First Nations were big losers of War of 1812 0
Why would the First Nations want to get involved in what was on the surface, a white man's war? To answer this question we really have to go back to the era of the American Revolution and look at the differing policies of the Americans and the British towards all First Nations.
The British needed to foster a good relationship with the various tribes as their main interest in the west was the fur trade. This spawned an interest in the maintenance of a native buffer state between the Canadas and the United States which would facilitate an uninterrupted trade in furs and make it more difficult for the US to invade Canada. This trade also included a large number of firearms which helped to fuel the American paranoia that the British were arming the natives in an attempt to thwart their westward expansion. The British were also aware that in the event of a war with the United States, troops and settlers were too thinly spread in Upper Canada to put up a concentrated defence to the numerous invasion routes available to the Americans. As long as the war in Europe occupied the bulk of their fighting force, native reinforcements would be necessary to beat back the American attacks.
The Americans, on the other hand, felt that the natives were an impediment to American westward expansion. They were not primarily concerned with the fur trade, but with the acquisition of land for the numerous settlers who wanted it for farms. Natives had been resisting this expansion into the old Northwest (south of Lake Erie and north of the Ohio River) since the 1780's which had resulted in an almost continuous bloody conflict between the natives and Americans.
As the white population had increased considerably into the westward territories (Ohio had increased to over 230,000 and Kentucky's to around 400,000 by the start of the War) the natives could foresee their traditional hunting lands being over-run if nothing was done to stop them.
In 1805 the great Shawnee visionary, Tecumseh, had begun to organize the western tribes into a united First Nations Confederacy spreading from the Great Lakes to Mexico. He believed this was the only way to resist the encroachment of white civilization. An extremely talented public speaker, Tecumseh used these skills to convince the chiefs of the politically decentralized First Nations to join his cause. This endeavour had the support of the British as it would have established a buffer state between Canada and the United States, blocked American westward expansion and facilitated British trade with the western tribes. A
fter the American attack on the Shawnee village at Tippecanoe in 1811 the writing was clearly on the wall and at the beginning of the war, Tecumseh had gathered close to eight hundred warriors to join with the British in their battle against the Americans. B
ut Tecumseh joined the war to protect native interests, not the British presence in North America, which is one of the reasons that he was so effective in recruiting the support of other tribes in the war. Fortunately Tecumseh did not live to see the demise of his dream.
He was killed at the Battle of Moraviantown, in what is now southern Ontario, in the fall of 1813.
However his leadership was likely instrumental in getting some of the following tribes to participate on the side of the British.
Walk-in-the-Water, a chief of the Wyandot, initially decided to remain neutral when Tecumseh asked him to ally with the British but joined the cause after the British, with the assistance of the Ojibway, captured Fort Mackinac. The Wyandot were involved in scouting operations leading up to the Battle of Detroit and saw action at Brownstown, where they prevented the Americans led by General William Hull in Fort Detroit, from receiving badly needed supplies.
Walk-in-the-Water was also at the Battle of Frenchtown.
The Potawatomi under chief Black Bird participated in the attack on Fort Dearborn in August of 1812 and many of them moved out of their traditional lands and settled in the local area at the end of the War.
Speaking of the local area, the Ojibwa chief Musquakie (Yellowhead) was responsible for keeping the Ojibway of southern Upper Canada loyal to the British during the War of 1812 and a few (less than 100) of his braves assisted in the unsuccessful defence of York in 1813.
The northern Ojibway also played a major role in the British capture of Michilimackinac in 1812.
One of the more intriguing personalities of the War of 1812 was the Iroquois chief John Norton (Teyoninhokarawen). More is known about him and the Iroquois participation than the contribution of other tribes as he kept a journal which was published after the War. Norton was the son of a Cherokee father and a Scottish mother. His father joined the British Army and eventually settled in Scotland where he later married. John Norton was most likely educated in Scotland and followed his father into the army. He was stationed in Quebec in 1785 and deserted while his regiment was at Niagara in 1787.
It was probably around this time that he became involved with the Six Nations of the Grand River, in Upper Canada's Niagara Peninsula.
He taught school at an Iroquois village west of Kingston for a time and also travelled through the Ohio region as a trader.
He was inspired by the Mohawk chief, Thayendanega (Joseph Brant) and was adopted into the community as Thayendanega's nephew.
He acquired the status of chief from his adopted uncle and was given the name "Teyoninhokarawen". which is Mohawk for "open door."
Like Tecumseh, Norton believed that the best hope for the First Nations lay in native solidarity. The multi-ethnic nature of the Grand River community reinforced this vision (most of the natives here were refugees from the American Revolution and had been led to the area by Thayendanega who had fought on the side of the Crown during the rebellion of the American colonies).
The Grand River community saw itself as part of an independent nation. It was made up mostly of Iroquois tribes, but also included other native peoples as well as some black and white settlers. One of these settlers was one of my mother's ancestors, Adam Young.
He had served as an officer in Butler's Rangers which had fought alongside Thayendanega against the rebels during the American Revolution and had been given a grant of land on the Grand River reservation by Thayendanega after the war. Adam's son, Daniel had also served in Butler's Rangers and later as a captain in the 5th Lincoln Militia during War of 1812. His regiment fought at Beaver Dams, Fort Erie, Black Rock, Detroit, Queenston Heights, Frenchman's Creek and Lundy's Lane.
By 1812, the political influence of the Iroquois Confederacy had slipped away considerably, as the American and Canadian colonies continued to grow. This was exacerbated by the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the American War of Independence and left the Iroquois straddling a new border between the United States and Canada, a border which eventually created a physical and political rift between brother tribes. As the British- American conflict approached in 1812, Norton was considered an obvious ally by the British administration. He had retained aspects of his white heritage (he was a devout Anglican) and had maintained close contact with the British while living on the Grand River. Although John Brant (son of Joseph) was the nominal chief of the Grand River Iroquois he was only eighteen years old when the war began and passed the position of chief on to the more experienced and influential John Norton. Despite Norton's influence, many of the Iroquois were wary of an alliance with either the British or Americans. The Iroquois of New York were determined to remain neutral and many Iroquois in Canada were also inclined to stay out of the white battles.
However, Norton believed that the interests of his people were not so easily divorced from the affairs of the white society that surrounded them.
He thought his community's welfare would be best protected in an alliance with the British. Perhaps William Henry Harrison's brutal anti-Indian campaigns in the Michigan and Ohio territories made choosing sides easier for Norton (Norton had led a handful of Six Nations war-r iors at Tippecanoe).After much negotiation, the Six Nations made an agreement amongst themselves which allowed the New York Iroquois to remain neutral and the Grand River community to be free to fight alongside the British.
Most importantly, no Iroquois warriors would meet their brothers in battle. Initially the agreement held.
The Grand River and Kanawake Iroquois contributed greatly to British victories at Beaver Dams and Queenston Heights (John Brant was present at Queenston Heights, where he and a fellow warrior almost killed the American Colonel (later General) Winfield Scott).
When the British invaded Black Rock in the summer of 1813, the nearby Iroquois interpreted it as an attack.
The American tribes responded by taking part in the American raid on Fort George where they met their Grand River brothers in battle.
The Grand River Six Nations figured prominently in the battles on the Niagara in the summer of 1814 but after they fought their New York cousins in a bloody confrontation at the Battle of Chippawa in July of 1813, most decided to withdraw.
This tragedy lead the Iroquois to withdraw almost entirely from the war in order to salvage their Confederacy although a few Iroquois did remained with Norton after Chippawa.
They were present at the battle of Lundy's Lane in late July and at the unsuccessful British assault on Fort Erie in mid August. After the Treaty of Ghent in December, Norton retired from fighting and was granted a pension of £200 per annum.
He kept on supporting the claims of Indian war veterans for losses incurred in the c a mpaigns.
The Treaty of Ghent negotiations did not include a native representative, although the British initially proposed that they be a party to the treaty, the Americans refused.
This resulted in no say in the outcome and as a result they were the big losers in the War. Although some tribes were prepared to continue the fight, most gave up when the British withdrew from the northwestern territories that they had held at the end of the War. Some tribes attempted to renew their old treaties with the Americans in an attempt to regain the pre-war status quo but it was too late. The settlers had become too numerous and had moved too far into native territories and the natives were now too weak to resist without an European ally to help them.
So the Munroe Doctrine of westward expansion saw many tribes move west of the Mississippi to lands they would be given in perpetuity. But that lasted about 20 years before the western migration disrupted most native tribes all the way to the Pacific.
Dr. Alan Taylor will discuss some of this history when he speaks at the Huronia Museum's 22nd Annual Heritage Dinner on Friday May 4th. Tickets for this fund raiser can be purchased at the Huronia Museum or call 705-526-2844 for more information.