or Julian calendar. Either way, the August 1142 eclipse almost certainly has to be one that is being referenced.

Click here for a map of the 1142 August 22 total solar eclipse. According to Bruce E. Johansen, "The ratification council convened at a site that is now a football field in Victor, New York. The site is called Gonandaga by the Seneca."

Map showing Victor, NY, and August 1142 eclipse path

Map credit: NASA Eclipse Web Site

For the fun of it, I zoomed into the August 1142 eclipse map until finding Victor, New York. Looking at the zoomed-in eclipse above, you can see that Victor is located a short ways to the north of the northernmost part of total solar eclipse path (in blue). Nonetheless, it would have been very close to a total solar eclipse at greatest eclipse. Rounding off to the nearest minute, the partial eclipse started at 19:29 Universal Time (2:29 p.m. Eastern Standard Time), maximum eclipse arrived at 20:40 UT (3:40 p.m. EST) and the partial eclipse ended at 21:45 UT (4:45 p.m. EST).

Other purposed dates include June 28, 1451 and June 18, 1536. But the total solar eclipse of 1451 June 28 did not swing as close to Victor as the one on 1142 August 22 did. The path of 1536 June 18 eclipse didn't pass all that close to Victor either, and moreover, this was an annular eclipse, rather than a total eclipse of the sun.

Could it have been an annular solar eclipse that convinced the Seneca to join up the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy at Gonandaga (Victor, NY)? If so, the formation of Haudenosaunee (Five Nations) might go all the way back to the annular eclipse of August 18, 909. The middle of the eclipse path (in red) on the below chart almost exactly crosses Victor, NY! Click here for more details.

Map showing Victor, NY, and August 909 eclipse path

Map credit: NASA Eclipse Web Site

I can hardly claim to have exhaustively researched the subject, and invite any interested parties to delve more deeply into solar eclipse history. For a while, I wondered why the total eclipse of December 10, 1349 wasn't listed as a possibility, although this total solar eclipse passed right over Victor. Upon a closer reading of A Sign In The Sky, I came to realize that this particular eclipse came at the wrong season of the year and the wrong time of day.

In the words of the authors Barbara A. Mann and Jerry L. Fields,"We know this much: During a ratification council held at Ganondagan (near modern-day Victor, New York) the sky darkened in a total, or near total, eclipse. The time of day was afternoon, as Councils are held between noon and sunset. The time of year was either Second Hoeing (early July) or Green Corn (late August to early September). Thus, we must look for an eclipse path that would totally cover Ganondagan between July and September, in mid-afternoon."

These two web pages can help you search out eclipse history in more detail: Major Solar Eclipses Visible from New York, NY and Five Millennium Catalog of Solar Eclipses. Best of luck!

Eclipses are a great way to document history. But the real item of importance, as far as I'm concerned, is the acceptance of the Peacemaker.

copyright 2012 by Bruce McClure

October 2012 Feature * December 2012 Feature