American Indians In The Revolutionary Period

    Most American Indians east of the Mississippi River were affected by the war, 
    and many communities were divided over the question of how to respond to the 
    conflict. Most Native Americans opposed the United States, since native lands 
    were threatened by expanding American settlement. An estimated 13,000 
    warriors fought on the British side; the largest group, the Iroquois Confederacy, 
    fielded about 1,500 men
    The Declaration of Independence accused King George III of unleashing "merciless 
    Indian Savages" against innocent men, women, and children. The image of ferocious 
    warriors propelled into action by a tyrannical monarch fixed in memory and imagination 
    the Indians' role in the Revolution and justified their subsequent treatment. But many
    Indian Nations tried to stay out of the conflict, some sided with the Americans, and 
    those who fought with the British were not the king's pawns: they allied with the Crown 
    as the best hope of protecting their homelands from the encroachments of American 
    colonists and land speculators. The British government had afforded Indian lands a 
    measure of protection by the Royal Proclamation of 1763 which had attempted to 
    restrict colonial expansion beyond the Appalachian Mountains, and had alienated 
    many American colonists. Indians knew that the Revolution was a contest for Indian 
    land as well as for liberty. 
    Some Indian tribes went to war early. Cherokee warriors, frustrated by recurrent land 
    losses, defied the authority of older chiefs and attacked frontier settlements, only to 
    be soundly defeated by expeditions from Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas. On the 
    other hand, Indians from the mission town at Stockbridge in western Massachusetts, 
    like most New England Indians, supported their colonial neighbors. They volunteered 
    as minutemen even before the outbreak of the fighting, joined Washington's army at 
    the siege of Boston, and served in New York, New Jersey, and Canada.
    The Revolution split the Iroquois Confederacy. Mohawks led by Joseph Brant adhered 
    to their long-standing allegiance to the British, and eventually most Cayugas, 
    Onondagas, and Senecas joined them. But Oneidas and Tuscaroras sided with the 
    Americans, owing in large measure to the efforts of their Presbyterian missionary 
    Samuel Kirkland. The Revolution became a civil war for the Iroquois, as Oneidas 
    clashed with Senecas at the Battle of Oriskany in 1777. Iroquois sufferings were 
    compounded in 1779 when General John Sullivan led an American army through their 
    country, burning forty towns and destroying crops.
    In the Ohio country Guyashuta of the Senecas, Cornstalk of the Shawnees, and 
    White Eyes of the Delawares worked hard to steer a neutral course in the early years 
    of the war. At the Treaty of Fort Pitt in 1778, Delawares and Americans pledged 
    "perpetual peace and friendship." But after Americans killed White Eyes and Cornstalk, 
    and slaughtered noncombatant Moravian Delawares at the mission town of 
    Gnadenhutten, Ohio Indians made common cause with the British. They won 
    victories in the West long after Cornwallis had surrendered in the East, and continued 
    to resist American expansion for a dozen years after the Revolution.
    In 1783, under the terms of the Peace of Paris, without regard to its Indian allies, 
    Britain handed over to the new United States all its territory east of the Mississippi, 
    south of the Great Lakes, and north of Florida. The United States proceeded to 
    expand westward, acquiring Indian lands by treaty and by force. Stockbridges and 
    Oneidas who had supported the Americans lost lands as well as Senecas and 
    Shawnees who had fought against them.
    Indians fought in the Revolution for Indian liberties and Indian homelands, not for 
    the British empire. But the image of Indian participation presented in the Declaration 
    of Independence prevailed: most Americans believed that Indians had backed 
    monarchy and tyranny. A nation conceived in liberty need feel no remorse about 
    dispossessing and expelling those who had fought against its birth.

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    © 2005-2011  Diane Siniard