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