A Decade of Turmoil

May 25, 2011

After the Royal Proclamation was issued a peace council was held at Niagara in July of 1764. Some 1,500 First Nations chiefs and warriors met with Sir William Johnson, British Superintendent of Indian Affairs, who represented British interests. Conspicuously absent was Pontiac and the Ottawa of Detroit. The Potawatomi, Wyandotte and Chippewa of Saginaw also refused to attend.

Johnson presented the First Nations with two wampum belts. The first beaded belt contained two figures holding hands as well as the year of the council. Johnson proclaimed on this belt, “My children, I clothe your land, you see that Wampum before me, the body of my words, in this spirit of my words shall remain, it shall never be removed, this will be your Mat the eastern Corner of which I myself will occupy, the Indians being my adopted children their life shall never sink in poverty.” Johnson was coveting with the First Nations that the British recognized their ownership of the land and that they would respect that by only occupying the eastern corner of it leaving the rest for the First Nations to live in and prosper as allies.

The second belt was called the Twenty-four Nation Wampum. It was a beaded belt that had twenty-four figures on it holding hands and pulling a large sailing ship. The English words that accompanied this belt were, “My children, see, this is my Canoe floating on the other side of the Great Waters, it shall never be exhausted but always full of the necessities of life for you my Children as long as the world shall last. Should it happen anytime after this that you find the strength of your life reduced, your Indian tribes must take hold of the Vessel and pull towards you this my Canoe, and where you have brought it over on this land on which you stand, I will open my hand as it were, and you will find yourselves supplied with plenty”.

To the First Nations these two wampum belts were sacred symbols that solemnized an agreement between two Nations that could not be broken unilaterally. But to the British not so much. British sentiments can be found throughout their correspondence of the day. General Thomas Gage, who had replaced Amherst, wrote to Johnson from New York on August 5th, “I wish they may be yet sincere, when the Rod is removed; and should be glad to hear that they had delivered up the Murderers agreeable to their Treaty; and to see the King of the Delawares, as He is called, and the Head Warrior of that Nation, lodged in our Hands. Till then, we ought to be upon our Guard, and put No Faith in their Speeches and Declarations.” Johnson wrote to Gage on September 1st from Johnson Hall, “As to their Sincerity I believe it can be relied on whilst its made worth their While, but I will not take upon me to say that a people who have been strongly prejudiced against us will conquer their aversion without we take steps to remove it, & whether this is necessary or not I submit to you.”

The Royal Proclamation was impossible to enforce. Squatters from the colonies immediately ignored it and began to cross the Alleghenies. Both land speculators and squatters regarded the rich lands west of the Alleghenies as a prize to be had for the hard-fought victory of the French and Indian War. Land speculators like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry resented the Monarchy using the Proclamation to stifle their efforts to make a profit from “Indian lands”. Washington said he thought it was only a temporary measure to settle the First Nations and would soon fall. So he advised his business associate William Crawford to scout out lands in First Nations’ territories before others did. Speculators flooded the colonial government with petitions for land grants even though it was illegal.

In 1767 Indian Agent George Croghan made a trip from New York to Detroit and back to assess the state of Indian Affairs in “Indian Country”. He spent two days with some chiefs and warriors of the Delaware Nation trying to ascertain the purpose of a large council of Western Nations he had heard was to be held the following spring. On the second day the chiefs told him they did not know the purpose of the council but the First Nations were generally dissatisfied with the conduct of the British. They complained that the British hounded them for every minor crime committed by them, but they ignored even the most aggrieved crimes including murder that British subjects committed against the First Nations. In short they could get no justice.

In 1768 Sir William Johnson held a council with the Six Nation Iroquois at Fort Stanwix. They agreed to cede a huge tract of land south of the Mohawk and Ohio rivers and east to the Tennessee River which was the hunting grounds of the Shawnee Nation. It covered what is now western Pennsylvania as well as most of Kentucky and West Virgina.. The Iroquois claimed ownership based on conquests made in the seventeenth century but they had long since lost the territory. But none of that mattered to the Colonial Government. This gave them reason enough to openly ignore the Royal Proclamation and approve petitions for land across the Alleghenies. The land rush was on. Johnson was given a dressing down for overstepping the bounds of his government position but the damage was already done.

The Shawnee fought back against the trespassers by killing them and/or burning them out. The nasty skirmishes continued on for the next five years. It escalated when in the spring of 1774 colonial vigilantes murdered the family of the Mingo chief Tachnedorus. The family included the chief’s pregnant sister who was strung up by her wrists, sliced open and the unborn child impaled on a stake. Tachnedorus’ grief was unbearable. He exacted his revenge by attacking and killing settlers in Virgina. This gave the Colonial Government a reason to declare open warfare on the Shawnee. This “war” was called Lord Dunmore’s War after the Governor of Virgina.

The Shawnee sent out war belts to the other nations near them. But the British used a divide and conquer strategy. Johnson worked on the Iroquois and John Stuart, Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the South, the Cherokee. Consequently the belts were rejected and the Shawnee were left to fight the war alone.

Dunmore led an army of 1,500 volunteer militia down the Ohio River from Fort Pitt. General Andrew Lewis at the head of 1,100 men moved down the Kanawha River to meet Dunmore on the Ohio. The plan was to attack and destroy Shawnee towns on the Scioto River.

The Shawnee rallied their warriors but could only raise 700 men. They were hopelessly outnumbered. Their war chiefs Cornstock, Black Hoof, Black Fish, Blue Jacket and Packeshinwaw held a council. They determined the only chance for success was to meet the enemy head on in a surprise attack.

They crossed the Ohio on rafts in the night of October 9th and surprised Lewis at a place called Pleasant Point. The battle raged on all day with first the Shawnee pushing the Virginians back. Then reinforcements arrived and the Shawnee were forced to retreat and take up a position on the banks of the Ohio. Finally, with the battle lost they were forced to withdraw back to their towns on the Scioto. The only solution was to sue for peace.

Cornstock spoke for the Shawnee. He chose to deal with Lord Dunmore at Camp Charlotte. The peace was costly. The Shawnee had to give up all claim to the lands south of the Ohio and had to send four hostages to Williamsburg to be held in order to ensure future peaceful conduct. One of the hostages was Cornstock’s own son Wissecapoway. Lord Dunmore’s War brought a measure of peace but more storm clouds appeared on the future as the Colonies continued to rail against Great Britain.

NEXT WEEK:  The American Revolution


Fort Duquesne – An Encore 1758 Part 2

February 5, 2011

By May 1758 word has spread throughout the territories that the British under General Forbes was preparing to march on Fort Duquesne with an army of 7,000 men. This included 1,200 Highlanders, a detachment of Royal Americans with the balance made up of militia from Pennsylvania, Virgina, Maryland and North Carolina.

The Three Fires Confederacy which included Ojibwa, Ottawa and Potawatomi warriors gathered at Detroit in July. The Wyandotte joined them and they all marched off to the defence of Fort Duquesne. The memory of Braddock’s defeat fresh in their minds and the vast amount of plunder gotten drove the warriors on. Their design was a repeat of 1756.

The first decision was which route to take. Washington, being a loyal Virginian, favoured the road that Braddock had cut which led from Virgina. Forbes favoured a new road that would have to be cut through the Pennsylvanian wilderness. It would be a more direct route and only have to cross one range of the Alleghenies. There would be time enough to accomplish the road as Forbes planned to take his time advancing on the French fort. He knew the warriors there would tire of waiting for him and would have to abandon the field to return to their territories for their winter hunt. Thinking Washington’s argument was more politically driven than sound military strategy Forbes won out. By July the advance guard under Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Bouquet was camped near Raystown the site of present day Bedford, Pennsylvania.

Governor Vaudreuil sent supplies to Fort Duquesne with reinforcements to follow. Unfortunately, the supplies were at Fort Frontenac awaiting the reinforcements when Bradstreet arrived and captured them. The reinforcements were on their way from Montreal when they got word of the fall of Fort Frontenac, so with no supplies they returned to Montreal. There would be no help for the under garrisoned Fort Duquesne except for the warriors who arrived that summer.

 Meanwhile, Forbes had received word of the discontent of the Ohio First Nations. He enlisted the help of Christian John Post a Moravian missionary who knew the Delaware well, had lived among them and had married one of them. Most importantly he was well trusted by them. He arrived at the Delaware town of Kushkushkee north-west of Fort Duquesne where he met with chiefs King Beaver, Shingas and Delaware George. His message from the Governor of Pennsylvania was well received there so they took him to another town nearby.

Post got a different kind of reception there. The young warriors were in a nasty mood. Some wanted to kill him on the spot but others wanted to hear what he had to say. His message pleased them but they insisted he go with them to Fort Duquesne to deliver the message to the chiefs and warriors there. He resisted the dangerous proposal but the Delaware would accept nothing less.

When they arrived at the fort the French insisted he be turned over to them. The Delaware refused insisting that they all hear the words of the Governor of Pennsylvania. So all the First Nations and the French officers gathered outside the fort to hear what Post had to say. He informed the chiefs that General Forbes was on his way with a large army to drive the French from Ohio and that they should remain neutral in the conflict. The governor also invited them to renew the chain of friendship and peace with the British at a conference to be held at Easton, Pennsylvania. This displeased the French very much but there was nothing they could do but watch the Delaware leave with Post under their protection.

The whole Delaware nation met in council and decided that they would take hold of the peace-chain again if the invitation did not just come from Pennsylvania but from all the British provinces. This was done and the conference was held at Easton in October. The Iroquois Five Nations attended it with William Johnson along with the Delaware, Mohegans and a few other nations. The British were represented by delegates from most of their provinces. The result was that the invitation should be sent by wampum belts to all their allied nations to the west. The Moravian Post was given the task of delivering the belts. The French/First Nation alliance was beginning to disintegrate.

Post was at one of the Delaware towns meeting in council with the chiefs when a French officer from Fort Duquesne arrived. He had a belt to present them inviting them to come to the fort and help drive back Forbes. The belt was rejected with disdain. Chief Captain Peter took the French wampum string and threw it on the floor. He then took a stick and flung it across the room and the other chiefs kicked it around from one to the other. Captain Peter said that they had given their all for the French cause and had gotten nothing in return so they were determined not to help them fight the British again. He was referring to Montcalm’s betrayal the previous year.

The French officer was the escorted to a Grand Council that had been called. Post delivered messages of peace from the council at Easton. They were accepted with great pleasure by everyone except the French officer. He was ridiculed by the chiefs and warriors. One called Isaac Still pointed at him and said, “There he sits! The French always deceived us!” They all began to shout whoops of agreement. The officer could take no more. He left the council to return to Fort Duquesne to give his report. The overtures of peace were accepted all over Ohio as far as the Wabash River. The Delaware, Shawnee, Mingo and Miami were no longer allies with the French but were at peace with the British.

NEXT WEEK:  Fort Duquesne – An Encore 1758 Part 3