Hiawatha (b. Heowenta)(?1525–?75) legendary Mohawk leader; born in present-day New York State. Although he is known only through Iroquois mythology and legend, it is now generally accepted that he was a real person who was influential in founding the Five Nations League, or Long House, an alliance of five (later six) Iroquois tribes that ended intertribal feuding from sometime about 1550 (some claim as early as 1400) to 1775. (Although it is claimed that elements of the confederacy influenced the composition of the U.S. Constitution, scholars believe that any influence was at most indirect.) Longfellow used Hiawatha's name for the hero of his poem (1855) but set the action in Minnesota and used only elements of the legendary Hiawatha and other Indian stories for his essentially romantic tale.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.