I have the honour to be adopted by the Mohocks into the Tribe of the bear under the name of Ounewaterika, which signifies boiling water, or one whose spirits are never asleep, by which I am entitled to a Seat and the privilege of Smoking a pipe in their Councils; but I do not flatter myself that I am so much indebted to my own merit for these dignities as to my alliance with one of the most illustrious families of the Six Nations.Lee went on to become a lieutenant colonel in the British army, then a general in the American army.
My Wife is daughter to the famous White Thunder who is Belt of Wampum to the Senakas which is in fact their Lord Treasurer. She is a very great beauty and is more like your friend Mrs. Griffith than anybody I know. I shall say nothing of her accomplishments for you must be certain that a Woman of her fashion cannot be without many.
I must mention to you an instance of gratitude which a young Indian shew’d me lately. He is called Joseph and has liv’d with me a great deal. About a month ago, he says to me, Ounewaterika, you are my best Brother and I will make you a handsome present that you may remember me. I cou’d not conceive what he meant; but he immediately set out for Tikenderoga (the French fort) where he lay sculking for two or three days until he had an opportunity of knocking on the head a French Sergeant, and taking off his scalp, with which he hurried away to me and presented it to me elegantly dress’d up with ribbons. You may think that I am endeavouring to make my Letter Romantic but I give you my word and honour that it is every syllable facts.
Should we count “Ounewaterika,” or “Boiling Water,” as a nickname, like those of other prominent Revolutionary War figures I’ve been assessing?
In fact, some of Lee’s friends in England used “Boiling Water” as his nickname. Biographer John R. Alden quotes Sir Charles Davers writing to Horatio Gates sometimes in the late 1760s, “It would make the heart of so callous a bouger as I am to jump if I could meet you and boiling water, & Hall [John Hall-Stevenson] somewhere or other.”
I don’t have the expertise to know if “Ounewaterika” is a good transliteration of a Mohawk phrase, and if “Boiling Water” is an accurate translation of it. But biographers agree that it’s an excellent metaphor for Lee’s roiling, powerful, and dangerous personality.