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The Revolution on the Frontier

The Revolution on the Frontier


Difficult Choices . With the outbreak of war between the colonists and the British, Indians once again had to choose sides or maintain a precarious neutrality. Many Indians took the British side in the Revolution, hoping to curtail rapacious settlers. A few tribes, living in close daily contact with frontier whites, cast their lot with the Patriot cause. But despite their affiliation in the Revolution, most Indian tribes retained a strong sense of physical and political boundaries and jealously guarded their independence. Indians and colonists burned each others villages in a war of attrition, and with the Patriot victory pro-British tribes were driven out of their villages into defensive settlements under the protection of the Crown. The American victory brought further encroachments on Indian sovereignty. Indians could no longer play warring whites against one another to obtain concessions. They also could not restrain the western advance of colonists although the British retained their forts in the West. In the South the Creeks and Cherokees, after having fought long and hard for the British, were left surrounded by settlers of the new United States. The Iroquois, who had for the most part fought with the British, were driven to a defensive position at Fort Niagara, New York. At wars end some returned to their villages and resumed trading activities with whites. Many, however, went into exile in Canada, along with tribal leaders such as Joseph and Molly Brant.

Stockbridge . The Stockbridge Indians of western Massachusetts were a mixed tribal group made up of Mahicans (Mohicans), Housatonics, and others. In 1740 Protestant missionaries gathered this mixed group on the Stockbridge grant, hoping that by adopting Christianity the Indians would become valuable allies against the Iroquois to the west. Their settlement was one of the praying towns, where displaced Native Americans tried to live and worship according to European customs. Dozens of young Stockbridge warriors served in the American army, some of them joining as minutemen even before the war began. They distinguished themselves at the Battle of White Plains (1776) and in campaigns against the Iroquois. They acted as negotiators with tribes such as the Oneidas, keeping them on the Patriot side when they wavered. But back home their townsmen were sinking into debt and alcoholism, selling off bit by bit their original landholdings. The town of Stockbridge, which had been but part of a large grant of Indian land, gradually fell entirely into white hands: the last Indian plot was sold in 1783. Indians remained in the town as laborers and derelicts or moved off to other settlements.


Colin G. Calloway, The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995);

Journal of Nicholas Cresswell, 1774-1777 (Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1968);

Thomas P. Slaughter, The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution (Oxford &, New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

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