The Covenant Chain was an alliance between the Iroquois Confederacy and the English colonies of North America. Their councils and subsequent treaties concerned colonial settlement, trade, and acts of violence between the Iroquois and the colonists.
The Covenant Chain got its start in 1677 and 1678 when New York's governor Sir Edmund Andros negotiated the signing of two treaties in which the Iroquois spoke on behalf of the other tribes involved:
- A treaty between the Iroquois Five Nations and the colonies of Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut which ended King Philip's War in New England;
- A treaty between the Iroquois and Delawares (Lenape), on one side, and the colonies of Virginia and Maryland, on the other, to obtain peace between those colonies and the Susquehannocks and Iroquois.
In a Covenant Chain council that took place in 1692, the Iroquois leaders asserted:
- "You say that your are our father and I am your son...
- ...We will not be like Father an Son, but like Brothers."
Most of these discussions took place in the Mohawk Valley, with local New York colonial leaders acting as the primary representatives of the colonies.
The Covenant Chain continued until the 1750s, when disagreement beween the colonies on what position to take with the Iroquis caused the English Government to take control of such talks away from local officials.
In a 1755 council with the Iroquois, Sir William Johnson renewed and restated this concept, calling their agreement the "Covenant Chain of love and friendship", sayingthat the chain has been attached to the immovable mountains and that every year the British would meet with the Iroquois to "strengthen and brighten" the chain.
The term "Covenant Chain" was derived from the metaphor of a silver chain holding both the English sailing ship and the Iroquois canoe to the Tree of Peace. A three-link silver chain was made to symbolize their first agreement. The links represented "peace and friendship forever". It was also the first written treaty to use such typical Iroquois phrases as
- "...as long as the sun shines upon the earth;
- as long as the waters flow;
- as long as the grass grows green, peace will last."