The Northwest Indian War (1785-1795), also known as the Ohio War, Little Turtle’s War, and by other names, was a war between the United States (along with its Native Chickasaw and Choctaw allies) and the Western Confederacy (a confederation of numerous other Native American tribes), with support from the British, for control of the Northwest Territory. It followed centuries of conflict over this territory, first among Native American tribes, and then with the added shifting alliances among the tribes and the European powers of France and Great Britain, and their colonials. The United States Army considers it their first of the United States Indian Wars.
Article 2 of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolutionary War, used the Great Lakes as a border between British territory and that of the United States. Numerous Native American peoples inhabited this region, known to the United States as the Ohio Country and the Illinois Country. Despite the treaty, which ceded the Northwest Territory to the United States, the British kept forts there and continued policies that supported the Native Americans. With the encroachment of European settlers west of the Appalachians after the War, a Huron-led confederacy formed in 1785 to resist usurpation of Indian lands, declaring that lands north and west of the Ohio River were Indian territory. President George Washington directed the United States Army to enforce US sovereignty over the territory. The US Army, consisting mostly of untrained recruits and volunteer militiamen, suffered a series of major defeats, including the Harmar Campaign (1790) and St. Clair’s Defeat (1791). About 1,000 soldiers and militiamen were killed and the United States forces suffered many more casualties than their opponents. These defeats are among the worst ever suffered in the history of the US Army.
After St. Clair’s disaster, Washington ordered Revolutionary War hero General “Mad” Anthony Wayne to organise and train a proper fighting force. Wayne took command of the new Legion of the United States late in 1792. After a methodical campaign up the Great Miami and Maumee river valleys in western Ohio Country, he led his men to a decisive victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers near the southwestern shore of Lake Erie (close to modern Toledo, Ohio) in 1794. Afterward he went on to establish Fort Wayne at the Miami capital of Kekionga, the symbol of US sovereignty in the heart of Indian Country. The defeated tribes were forced to cede extensive territory, including much of present-day Ohio, in the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. The Jay Treaty in the same year arranged for cessions of British Great Lakes outposts on the US territory.
Refer to Sixty Years’ War (1754-1815).
Control of the area south of the Great Lakes and north of the Ohio River was contested for centuries. European influence first began when the Dutch and English supported the Iroquois in the 17th century Beaver Wars. In the 18th century, the region became a focal point for colonial wars between France and Great Britain, especially in the Ohio Country. The French and Indian War initiated when France and Virginia disputed control of the area, and the different Native nations in the region supported their favoured trade partners (French or British) or remained neutral. In the Treaty of Paris (1763), France ceded control of the region to the British, although many French colonials remained and Native nations resisted the arrival of British control in Pontiac’s War. Eager to avoid a new conflict, the British government issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix in an attempt to fix the boundary between Virginia, Pennsylvania, and native lands. However, this created discontent among the British colonials who wanted to settle in the region, and was one of the early causes eventually leading to Lord Dunmore’s War and the American Revolutionary War.
As the Revolution approached, tensions grew in the Ohio Valley. The Grand Ohio Company was built on speculation in Native American lands, and Great Britain granted tracts of Native land to veterans of the French and Indian War to pay off debts. But in 1772, Great Britain redeployed many of its western forces to the East Coast to suppress the growing rebellion, removing a deterrent to illegal squatters. In 1774, Great Britain determined that these land grants could not be granted to colonial veterans, meaning that colonial veterans who had invested heavily in land speculation (such as George Washington) would lose their investment. That same year, the Quebec Act placed the lands between the Ohio River and Great Lakes under the jurisdiction of Quebec. That Spring, a group of settlers led by Daniel Greathouse committed the Yellow Creek massacre, in which thirteen women and children were killed, including the wife and pregnant sister of Tachnechdorus, who had been friendly to settlers until that time. In a particularly brutal act, Koonay, the sister of Tachnechdorus, was strung up by the wrists while her unborn baby was impaled. As expected, Tachnechdorus took revenge, and was supported by the Shawnee, who expressed discontent that they had still not been paid for their lands. Still other Shawnee fled the Scioto River valley, avoiding the anticipated war with the white settlers who suddenly surrounded them.
During the course of the American Revolutionary War, United States forces captured outposts in the lower areas of the territory, but British forces maintained control of Fort Lernoult (Detroit). In September 1778, the United States negotiated the Treaty of Fort Pitt and secured Delaware support for an attack on Detroit the following month. The campaign was abandoned after the death of Lenape leader White Eyes. Additional actions in the Western theatre of the American Revolutionary War further damaged relations between the United States and many of the region’s native inhabitants. In 1780, British and Native American forces swept across the Midwest to clear the territories of rebels and Spanish forces, attacking St. Louis and Cahokia and Kentucky, but were repulsed in both battles. Within months, General George Rogers Clark retaliated by crossing the Ohio River and attacking Shawnee towns Chillicothe and Piqua. That same year, French officer Augustin de La Balme led a militia force towards Fort Detroit, stopping to sack Kekionga along the way. The Miami tribes, which had been divided in their allegiances during the Revolution, now joined against the United States, and the retaliation against La Balme’s militia launched the military career of an obscure Miami warrior named Mihšihkinaahkwa, known as Little Turtle. The following year, British and Native American forces attacked Fort Laurens, a US fort in the Ohio Territory.
Two of the last battles of the Revolutionary War include the 1782 Siege of Fort Henry and Battle of Blue Licks, both attacks by British and Native Americans on settlers across the Ohio River in Virginia and Kentucky. The same year saw the Gnadenhutten massacre and Crawford expedition, which further increased distrust between Native Americans and the United States. The western theatre had a markedly different tone than the European style battles in the east, which left a generational impact on US settlers and Native Nations.
In the Treaty of Paris (1783), Great Britain ceded control of the region, but the native nations were not party to these negotiations, and the new United States was no longer bound by British treaties with native nations. BG Allan Maclean at Fort Niagara reported that the native nations could neither believe that the king would give their land to the United States, nor that the United States would accept them. Many preferred to trade with the British rather than the young United States, and British agents continued to operate in the western region and influence the residents. The Iroquois and the western tribes met on the Sandusky Bay in the same year and, after listening to the pan-Indian ideals of Joseph Brant and Alexander McKee, pledged that no one would concede land to the United States without permission of the entire association. Fighting in the west did not end with the treaty, however. 40 Pennsylvanians and Virginians were killed by Native Americans in Spring 1784, and conflicts continued in Kentucky.
The newly independent United States was financially fragile; it needed peace to reduce military expenses, but also wanted to pay off debts by selling lands the British had ceded, as the British had done after the French & Indian War. In 1784 the US negotiated the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784), in which the Iroquois negotiators ceded control of western regions. The Iroquois nations refused to ratify the treaty, however, because it gave away too much land, and the Western Confederacy refused to recognise any right of the Iroquois to give away control of lands which the Iroquois did not occupy. In the following year, the Treaty of Fort McIntosh attempted to open most of the Ohio Country to American settlement. This united the tribes of the Western Confederacy in opposition to American encroachment on their territories.
Formation of the Confederacy
Co-operation among the Native American tribes in the Western Confederacy had gone back to the French colonial era. It was renewed during the American Revolutionary War. At gatherings in 1783 and 1784, native nations worked to formalise a union to defend against the United States. The confederacy formally came together in Autumn 1785 at Fort Detroit, proclaiming that the parties to the confederacy would deal jointly with the United States, forbidding individual tribes from dealing directly with the United States, and declaring 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 US 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 US settlers. That year, a Wyandot messenger named Scotosh warned Congress that the Wabash, Twightwee, and Miami nations would disrupt US surveyors, and Congress promised reprisals if that occurred. The Ft. Finney treaty 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. Logan’s Raid into Shawnee territory occurred weeks later, hardening Native views on US relations. That December, a council on the Detroit River sent a letter to US Congress signed by eleven native nations, who referred to themselves as “the United Indian Nations, at their Confederate Council.”
In July 1787, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, formally organizing the entire Northwest Territory under United States control, and prohibited the taking of Indian lands “without their consent.” Months later, in October 1787, Congress responded to the United Indian Nations’ letter by directing the governor of the new Northwest Territory, General Arthur St. Clair, to “re-establish peace and harmony” with native nations. Congress took no further action in 1787, because it was engrossed in the debate over the proposed US Constitution. The confederacy assembled on the Maumee River in Autumn 1787 to consider a US reply, but as they had not yet received one, they adjourned.
Arthur St. Clair did not arrive in the territory until Summer 1788, when he invited American Indian nations to a council at Fort Harmar that Autumn, in order to negotiate terms by which the United States could purchase lands from them and avoid war. The sight of Fort Harmar and nearby Marietta North of the Ohio River convinced some that negotiations with the United States were necessary. At pre-negotiation meetings, Joseph Brant offered a compromise to other Native American leaders: to allow existing US settlements north of the Ohio River and draw a new boundary at the mouth of the Muskingum River. Other leaders were infuriated by US incursions across the Ohio, and 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 Little Turtle’s shoulder, but the Miami leader shrugged it off to the ground. Brant then sent St. Clair a letter asking that treaty negotiations be held at a different location; St. Clair refused, and accused Brant of acting for the British. At this, Brant determined to boycott negotiations with the United States, and suggested others do the same. About 200 moderate American Indians 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. To those who had refused to attend or sign, the treaty re-enforced the United States’ appetite for native lands in the region without addressing the concerns of the native nations.
The confederacy was a loose association of primarily Algonquin-speaking tribes in the Great Lakes area. The Wyandot (Huron) were the nominal “fathers,” or senior guaranteeing tribe of the confederacy, but the Shawnee and Miami provided the greatest share of the fighting forces. Other tribes in the confederacy included the Delaware (Lenape), Council of Three Fires (Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi), Kickapoo, Kaskaskia, and Wabash Confederacy (Wea, Piankashaw, and others). In most cases, an entire tribe was not involved in the war; the Indian societies were generally not centralized. Villages and individual warriors and chiefs decided on participation in the war. Nearly 200 Cherokee warriors from two bands of the Overmountain Towns fought alongside the Shawnee from the inception of the Revolution through the years of the Indian Confederacy. In addition, the Chickamauga (Lower Town) Cherokee leader, Dragging Canoe, sent a contingent of warriors for a specific action.
Some warriors of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes from the southeast, which had been traditional enemies of the northwest tribes, served as scouts for the United States during these years.
Still opposed to the US, some British agents in the region sold weapons and ammunition to the Indians and encouraged attacks on American settlers. Alexander McKee, a British agent born to a Shawnee mother, was a central figure in the confederacy. He worked to unite the diverse nations and bands of Native Americans in the region, but also represented the interests of Great Britain.
British Lieutenant Governor John Simcoe, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War, was delighted with the United States’ failures, and hoped for British involvement in the creation of a neutral barrier state between the United States and Canada. In 1793, however, Simcoe abruptly changed policy and sought peace with the United States in order to avoid opening a new front in the French Revolutionary Wars. Simcoe treated the United States commissioners – Benjamin Lincoln, Beverly Randolph, and Timothy Pickering – cordially when they arrived at Niagara in May 1793, seeking an escort by way of the Great Lakes in order to avoid the fate of John Hardin and Alexander Truman in 1792.
Course of the War
Refer to Logan’s Raid (1786).
War parties launched a series of isolated raids in the mid-1780s, resulting in escalating bloodshed and mistrust. In April 1786, a militia from Vincennes attacked a village on the Embarras River, forcing Piankeshaw to move farther away and consolidate near the Vermilion River. Over 400 Piankeshaw and Wea returned with a war party in July, but were persuaded not to attack Vincennes. That Autumn, Generals George Rogers Clark and Benjamin Logan led a two-pronged force of Kentucky militia in punitive raids against Native American villages to the north of the Ohio River. Clark’s force, considered the primary expedition, set off in September and marched north along the Wabash River to Illinois country. He was hindered by logistical problems caused by low water on the river, and when he reached the mouth of the Vermilion River in October, he was beset by mutiny and mass desertion. Clark returned with the remains of his force to Vincennes, his reputation in ruins.
General Logan, meanwhile, recruited and trained for his secondary force of Federal soldiers and mounted Kentucky militia against several Shawnee towns along the Mad River. The Shawnee nation was divided in their response to the United States settlers, but the Kentucky settlers made no distinction between hostile and friendly villages. The Shawnee villages along the Mad River were defended primarily by non-combatants while the warriors were hunting or raiding forts in Kentucky. Logan burned the native towns and food supplies, and killed or captured numerous natives. Against Logan’s orders, Captain Hugh McGary murdered an elderly Shawnee chief named Moluntha, who was considered friendly towards the United States and who had even hoisted a striped flag to welcome Logan’s men. Logan continued to 7 other villages, killing, torturing, or capturing dozens of villagers, including women and children. The militia also plundered their goods and burned their crops before returning to Kentucky. Logan’s raid devastated the Shawnee nation, who’s survivors struggled that winter due to the destroyed harvests, but it also united the Shawnee against the United States. Reports of Logan’s raid alarmed the confederate council in Detroit that November, and Shawnee raids into Kentucky were reported by December 1786.
Native American raids on both sides of the Ohio River resulted in increasing casualties. During the mid- and late-1780s, American settlers south of the Ohio River in Kentucky and travellers on and north of the Ohio River suffered approximately 1,500 casualties. Settlers retaliated with attacks on Indians. In 1789, the new United States Secretary of War Henry Knox argued that Congress had provoked Native Americans by claiming possession of their territories.
Refer to Harmar campaign (1790).
In 1790, the new President of the United States George Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox ordered General Josiah Harmar to launch the Harmar campaign, a major western offensive into the Shawnee and Miami country. General Harmar’s ultimate goal was Kekionga, a large Native American city that was important to the British trade economy, and that protected a strategic portage between the Great Lakes Basin and Mississippi watershed. Washington, as early as 1784, had told Henry Knox that a strong US post should be established at Kekionga. Knox, however, was concerned that a US fort at Kekionga would provoke the Indians and denied St. Clair’s request to build a fort there. St. Clair, in 1790, had told both Washington and Knox that “we will never have peace with the Western Nations until we have a garrison there.” Western native leaders, meanwhile, met at Kekionga to determine a response to the Treaty of Fort Harmar.
General Harmar’s forces of about 1,453 militia and regulars departed Fort Washington on 07 October 1790. From 19 to 21 October 1790, General Harmar lost 3 successive skirmishes near Kekionga (present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana). On 19 October, a scouting party of about 400 mixed forces under the command of Colonel John Hardin was lured into an ambush near the village of Le Gris, losing 129 soldiers in one of two defeats that has been called Hardin’s Defeat. The following day, another scouting party under Ensign Phillip Hartshorn was ambushed, but Harmar did not move to assist them or recover their remains. Finally, on 21 October 1790, a mixed party of militia and regulars under Colonel Hardin established attack positions on Kekionga and awaited reinforcements from General Harmar, which never came. Instead, forces under Little Turtle overwhelmed Hardin and compelled the US forces to retreat in the second battle known as Harmar’s Defeat. With 3 consecutive losses, more than 300 casualties, and low morale, Harmar retreated to Fort Washington. Following Harmar’s defeat, Knox changed his mind, instructing St. Clair to fortify Kekionga the following year.
Because they were both present when Harmar’s army arrived, this was the first full military operation shared between Miami leader Little Turtle and Shawnee leader Blue Jacket. It was largest the Native American victory over US forces until the following year, and emboldened Native Nations within the Northwest Territory. The following January, Indian forces attacked settlements at the Big Bottom massacre and the Siege of Dunlap’s Station.
St Clair’s Defeat
Refer to St. Clair’s Defeat (1791).
Washington ordered Major General Arthur St. Clair, who had been president of Congress when the Northwest Ordinance passed and was now serving as governor of the Northwest Territory, to mount a more vigorous effort by Summer 1791 and build a series of forts along the Maumee River. The hastily assembled expeditionary force had considerable troubles finding adequate supplies, receiving undamaged materials from Philadelphia, and finding skilled tradesmen. After assembling men and supplies, St. Clair was somewhat ready, but the troops had received little training. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkinson led raids along the Wabash River, intending to create a distraction that would aid St. Clair’s march north. In the Battle of Kenapacomaqua, Wilkinson killed 9 Wea and Miami, and captured 34 Miami as prisoners, including a daughter of Miami war chief Little Turtle. Many of the confederation leaders were considering terms of peace to present to the United States, but when they received news of Wilkinson’s raid, they readied for war. Wilkinson’s raid thus had the opposite effect, uniting the tribes against St. Clair instead of distracting them.
Faced with a shortage of food and expiring levies, St. Clair’s army of 1,486 and 200 camp followers finally departed Fort Washington in October 1791, by which time the confederation had time to prepare. St. Clair stopped to erect Fort Jefferson as a supply depot, and continued North towards Kekionga, but the army and followers had dwindled to a combined mass of 1,120 by November. At dawn on 04 November 1791, St. Clair’s force was camped (near modern Fort Recovery, Ohio) with weak defences set up on the perimeter. A Native American force of about 2,000 warriors, led by Little Turtle and Blue Jacket, struck quickly. Surprising the Americans, they soon overran the poorly prepared perimeter. The barely trained recruits panicked and were slaughtered, along with many of their officers, who frantically tried to restore order and stop the rout. After 4 hours, St. Clair ordered an evacuation, abandoning the wounded. The small Fort Jefferson could not protect the retreating forces, and they were forced to continue all the way to Fort Washington for safety. The US casualty rate was 69%, based on the deaths of 632 of the 920 soldiers and officers, with 264 wounded. Nearly all of the 200 unarmed camp followers were killed, for a total of about 832 deaths – the highest United States losses in any of its battles with Native Americans. St. Clair and his aide-de-camp were among the wounded. With a casualty rate of 97%, St. Clair’s Defeat remains one of the worst disasters in US Army history.
The American Indian coalition did not immediately follow up on their victory. Instead, most returned to their villages to hunt before Winter set in. Kekionga was short on supplies because of the war, so they moved most of the inhabitants to the Auglaize River. This removed them from the target of repeated military campaigns, but as Thomas McKee argued, also put them closer to the trade and military support offered by the British at Detroit. The various leaders agreed to a grand council the following year.
The British conceived plans to re-negotiate control of the NorthWest Territory with the United States, but opted instead to curry favour with the young republic due to escalating tensions with France. The US response was markedly different. Within weeks of learning of the disaster, President Washington declared the US to be “involved in actual war!” and urged Congress to raise an army capable of conducting a successful offense against the Western Confederacy. Congress responded by establishing the Legion of the United States and increasing military pay. It also passed the Militia Acts of 1792. Washington forced St. Clair to resign, replacing him with Major General Anthony Wayne.
In January 1792, Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkinson assumed command of the Second Regiment United States Army at Fort Washington,:9 and constructed Fort St. Clair to improve communications and logistics between Fort Hamilton and Fort Jefferson. The three forts were garrisoned with less than 150 men each, including infirmed soldiers and servants. On 11 June 1792, a force of about 15 Shawnee and Delaware attacked the northernmost outpost, Fort Jefferson, while the detachment there was cutting hay. Four soldiers were killed and left in the hay and 15 were captured. Eleven of the captives, including the sergeant in charge, were later killed, and the four remaining soldiers were sent to a Chippewa village. On 29 September, several soldiers were killed while guarding cattle at Fort Jefferson.
Council on the Auglaize
Stinging from St. Clair’s defeat and hoping to avoid another campaign, George Washington asked Joseph Brant to facilitate peace negotiations. After the discovery of United States espionage operations, Washington sent out peace emissaries. The first was Major Alexander Truman, his servant William Lynch and guide/interpreter William Smalley. Truman and Lynch were killed; Truman was apparently killed prior to 20 April 1792 at what later became Ottawa, Putnam County, Ohio. A similar mission in May 1792 under Colonel John Hardin also ended in Hardin and his servant Freeman being mistaken for spies and killed on the site of modern Hardin, Ohio.
In June 1792, Native Americans and Kentucky settlers met for a prisoner exchange at Vincennes. William Wells, who fought with the confederacy at St. Clair’s defeat, came to claim his wife Sweet Breeze, the daughter of Little Turtle. At Vincennes he met Captain Samuel Wells, his brother who had fought with the United States at St. Clair’s defeat. William returned to Kentucky with his brother. That September, a US delegation led by Rufus Putnam and John Hamtramck, and with assistance William Wells, returned to Vincennes and negotiated a treaty with the tribes of the lower Wabash River. The treaty and the Wabash tribes were celebrated in Philadelphia, and Henry Knox suggested that the confederacy had been weakened by 800 warriors. The US senate would not consider the treaty for another 2 years, however, at which point it failed to ratify it.
Meanwhile, Native American tribes 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. 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. 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. 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.
The Raid on Camp St. Clair
Following the decision of the Grand Council, Little Turtle gathered a force of 200 Miami and Shawnee from Auglaize past Fort Jefferson and Fort St. Clair, and reached Fort Hamilton on 03 November in time to attack close to the United States settlements on the anniversary of St. Clair’s Defeat. They captured two prisoners and learned that a large convoy of packhorses had left for Fort Jefferson and was due back in a matter of days. Little Turtle moved north and found the convoy, nearly 100 horses and 100 Kentucky militia led by Major John Adair and Lieutenant George Madison, camped just outside Fort St. Clair. Little Turtle attacked at dawn, just as Major Adair recalled his sentries. The militia conducted an organised retreat to the fort, losing six killed and four missing, while another five were wounded. Little Turtle’s forces lost two warriors, but did not pursue the militia forces. The United States claimed victory since they maintained control of the fort, but Little Turtle had accomplished his goal. The Native American forces had captured the fort’s provisions in order disrupt US supply lines and make the string of forts more costly to secure. All horses were killed, wounded, or driven off; only 23 were later recovered. Major Adair later criticised Fort St. Clair’s commandant, Captain Bradley, for his failure to come to their aid. Wilkinson considered the horses to be a loss that would make the advanced forts un-defendable, and he blamed newly appointed General Anthony Wayne, writing to Secretary Knox that Wayne had ordered officers to engage “in defensive measures only.”
Sandusky River Council
The 1793 Sandusky River council was delayed until late in July. The United States commissioners – Benjamin Lincoln, Beverly Randolph, and Timothy Pickering – arrived at Niagara in May 1793, seeking a British escort by way of the Great Lakes in order to avoid the fate of John Hardin and Alexander Truman in 1792. At the council, disagreement broke out between Shawnee and the Six Nations. 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 US commissioners argued that it would be too expensive to move white settlers who had already established homesteads north of the Ohio River. On 13 August, the council (without the Six Nations) sent a declaration to the US commissioners, contesting US 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 US relocate white settlers using the money that would have been used to buy Ohio lands and pay the Legion of the United States. 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.
On 11 September 1793, William Wells arrived at Fort Jefferson with news of the Grand Council’s failure, and with a warning that a force of over 1500 warriors was ready to attack Fort Jefferson and the Legion of the United States.
Legion of the United States
After St Clair’s disaster, Washington had ordered General “Mad” Anthony Wayne to build a well-trained force while peace negotiations took place with the confederacy. Wayne accepted the appointment in 1792 and took command of the new Legion of the United States later that year, taking time to train and supply the new Army while the United States negotiated terms of peace. General Wilkinson was disappointed that he was not given command of the Legion, and as Wayne’s 2nd in command, secretly conspired to organise other officers against Wayne. In the spring of 1793, Wayne moved the Legion from Pennsylvania downriver to Fort Washington, at a camp Wayne named Hobson’s Choice because they had no other options. They conducted training there during the Sandusky River council.
Upon news of the Grand Council’s failure in September, Wayne advanced his troops north into Indian held territory. In November, the Legion built a new fort north of Fort Jefferson, which Wayne named Fort Greeneville on 20 November 1793 in honour of General Nathanael Greene. The Legion wintered here, but Wayne dispatched a detachment of about 300 men on 23 December to quickly build Fort Recovery on the site of St. Clair’s defeat and recover the cannons lost there in 1791. In January 1794, Wayne reported to Knox that 8 companies and a detachment of artillery under Major Henry Burbeck had claimed St. Clair’s battleground and had already built a small fort.
George White Eyes arrived in January 1794 to discuss terms of peace, but Wayne responded that peace must be negotiated with all the involved tribes, not just the Delaware. Wayne delayed at Fort Greenville until March while he waited for a response, but the council rejected Wayne’s call for peace. Buckongahelas, Blue Jacket, and Little Turtle had received word from Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester that Great Britain could be at war with the United States within the year, and felt no need to discuss terms of peace. Lord Dorchester had made those remarks in February 1794 while meeting with Iroquois representatives. Word spread, causing an uproar in the United States and encouraging the confederacy. Dorchester warned the United States that “taking possession of any part of the Indian Territory” would be a “direct violation of His Britannic Majesty’s rights.” That April, the British constructed Fort Miami and garrisoned it with 120 soldiers with the 24th Regiment and a detachment of artillery with 8 cannon, as a defence against anticipated attacks from the United States. The United States viewed the construction of Fort Miami as a blatant act of aggression, and Wayne fumed that his Legion was not quite prepared to attack.
By June 1794, Fort Recovery had been reinforced, and the Legion had recovered four copper cannons (two six-pound and two three-pound), two copper howitzers, and one iron carronade. That same month, an American Indian force of over 1,200 warriors under the nominal command of Blue Jacket, Egushawa, and the Odawa Bear Chief, and British officers arrived at Fort Recovery with powder and shot, intent on recovering the same cannons. The force destroyed an escort and captured or scattered several hundred pack horses used for supply convoys, but failed to capture the fort, which was defended by artillery, dragoons, and Chickasaw scouts. The British officers recovered one cannon, but were unable to utilise it; one later stated that “had we two barrels of powder, Fort Recovery would have been in our possession with the help of St. Clair’s cannon.” Those defending the fort suffered 23 killed, 29 wounded, and three captured. Estimates of the Native Nations casualties range from 17 to 50 killed, and perhaps 100 wounded, some of whom later died of their wounds. Little Turtle identified Wayne as a “black snake who never sleeps,” and asked the British for artillery and soldiers, which the British declined to provide.
Before departing Fort Recovery, Wayne sent a final offer of peace with two captured prisoners to the leaders of the confederation at Roche de Bout. The confederacy leaders debated a response. Little Turtle, wary of Wayne and disappointed with the British, argued that they should negotiate peace with Wayne. Blue Jacket mocked Little Turtle as a traitor and convinced the others that Wayne would be defeated, just as Harmar and St. Clair had been. Little Turtle then relinquished leadership to Blue Jacket, stating that he would only be a follower. Three days later, on 16 August, a messenger returned with a response asking Wayne to pause at his currently location, stating “You have only to write & your Business is done, but we Indians must do all our Business with every nation of the Confederacy which takes up a great deal of time.” Native American advisors told Wayne that many of the Confederation were ready to accept Wayne’s offer of peace, but that Little Turtle had sent this response as a delay tactic needed to gather additional forces. Wayne departed Fort Recovery the next day. The perceived cracks in the united confederacy concerned the British, who sent reinforcements to Fort Miamis on the Maumee River.
From Fort Recovery, Wayne pushed north in August 1794 and had the Legion construct Fort Adams. A tree fell on Wayne’s tent at Fort Adams on 03 August 1794. He survived but was knocked unconscious. By the next day, he had recovered sufficiently to resume the march to the newly built Fort Defiance, so named from a declaration by Charles Scott that “I defy the English, Indians, and all the devils of hell to take it.” Finally, as the Legion approached Fort Miamis, Wayne stopped to build Fort Deposit, which acted as a rally point and baggage camp so that the Legion could go into battle as light infantry.
The Battle of Fallen Timbers
Refer to the Battle of Fallen Timber (1794).
On the morning of 20 August, the Legion broke camp and marched toward the Maumee River near modern Toledo, Ohio, where an ambush had been set by the Confederacy. This late in the campaign, the Legion was reduced to about 3,000 soldiers and militia, with many soldiers defending the supply trains and forts. Blue Jacket, the Native alliance commander, had selected a battlefield where a tornado had felled hundreds of trees, creating a natural defensive barrier. Here, he placed confederation forces of about 1,500 warriors: Blue Jacket’s Shawnees, Delawares led by Buckongahelas, Miamis led by Little Turtle, Wyandots led by Tarhe and Roundhead, Mingos, a small detachment of Mohawks, and a British company of Canadian militiamen dressed as Native Americans under Lieutenant Colonel William Caldwell.
Odawa and Potawatomi under Little Otter and Egushawa occupied the centre and initiated the attack against the Legion’s scouts. Front elements of the Legion’s columns initially collapsed under pursuing Native Americans. Wayne immediately committed his reserves to the centre to halt their advance, and divided his infantry into two wings, the right commanded by James Wilkinson, the other by Jean François Hamtramck. The Legion’s cavalry secured the right along the Maumee River. General Scott provided a brigade of mounted militia to guard the open left flank, while the rest of the Kentucky militia formed a reserve. Once contact had been established, US scouts identified the location of Confederacy warriors, and Wayne ordered an immediate bayonet charge. Legion dragoons also charged and attacked with sabres. Blue Jacket’s warriors fled from the battlefield to regroup nearby Fort Miami, but found themselves locked out of the fort by the British occupants (Britain and the United States were by then reaching a close rapprochement to counter Jacobin France during the French Revolution). The entire battle lasted little more than an hour. The Legion had significant casualties, with 33 men killed and 100 wounded. The Confederacy had between 19 and 40 warriors killed, and an unknown number wounded. The battle fostered distrust between the native nations, and between the confederacy and the British; it was the last time the Western Confederacy gathered a large military force to oppose the United States.
Wayne’s army encamped for three days in sight of Fort Miamis, under command of Major William Campbell. When Major Campbell asked the meaning of the encampment, Wayne replied that the answer had already been given by the sound of their muskets and the retreat of the Indians. The next day, Wayne rode alone to Fort Miamis and slowly conducted an inspection of the fort’s exterior walls. The British garrison debated whether or not to engage the General, but in the absence of orders and being already at war with France, Major Campbell declined to fire the first shot at the United States. The Legion, meanwhile, destroyed Indian villages and crops in the region of Fort Deposit, and burned Alexander McKee’s trading post within sight of Fort Miamis before withdrawing.
Wayne’s Legion finally arrived at Kekionga on 17 September 1794, and Wayne personally selected the site for a new US fort. Wayne wanted a strong fort built, capable of withstanding not only an Indian uprising, but a possible attack by the British from Fort Detroit. The fort was finished by 17 October, and was capable of withstanding 24-pound cannons. It was named Fort Wayne and placed under command of Jean François Hamtramck, who had been commandant of Fort Knox in Vincennes and had commanded the left wing at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The fort was officially dedicated 22 October, the fourth anniversary of Harmar’s Defeat, and the day is considered the founding of the modern city of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
That winter, Wayne also reinforced his line of defensive forts with Fort St. Marys, Fort Loramie, and Fort Piqua.
The Treaty of Greenville and Jay Treaty
Refer to the Treaty of Greenville (1795).
Within months of Fallen Timbers, the United States and Great Britain negotiated the Jay Treaty, which required British withdrawal from the Great Lakes forts while opening up some British territory in the Caribbean for American trade. The treaty also encoded free trade and freedom of movement for Native Americans living in territories controlled by either the United States or Great Britain. The Jay Treaty was ratified by the United States Senate in 1795, and was used by Wayne as evidence that Great Britain would no longer support the confederacy. The Jay Treaty and US relations with Great Britain remained as political issues in the 1796 United States presidential election, in which John Adams beat Jay Treaty opponent Thomas Jefferson.
The United States also negotiated the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, signed by President Washington on 22 December 1795. Utilising 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 US, 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 Miami also lost private control of the Kekionga portage, since the Northwest Ordinance passed by Congress guaranteed free use of important portages in the region.
Aftermath and Legacy
Fort Lernoult was abandoned by the British in 1796 as a condition of the Jay Treaty. The next day, US Colonel Jean François Hamtramck occupied the fort and began making improvements. The US would officially rename it to Fort Detroit. The British would re-capture Fort Detroit in August 1812, but abandon it again one year later as American forces advanced towards it. The British also abandoned Fort Miami, which the US occupied until 1799. Like Fort Detroit, the British re-occupied Fort Miami during the War of 1812. It was abandoned in 1814 and eventually demolished.
Most of the western US forts were also abandoned after 1796; Fort Washington, the last, was moved across the Ohio River to Kentucky in 1804 to make room for a growing settlement at Cincinnati; it became the Newport Barracks. General Wayne supervised the surrender of British posts in the Northwest Territory, and personally selected the construction site of Fort Wayne in Kekionga to secure his Legion’s victory. Wayne suffered a severe attack of gout and died on 15 December 1796, one year after the ratification of the Treaty of Greenville.
After the end of hostilities, large numbers of United States settlers migrated to the Northwest Territory. Five years after the Treaty of Greenville, the territory was split into Ohio and Indiana Territory, and in February 1803, the State of Ohio was admitted to the Union. The border between Ohio and the Indiana Territory closely followed the line of advanced forts and the Greenville Treaty Line.
Several veterans of the Northwest Indian War are known for their later achievements, including William Henry Harrison, William Clark and Meriwether Lewis, and Tecumseh.
Future Native American resistance movements were unable to form a union matching the size or capability seen during the Northwest Indian War. In 1805, Tenskwatawa began a traditionalist movement that rejected United States practices. His followers settled at Prophetstown in Indiana Territory, leading to Tecumseh’s War and the Northwest theatre of the War of 1812.