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The Western Confederacy, or Western Indian Confederacy, was a loose confederacy of Native Americans in the Great Lakes region of the United States following the American Revolutionary War. The confederacy was also sometimes known as the Miami Confederacy, as many federal officials at the time knew of the size of Kekionga and overestimated the influence and numerical strength of the Miami tribe within the confederation. The confederacy, which had its roots in pan-tribal movements dating to the 1740s, came together in an attempt to resist the expansion of the United States, and the encroachment of American settlers, into the Northwest Territory after Great Britain ceded the region to the United States in the 1783 Treaty of Paris. The resistance resulted in the Northwest Indian War (1785–1795), which ended with an American military victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. (Though it was rekindled by Tenskwatawa, known as The Prophet, and his brother Tecumseh.)
The Ohio territory had been contested for over a century, going back to the 17th century Beaver Wars. The Iroquois Confederacy competed with local nations for control of the region, as did European powers. The 18th century French and Indian War was ignited by imperial contests between France and Great Britain. At the conclusion of that war, France ceded control of the region to Great Britain, who then negotiated the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix with their allies in the Iroquois League. The Shawnee responded by forming alliances between nations that inhabited the region in order to prevent more territorial losses. These efforts were opposed by the British.
By 1775, Great Britain was engaged in war with her North American colonists. Although many of the native peoples had fought in the American Revolutionary War as British allies, Great Britain made no mention of their allies in the 1783 Treaty of Paris. According to Joseph Brant, a Mohawk chief who had actively fought for the Great Britain, the British had "sold the Indians to Congress." Brant worked to establish a pan-Indian confederacy that could negotiate with the new United States. Delegates from 35 nations gathering on the Upper Sandusky River in September 1783. The conference was also attended by Sir John Johnson and Alexander McKee, who advocated for a strong confederation and an end to violent raids.:46 The council agreed that no agreements could be made with the United States without the consensus of the entire confederation.:53 At the same time, Congress passed the Proclamation of 1783, which recognized Native American rights to the land. However, the gathering had barely dismissed when the Indian Affairs committee of Congress passed the Resolution of October 15, 1783, which claimed rights to the land and called on Native Nations to withdraw behind the Great Miami River and Mad River.:51
The council reconvened in August 1784 at Niagara, where US commissioners were to meet with them. The US commission was delayed, however, and many nations departed before they arrived.:52 The commissioners summoned the remaining Iroquois nations to Fort Stanwix, where they relinquished their claims to the Ohio lands in the 1784 Treaty of Fort Stanwix.:52 The Iroquois Confederacy rejected this treaty, claiming that it had no right to give the United States rights to the land. The Western nations living in the territory also rejected the treaty on the same grounds. The US commissioners, meanwhile, negotiated the Treaty of Fort McIntosh in January 1785, in which a few representatives of Native Americans agreed to grant to the United States most of the modern state of Ohio.:52 A small US Army under General Josiah Harmar arrived in the territory later that year.
Brant toured Canada, London, and Paris in 1785 to gain British and French support.:55-56 A council held that same year at Fort Detroit proclaimed that the confederacy would deal jointly with the United States, forbade individual tribes from dealing directly with the United States, and declared the Ohio River as the boundary between their lands and those of American settlers. Nevertheless, a group of Shawnee, Delaware, and Wyandot agreed to allow U.S. settlement in a tract of land north of the Ohio River in the January 1786 Treaty of Fort Finney. This treaty sparked an eruption of violence between native inhabitants and U.S. settlers,:101–102 and it was rejected by a September 1786 council of 35 native nations, including British representatives, who met at a Wyandot (Huron) village on the Upper Sandusky.:46-47 Logan's raid into Shawnee territory occurred weeks later, hardening Native views on U.S. relations. That December, Brant returned to address a council on the Detroit River. The council sent a letter to U.S. Congress signed by eleven native nations, who referred to themselves as “the United Indian Nations, at their Confederate Council.”:58-59 The confederacy assembled again on the Maumee River in Autumn 1787 to consider a U.S. reply, but as they had not yet received one, they adjourned.
Congress appointed Arthur St. Clair as governor over the new Northwest Territory and directed him to make peace with the Native Nations. He did not arrive until Summer 1788, when he invited the nations to a council at Fort Harmar to negotiate terms by which the United States could purchase lands from them and avoid war. The sight of Fort Harmar and nearby Marietta both north of the Ohio River boundary, convinced some that the United States was negotiating from a position of strength. At pre-negotiation meetings, Joseph Brant suggested a compromise to other Native American leaders: allow existing US settlements north of the Ohio River and draw a new boundary at the mouth of the Muskingum River.:108-110 Some in the council rejected Brant's compromise. A Wyandot delegation offered a belt of peace to the Miami delegation, but they refused to accept it. One of the Wyandot then placed it on the shoulder of a Miami military leader named Little Turtle, but he shrugged it off to the ground.:112 Brant then sent a letter to St. Clair asking that treaty negotiations be held at a different location; St. Clair refused, and accused Brant of acting for the British. Brant then declared he would boycott negotiations with the United States, and suggested others do the same. About 200 remaining moderates came to Fort Harmar in December, and agreed to concessions in the 1789 Treaty of Fort Harmar, which moved the border and named the United States as sovereign over native lands.:112-113 But to those who had refused to attend, the treaty re-enforced the United States' appetite for native lands in the region without addressing the concerns of the native nations.
Members of many different tribes were involved in the Western Confederacy. However, because most tribes were not centralized political units at the time, involvement in the confederacy was usually on a village rather than a tribal basis. The confederacy consisted of members of the following tribes:
- Lenape (Also known as the Delaware)
- Council of Three Fires (Potawatomi, Odawa, and Ojibwe)
- Wabash Confederacy (Wea, Piankashaw, and others)
- Sauk and Meskwaki
- Six Nations (Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, Tuscarora, and smaller groups like the Tutelo and Nanticoke)
- Seven Nations of Canada (Mohawk, Algonquin, Nipissing, Abenaki, and Wendat)
- Illini Confederacy (Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Peoria, and others)
- Mingo (Trans-Appalachian Cayuga and Seneca splinter groups)
The Confederacy was also periodically supported by communities and warriors from west of the Mississippi River and south of the Ohio River, including the Dakota, Chickamauga Cherokee, and Upper Creek.
In 1790, General Harmar led an expedition to subdue the native confederacy and marched north from Fort Washington to Kekionga. The US force was soundly defeated in what was, at the time, the largest Native American victory over US forces. The victory emboldened the confederacy. Because they were both present at Kekionga when it was attacked, this was the first military operation shared between Little Turtle and Shawnee leader Blue Jacket.:113-115
The following year, St. Clair led a new expedition on the same route, determined to defeat the confederacy. At the time, the confederation was considering terms of peace to present to the United States, but once alerted to this new campaign, they readied for war.:159 The confederacy ambushed and quickly overwhelmed St. Clair in camp, leading to St. Clair's defeat, which remains one of the worst defeats in the history of the United States Army.
Following this military disaster, President George Washington sent peace emissaries to the confederacy. The first emissary was Major Alexander Truman He and his servant William Lynch were killed before they arrived. A similar mission in May 1792 ended when under Colonel John Hardin and his servant Freeman were mistaken for spies and killed on the site of modern Hardin, Ohio. Later in 1792, a U.S. delegation led by Rufus Putnam and John Hamtramck, with assistance from Little Turtle's son-in-law William Wells, negotiated a treaty with the tribes of the Wabash Confederacy. Henry Knox suggested that this treaty weakened the Western Confederacy by 800 warriors.:256, 262
Meanwhile, the confederacy continued to debate whether to continue the war or sue for peace while they had the advantage. A Grand Council of several nations met at the confluence of the Auglaize and Maumee Rivers in September 1792.:223 Alexander McKee represented British interests and arrived in late September. For a week in October, pro-war factions, especially Simon Girty, the Shawnee, and Miami, debated moderate factions, especially the Six Nations represented by Cornplanter and Red Jacket.:226-7 The Council agreed that the Ohio River must remain the boundary of the United States, that the forts in the Ohio Country must be destroyed, and that they would meet with the United States at the Lower Sandusky River in spring 1793.:227 The United States received the demands of the Grand Council with indignation, but Henry Knox agreed to send treaty commissioners Benjamin Lincoln, Timothy Pickering, and Beverley Randolph to the 1793 council and suspend all offensive operations until that time.:228
At the 1793 council, disagreement broke out between the Shawnee and the Iroquois. The Shawnee and Delaware insisted that the United States recognize the 1768 Fort Stanwix Treaty between the Six Nations and Great Britain, which set the Ohio River as a boundary. Joseph Brant countered that the Six Nations had nothing to gain from this demand and refused to concede. The U.S. commissioners argued that it would be too expensive to move white settlers who had already established homesteads north of the Ohio River.:240-45 On 13 August, the Council (without the Six Nations) sent a declaration to the U.S. commissioners, contesting U.S. claims to any lands above the Ohio since they were based on treaties made with nations that did not live there, and with money that had no value to the Native tribes. The council proposed that the U.S. relocate white settlers using the money that would have been used to buy native lands and pay the Legion of the United States.:246 The council ended with discord among the confederacy, and Benjamin Lincoln wrote to John Adams that they had failed to secure a peace in the Northwest.
Following the failed peace negotiations, the new Legion of the United States, under command of General Anthony Wayne, mobilized for yet another march north. The Legion was better trained and equipped than previous US expeditions, and Wayne had a methodical plan to build supply forts along the way to protect his supply chain. The confederacy was divided in their response to Wayne, with some significant leaders recommending that they negotiate terms of peace rather than engaging in battle.:337, 369 The perceived cracks in the united confederacy concerned the British, who sent reinforcements to Fort Miami on the Maumee River.:293–294
On 20 August 1794, the Legion defeated a combined native force at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The British commander of nearby Fort Miami refused to come to the aid of the native force, nor give them refuge during their retreat. On 17 September 1794, Wayne finally arrived at Kekionga, and selected the site for a new US stronghold named Fort Wayne.
The following year, 1795, the Western Confederacy negotiated the Treaty of Greenville with the United States. Utilizing St. Clair's defeat and Fort Recovery as a reference point, the Greenville Treaty Line forced the northwest Native American tribes to cede southern and eastern Ohio and various tracts of land around forts and settlements in Illinois Country; to recognize the U.S., rather than Britain, as the ruling power in the Old Northwest; and to surrender ten chiefs as hostages until all American prisoners were returned. The Western Confederacy ceased to function as an entity, and many of its leaders pledged peace with the United States. A decade later, a new pan-Indian movement formed, led by Tecumseh.
Historian William Hogeland calls the Western Confederacy the "high-water mark in resistance to white expansion.":374
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