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The Tabacco people, Tobacco nation,[1] the Petun, or Tionontati in their Iroquoian language, were a historical First Nations band government closely related to the Huron Confederacy (Wendat). Their homeland was located along the southwest edge of Georgian Bay of Lake Huron, in the area immediately to the west of the Huron territory in Southern Ontario of present-day Canada. One of the smaller Iroquoian tribes when they became known to Europeans, they had eight to ten villages around the 1610s, and may have numbered several thousand prior to European contact,[2] the French missionaries of the early 1600s named them the Tobacco Nation because they grew large quantities of tobacco which they traded extensively.[3]

Following decimation by Eurasian infectious diseases after 1634, such as smallpox, to which Native Americans had no immunity, both the Huron-Wendat and Petun societies were in a weakened state through the late 1630s-1640s, they were attacked, destroyed and dispersed by warriors of the Iroquois Confederacy, raiding in 1648–1649 from their base south of the Great Lakes in present-day New York. The remnants joined with some refugee Huron to become the Huron–Petun Nation, who were later known as the Wyandot.

Name and culture[edit]

French traders called these First Nations people the Pétun (or Petu-neux)[4] from an old French word for tobacco, because of their industrious cultivation of that plant. The word Pétun was derived from the early French-Brazilian trade[5] and comes from the Guarani indigenous language. The word later became obsolete in the French language.[6]

In the Iroquoian Mohawk language, the name for tobacco is O-ye-aug-wa.[7] French colonial traders in the Ohio Valley transliterated the Mohawk name as Guyandotte, their spelling of how it sounded in their language. Later European-American settlers in the valley adopted this name, they named the Guyandotte River in south-western West Virginia for the Wendat people, who had migrated to the area during the Beaver Wars of the late seventeenth century. Later the Wendat were forced to move west to Ohio; in the 1830s, most removed to Indian Territory in present-day Kansas and Oklahoma. Two tribes are federally recognized in the United States: the Wyandotte Nation (in Oklahoma) and the Wyandot Nation of Kansas.

The Jesuit Relations of 1652 describes the practice of tattooing among the Petun and the Neutrals:

And this (tattooing) in some nations is so common that in the one which we called the Tobacco, and in that which – on account of enjoying peace with the Hurons and with the Iroquois – was called Neutral, I know not whether a single individual was found, who was not painted in this manner, on some part of the body.[8]

The Petun nation shared a similar dialect with the Huron Nation and many of the same cultural customs, they had an alliance with the Neutral Nation and with an Algonquian speaking nation, the Ottawa.[9][10]

By 1648 this nation, along with the Huron, Erie, Neutral and Wenro nations, were under attack by the Iroquois Confederacy. All were effectively destroyed in 1850 or 1851. Members who survived were absorbed by the Iroquois or by other nations,[11] some of the Petun joined with the Hurons to create the Petun-Huron nation. After years of wandering and living in various areas of the Great Lakes,[12] this group was living near Detroit by 1701 and later claimed land north of the Ohio River, they began to trade in Pennsylvania, where they were called the Wyandot, a corruption of Wendat.[13] In 1843, they were all resettled in Wyandotte County, Kansas and in 1867, the American government gave them land in northeastern Oklahoma.[14]

Historical Iroquoian Peoples[edit]


  1. ^ Editor: Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., by The editors of American Heritage Magazine (1961). "The American Heritage Book of Indians". In pages 168-219. ,. American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc. LCCN 61-14871. 
  2. ^ Ramsden, Peter G., "Petun", The Canadian Encyclopedia, accessed 24 Aug 2009
  3. ^
  4. ^, p=228
  5. ^ Historical Magazine, Vol. V, O. S., 1861, p. 263.
  6. ^ "Petun", Le Garde-Mots blog, 28 Janvier 2011, accessed 20 April 2011
  7. ^ Gallatin, Synopsis American Aboriginal Archives, Vol. II, p. 484.
  8. ^ Jesuit Relations, Creighton University
  9. ^, p=23
  10. ^ Editor: Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., by The editors of American Heritage Magazine (1961). "The American Heritage Book of Indians". In pages 180-211. ,. American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc. LCCN 61-14871. 
  11. ^, p=354
  12. ^, p=50
  13. ^, p=682
  14. ^, p=57-59