Polly Cooper was an Oneida woman from the New York Colony who took part in an expedition in 1778 to aid the Continental Army during the American Revolution. The Oneida Indian Nation supported the American cause throughout the war and had a great relationship with George Washington and his army. In 1777-78 Washington’s exhausted troops struggled to survive the harsh conditions in Valley Forge. Thousands of soldiers lacked proper clothing and food supplies. So, on April 25th, 1778, a group of forty-seven Native American men and Polly Cooper, sent by the Oneida chief Skenandoah, left New York carrying bushels of white corn to assist Washington at Valley Forge.
When Polly Cooper and her fellow Oneidas arrived, the soldiers residing there tried to eat the corn uncooked. The Oneidas stopped the soldiers, knowing that if they ate the raw corn it would swell up in their stomachs and kill them. Since white corn takes careful preparation before it can be eaten, Cooper taught soldiers and their families how to properly cook it. She also cared for sick soldiers as she was skilled in medicine as well as cooking. After the war, the Continental Army tried to pay Polly Cooper for her service, but she refused any compensation, stating that it was her duty to help her friends in their time of need.
To learn more about Polly Cooper and see possible discussion questions, download the Patriots of the Round Table Polly Cooper Fact Sheet.