Tanaghrisson, the Half King

An illustration of Tanaghrisson wearing a tricorn hat and holding a wampum belt
An Illustration of Tanaghrisson, the Half King

Fred Threlfell

Quick Facts
Influential Seneca leader
Date of Birth:
About 1700
Place of Death:
Harris's Ferry, PA (Harrisburg, PA)
Date of Death:
October 4, 1754

(Another common spelling is Tanacharison)

Tanaghrisson was a Seneca who was chosen by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) to lead the American Indians living in the Ohio River Valley taking up residence there about 1747.  As an influential leader he became involved in the start of the French and Indian War.  

In the raising conflict between the French and the British he sided with the British. They gave him the title the Half King. As early as 1752, he told the Virginians that they should build a “strong house” at the Forks of the Ohio (Pittsburgh, PA). 

In 1753, when the French began building forts in the region, he sent three messages telling them to leave.  That fall George Washington came to Logstown (Ambridge, PA) where he lived to met with him.  Washington had a letter he was delivering to the French from the governor of Virginia insisting the French abandon their forts.  He was traveling to meet with the French and asked for some American Indians to guide and accompany him.  Tanaghrisson was one of four chiefs who joined Washington.  The party arrived at Fort LeBoeuf on December 11, 1753.  The French commander, Legardeur de Sainte-Pierre, said the French would not leave.

The next year, on May 27, Tanaghrisson sent a message to Washington in the Great Meadows, where the Virginia regiment was camped.  The messenger told him a party of French soldiers were camped nearby.  The next morning, Washington and the Half King surrounded the French camp.  A fight broke out, but only 15 minutes later the French surrendered.  The Half King saw that the French commander, Ensign Jumonville, was wounded. He went up to him and said, “Thou art not yet dead, my father.” Then he raised his tomahawk and killed him.  This act was a symbol of the Half King’s feelings. He was using Ensign Jumonville as a symbol for all the French and he wanted the French to leave.

Washington asked the Half King to fight with him at Fort Necessity, however he was skeptical of Washington chances. He decided to leave the area.  Later, he said that the "French acted as great Cowards and the English as Fools...that he (the Half King) had carried off his Wife and Children, so did other Indians before the Battle begun, because Col. Washington would never listen to them, but was always driving them to fight by his Directions." Tanaghrisson moved to central Pennsylvania. 

He moved to central Pennsylvania.  The French wrote that Tanaghrisson had been captured as a child and was probably born Catawba.  The Seneca adopted and raised him.  Before he died in the fall of 1754, he explained his feeling towards the French.  When he was young, during his capture, the French soldiers had “killed, boiled and eaten his father” and he wanted revenge.  

The French and Indian War was just starting when he died. However, he played a pivotal role in beginning the conflict.   

For more information:
Wallace, Paul A. W., Indians of Pennsylvania, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. 2005.

Sipe, C. Hale.  The Indian Chiefs of Pennsylvania. Wennawood Publishing. 1994 


Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Last updated: June 15, 2020