Stuart, John

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Stuart, John

STUART, JOHN. (1718–1779). British super-intendent of Indian affairs. The son of a merchant and magistrate, John Stuart was born in Inverness on 25 September 1718. Educated at Inverness grammar school, at the age of seventeen he took a position in a London mercantile business that traded with Spain. His business was interrupted by the War of Jenkins's Ear (1739), which in 1740 merged into the War of Austrian Succession. Stuart then circumnavigated the globe with Commodore George Anson's expedition to the Pacific, serving as clerk, purser and midshipman. In 1748 Stuart emigrated to Charleston, South Carolina, where he married, had two children, failed in an initial mercantile venture, and gradually established himself as a prominent citizen. It may have been in this period that he first came into contact with the Cherokees and other Native American nations of the hinterland.

During the early part of the Seven Years War, while serving at Fort Loudoun in the Overhill country of what is now Tennessee, Stuart established himself as a trusted friend of the Cherokees. In 1759, when that fort was starved into surrender and some of the garrison was massacred, Stuart not only survived but was allowed to escape from captivity. Stuart disliked the genocidal bloodlust that gripped Charleston during the Anglo-Cherokee War that followed, and supported his fellow Scot, Lieutenant Colonel James Grant, when he ended the conflict on terms far more generous than those demanded by South Carolina. Stuart's conviction that only a strong imperial authority could impose a stable and just frontier settlement probably dates from this period. So too, do the beginnings of a fracture in South Carolina between those who supported Grant and Stuart and the many who resented imperial interference in the colony's affairs.

In 1762 Stuart succeeded the deceased Edmund Atkin as superintendent of Indian affairs for the southern department. Lord Egremont (Charles Windham), the new secretary of state, was already mapping out an imperial plan for frontier management, including a fixed boundary line between white and Indian territories and a closely regulated Indian trade. His scheme was given official form in the Proclamation of 1763, which prohibited colonial expansion beyond the frontier, and gave Stuart a degree of autonomy of which his counterpart in the northern department, Sir William Johnson, could only dream (Johnson's efforts were frequently frustrated by the clumsy intervention of Jeffery Amherst, the British commander in chief in North America and technically his superior. At the Congress of Augusta in November 1763, Stuart was able to promise the suspicious Indian nations of the southern department security for their lands and an adequate trade, He also distributed presents—paid for by Egremont—on an unprecedented scale. He followed this up with a series of smaller local conferences which gradually established the line of the fixed boundary. Thereafter he urged the imperial government to take direct control of the frontier areas, forbidding private land sales and closely regulating traders. He received limited support until the very eve of war; but because his policy ran counter to aggressive powerful economic and expansionist interests, by early 1775 opinion in the south was polarised over frontier issues. Men like Henry Laurens, who had supported Grant and Stuart in 1761, were now revolutionaries.

In 1775 he was very quick to move against his American rivals for influence in the Indian nations, exploiting the fact that British control of the seas and the Floridas allowed him to promise more and better trade goods than the rebels could provide. Moreover, in time of war he could compensate friendly warriors far more generously with presents—a crucial point for peoples who stood to lose not only their winter hunting but their crops and homes as well. Forced to flee from Charleston in September 1775, when the royal government collapsed, he moved first to Georgia, then to St. Augustine in June 1776, and later to Pensacola, which became his permanent base of operations. Fearing that indiscriminate attacks would only alienate potential Loyalists, Stuart responded cautiously to General Thomas Gage's orders to encourage the Indian nations to take up arms, though carefully concerted operations against specific targets would be another matter. He did not always succeed in restraining his Native American protégés, and their operations against the colonies were not always successful—the Cherokee war of 1776 being a key example. However, with generous backing from London, and his own high personal standing among them, Stuart managed to keep the vast majority of southern Indians friendly or neutral. In February 1778 he sent emissaries to obtain Cherokee and Seminole support for the coming attacks on Georgia, and in March he sent small mixed forces to the lower Mississippi. The work he had done lived on long after his death in Pensacola on 21 March 1779.

Stuart has been accused of being an extremist and, by neglecting the Americans' perspectives and interests, of pushing otherwise well-disposed colonists into the arms of revolution. On the other hand, Stuart like most southern Indians, understood that the aims of colonial assemblies, frontier traders, and rogue settlers were incompatible with those of the Indians, and therefore with a stable frontier. The only alternative was tough imperial control, and there is something to be said for Stuart's complaint that there was not enough of it at a sufficiently early stage. Whether the eighteenth century British empire was capable of exerting such authority is another question.

SEE ALSO Cherokee; French and Indian War; Southern Theater, Military Operations in.


Alden, J. R. John Stuart and the Southern Colonial Frontier: A Study of Indian Relations, War, Trade, and Land Problems in the Southern Wilderness, 1754–1775. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1944.

Braund, K. E. H. Deerskins and Duffels: Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685–1815. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

Hatley, Tom. The Dividing Paths: Cherokees and South Carolinians through the Era of Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Oliphant, John. Peace and War on the Anglo-Cherokee Frontier, 1756–1763. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave, 2001.

Snapp, J. Russell. John Stuart and the Struggle for the Southern Colonial Frontier. Baton Rouge, La. and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1996.

Van Doren, Carl. Secret History of the American Revolution: An Account of the Conspiracies of Benedict Arnold and Numerous Others. New York: Viking, 1941.

                                 revised by John Oliphant

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