“Cincinnati, March 22nd, 1814.”

I am by no means whatsoever an expert on American government policies regarding Native Americans. So just where the following extract fits in to the bigger picture thereof I don’t really know, but based on considerations such as date, location, and people involved, it seems to describe an important set of decisions, possibly precedent setting. It is taken from a letter from General William Henry Harrison, to the Secretary of War, during the War of 1812. Harrison had been Territorial Governor of Indiana before the war, and had served in Anthony Wayne’s army back in the 1794 campaign through western Ohio that led to the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, two very important events in establishing policies between the United States and Native Americans, generally.

Harrison may well have had a better understanding of the recent geographic history of Native American tribes–and certainly regarding their various warfare methods–in the large midwestern area centered on what is now Indiana, and it’s principal river (the Wabash), than any other person of the time. He was also the main actor in dealing with Tecumseh, arguably the greatest Native American strategist ever, in what must have been a fascinating real-life drama. The focus of the letter is on just which tribes had legitimate, long-standing land tenure claims, and thus, the right to negotiate and sell their lands, thereby countering the grand unification strategy of Tecumseh. The full letter is reproduced here: McAfee (1816). History of the Late War in the Western Country, pp 53-58; the [] and bolds being my edits.

It will no doubt be interesting to the reader, to conclude the present chapter with the following letter from General Harrison to the war department, respecting the northwestern Indians. It contains, says the general, in a different letter to the secretary: “A sketch of the situation of each of the tribes bordering on this frontier; and an abstract of the policy, which has been pursued in the negotiations, which have been conducted by me, for the extinguishment of their title to lands, since the year 1801; and which you could only otherwise obtain, by wading through a most voluminous correspondence in the archives of your office.” It will further explain the cause of Indian hostility, and enable the reader to understand more correctly many parts in the following history:

“H. Q., Cincinnati, March 22nd, 1814.
“Sir—The tribes of Indians upon this frontier and east of the Mississippi, with whom the United States have been connected by treaty, are the Wyandots, Delaware, Shawanoese, Miamies, Potawatamies, Ottawas, Cbippewas, Piankashaws, Kaskaskias, and Sacs. All but the two last were in the confederacy, which carried on the former Indian war against the United States, that was terminated toy the peace of Greenville [in 1795]…The Wyandots are admitted by the others to be the leading tribe. They hold the grand calumet, which unites them and kindles the council fire…They claim the lands, bounded by the settlements of this State [Ohio], southwardly and eastwardly; and by Lake Erie, the Miami [Maumee] river, and the claim of the Shawanoese [Shawnees] upon the Auglaize, a branch of the latter. They also claim the lands they live on near Detroit, but I am ignorant to what extent…The claim of the Wyandots to the lands they occupy, is not disputed, that I know of, by any other tribe. Their residence on it, however, is not of long standing, and the country was certainly once the property of the Miamies. Passing westwardly from the Wyandots, we meet with the Shawanoese settlements…These settlements were made immediately after the treaty of Greenville, and with the consent of the Miamies, whom I consider the real owners of those lands.

“The Miamies have their principal settlements at the forks of the Wabash, thirty miles from Fort Wayne; and at Mississineway, thirty miles lower down. A hand of them under the name of Weas, have resided on the Wabash sixty miles above Vincennes; and another under the Turtle on Eel river, a branch of the Wabash, twenty miles northwest of Fort Wayne. By an artifice of the Little Turtle, these three bands were passed on General Wayne [at the Treaty of Greenville] as distinct tribes, and an annuity was granted to each. The Eel river and Weas, however, to this day call themselves Miamies, and are recognized as such by the Mississeneway band. The Miamies, Maumees, or Tewicktovies, are the undoubted proprietors of all that beautiful country which is watered by the Wabash and its branches; and there is as little doubt, that their claim extended at least as far east as the Scioto. They have no tradition of removing from any other quarter of the country; whereas all the neighboring tribes, the Piankishaws excepted, who are a branch of the Miamies, are either intruders upon them, or have been permitted to settle their country. The Wyandots emigrated first from Lake Ontario, and subsequently from Lake Huron—the Delawares, from Pennsylvania and Maryland—the Shawanoese from Georgia—the Kickapoos and Potawatamies from the country between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi—and the Ottawas and Chippewas from the peninsula formed by the lakes Michigan, Huron, and St. Clair, and the strait connecting the latter with Erie. The claims of the Miamies were bounded on the north by those of the Illinois confederacy, consisting originally of five tribes, called Kaskaskias, Cohokias, Peorians, Michiganians, and Temarios, speaking the Miami language, and no doubt branches of that nation…

“During the war of our revolution, the Miamies had invited the Kickapoos into their country to assist them against the whites, and a considerable village was formed by that tribe on the Vermilion river near its junction with the Wabash. After the treaty of Greenville, the Delawares had with the approbation of the Miamies, removed from the mouth of the Auglaize to the head waters of White river, a large branch of the Wabash—and the Potawatamies without their consent had formed two villages upon the latter river, one at Tippecanoe, and the other at Chippoy twenty-five miles below. The Piankishaws lived in the neighborhood of Vincennes, which was their ancient village, and claimed the lands to the mouth of the Wabash, and to the north and west as far as the Kaskaskians claimed.

“Such was the situation of the tribes, when I received the instructions of President Jefferson, shortly after his first election, to make efforts for extinguishing the Indian claims upon the Ohio, below the mouth of the Kentucky river, and to such other tracts as were necessary to connect and consolidate our settlements. It was at once determined, that the community of interests in the lands amongst the Indian tribes, which seemed to be recognized by the treaty of Greenville, should be objected to; and that each individual tribe should be protected in every claim that should appear to be founded in reason and justice. But it was also determined, that as a measure of policy and liberality, such tribes as lived upon any tract of land which it would be desirable to purchase, should receive a portion of the compensation, although the title might be exclusively in another tribe. Upon this principle the Delawares, Shawanoese, Potawatamies, and Kickapoos were admitted as parties to several of the treaties. Care was taken, however, to place the title to such tracts as it might be desirable to purchase hereafter, upon a footing that would facilitate the procuring of them, by getting the tribes who had no claim themselves, and who might probably interfere, to recognize the titles of those who were ascertained to possess them.

“This was particularly the case with regard to the lands watered by the Wabash, which were declared to be the property of the Miamies, with the exception of the tract occupied by the Delawares on White river, which was to be considered the joint property of them and the Miamies. This arrangement was very much disliked by Tecumseh, and the banditti that he had assembled at Tippecanoe. He complained loudly, as well of the sales that had been made, as of the principle of considering a particular tribe as the exclusive proprietors of any part of the country, which he said the Great Spirit had given to all his red children. Besides the disaffected amongst the neighboring tribes, he had brought together a considerable number of Winebagoes and Folsovoins from the neighborhood of Green Bay, Sacs from the Mississippi, and some Ottawas and Chippewas from Abercrosh on Lake Michigan. These people were better pleased with the climate and country of the Wabash, than with that they had left.

“The Miamies resisted the pretensions of Tecumseh and his followers for some time, but a system of terror was adopted, and the young men were seduced by eternally placing before them a picture of labor, and restriction as to hunting, to which the system adopted would inevitably lead. The Potawatamies and other tribes inhabiting the Illinois river and south of Lake Michigan, had been for a long time approaching gradually towards the Wabash. Their country, which was never abundantly stocked with game, was latterly almost exhausted of it. The fertile regions of the Wabash still afforded it. It was represented, that the progressive settlements of the whites upon that river, would soon deprive them of their only resources, and, indeed would force the Indians of that river upon them, who were already half starved.

“It is a fact, that for many years the current of emigration, as to the tribes east of the Mississippi, has been from north to south. This is owing to two causes: the diminution of those animals from which the Indians procure their support; and the pressure of the two great tribes, the Chippewas and Sioux to the north and west. So long ago as the treaty of Greenville, the Potawatamies gave notice to the Miamies, that they intended to settle upon the Wabash. They made no pretensions to the country, and their only excuse for the intended aggression, was that “they were tired of eating fish, and wanted meat.” It has been already observed that the Saes had extended themselves to the Illinois river, and that the settlement of the Kickapoos at the Peorias was of modern date. Previously to the commencement of the present war, a considerable number had joined their brethren upon the Wabash. The Tawas from the Des Moines river have twice made attempts to get a footing there.

“From these facts it will be seen, that it will be nearly impossible to get the Indians south of the Wabash to go beyond the Illinois river. The subject of providing an outlet to such of the tribes as it might be desirable to remove, had been under consideration for many years. There is but one. It was long since discovered by the Indians themselves, and but for the humane policy, which has been pursued by our government, the Delawares, Kickapoos, and Shawanoese would long since have been out of our way. The country claimed by the Osages abounds with everything that is desirable to a savage. The Indians of the tribes above mentioned have occasionally intruded upon them—-a war was the consequence, which would soon have given a sufficient opening for emigration. But our government interfered and obliged the hostile tribes to make peace.

“I was afterwards instructed to endeavor to get the Delawares to join that part of their tribe, which is settled on the west side of the Mississippi near Cape Girardeau. The attempt was unsuccessful at the time. I have no doubt, however, that they could be prevailed on to move; but it ought not in my opinion to be attempted in a general council of the tribe.

“The question of the title to the lands south of the Wabash has been thoroughly examined; every opportunity was afforded to Tecumseh and his party to exhibit their pretensions, and they were found to rest upon no other basis, than that of their being the common property of all the Indians. The Potawatamies and Kickapoos have unequivocally acknowledged the Miami and Delaware title. The latter, as I before observed, can, I think, be advised to remove. It may take a year or eighteen months to effect it. The Miamies will not be in our way. They are a poor, miserable, drunken set, diminishing every year. Becoming too lazy to hunt, they feel the advantage of their annuity. The fear of the other Indians has alone prevented them from selling their whole claim to the United States; and as soon as there is peace, or the British can no longer intrigue, they will sell. I know not what inducement can be held out to the Wyandots to remove; they were not formerly under my superintendence, but I am persuaded that a general council could not be the place to attempt it.

I have the honor, etc., etc..
Wm. H. Harrison.”


10 thoughts on ““Cincinnati, March 22nd, 1814.”

  1. Jim, not sure where you’re going with this, but FYI the Wyandot are the same as the Hurons, who were settled in southern Ontario at the time of contact. They are part of standard school history in Ontario, but vanish from view in Ontario history.

    The letter says that “the Wyandots emigrated first from Lake Ontario, and subsequently from Lake Huron”. FYI, this emigration was the result of being defeated by the Iroquois in the Beaver Wars in the 1640s and 1650s.

    I had understood that they had fizzled out after their defeat by the Iroquois, so it’s interesting to learn that they were as strong as reported in this letter.

    Ironically, the Mohawks, who have been assertive of their rights in Canada, came to Canada from New York state only after what we call the “American Revolution”.

    • Exactly right Steve. Wyandots were long-removed Hurons, by way of Detroit (and possibly elsewhere). My mother is from Wyandot County Ohio, where the largest group of former Hurons settled (all between there and what is now Sandusky OH).

      It’s also interesting that for something like 75-80 years, there were almost no Native peoples in the state, driven out by the Iroquois and not re-settled until the Wyandots came from Detroit, apparently around 1730 or so from what I gather. The mysterious Nation of the Cat (the Eries) were apparently entirely destroyed by the Iroquois, from a homeland stretching from roughly Cleveland to Buffalo.

      BTW, no idea why this comment was held in queue, should not have been. WordPress does this from time to time.

    • Also, one of the interesting aspects of the Wyandots settling in N Ohio, being apparently the first tribe back in the state after the exodus in ~1650, is that they were stepping right back into a potential war with the Iroquois again, but now in Ohio instead of Ontario. It never happened though, and in fact some Iroquois (Senecas) actually came and lived peacefully with the old Hurons. In fact, Wyandot and Seneca are two adjoining counties in Ohio! Go figure…

  2. George Washington was also very active in the French-Indian wars in the 1750s as a British general. His letters are worth looking at, if you’re pursuing this topic.

    • Right again Steve. I’ve only just read some of that material however, particularly his trip through PA to meet the French when he was very young. I’m also very interested in the relationship between Washington and Wayne, which was a close and important one. Wayne was something else apparently, militarily. He did some astounding things.

  3. “It’s also interesting that for something like 75-80 years, there were almost no Native peoples in the state, driven out by the Iroquois”. It was the same in Ontario.

    You say: “they were stepping right back into a potential war with the Iroquois again, but now in Ohio instead of Ontario. It never happened though”. Actually, there was a war against the Iroquois around 1690, culminating in the Battle of Skull Mound. The main Iroquois opponents were Ojibwa from northern Ontario. However, in an article
    , it says that a meeting between Ojibwa and Huron/Wyandot of Ohio preceded the campaign and that Huron/Wyandots were involved in the battle in Ontario to drive out the Iroquois.

    • Hmmm, interesting article. One thing though is that it says “Sometime in the late 17th century, a remnant of the Huron tribe living near Sandusky, Ohio, met with Ojibway warriors and allies.” I don’t know about that. I’ve never read anything indicating that the Wyandot came into Ohio any earlier than maybe 1725-30, most likely across the lake from their settlement at Detroit. Given that they were mortal enemies with the Iroquois, and the Iroquois had laid waste everything between NY and Illinois, south of Lake Erie to Chicago, this is hard to square.

      It is so cool that a journalist would write an article like that for a local paper. You will rarely if ever find something like that in Ohio, although there is one eclectic, historically oriented monthly thing where you might, but usually the scholarship is marginal.

  4. One of Washington’s correspondents was Beverley Robinson, a Virginia merchant, who was a Loyalist. His descendants moved to York (now Toronto) and were very prominent. “John Beverley Robinson” continued as a family name in Toronto to this day. One of my father’s best friends was a Beverley Robinson.

  5. The Eries (and also the Petun) lived in Ontario in the first half of the 17th century and were expelled from Ontario at the same time as the Hurons.

    It’s interesting that these tumultuous events are in the heart of one of the main Little Ice Age periods.

    • BTW there is a lifetime of great reading in volumes 1 and 2 of Hodge’s Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico including extensive entries on the Huron and Iroquois.

      Hodge describes the post-1650 Huron movements in some detail. He says only that some of them removed from the straits of Mackinaw sometime after 1670, to Detroit, Sandusky and Sandwich, but does not specify when. Then he jumps to 1745 where he says “In 1745, a considerable party of Hurons under the war chief Orontony, or Nicholas, removed from Detroit r. to the marsh lands of Sandusky bay” and goes on from there. Whatever contacts and alliances might have occurred between Huron and Ojibwa/Chippewa must have occurred when they were still at Mackinaw (I hypothesize). There were no Ojibwa this far south, far as I know.

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