Tecumseh's Crusade

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TECUMSEH'S CRUSADE. At the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, France gave up its claims to its vast North American empire. Abandoning not only French settlements, France also withdrew from generations of economic, military, and political alliances with hundreds of thousands of American Indians. Forced to redefine their economies and polities, many Algonquian communities throughout the Ohio River valley and southern Great Lakes began negotiating with the British to assume many of the lost opportunities for trade, tribute, and protection. Slowly, the British assumed many of the former roles of the French and established trading outposts and forts throughout Algonquian territories.

It was within this mutually constructed Anglo-Algonquian world that the young Shawnee warrior, Tecumseh, was raised. Witnessing the erosion of British strength following the American Revolution, the Shawnee and other Great Lakes groups increasingly faced the advancing American nation by themselves. Bloody conflicts between American settlers and Shawnee, Delaware, Miami, and Wyandot communities, among others of the Algonquian group, became commonplace in the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Despite the increased conflicts and pressures from American settlers, Algonquians and other Indian powers, including the Cherokee in Kentucky and Tennessee, continued to control the fertile lands to the Mississippi. Following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, however, American settlers, surveyors, and politicians increasingly coveted the lands between the Ohio and Mississippi River. Many, including Thomas Jefferson, believed that Indians had either to adopt American farming economies or be removed permanently from American society, an idea of exclusion at odds with more than a century of Indian-white relations in the region. Conflicts continued to escalate in the early 1800s, and Algonquian communities had already begun taking up arms against American settlements when Britain again fought the United States in the War of 1812.

Organized around the military and political leadership of Tecumseh, Shawnee and other Indian communities had also recently begun a series of cultural reforms to spiritually revive and energize their communities. Under the influence of Tecumseh's brother, Tenskwatawa, also known as the Prophet, this religious movement facilitated Tecumseh's military and political efforts to organize Indian communities throughout the Great Lakes and into the South into a broad confederacy against the Americans.

Known for his impassioned oratory and strategic vision, Tecumseh, with the aid of the British in Canada, guided the confederacy through a series of battles with American forces under the leadership of the Indiana territorial governor William Henry Harrison. Facing over-whelming military odds, particularly the lack of supplies, and unable to get non-Algonquian groups, such as the Cherokee and Iroquois, to fully support the confederacy's efforts, Tecumseh's aspirations for an overarching Indian union capable of withstanding American aggression ended on 5 October 1813, when he perished at the Battle of the Thames. As the British sued for peace and the confederacy dissolved, Shawnee and other Great Lakes Indian communities became displaced from their homelands in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois to lands west of the Mississippi.


Edmunds, R. David. The Shawnee Prophet. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.

Sudgen, John. Tecumseh's Last Stand. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.


See alsoIndian Policy, Colonial ; Indian Policy, U.S.: 1775–1830 ; Indian Removal ; Thames, Battle of the ; Wars with Indian Nations: Colonial Era to 1783 .