The year following Red Jacket’s failed negotiations President George Washington appointed three Commissioners to try to effect a peace with the First Nations Confederacy. Benjamin Lincoln, Timothy Pickering and Beverly Randolph left Philadelphia travelling north to Niagara. John Graves Simcoe, Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, afforded them British hospitalities while they waited for word on a council with the First Nation chiefs. They hoped to meet with the Confederacy at Sandusky that spring.
The Americans thought the British would be useful as an intermediary, but the British’s interests were really making sure the Confederacy didn’t fall apart and long-term that an “Indian barrier state” would be formed. The United States also had ulterior motives. Although they would accept a peace as long as it was on their terms they would be just as happy with failure to use as an excuse for their “just war”. Simcoe had assessed the situation correctly when he wrote in his correspondence “It appears to me that there is little probability of effecting a Peace and I am inclined to believe that the Commissioners do not expect it; that General Wayne does not expect it; and that the Mission of the Commissioners is in general contemplated by the People of the United States as necessary to adjust the ceremonial of the destruction and pre-determined extirpation of the Indian Americans”. While all this was going on Wayne advanced his army to Fort Washington.
Meanwhile Washington asked the Mohawk chief Joseph Brant to travel to the Miami River where the Confederacy was in council. He was to try to persuade the Chiefs to meet the Commissioners at Sandusky. He was partially successful in that they sent a delegation of fifty to Niagara to speak to the American Commissioners in front of Simcoe.
The delegation demanded the Commissioners inform them of General Wayne’s movements and they also wanted to know if they were empowered to fix a permanent boundary line. The Commissioners must have answered satisfactorily because the delegation agreed that the Chiefs would meet them in council at Sandusky.
The Commissioners travelled with a British escort along the north shoreline of Lake Erie stopping just south of Detroit. Fort Detroit had yet to be handed over to the Americans and Simcoe refused to let them enter the fort so they were put up at the house of Mathew Elliott an Irishman who had been trading with the Shawnee for many years. While they were there another delegation arrived from the Miami. The Chiefs had felt that the first delegation had not spoken forcefully enough regarding their demands that the original boundary line of the Ohio River was to be adhered to and that any white squatters be removed to south of the Ohio. They also wanted to know why, if the United States was interested in peace, Wayne’s army was advancing? No answer was forthcoming. However, the Commissioners did informed this delegation that they were only authorized to offer compensation for lands and it was the United States’ position that those lands were already treated away. Besides, the United States felt that it would be impossible to remove any white settlers as they had been established there for many years. The delegation returned to the Miami with the Commissioners’ response which was totally unacceptable to the Chiefs.
A council was held at the foot of the Maumee rapids where Alexander McKee kept a storehouse. Both McKee and Elliott were there as British Indian Agents. Joseph Brant suggested they compromise by offering the Muskingum River as a new boundary line. The Chiefs were in no mood to compromise having just defeated the American Army not once but twice. Brant accused McKee of unduly influencing the Chiefs’ position. The Delaware chief Buckongahlas indicated that Brant was right. With the Confederacy unwilling to compromise and the United States, backed by Wayne’s army, standing firm things appeared to be at an impasse. The Chiefs crafted a new proposal. A third delegation carried it to the Commissioners on the Detroit.
The First Nations said money was of no value to them. Besides, they could never consider selling lands that provided sustenance to their families. Since there could be no peace as long as white squatters were living on their lands they proposed the following solution:
We know that these settlers are poor, or they would never have ventured to live in a country that has been in continual trouble ever since they crossed the Ohio. Divide, therefore, this large sum which you have offered us, among these people; give to each, also, a proportion of what you say you would give to us annually, over and above this very large sum of money, and we are persuaded they would most readily accept of it, in lieu of that lands you sold them. If you add, also, the great sums you must expend in raising and paying armies with a view to force us to yield you our country, you will certainly have more than sufficient for the purposes of repaying these settlers for all their labours and their improvements. You have talked to us about concessions. It appears strange that you expect any from us, who have only been defending our just rights against your invasions. We want peace. Restore to us our country and we shall be enemies no longer.
The delegation also reminded the Commissioners that their only demand was “the peaceable possession of a small part of our once great country”. They could retreat no further since the country behind them could only provide enough food for its inhabitants so they were forced to stay and leave their bones in the small space to which they were now confined.
The Commissioners packed up their bags and left. There would be no council at Sandusky. They returned to Philadelphia and reported to the Secretary of War, “The Indians refuse to make peace.” Wayne’s invasion would be “just and lawful.”
Meanwhile, at the Maumee Rapids a War Feast was given and the War Song sung encouraging all the young warriors to come in defense of their country. “The whole white race is a monster who is always hungry and what he eats is land” declared Shawnee warrior Chicksika. Their English father would assist them and they pointed to Alexander McKee.
NEXT WEEK: The Indian War of 1790-95 – Part 4