American Indian Relations, 1763–1815
American Indian Relations, 1763–1815
Indian affairs between the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763 and the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 were marked by a stark contradiction. On the one hand, policymakers in London and Philadelphia wrote stirring defenses of Indian rights, especially the right of American Indians to keep possession of their lands in North America. Basic ideas about sovereignty and Indian rights were worked out during this period. On the other hand, the half century between the two grand wars was also the time when the loss of native lands far outstripped the total area of all the lands lost in the 150 years prior to 1763. From a relatively narrow coastal strip of thirteen colonies in 1754 hemmed in on three sides—by the French to the north, the Appalachians to the west, and the Spanish to the south—the English-speaking settlements burst out of their confinement and within four decades claimed sovereignty over North America to the Rocky Mountains. After 1763, American Indian tribes resorted to armed defense of their landholdings in a series of wars during and after the American War of Independence (1775–1783). They suffered serious defeats in the 1780s and 1790s, followed by crushing defeats to Indian nations in the Lower Mississippi Valley, the Ohio Valley, and the central Great Lakes region during the War of 1812 (1812–1815). After every defeat of Indian arms by the United States, and sometimes in between, the United States sought and gained major land cessions from the American Indian nations.
the proclamation line of 1763
Having defeated the French in the French and Indian War (1754–1760)—the North American phase of the Seven Years' War—the British in 1760 arrogantly assumed that they had a monopoly of power and trade over the Indians of North America and therefore could command without negotiating. Pontiac's uprising in 1763, however, disabused the English of that notion. Instead, the British had to reinvent their king, George III, as the Great Father of all the peoples in his North American dominions. But just thirteen years after Pontiac's War, his own English subjects in the colonies revolted rather than continue to submit to his rule. In this regard, a student of history could consider Pontiac's uprising against George III as the first American Revolution and the uprising of 1776 as the second.
King George's royal proclamation of a settlement line in North America in October 1763—known as the Proclamation of 1763—is an important, if neglected, document in American history. The king of Great Britain said that his subjects all had their own homelands. His British subjects in North America had their homes in the thirteen colonies on lands east
of the Appalachian Mountains; his French-speaking subjects had their homeland in the St. Lawrence Valley downstream from the Great Lakes; and his Indian subjects had their homelands in the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains. In other words, King George divided up his North American sovereign claims into three ethnically based enclaves. In effect, the Proclamation of 1763 introduced the idea of a geographical place called "Indian Country," an important term in law not to be confused with the depiction in Hollywood western movies of Indian Country as outlaw or bandit lands. Indian Country was the king's designation of lands within Britain's sovereign North American claims where Indian occupancy of the land was not to be "molested or disturbed" by non-Indians. The king explicitly "reserved" Indian hunting lands for the use of Indians. The king demanded that his Indian children regard him as their Great Father, but he also promised them that they would be protected in their lands against trespassers, invaders, settlers, rum dealers, and other interlopers.
Since 1763, the term "Indian Country" has continued to mean the lands that Indian tribes occupy and hold without disturbance or trespassing from outsiders. The king's settlement line proclamation anticipated that the British could acquire lands from Indian Country but only by an agreement directly between a tribe and the king or his representative, most likely a royal governor. King George III said that this type of agreement shall be held at a "Meeting or Assembly," that is, at a treaty negotiation. The king's representative would approach a tribe. A meeting would be held. A mutual agreement would be reached. The Indians would sell their land directly to the king for whatever they could negotiate. After the king took title to his new lands, he could presumably sell those lands to his English "loving subjects," give them away, or keep them as a royal game park. But the Proclamation of 1763 made it illegal for individual Englishmen to buy lands directly from Indian Country.
Land cessions and resistance. Unfortunately for the American Indians living in an area that became part of Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Virginia, many of the king's British subjects had moved west of the settlement line. Rather than try to expel the trespassers from Indian Country, the king's main representative for Indian affairs in North America, Sir William Johnson, worked for four years to obtain a treaty cession from the Indian tribes that would redraw the line between Indian Country and the king's thirteen English-speaking colonies. In the Treaty of Fort Stanwix of 1768, the Iroquois Confederacy negotiated a major land cession. They sold land that ran from the Upper Delaware Valley southwest through the Susquehanna, Ohio, and Wabash Valleys and then looped back up the Cumberland River Valley to the Cumberland Pass of the Appalachian Mountains. This cession confirmed the existing fact on the ground of a widespread European American population movement to the west of the Appalachian Mountains. More significantly for the future, the Fort Stanwix land cession assumed the shape of a sword thrust deep into the center of Indian Country in the Ohio Valley that had the effect of separating the American Indian populations into northwest and southwest nations. To the northwest of the land cession, the Indian tribes held a line on the Ohio River containing the lands north and west of that river to the Great Lakes and to Upper Spanish Louisiana. To the southwest of the land cession, the Indian tribes held a line on the Cumberland River containing the lands south and west of that river to Spanish Florida and Lower Spanish Louisiana.
The Shawnee Indians did not accept the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, insisting that the Iroquois Indians who signed the treaty had no authority to cede to the crown the lands of the Shawnees in what would become Kentucky. In the years after 1768, Kentucky was the scene of bloody warfare between the Shawnees and English-speaking settlers. The Shawnees were eventually driven north out of Kentucky and across the Ohio River, but they fought into the 1790s to keep access to their old lands. Further south, in the Tennessee and Cumberland Valleys, the Cherokee Indians resisted English-speaking settlers crossing the mountains into Indian Country. Open warfare broke out between the Cherokees and the militias of Virginia and North Carolina in 1774. Many of the tribes that had fought the British crown in the Seven Years' War now sided with King George III in his war to suppress the rebellion in the thirteen colonies. Some Indian nations, such as the Mohicans and the Oneidas in the North and the Catawbas in the South, supported the American side in the Revolutionary War, but many more supported the crown.
the revolution and its consequences
The American Revolution did not erase the concept of an Indian Country with limited sovereignty within a larger sovereign power. Instead, the American Congress simply replaced the crown as that overall sovereign. The Proclamation of 1763 continued to be the basic model for American federal Indian policy. The United States forbade trespassers in Indian Country. It also enacted legislation to regulate trade there. And only the United States, through a treaty, could purchase land from a tribe. The first plan of government for the new United States was the Articles of Confederation, written in 1777 but not ratified until 1781. The Articles perpetuated the basic idea of the Proclamation of 1763, stating that "the United States in Congress assembled shall also have the sole and exclusive right and power of … regulating the trade and managing all affairs with the Indians, not members of any of the States." In other words, only Congress, as the sovereign power of the United States upon independence from the crown, had the authority to deal with Indians who were in Indian Country, but not Indians residing in the states. The shift here was subtle but important. Congress would deal with Native Americans in the areas northwest and southwest of the line of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, and the separate states would have free rein to deal with Indians within their boundaries.
Revolution and Confederation. At the same time that the United States fought Great Britain for its independence, the new nation entered into active diplomacy with Indian nations. Most notably, the United States in 1778 signed a treaty with the Delaware Indians residing in the lands northwest of the Fort Stanwix line giving U.S. forces passage through Delaware lands to attack British posts in Indian Country. The United States promised material aid to the Delaware Indians, recognition of the Delawares' right to their Ohio Valley lands, and most intriguing, the possibility that at some future date, the Delaware Nation could lead an intertribal confederacy and join the United States as a state. Subsequent warfare between U.S. and Delaware forces made that promise a dead letter, but it was significant that the Congress was willing to contemplate a future federation with an intertribal group. The triumph in 1781 of U.S. forces fighting the British in the South caused the latter to seek a negotiated end to the War of American Independence. Negotiations lasted into 1783, with the U.S. diplomats rejecting any acknowledgment of special rights for the crown's former Indian subjects in the lands that the king acknowledged as the United States.
After independence the Congress, operating under the Articles of Confederation, further spelled out its Indian policy in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Besides creating a system of government for the trans-Ohio region, the document set out a new Indian policy: "The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress."
The Constitution. The same year as Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, a different gathering of delegates met in Philadelphia to devise a new constitution. The document approved at the Constitutional Convention contained none of the lofty sentiments found in the Proclamation of 1763, the Articles of Confederation, and the Northwest Ordinance. Instead, the Constitution had only one direct and one oblique reference to the conduct of Indian affairs. The direct reference stated that Congress shall have the power to regulate trade with the Indian tribes. The indirect reference acknowledged that "Indians not taxed" were outside the American polity and presumably kept their own limited sovereignty within U.S. borders. The Constitution contemplated a continued relationship with American Indian tribes via negotiated and ratified treaties, like the half dozen concluded by the Articles of Confederation government in the 1780s to end wartime hostilities and gain land cessions from northwestern and southwestern tribes. Indeed, after the ratification of the Constitution and continuing until 1871, the United States negotiated and ratified more than three hundred treaties with Indian tribes. By the terms of the Constitution, these treaties were the "supreme law of the land" and continue in the twenty-first century as fundamental elements of American law.
defeat of indian nations
Beginning in the early 1790s, the United States engaged in a series of wars against the Indian nations of the Old Northwest and the Old Southwest. The goals of most of the military campaigns were to establish U.S. power and secure Indian recognition of a superior U.S. sovereignty over the lands in the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, but each campaign in which the United States emerged victorious was accompanied by a treaty demand upon the Indian tribes to cede and relinquish more lands. In the cases where Indian arms prevailed over the U.S. military forces, the Americans regrouped and came back with greater force to prevail and impose their will. The three most significant examples of the ongoing warfare between the United States and the Indian tribes within U.S. borders as recognized under the Treaty of Paris (1783) were the Ohio campaigns of the 1790s, the Indiana campaigns of 1811–1813, and the Alabama campaigns of 1813–1814.
Battles of the 1790s. U.S. policy toward the lands northwest of the Ohio River in the mid-1780s ran ahead of U.S.-Indian diplomacy. On the one hand, the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 contemplated American settlement of the trans-Ohio region, and soon enough, settlers established communities at Marietta, Gallipolis, and Cincinnati. On the other, the United States had not yet made treaties with the Shawnees and Delawares ceding the lands on the north bank of the Ohio River and upstream on the big tributaries of the Ohio, such as the Muskingum, the Scioto, and the Miami. To solidify its claim, the U.S. Army built forts at key points in the interior of Ohio and the American soldiers there prepared for war. The Americans pursued a strategy of destroying Indian villages in 1790 and 1791 on the Upper Maumee River in what became northwestern Ohio and on the Upper Wabash River in latter-day Indiana. U.S. forces overreached, however, in the fall of 1791, and more than one thousand soldiers were cornered in western Ohio, where they were decimated by an intertribal Indian force of Miami, Shawnee, and Delaware Indians during the battles of Harmar's Defeat (1790) and St. Clair's Defeat (1791). The complete destruction of General Arthur St. Clair's army seemed to presage a rollback of American power south all the way to the Ohio River, the line established in 1768 by the Treaty of Fort Stanwix that the Indians insisted was the true border between U.S. lands and Indian Country. In 1794 the U.S. government in Philadelphia decided to send another military expedition to reverse the St. Clair defeat. This force, led by General Anthony Wayne, engaged in a campaign to destroy the intertribal villages in the Maumee and Upper Wabash Valleys. At the Battle of Fallen Timbers (1794), fought upstream from where Toledo would later stand, the U.S. forces defeated the Indian soldiers. General Wayne then compelled the Indian leaders to sign the Treaty of Greenville in the summer of 1795. It established a new boundary line between the U.S. settlements in the southern half of Ohio and the nowreduced Indian Country to the north. Many of the Indian people who had lived in Ohio moved west to the Lower Wabash Valley of Indiana, north among the Ottawa and Potawatomi people in the lower peninsula of Michigan, or northeast into British North America among the intertribal groups on the north shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario.
Indian revitalization. In the years after the Indian defeat at Fallen Timbers, some remarkable intertribal movements for religious and political reform began. Some tribes embraced Protestant Christianity, notably the Mohicans, or Stockbridge Indians, whose leaders attempted to form new intertribal arrangements. Other religious leaders among the Indian nations rejected Christian missionaries and their teachings. Starting among the Seneca Indians of New York, Indian religious leaders preached a variety of messages emphasizing the importance of returning to old beliefs in order to reverse the imbalance of power with the Americans. The most inspiring of the new leaders were Tenskwatawa, a Shawnee prophet, and his brother Tecumseh a Shawnee warrior, who built an intertribal community at Prophetstown on the Lower Wabash River in what became Indiana. The Shawnee leaders preached a message of intertribal resistance to the Americans and their ways, and in the years between 1805 and 1811, their views reached thousands of Indians from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Winnipeg. In the year 1811, territorial militia under Major General William Henry Harrison attacked the intertribal settlement and ignited a general war with the Indians of the Northwest that soon became part of an international war with Great Britain.
War of 1812. While mainly remembered for the British burning of the American capital at Washington and for the victory of the Kentucky and Tennessee militiamen against British regulars at New Orleans, the War of 1812 in the Old Northwest and Old Southwest was fought mainly between American regulars and militia on one side and Indian nations with some British militia on the other. Two leaders on the American side emerged as effective generals against Indian forces: Major General Harrison in the Northwest and Major General Andrew Jackson in the Southwest. Under Harrison, American forces defeated Indian soldiers on the Lower Wabash. After an initial loss of the garrison at Detroit, American forces regrouped and took the war into the Indian villages of British North America between Detroit and Niagara. This campaign culminated in the decisive Battle of the Thames in 1813, in which the Americans routed a combined Indian and British force and killed Tecumseh. The power of the intertribal forces under Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa to resist American power in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan was broken forever.
The religious message of cultural revitalization and reform had perhaps its deepest resonance in the Southwest among the Muskogee (Creek) Indians of Alabama and Georgia. The villages of the Muskogee Nation divided in the year 1812 into two camps, one group supportive of revitalization and of opposition to the American settlers in the Old Southwest, and the other willing to coexist with the Americans. The insurgent group of Red Stick Muskogees began a civil war within the Muskogee Nation and soon enough militiamen from Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama joined to make the intratribal fight a battle between nations. Led by General Jackson, the forces of the Tennessee militia in 1814 finally cornered and slaughtered the Muskogee soldiers at the Muskogee settlement of Tohopeka in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. After the fighting ended, Jackson imposed a draconian peace on the entire Muskogee Nation that included the cession of fourteen million acres of land in Alabama, including fertile parts of the future Cotton Belt. In the next few years, Jackson imposed similar terms on the other Indian nations of the Old Southwest, thereby opening the way for the dramatic expansion of slave-based plantation agriculture in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. The allied, if fragmented, opposition of the intertribal groups inspired by the Shawnee prophet had one final chance to halt the spread of American settlement and power in the years from 1811 and 1814, and soon after their defeat, the United States turned to a policy of Indian removal from the Old Northwest and the Old Southwest into the lands of the new Louisiana Purchase (1803).
See alsoCreek War; Fallen Timbers, Battle of; French and Indian War, Battles and Diplomacy; French and Indian War, Consequences of; Horseshoe Bend, Battle of; Northwest and Southwest Ordinances; Pontiac's War; Proclamation of 1763; Revolution: Military History; Thames, Battle of the; War of 1812 .
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James W. Oberly