Diplomatic and Military Relations, American Indian

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How did American Indians shift from being essential allies with the ability to shape imperial destinies to being marginalized dependents of the United States, a new nation determined to dominate the continent? Between 1754 and 1815, American Indians and colonizers shared in the creation of diplomatic and military customs that underscored the interdependence of both societies. However, the dramatic events of the Revolutionary and early national eras foreshadowed Indian removal. By the end of those eras, American Indians long accustomed to selecting their own leaders from the village to the tribal levels found themselves residing on reservations monitored by American bureaucrats who worked to create national tribal governments modeled after the United States. American Indian destinies were shaped by inexorable environmental, technological, and demographic changes that neither side controlled. Nevertheless, the continental vision of early Americans, the belief that the United States could possess the continent and exploit its natural resources to become a powerful nation, ultimately determined that American Indians and Americans would live in separate societies. Americans used the dependency of native peoples to estrange them from their homelands and consolidate their control of the land and the people within it.

fighting in the american manner

At the beginning of the French and Indian War (1754–1760), early Americans and American Indians depended on each other. George Washington quickly discovered this truth as a young man. In October 1753, Washington volunteered to investigate reports of French encroachments on Virginia's western frontier. Washington worked as a surveyor and owned more than two thousand acres of land at the time. Therefore, he had a vested interest in stemming French encroachment. Like many nascent Revolutionaries, including Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, Washington speculated in Indian lands. Investors in colonial land companies were often political and military leaders who used their influence to challenge the French and their Indian allies.

In May 1754 the twenty-one-year-old Washington became commander of the Virginia Regiment, raised to oppose the French and their Indian allies in the Ohio Valley. Ironically, British colonial militias depended on Native Americans in their quest. A party of Seneca Indians escorted Washington over the western rim of the Appalachian Mountains. The Senecas and their Iroquois confederates had been allied with the British since the mid-seventeenth century. They joined Washington as part of their commitment to the covenant chain, a series of English-Indian alliances that brought a measure of stability to Indian-white relations in the Northeast and laid the groundwork for Iroquois dominance over other Native Americans in the region during the eighteenth century. On 28 May 1754, Iroquois warriors led Washington to a French encampment south of modern-day Pittsburgh, where they surprised approximately thirty French regulars and massacred the encampment. French survivors, including their senior officer, Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, quickly surrendered. Washington, however, was powerless to stop his Indian compatriots from driving a hatchet into the French commander's brain. A leading Seneca warrior named Tanaghrisson then washed his hands in the soft tissue in a ritual murder designed to illustrate the covenant chain's power over its French enemies. Washington's first military engagement ended disastrously, with clear violations of European rules of war. The French called him a war criminal. The English historian Horace Walpole correctly stated that, "the volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America set the world on fire." The French and Indian War, an imperial war for global dominance, thus began with an engagement that illustrated fighting in the "American manner."

The French had their reckoning with Washington in two separate engagements the following July. On 3 July 1754, Washington's badly outnumbered troops surrendered to seven hundred French and Indian warriors at the Battle of Fort Necessity. One-third of his three hundred men lost their lives. Then, on 9 July 1755, British general Edward Braddock, George Washington, and thirteen hundred men (onequarter of whom were colonials) engaged a force of nine hundred French and Indians near Fort Duquesne at the Battle of the Wilderness (also called Braddock's Defeat). The French and Indian force killed nine hundred men, including Braddock, largely because they were unaccustomed to wilderness combat. Washington joined frontiersman Daniel Boone to rally the survivors.

Anglo-Americans such as Washington survived and adjusted to warfare that reflected American Indian traditions. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Indians' weapons, including the club, the spear, and the bow and arrow, required close physical combat. Warriors developed military tactics, such as the ambush, that enhanced their chance of survival and derived from their intimate knowledge of the land. "Fighting in the American manner," even with the benefit of European military technology, typically referred to wilderness combat in which an unseen enemy surprised its opponent. Colonial militias and British regular armies were ill prepared for this kind of combat. British North Americans modeled their armies after European nations. In their view, disciplined, hierarchically organized troops, trained to march in close formations, worked best. Anglo-American armies thus made ideal targets for ambush. Indian warriors easily shot down heavily burdened troops hauling cumbersome equipment over unfamiliar terrain. Until the 1790s, when American armies had clearly adjusted to Indian warfare, American Indians had a decided advantage in the deep woods. Conversely, Anglo-Americans achieved their best results through sieges of forts and villages.

consequences of british victory

On 8 September 1760, Pierre François de Rigaud Vaudreuil de Cavagnial surrendered to British general Jeffrey Amherst at Montreal, formally ending France's control of much of the North American continent. British victory in the French and Indian War significantly limited the autonomy of tribes throughout the Eastern Woodlands. The Spanish retained hegemony over a vast tract of North American land west of the Mississippi commonly referred to as the Spanish Borderlands. But the removal of the French from the interior of America meant that the tribes now had few alternatives for trade.

In 1763 the British tried to end intercultural diplomacy and to rationalize the fur trade. The exchange of furs for European goods would continue, but only at prices set by the British. A host of changes came with this transformation. First, unlike the French, who used intermarriage to create alliances with tribes, most British traders did not have real or metaphorical kin ties with the tribes with which they dealt. Second, the British significantly limited the use of gift exchanges, which for centuries had formed the keystone of alliances between Indians and whites. Third, Anglo-American land hunger threatened the interior tribes, who understood that the Anglo-Americans' primary objective was the dis-possession of the Indians. The Creeks referred to the governor of Georgia as Ecunnauaupopohau (always asking for land). Similarly, the Shawnees referred to the Virginians as Long Knives, underscoring the latter's intentions.

A series of localized native rebellions erupted in response to these changes. Inspired by an Ottawa Indian leader named Pontiac and a Delaware holy man named Neolin, warriors from many different tribes joined forces and destroyed British forts across the Great Lakes. The British then enacted the Proclamation of 1763, the first of many attempts at creating a cultural barrier between Indians and whites. The Proclamation line restricted white settlement beyond the crest of the Appalachian Mountains. The British quelled these revolts, known collectively as Pontiac's Rebellion, through tough military action and even biological warfare. In June 1763 British traders knowingly gave smallpox-infested blankets to a visiting delegation of Delaware diplomats. An epidemic soon ravaged the Ohio Valley. General Amherst encouraged these measures, writing that the British needed to "try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable race."

impact of the conquest theory

The Proclamation line antagonized American Indians and alienated American colonists from the British Empire. For one thing, colonists objected to the assertion of King George III's right of soil, based on the claim that land taken from the French in war belonged to the king rather than the people. On the other hand, colonists overwhelmingly subscribed to the conquest theory, whereby Indian tribes that had sided with the French (and later, the British, in the American Revolution) had forfeited their right to the soil. Settlers then could exercise their preemption rights, meaning that they would gain title to Indian lands by surveying and improving tracts that could later be purchased.

De facto adherence by the British to the conquest theory gained momentum after the French and Indian War, for Indians were regarded as nonpersons in British law and even well-meaning officials lacked the resources and the influence to protect them. Full-scale warfare between Indians and whites became commonplace. During the Cherokee War of 1759–1761, the Cherokees attacked encroaching settlements, indiscriminately killing men, women, and children along the Carolina and Virginia frontiers. In December 1763, Pennsylvania vigilantes known as the Paxton Boys killed a group of peaceful Conestogas. Perhaps the most egregious example of total, racialized warfare is the Gnadenhutten Massacre. On 8 March 1782, along the banks of the Muskingum River in eastern Ohio, another group of Anglo vigilantes rounded up ninety Christian Indians, divided the men and women, and used mallets to murder them. Periodic campaigns of ethnic cleansing accelerated on both sides of the frontier. Richard White's The Middle Ground (1991) shows that by the mid-1770s, "murder gradually and inexorably became the dominant American Indian policy" (p. 384). Even so, commercial and cultural ties between Indians and whites remained important. In 1770 skins and furs were the third-leading export in Georgia and the Carolinas.

the american revolution

By 1774, on the eve of the American Revolution, settlers had effectively challenged the Proclamation of 1763. Their settlements reached beyond the Appalachian Mountains into western Pennsylvania and Virginia. Pioneers began to force the hand of colonial officials, who could not control the movement westward. Richard Henderson's Transylvania Company hired Daniel Boone and other pioneers to explore what is now Kentucky and to establish a presence there. Shawnees, Delawares, Miamis, and a host of Algonquian tribes from the Ohio Valley reacted to these developments by forming an alliance known as the Scioto Confederacy. Multitribal alliances became increasingly common in the Revolutionary and early national periods. Native peoples recognized the fatal consequences of tribalism and sought an alternative in the pan-Indian efforts of warriors such as the Miami chief, Little Turtle, and the Shawnee warriors, Bluejacket and Tecumseh. On 10 October 1774 the Scioto Confederacy engaged Virginians at the confluence of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers at the Battle of Point Pleasant. The Virginians lost eighty-one men, a larger number than the Shawnees. However, the Shawnees were devastated by the outcome of the battle as prominent fighting men, including Tecumseh's father, Puckeshinwau, died.

Following their victory at Point Pleasant, the British forced the Scioto Confederacy to acknowledge boundary lines established in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1768), which ceded most of Kentucky to American settlement. Less than a year after the battle, in April 1775, Boonesborough, Kentucky, was founded. The violence over Kentucky continued, but scorched earth campaigns led by George Rogers Clark and bands of Kentucky volunteers between 1778 and 1781 forced the Ohio Valley tribes to concede Kentucky.

Warfare erupted along the southern frontier as well. Between 1775 and 1781, Chickamauga Cherokees led by Dragging Canoe waged a series of attacks on settlers in eastern Tennessee. Independenceminded Americans such as the noted Indian fighter John Sevier fought back. Many historians speculate that these frontier engagements informed John Dickinson's Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Their Taking Up Arms (1775) as well as Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence in 1776. Thomas Paine joined the chorus early in 1776 with Common Sense, in which he referred to King George III as "that barbarous and hellish power, which hath stirred up the Indians and Negroes against us." Patriot forces allied with the Catawba Indians, longstanding enemies of the Cherokees, eventually achieved victory over the Chickamaugas. Peace between the United States and the Cherokees was not achieved until 28 November 1785 with the Treaty of Hopewell, which resulted in massive Cherokee land cessions in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

The Revolution in the backcountry resulted in familiar cycles of war and dispossession. Anthony F. C. Wallace's Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans (1999), identifies a four-part process: (1) whites encroach on Indian lands and commit atrocities against the Indians; (2) native peoples engage in a bloody, equally random retaliation; (3) British or American troops, or both, invade or threaten to invade Indian lands to protect settlers and punish the Indians; and (4) a peace treaty is signed that results in a significant land cession. In the many military engagements between Indians and whites, colonial powers intervened in response to protracted warfare between neighboring Indians and whites. Both British and American policymakers reacted to frontier violence that they could not control.

Disease, overhunting, and the consequences of total warfare combined to significantly weaken American Indian tribes during the American Revolution. A massive smallpox epidemic raced through Indian communities from Canada to Mexico between 1779 and 1783. Outbreaks of smallpox often coincided with the most dramatic conflicts between Indians and whites. In 1779 George Washington ordered Major General John Sullivan to systematically burn Iroquois cornfields, orchards, and villages in an attempt to break the covenant chain linking the British to the Iroquois Confederacy. Iroquois survivors of this scorched earth campaign—refugees from forty devastated villages—faced a long northern winter without food. The Iroquois Confederacy between the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Mohawk, and Tuscarora tribes disintegrated as the Revolutionary War divided the loyalties of the tribes between the central antagonists.

formation of an indian policy

War and disease contributed to the attrition of Indian communities throughout the eastern United States. A series of immediate and unforgiving consequences followed. After the Revolution, land replaced deerskins as the primary unit of trade. By 1800 approximately six hundred thousand American Indians faced just over five million whites and African Americans. The weakness of the Articles of Confederation created a vacuum of power that a host of competing entities exploited. Using the conquest theory, between 1784 and 1786 land companies, state governments, and private individuals signed a number of treaties with American Indians. In their rush to acquire Indian land, fraudulent treaty makers failed to negotiate with approved tribal leaders and rarely received congressional approval for their actions.

Endemic warfare, particularly north of the Ohio River, began to undermine the social order of Indian communities. The Shawnee town of Chillicothe, originally located along the Scioto River in south-central Ohio, was attacked by Kentuckians and reconstituted by Shawnees four times between 1774 and 1794. Indian men, accustomed to clearing fields, hunting, and regulating the civil affairs of their communities, were long absent. Time-honored harvest ceremonies were interrupted. Kin groups weakened from the loss of members and leadership turned to their culturally related neighbors for support. Native peoples increasingly reconstituted themselves according to their disposition toward war and peace, militant resistance or accommodation.

In August 1786 the Confederation Congress attempted to stem the violence on American frontiers when it created Indian departments north and south of the Ohio River. Under Henry Knox, secretary of war under both the Articles of Confederation and President George Washington, these departments evolved into a series of Indian agencies. Similarly, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which was designed to reverse the years of mayhem that had accompanied Indian-white relations during the Revolution. Among other things, the Northwest Ordinance ended both the conquest theory and the preemption rights that followed from it. After 1787, land west of the Mississippi had to be purchased from the Indians, regardless of their disposition toward the United States. Moreover, treaty making became the exclusive privilege of the United States and its agents.

These policy changes did not diminish hostile actions between Indians and whites. Settlers continued to push north from Kentucky into what is now Ohio. In response, the Miami and Shawnee tribes assembled another multitribal alliance to stem the invasion of their lands. Between 18 and 22 October 1790, Brigadier General Josiah Harmar retaliated by launching the first major assault against the Ohio tribes. The multitribal alliance achieved a decisive victory over Harmar, with 183 of his 1,500 men reported killed or missing. In retaliation, President Washington ordered General Arthur St. Clair to launch another attack on the Ohio tribes. Little Turtle of the Miami tribe and Bluejacket of the Shawnee led an estimated one thousand men against two thousand soldiers under St. Clair in a series of engagements that climaxed on 4 November 1791. At sunrise, a force of Wyandot, Seneca, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Ojibwa, Shawnee, Delaware, and Miami warriors surprised St. Clair's forces. The Americans lost 630 killed, with another 283 wounded, in what amounted to the second-worst defeat of a European force north of Mexico.

It took the United States another three years to mount an effective campaign against the Ohio tribes. On 20 August 1794, Major General Anthony Wayne engaged what remained of Bluejacket and Little Turtle's multitribal confederacy in the Battle of Fallen Timbers. In a series of conflicts earlier that summer, the comparatively undisciplined members of the Indian alliance had steadily withdrawn. Little more than four hundred warriors faced thirty-five hundred Americans. The American victory ended large-scale conflict between Indians and whites north of the Ohio for more than fifteen years. On 3 August 1795, Wayne forced the Ohio tribes to cede all of south and central Ohio to the United States in the Treaty of Greenville.

Under Washington, Henry Knox further developed the civilization strategy. Knox understood that warfare strained both the federal budget and the U.S. military. He argued that a policy of appeasement involving the establishment of Christian missions and the active promotion of Indian leaders willing to compromise made far more sense than indiscriminate, genocidal warfare against native peoples. Also, the Indian trade had to be regulated and linked to land cessions. Between 1796 and 1822, Congress oversaw a factory system in which the U.S. Treasury Department operated a series of trading houses in which traders were licensed and regulated by the United States. The factory system was essential to Thomas Jefferson and other American presidents, who used the trading houses to accelerate the acquisition of Indian land.

Following the Indian wars of the 1790s, the United States redoubled its commitment to what became known as the "civilization strategy." Benjamin Hawkins served as U.S. Indian agent to the Creeks from 1796 to 1816. During his tenure, Hawkins played a vital role in maintaining peaceful relations between Indians and whites. Frequent correspondence with Thomas Jefferson during his two terms as president (1801–1809) underscored the importance of his post. The Creeks referred to Hawkins as an isti atcagagi, or "beloved man," a title that denoted respect and political power among the Creeks.

As president, Jefferson inherited an increasingly effective civilization program. The Eastern Woodland tribes had been significantly weakened by the long backcountry revolution, spanning the years roughly from 1774 to 1794. They soon came to the negotiating table. Jefferson's civilization program had four essential points: (1) traders should charge high rates so that hunters would become indebted and consequently would be forced to sell their lands; (2) influential chiefs should be bribed with land and money; (3) friendly leaders should be formally recognized with trips to the nation's capital and other symbolic gestures designed to bolster their authority and to overawe them with the power of the United States; and (4) if tribes refused to negotiate, traders and government agents should threaten a trade embargo or war. Jefferson's policy achieved remarkable success during his tenure as president. Between 1801 and 1809, he and his associates acquired nearly 200,000 square miles of land that laid the basis for the future states of Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri. His agents negotiated thirty-two treaties in those years as well.

On 30 April 1803, when the United States purchased Louisiana from France, Jefferson created the conditions necessary for the eventual removal of American Indians from the eastern United States. Branches of tribes, including the Chickamauga Cherokees, Delawares, Shawnees, Kickapoos, Weas, Piankashaws and others of the Great Lake area, began to move westward in a series of voluntary removals designed to forestall the deep cultural changes demanded by the United States. In justifying the purchase of French lands beyond the Mississippi, Jefferson argued that western lands might act as a safety valve for the "Indian problem" further east.

revitalization and the war of 1812

Some tribal leaders, such as the Seneca holy man, Handsome Lake, forged a survival strategy intended to avoid removal and retain the cultural sovereignty of his people. In 1799 he created a religious revitalization movement known as the Gaiwiio, or the "good message." Like many of his people, Handsome Lake suffered from the poverty that came with the destruction of animals, the reduction of tribal lands, and the alcohol trade. After a particularly devastating alcohol-induced coma, Handsome Lake awoke with a message born out of a conversion experience reminiscent of the Second Great Awakening. He attempted to revitalize Seneca culture by altering it in accord with many of the central tenets of the civilization program administered by the Quaker missionaries among his people. Men would farm, women would assume control of the domestic sphere, Senecas would disavow alcohol and divorce and make other reforms. The Seneca reservation would resemble, in rough outline, the typical frontier settlement. However, the Code of Handsome Lake (also known as the Longhouse religion) was created by and for the Seneca people. More than three thousand Iroquois follow the Gaiwiio to this day.

In contrast, a significant number of Creeks and Seminoles known as the Red Sticks became a part of a millenarian movement in the early nineteenth century. The Red Sticks fought against both the United States and those Creeks and Seminoles who supported them. For the Red Sticks, a day of fiery judgment was at hand, a time in which those who had supported colonizers and adopted American ways would be defeated. In short, the Red Sticks waged a civil war against those who hoped to compromise and coalesce with the new American Republic. They identified each other by the wands they carried, which were painted red, the color of war. The Chick-amauga Cherokee, Dragging Canoe, and the Shawnee brothers, Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa, aroused similar internal discord among the Ohio Valley tribes. In each case, however, the majority of their people rejected militancy, choosing instead to stop the cycle of violence and create a settlement with the Americans that might allow them to retain their lands and some semblance of their distinctive culture.

Nevertheless, the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States unleashed internal discord within tribes. In the Red Stick or Creek War of 1813–1814, the Creek warrior Hillis Hadjo engaged the United States in the Southeast. On 30 August 1813 the Creeks laid siege to Fort Mims, an American outpost in what later became Alabama, and killed approximately 250 of the fort's inhabitants. Nearly half of the 750 warriors who besieged the fort were also killed. Between September 1813 and March 1814, Major General Andrew Jackson, setting out from Tennessee, quickly put an end to the Red Stick Rebellion. Like the Red Sticks, Jackson did not differentiate between friend and foe. On 27 March 1814, Jackson used the enveloping line, a tactic in which the military units on the tips of the line turned inward as soon as units at the center of the line made contact with the target, to vanquish the Red Sticks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

Like the Red Sticks, the pan-Indian resistance movement led by the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh ended in defeat and death. On 5 October 1813, Tecumseh was killed by American troops at the Battle of Thames. The Creeks, Shawnees, and their Eastern Woodland neighbors then signed treaties that clearly defined their dependent status and yielded vast amounts of land to the Americans. On 9 August 1814, the Creeks agreed to the Treaty of Fort Jackson, which ceded twenty-two million acres, twothirds of their territory, to the United States. Following these wars, American Indian tribes east of the Mississippi became dependents of the United States who resided on reservations monitored by Christian missionaries and government agents. Tribal leaders no longer seriously considered military conflict with the Americans. The survivors of the Indian wars looked toward a future as nations within a nation.

See alsoAmerican Indians: American Indian Policy, 1787–1830; American Indian Relations, 1763–1815; American Indian Removal; American Indian Resistance to White Expansion; French and Indian War, Battles and Diplomacy; French and Indian War, Consequences of; Proclamation of 1763; Revolution: Military History; War of 1812 .


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Stephen Warren