The Culture of War Part 2: The War Period (1754 – 1763) – Native Americans

The War Period (1754 – 1763) – Native Americans

"Nouvelle-France 1750" by JF Lepage
“Nouvelle-France 1750” by JF Lepage

To a certain extent, Native Americans living in the Ohio Valley region, as well as some still dwelling on the periphery of the English colonies, found that their interests lined up quite neatly with those of the French, whose government operated to the north in Canada. By the time war broke out, the British colonies in North America overshadowed the French presence on the continent by a ratio of at least twenty to one.[1] As English incursions into the Ohio Valley grew by the year, the leadership of New France determined to take action or else risk losing their hold of American territories altogether. Similarly, the indigent tribes of the valley, which now included Delaware and Shawnee tribes, also needed to halt English westward expansion. The Delaware and Shawnee had previously been relocated from their traditional eastern homelands by the English (with the help of the Iroquois Confederacy). These peoples needed little incentive from the French to attack the English.[2]

"An Indian village on the move."
“An Indian village on the move.”

Encouraged by French authorities, bands of Delawares, Shawnees, and Mingoes started to raid settlements on the fringes of western Pennsylvania and Virginia.[3] United by anger of the enemy English in the east and supported by French allies to the north and west, Native American raiders engaged a largely unprepared settler population on the fringes of the Anglo colonies. Men were killed, often brutally so, and women and children were taken prisoner (although some of these were killed as well).[4] The outlying settlements were scattered throughout the western wilderness and nearly impossible to defend. Indian war parties effectively emptied out many of the existing settlements, all the while waging a terror campaign rarely observed in traditional Indian warfare.[5] The objective was to force the English to recognize the land rights of the displaced Indians, and terror was the instrument to force the colonists to negotiate. These tactics were exceedingly successful, as these bands of “only a few hundred Indians” supported by French supplies, effectively paralyzed Virginia and Pennsylvania from 1754 – 1758.[6] According to Thomas Monte, writing in 1756, raids from Ohio-based Indians “…killed above a thousand inhabitants of the western frontiers.” But, he added, “The death of these poor people did not remain long unrevenged.”[7] In September 1756, Lieutenant Colonel John Armstrong of Pennsylvania led a retaliatory raid against Kittanning, one of the primary Delaware villages used to stage attacks in the colony.[8] Although the success of the raid is a subject of some historical debate, it does demonstrate what David L. Preston describes as a growing of violence and hatred between the colonists and Native Americans – “raids and counterraids and a series of individual and mass murders…”[9]

Two infamous incidents rooted in cultural misunderstandings between the colonists and two separate Indian peoples had far reaching consequences. The first involved a band of Ohio Shawnee, who were on friendly terms with the English. In April 1753, a year before the greater war began, a Shawnee raiding party entered South Carolina, intent on raiding an enemy tribe (the Catawba). We may see here an example of what Wayne Lee described as warfare to teach a political lesson. The Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy had signed a peace treaty with the Catawba two years prior. The Shawnee, although nominally under the Six Nations, were longtime enemies of the Catawba. The goals of the raid were to provide glory to the members of the war party, and to demonstrate Shawnee resistance to Six Nations authority.[10]

However, suspicious South Carolina militiamen, on the lookout for hostile Indian raiders, apprehended the party. The Shawnee were largely amenable, since the English were considered friends, and agreed to accompany the militiamen to meet with Governor James Glen. This proved ill-fated, as the party was soon thrown into jail. The fundamental misunderstanding by Glen of Shawnee cultural perceptions of the incarceration precipitated a full blown crisis. The governor sincerely felt the action was reasonable, particularly since the prisoners were well treated. To the Shawnee, however, the perceived betrayal by an ally was a terrible affront. To most Native Americans, incarceration was viewed as humiliating, and in this case particularly so since the purpose of the original raid was to enhance the raiding party’s war fighting stature.[11] Two months later, in a speech to the king of the Catawba, Governor Glen demonstrated the European cultural fixation on the illusory central authority of the Six Nations over subordinate tribes. Apparently unable to distinguish the actions of the Shawnee from the Six Nations, Glen warned the Catawba king that the Six Nations were not abiding by the peace treaty. To address this, Glen assured the king that he had dispatched letters to his brother (the governor of New York) and to the Six Nations leadership, imploring them to abide by the terms of the peace treaty.[12]   No such control existed, however. The result would be a war that lasted six decades, and focused primarily on Virginia and not South Carolina, due to the proximity of the colonies to the Shawnee.[13]

The second incident was equally tragic as similar English suspicions and cultural mistakes turned another valuable ally into a foe. Through the early years of the war, the Cherokee, still a loosely associated people, nevertheless proved to be extraordinarily valuable assisting English forces in Ohio. In 1758, four years into the war, the Cherokee appeared in mass at a pivotal time in the Ohio Valley. For two years the British and Ohio Indians had negotiated peace, but once the Cherokee force arrived, with rumors that they intended to kill all the Delaware in the region, the impasse started to break.[14] Although the discussions lasted several months more, the Cherokee presence helped shield the British while they continued to fight the French. Eventually, the historic Treaty of Easton was signed, in large part thanks to the environment created by the Cherokee.[15] However, the ability for Virginia, who the Cherokee supported in Ohio, to maintain friendship with gifts was soon strained. Feeling robbed of expected reward, tensions started to rise as some Indians raided Virginian settlements.[16] This began a series of killings and revenge killings between the settlers and the Cherokee.[17] In 1759, the Governor of South Carolina, who had entered into the dispute, effectively arrested two peace delegations. This action violated Native American expectations of diplomacy, and also aroused suspicions of Southern slavery intentions, as the southern plantation system had started to spread.[18] Once more, although the Governor thought his actions justifiable, the insult and disregard for Indian cultural sensitivities would have major consequences. The Anglo-Cherokee war would last from 1759 – 1761, in the midst of the war with the French.

[1] Matthew C. Ward, “’Old Women’” Indian Strategy on the Virginia and Pennsylvania Frontier, 1754 – 1758,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 103, No. 3 (Jul., 1995), 298.

[2] Ibid, 300-301.

[3] Ibid.

[4] David L. Preston, The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquoia, 1667-1783 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009), 148 -149.

[5] Matthew C. Ward, ibid, 312.

[6] Ibid, 298.

[7] Thomas Mante, The History of the Late War in North America and the Islands of the West Indies including the Campaigns of MDCCLXIII and MDCCLXIV against His Majesty’s Indian Enemies (London: Printed for W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1772), 118.

[8] Daniel P. Barr, “Victory at Kittanning? Reevaluating the Impact of Armstrong’s Raid on the Seven Years’ War

in Pennsylvania,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 131, No. 1 (Jan., 2007), 5 – 6.

[9] David L. Preston, ibid, 149.

[10] Ian Steel, “Shawnee Origins of Their Seven Years’ War,” Ethnohistory, Vol. 53, No. 4 (Fall, 2006), 662

[11] Ibid, 665-668.

[12] Speech of James Glen, Governor of South Carolina, to the Hagler king of the Catawbas, in The Papers of Sir William Johnson (Albany: University of the State of New York, 1921), 386 – 388.

[13] Ibid, 671.

[14] Paul Kelton, “The British and Indian War: Cherokee Power and the Fate of Empire in North America,” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 69, No. 4 (October 2012), 780.

[15] Ibid, 786.

[16] Tyler Boulware, ibid, 409.

[17] Ibid, 409-410.

[18] Ibid, 413-414.

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3 thoughts on “The Culture of War Part 2: The War Period (1754 – 1763) – Native Americans

    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Mike. I appreciate the comment, and thought it was really neat that you’ve written a book set in this very period. Do you have a history background? I took a look at your blog, and you appear to cover a lot of ground in your writing. Thanks again! WEL

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      • I grew up in NW PA and as a scout hiked the Washington Trail. I also am a lifelong outdoorsman and hunted until about 10 years ago. My history education is from reading dozens and dozens of books. History was not emphasized in either HS or college. My historical novel, CAPTAIN’S CROSS, is set in 1753 and weaves fiction into real history. A lot of research and literary license to make it work.

        Liked by 1 person

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