James Powlis, whose Oneida name Tewakatelyλ?thale! means "I'm Worried", was born around 1750, probably in New York State. In 1777, after the disintegration of the Iroquois Confederacy's neutrality, Congress sought to offset the allegiance of four of the six Confederacy tribes to the British by winning the allegiance of the remaining two, the Oneida and Tuscarora.
Powlis, an Oneida Chief, enlisted in the Continental Army also in 1777. Congress preceded the offer of army commissions with promises of American protection and supplies. On April 3, 1779, Congress resolved that twelve Chiefs from the Oneida and the Tuscarora tribes be given commissions as Officers of the Line in the Continental Army.
James Powlis was among those twelve and one of four captains so commissioned. Powlis served with Lt. Colonel Louis Cook, a Mohawk, and his New York Line. Cook, whose Oneida name Atyel??ta! means "A Body," was the highest ranking Indian in the Continental Army.
Captain Powlis was honorably discharged December 1784 and received 1800 acres in New York State as a pension from the federal government for his military service.
As Chief of the First Christian Party, Powlis came to Wisconsin from New York after his wife Nelly's death. He died in Oneida, Wisconsin on March 15, 1849, at the age of 99. Although his headstone is now gone, it is believed he is buried in the Powlis family plot of the Oneida Holy Apostles Cemetery.