Born as Nanyehi, Nancy Ward made her way into the world around 1738 in the Cherokee capital, Chota. Today, this location is known as Monroe County, Tennessee. Her mother was often referred to as “Tame Doe” and was the sister of Attakullakulla. Also, Nanyehi’s mother was a member of the Wolf Clan, the most prominent of the seven Cherokee clans. Her father was thought to be a Cherokee-Delaware man. Warfare with European settlers and with other tribes meant that every day carried a threat of violence during Nanyehi’s childhood.
In 1751, Nanyehi married Kingfisher, a Cherokee of the Deer Clan. Nanyehi birthed two children, Fivekiller and Catherine. At the Battle of Taliwa against the Creeks in 1755, Nanyehi aided her husband by chewing on the lead bullets for his rifle to make them more jagged so they would inflict more damage to the enemy. When her husband was killed in battle, she armed herself with his weapon and led her people to victory. At the age of eighteen, she was given the title Ghighau, Beloved Woman. Being the Beloved Woman, gave her a lifetime voice in the tribal councils because it was a very powerful position. She headed the Women’s Council and was part of the Council of Chiefs. She also had prominent power over prisoners.
In the late 1750’s, Nanyehi married Bryant Ward, an English trader who had fought in the French and Indian War and had taken up residence with the Cherokees. Bryant Ward already had a wife but since the Cherokees did not view marriage as a lifelong installation, it caused few problems. This is when Nanyehi took the name Nancy Ward and learned English. They had a daughter that they named Betsy. Eventually, Bryant Ward moved back to South Carolina, where he lived the remainder of his life with his European wife and family but visits continued between Bryant and Nancy throughout their lives.
Many of the settlers moving across the mountains into the Cherokee territory knew and respected Nancy Ward. Ward is credited with having secretly warned John Sevier and the Watauga Association of an impending attack by Cherokees in July 1776. Nancy Ward exerted considerable influence over both the Cherokees and the white settlers and participated actively in treaty negotiations.
During the 1790s, she observed the Cherokee nation undergoing changes. The Indians began using the commercial agricultural lifestyle of the nearby settlers. She had no success in urging the tribe to reject the pressure by white settlers to sell their remaining lands. She was forced to move after the sale of tribal lands north of the Hiwassee River in 1819. She moved south and settled on the Ocoee River where she operated an inn until her death in 1822. Her grave is located in Benton, Tennessee. Nancy Ward is remembered not only as an important figure to Cherokee people but as an advocate for women in American politics.