Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 14
by Robert S. Allen
Indian Confederacy: The Collapse (1793-96)
In the spring of 1793 the Algonkian Indians invited the Six Nations to a new general council at the Miami Rapids, "before we go to meet the Commissioners of the United States at Sandusky, that we may be well prepared and all of one mind to speak to them."1 Brant and the other chiefs of the Iroquois were ready to subscribe to any attempt at strengthening the Indian confederacy, and readily assented. The Mohawk leader had met with Simcoe before proceeding to the Miami, to discuss the British position and Indian strategy. The results of the conference encouraged Simcoe, who wrote to Alured Clarke, the acting governor of British North America during the absence of Lord Dorchester who was on leave in England.
British policy originating from Whitehall was increasingly based on the desire to maintain an Indian barrier state in order to prevent the Americans from expanding into the province of Upper Canada and taking over the western posts. The continued allegiance of the tribes was vital if Britain wished to maintain domination of the Ohio valley. In the hope of stiffening the stand of the Indians on the subject of the boundary, Clarke sent Simcoe maps used by Sir William Johnson in 1768 which clearly showed the Ohio River as the permanent boundary line in the Ohio valley. The governor thought that these maps would be of great use to the Indians in council with the Americans at Sandusky.3 The maps were a source of delight to Brant, who was determined to protect the traditional Indian life-style against white encroachments by any method short of war, by which means he was now convinced the Indians could not win.
While the tribes were assembling at the Miami to plan their strategy, the American commissioners, Benjamin Lincoln, Timothy Pickering and Beverly Randolph, arrived at Niagara on 17 May 1793, before preceeding, hopefully, to the Indian council at Sandusky.4 At Navy Hall, Simcoe detained the commissioners for about six weeks, offering the excuse that the Indians were not nearly prepared to meet them in council. During the lull the Americans amused themselves by sightseeing, visiting Niagara Falls, attending the king's birthday on 4 June, and grumbling about the delay. In late June, Simcoe instructed John Butler and Alexander McKee to attend the upcoming meeting between the Americans and the Indians at Sandusky. The agents were instructed to merely explain to the Indians the nature and tendency of the American offers, but to avoid acting as mediators.5
It was not until early July that the Indian confederacy finally came to a general conclusion. McKee wrote Simcoe that "The Indians have made a resolution not to make peace on any other terms" except the Ohio, and the Sandusky conference would be useless unless the Ohio line was acceded to by the delegates of the United States. If the proposals were not agreed to, "it may irritate and inflame some of the Nations to violencewhich neither advice nor the fear of consequences will be able to restrain."6 With the tribes apparently, but only apparently, in agreement over the Ohio line, a deputation of about 50 chiefs, including Brant, Cowkiller and Cornplanter, travelled from the Miami to see the peace commissioners. The Indian leaders found the Americans at Fort Erie, where they had been detained by contrary winds. A council was arranged to take place at Niagara, where it was hoped that the two groups could clarify their positions.7 The meeting took place in the Free Mason's Hall on 7 July with Joseph Brant speaking for the tribal delegates. Benjamin Lincoln assured the Indians that his group had full authority to negotiate a boundary, but Brant, acting as translator, did not make it clear to the Americans that the confederacy was determined on the Ohio River. Indeed, Simcoe noted that Brant "seemed inclined to give up some cultivated settlements north of the Ohio."8 Although the Iroquois had agreed with the Algonkian tribes for the Ohio, they led the Americans to believe at the Niagara council that the confederacy would accept a compromise line.9 The keystone for a successful boundary agreement with the Americans was Indian unity, and this Iroquois betrayal was to be a crushing blow to the Algonkian tribes of the Ohio valley.
The Indian deputation returned to the Miami where Brant tried to persuade the confederacy to agree to an alternate line. But his efforts were useless in opposition to the shocked and disgusted militant Algonkian leaders such as Blue Jacket, Captain Johnny and Little Turtle. In addition to the belligerent Algonkian tribes, the Creek and the Cherokee delegates who had lately arrived from the south urged no compromise, particularly after the Shawnee informed their southern brethren that the British government would supply arms and ammunition to the tribes. Alexander McKee supported this assertion. As a result the Indians became hopelessly divided over what proposals should be made to the Americans, and in frustration the confederation sent a message to the commissioners demanding the acceptance of the Ohio River boundary as prerequisite for the Sandusky conference.10
Lincoln, Pickering and Randolph reached the mouth of the Detroit River on 21 July and disembarked on the Canadian side, where they were hospitably entertained at the spacious home of Matthew Elliott of the British Indian Department. After receiving the message from the confederacy and carefully considering their reply, the commissioners explained to the tribes at length that the Ohio boundary was impossible, and both sides must make concessions. However, the Americans were prepared to pay large sums of money or goods for any Indian lands ceded. As a crowning inducement for peace, the commissioners admitted that the Indians owned their lands and that the United States had not acquired ownership of the Ohio valley by the 1783 treaty with Britain.
After ten years of hardship, bitterness and war, the United States had reverted to the British position that what had been transferred was not the title to Indian territory but merely the exclusive right to acquire land from the tribes by solemn treaty with them. If the Americans had conceded to this principle in 1783, a bloody decade of Indian war in the Ohio valley might have been avoided.
The American reply was not satisfactory to the tribes who were consistent in their desire to maintain the Ohio boundary. In addition, the idea of a cash payment for their land was antipathetic to the Indian mind. Tribal chiefs explained to the American commissioners that
The American peace party, although impressed with the dignity of the Indian plea, realized that further negotiations, including the proposed Sandusky conference, would be futile. Regretting that an accommodation could not be effected, the commissioners sailed for home to report to Washington.
The failure of the Sandusky conference was the death knell of the Indian struggle in the Ohio valley. The inability of the confederacy to remain united was directly responsible for the military defeat of the Indians a year later. Joseph Brant had gambled to effect a boundary compromise between the United States and the Indians, but had lost. The 1768 maps forwarded by Simcoe had hardened the Algonkian tribes to the Ohio line. Also, the Shawnee encouraged the other nations by boasting that "in defending their Country . . . their Father the English would assist them and Pointed to Col. McKee."13 Their assertion was not refuted.
Brant, returning home to the Grand River, was forced to realize that his long struggle to promote Indian unity as the sole hope of prolonging traditional native existence against white progress had been fatally confounded. In a bitter letter to his friend Joseph Chew, assistant secretary to the British Indian Department, the Mohawk leader commented that there would be no peace because the Shawnee, Delaware and Miami "carried everything their own way," and were "too much under the influence of some white people who advised them to adhere to the old boundary line of 1768."14 Indeed, the following spring Brant accused McKee of deliberately stalling the procedure and claimed that "It appears to me that it never was the intention that a meeting should take place between the American Commissioners and us."15
In a lengthy despatch to Simcoe, Alexander McKee defended his conduct by explaining that he had tried to accomplish peace, but the Algonkian tribes persisted in demanding the Ohio as the boundary, and the Iroquois dissented; the tribes were unanimous on every other point. Also, the acknowledgement by the United States that the Indians possessed the right to the land had convinced a number of influential chiefs of the fallacies long propagated, that Great Britain had given away Indian country at the treaty of 1783. In concluding, McKee insisted that he had used no influence to prevent peace, which would have afforded him gratification, but he expected to be blamed.16
Simcoe, whose anti-American prejudices were notorious, exonerated McKee. But that did nothing to save the Indians. The lieutenant governor informed George Hammond in Philadelphia that the Six Nations had disrupted the Sandusky conference, and that the Algonkian tribes regarded Brant as a traitor and would not comply with any council held under the Mohawk's auspices. The thought of the horrors of another war distressed Simcoe, and he feared that if the western posts were evacuated and the British deserted the tribes, the Indians would "in an instant destroy the settlements and, massacre the unfortunate Inhabitants of Upper Canada."17 Simcoe's alarm was increased when Lord Dorchester, who had just returned from England, informed him that in case of a war with the United States, Upper Canada would have to be abandoned.18 With this bleak prospect facing the lieutenant governor, the allegiance of the Indians to the British became of paramount importance. Seemingly, the security and preservation of the Province of Upper Canada was dependent on the fighting qualities of the tribes of the Ohio valley.
The schism between the Algonkian and Iroquois appeared irretrievable, particularly after Brant led a delegation of Six Nations to Buffalo Creek in October and offered General Israel Chapin, Indian superintendent for the United States, the compromise Muskingum line. If accepted, this boundary would relinquish lands north of the Ohio River which the Americans had already settled and improved.19 The peace proposal was relayed to Congress for consideration, while Brant and his followers waited patiently at the council site. The action of the Iroquois prompted the Ottawa, Ojibway, and Potawatomi to withdraw from the Indian confederacy. These three tribes from the upper lakes had formed the nucleus of Pontiac's alliance in 1763. They were experienced warriors and possessed an influential voice in the decisions of the tribal councils, and their decision to withdraw at this time caused total disunity among the remaining Indian leaders.
The dramatic events of the preceding summer did not deter Whitehall from attempting to maintain "a friendly and conciliatory disposition, consistent with the preservation of the western posts" in regard to Anglo-American relations.20 Henry Dundas reminded Lord Dorchester that the king's dominions in North America required peace, and the interests of the United States required it more; but if an unpopular war was to erupt between the Indians and Americans, it would give His Majesty's government the opportunity to restore peace to the advantage of British interests.21 Lord Dorchester interpreted the despatch as a desire on the part of the Home Department to maintain an Indian buffer state and to continue the allegiance of the tribes to the British. In a letter to Simcoe, the secretary of state at the Home Department wrote:
Therefore, in an effort to revive the crumbling native Confederacy, the governor told an Indian delegation that "I shall not be surprised if we are at war with them [the United States] in the course of the present year; . . . I believe our Patience is almost exhausted."23 To support his prediction Lord Dorchester ordered Simcoe to send troops to occupy a position at the rapids of the Maumee with a garrison from Detroit. By April, the British had built Fort Miami in the Indian country.24 This bold decision was a clear act of agression within the territory accorded to the United States by the Treaty of 1783.
The Indians were ecstatic over the prospect of an Anglo-American war. The Dorchester speech, the building of Fort Miami, the encouraging speeches of McKee, Elliott and Girty and the provisioning of the tribes by the British Indian Department heartened the native leaders greatly.25 They were convinced of the authenticity of the assurances of British aid. The Shawnee reported to Major William Campbell, commandant at Fort Miami, the strength of the American army, announced their intention and determination to drive the Americans out of the Ohio country and appealed to the British for supplies and muskets. Alexander McKee was notably enthusiastic and told Joseph Chew that "the face of the Indian Affairs in this Country . . . seems considerably altered for the better . . . . a very extensive union of the Indian nations will be the immediate consequence."26 By May, 1794, the British and Indian forces were organized and prepared to meet the expected invasion of Major General "Mad Anthony" Wayne.
The third American military expedition had left Fort Washington (Cincinnati) in October, 1793, after the failure of the Sandusky peace conference. Shortly after the march commenced, a band of Indians attacked the American supply columns near Fort Jefferson, routed the escort and captured a large quantity of supplies and equipment.27 Wayne immediately ordered a halt after this initial setback, and sent his army into winter quarters around an entrenched camp called Fort Greenville. The traditional problems of discipline and logistics threatened the very existence of the American force, and Wayne was further hampered by the jealousy and scheming of his second in command, James Wilkinson.28 In the spring of 1794, after a winter of arduous drilling and physical hardships, Wayne's "Legionnaires" as they were now called, advanced to the site of St. Clair's old battlefield and constructed another defensive work which was called Fort Recovery.29
Throughout the winter and spring of 1794, the American public became increasingly aroused against the British and Indians on the Ohio frontier. General Wayne referred to Alexander McKee as "the British Indian agent and principal stimulant of the war now existing," and offered $300 for his scalp.30 The Centinel of the North West, Ohio's oldest newspaper, theorized that "the peace and security of the frontier is more properly to be obtained by contending with the British, rather than by a fruitless and dishonorable warfare with its instruments, the savages."31 When Indian raids and murders continued, the same western newspaper provided the backwoodsmen with an encouraging inducement for retaliation:
By June the tension of the frontier, fanned by months of winter idleness in which smoldering bitterness and mutual acrimony had been allowed to build to fanatical proportions, suddenly burst into open conflict. The Indians under Little Turtle, chafing at the delays and in anticipation of an American advance, attacked Wayne's supply columns near Fort Recovery.33 The convoy of 300 pack horses, guarded by Major William MacMahon and 90 men, was badly mauled. Elated by their success, which occurred on the site of the St. Clair defeat nearly three years before, the Indians continued the pursuit and recklessly charged the fort. The defenders, well protected behind the wooden picketing, inflicted severe casualties on the exposed attackers. The fighting lasted two days, after which the Indians gathered their dead and withdrew to their villages along the Miami.
The setback so discouraged some of the lake Indians that they decided to leave the Miami villages and return home to their distant towns north and west of Lakes Huron and Superior. The hope that the Six Nations would again join the confederacy was thwarted owing to the lengthy proceedings at Buffalo Creek. In addition, Brant was angry because Americans had begun to settle along the south shore of Lake Erie at Presque Isle, and the attention of the Iroquois was directed against General Chapin and the Pennsylvania land claim and not against the army of General Wayne to the west.34
The initial Indian enthusiasm for war in the summer of 1794 had been dampened by the affair at Fort Recovery. Again, and when desperately required, tribal unity had disintegrated. The defection of the lake Indians and the concern of the Six Nations for lands to the east left the confederacy frustrated and depressed. Little Turtle went to the British at Detroit for encouragement, and Lieutenant Colonel B. O. England, "talked him over for two or three days, and dismissed him seemingly contented."35
Not content with the report of Little Turtle, a Wyandot delegation travelled to Detroit to hear assurances that British aid would be provided. Colonel England told the Indians that the tribes would not be deprived of the promised aid, and that he was awaiting the king's orders. In the meantime, the Detroit commander recommended that the chiefs return to McKee at the Miami Rapids for presents and more encouragement.36 The apparent proof of British sincerity was witnessed by the Indians on 9 August, when 50 men of the 24th Regiment were despatched from Detroit to reinforce Fort Miami.37 Also, between 7 April and 16 August 1794, the Royal Ordnance Department at Detroit shipped 1,398 pounds of gunpowder to Fort Miami. The Indians knew of the shipments and naturally assumed that it was for their use when needed.38
While the Indians were listening to British promises, the American army, 2,500 strong, began its advance, leaving Greenville on 28 July. At the Glaize, in the heart of Indian country, Wayne built another defensive work called Fort Defiance. After burning a number of Indian towns and destroying several cornfields, Wayne sent a curt message to the tribes: "Be no longer deceived or led astray by the false promises and language of the bad White Men at the foot of the Rapids, they have neither the power nor inclination to protect you."39 This gesture at psychology failed to make an impression on the Indian mind, and in full confidence of British support, Little Turtle led the tribes against the American army.
General Wayne had positioned his force along an elevated ridge parallel to the Miami River only five miles from the British fort. For the protection of the baggage and supplies the Americans constructed a fortification of earth and logs, which was appropriately named Fort Deposit. The army remained quietly on this site for two days. During this agonizing lull the Indians established themselves behind a thick wood, rendered almost inaccessible by a dense growth of underbrush and fallen timber through which had grown a new forest.
On the morning of 20 August 1794, the American army advanced, but was immediately attacked by the left centre of the Indian line which extended for more than 1,200 yards. The undisciplined militia, conforming to tradition, soon fled in confusion and a rapid pursuit took place for about a mile, until the Indians discovered a strong double line of American regulars advancing steadily toward them with arms trailed. At the same critical moment in which the Indian centre recoiled, Wayne sent the Kentucky cavalry of Brigadier General Charles Scott in a slashing counterattack against the native right flank. The Ottawa and Wyandot bore the brunt of this mounted charge, but after maintaining the action for nearly an hour, in which a number of principal chiefs were killed, they disengaged themselves and withdrew into the dense forest. The Indian centre had taken advantageous cover behind the fallen timbers, but the "Legion" infantry, using the bayonet effectively, prodded their adversaries from the underbrush and forced the whole native line to retire at an increasingly rapid rate toward the British fort.40
The losses sustained by the two opposing forces are shrouded in contradictions. McKee, whose opinion is least reliable, states that "the Indians lost in the whole but 19 men among whom are to be much lamented 8 Principal Chiefs of the Wyondots . . . the Americans lost between 3 and 400 Killed and Wounded."41 The Upper Canada Gazette reported Indian losses as 15 killed, mostly chiefs, but "according to the Indians their losses are greater and will be felt by them for some time. . . . Wayne suffered 230 killed, and 139 wounded."42 The Americans admitted to 33 killed and 100 wounded of whom ll died from their wounds.43 However George Huffnogle, a deserter from the United States army, stated that Wayne "concealed as much as possible the number of Americans killed and wounded, but . . . was inclined to think there were upwards of 200 or 300 killed and wounded."44 In the final analysis Isaac Weld offered the most pungent observation.
The comments of this British traveller provided a suitable epitaph to the battle, for the engagement and the aftermath convinced the tribes that their war with the Americans was futile.
After the battle the American army devastated the cornfields and villages of the Indians and destroyed the storehouses of various British traders, including the headquarters of Alexander McKee. Wayne reported "the woods were strewed for considerable distance with the dead bodies of Indians and their white auxiliaries, the latter armed with British muskets and Bayonets."46 Indeed, a company of white volunteers from Detroit commanded by Captain William Caldwell, and armed with British muskets and bayonets were in the action of 20 August 1794. Caldwell, an ex-captain and veteran of the esteemed Butler's Rangers during the Revolutionary War, had an excellent record. His military career included participation in the victories at Wyoming, Cherry Valley, German Flats, Sandusky and Blue Licks, and his sympathy for the Indians and his anti-Americanism were notorious.
In bitterness and defeat, McKee fired a farewell verbal volley at an enemy he had despised and fought against with a burning rancour for nearly 20 years in the king's service.
Major William Campbell, the British commandant at Fort Miami, had heard the sound of firing on the morning of 20 August, and when Indians began to appear at the post, he reported "at last it became so serious that I thought it high time to stand to our Arms, fill up all gaps in our Abatis and shut out all communication from the Fort, by fixing our Chevaux de Frise."48 The Indians instantly understood the meaning of this symbolic act of British isolation. In spite of a decade of promises and encouragement, the Dorchester speech, the building and reinforcing of Fort Miami, the tons of supplies and powder sent from Detroit and the continual assurances of aid, the British in the moment of crisis were abandoning the tribes. Although Campbell had wisely adhered to the official policy maintained for years at Whitehall and had refused to openly assist the natives in their war with the United States, the decision of the British commander in addition to Wayne's victory destroyed the British-Indian alliance and ended forever the struggle for the Ohio valley.
Although the battle of Fallen Timbers ended the Indian-American war for the Ohio valley, Wayne's presence in front of Fort Miami only antagonized and weakened the already shaky foundations of Anglo-American cordiality. The legionnaires attempted to incite the British garrison by feeding their horses on McKee's Island within sight of the fort and showing themselves in small bodies, beating their drums and sounding their horns.49 In a hasty despatch to Detroit, Major Campbell could not conceal his excitement.
Neither commander wished to initiate a war between their respective countries. Wayne was instructed to subdue the Indians only, and Campbell was merely to encourage and maintain, if possible, tribal allegiance to the British. Thus in an effort to relieve the tension, Campbell decided to commence an exchange of dialogue with the American commander. Why, asked a curious Campbell, were the Americans within pistol range of Fort Miami? Because, replied Wayne, the United States had just won a glorious victory over the Indians and the fort, which was not there before the Indian-American war, had delayed Wayne's pursuit. Campbell's next retort was curt and to the point: if the Americans press the fort, hostilities will commence. The renewal of an Anglo-American war, an Indian dream for more than a decade, seemed probable. Wayne, however, exercising a degree of caution not in keeping with his boisterous temperament, stated that there would be no war, but urged that the British withdraw to the 1783 boundary. The communication ended with Campbell suggesting that the question of the western posts should be left to the ambassadors of the two countries.51 After the termination of the correspondence with the British commander at Fort Miami, Wayne, who was short of supplies, marched back up the Maumee and built a temporary post called Fort Wayne. Leaving Major Hamtranck in charge the rest of the American force returned to Greenville to establish winter quarters and await the expected arrival of tribal peace delegations.
British-Indian friendship had dampened considerably by the end of August, 1974. Lieutenant Colonel England at Detroit could not understand the unexpected American withdrawal, particularly as Detroit, indeed Upper Canada, was defenceless and the "Indians . . . have forfeited every pretension to a Warlike or Gallant Character. They behaved excessive ill in the Action at the Falls and afterwards fled in every direction."52 Wayne took advantage of the Anglo-Indian schism by sending an address to the Algonkian tribes, reminding the natives that the British "had neither the power nor the inclination to protect you, you have severely experienced the truth of that assertion." and inviting the chiefs to a peace council.53
The tribes were disillusioned and depressed by the events of the summer of 1794. Confused and perplexed, the Indian leaders gratefully accepted an invitation by Simcoe and Joseph Brant to assemble at the Wyandot village near Detroit (the site of the 1786 conference) on 10 October. At the conference, Lieutenant Governor Simcoe advised the tribes not to listen to any terms of pacification which did not secure to the natives their long-contested Ohio boundary. In addition, the governor urged a cessation of hostilities until the following spring, at which time the British would assist the Indians in the restoration of tribal lands.54 Brant's counsel was to the same effect, and he advised the chiefs to amuse the Americans with a prospect of peace until the spring, when the Indians might be able to fall upon and vanquish the settlers unexpectedly. But, in spite of the bravado and the endeavours to keep the tribes optimistic and united, the Mohawk leader was disheartened
The melancholy of Brant seemed justified, for in November the Iroquois, who had been embroiled in land claims with Pennsylvania, finally signed a treaty of perpetual peace and friendship with the United States, thus relinquishing Indian claims to Presque Isle.56 The defection of the Iroquois from the Indian confederacy in 1793, the defeat at Fallen Timbers and withholding of promised British military assistance followed by the November treaty left the remaining Algonkian tribes in a mood of hopeless despair and the news from Europe only added to their feeling of gloom.
The eventual solution to the problem of ultimate control in the wilderness of the Ohio valley was to an appreciable degree decided in Europe. The French Revolution and the outbreak of war with republican France forced Britain to turn away temporarily from the question and nature of colonial responsibility. Therefore, the peace mission of John Jay from America was timely and thankfully received by a Britain concerned predominantly with politico-constitutional problems and national defence. Although Anglo-American commercial differences were of marginal interest to the struggle for the Ohio valley, the desire of the United States to acquire the western posts was the cornerstone of Jay's instructions. Both countries, represented by Lord Grenville of the Foreign Office and John Jay, were sincerely working in 1794 to establish a cordial peace and lasting friendship between Great Britain and the United States.57 The proceedings were conducted in a spirit of mutual amicability; but the pangs of conscience tugged at Grenville, and the British minister attempted to reserve a right to mediate for the Indians so the tribes would not regard themselves as abandoned by the British as in 1783. The politically influential Lord Hawkesbury, president of the Board of Trade and Plantations, commented to Grenville:
Here is convincing proof that the British retained the western posts because they feared Indian retaliation as much as American expansion. Although the idea of British mediation and an Indian buffer state was not acceptable to Jay, a compromise solution was devised whereby the British, apparently now satisfied, agreed to evacuate the western posts by June, 1796, on the condition that British subjects, American citizens and Indians could freely pass back and forth across the border.59 Thus, a treaty of peace and amity was signed between Great Britain and the United States, and the British could evacuate the western posts, no doubt happy to be relieved of the responsibility and cost of maintaining order in the wilderness.
Lord Dorchester and Governor Simcoe were instructed by the Duke of Portland, secretary of state for the Home Department between the years 1794 and 1801, "to use their utmost exertions to satisfy the Indians that provision is made for their commercial well being."60 British officials attempted to explain to the Indians that Jay's Treaty would mean a greater freedom of trade and would improve the life-style of the natives.61 But the Algonkian Indians sensed the lack of conviction in the speeches of Brant, Simcoe, McKee, Girty and Elliot, and regarded them as "false people." The tribes remained sullen and blamed the British fora second betrayal.
Some of the tribes sent deputations to Wayne at Greenville, where the American commander urged other chiefs to come forward and negotiate "a General Treaty for the Purpose of removing all causes of Controversy and establishing a permanent Peace between the United States of America and the Indians North West of the Ohio."62 Wayne's suggestion was acceptable to most of the tribal leaders, who realized that the only alternative was a continuation of the war: but after the Fallen Timber-Fort Miami fiasco the Indians did not entertain that thought with relish. Even the militant Shawnee leader Blue Jacket decided to sue for peace, and his example was followed by a very respectable number of other chiefs.63 A council with Wayne was arranged and the tribes agreed to meet and sign a peace treaty in the late summer of 1795. Joseph Brant clearly explained the reason for the mass defection of the Indians from the British.
To the tribes, the king had forgotten them again, and Wayne at Greenville was the only practical option.
By the spring of 1795 a treaty between the tribes of the Ohio valley and the United States was nearing completion. Wayne had received special instructions from the new secretary of war, Timothy Pickering who, like Washington and Knox, realized that the advance of American settlement and not war was the easiest and most economical method of removing the Indians from the lands of the Ohio valley. A suitable boundary, according to Pickering, would be a line drawn from the mouth of the Cuyahoga to the forks of the Muskingum, at the crossing place above Fort Laurens (Lawrence) and thence west to the portage between the Miami and the Saint Marys and from the portage to the Ohio River.65 All lands north and west of this general boundary line would be reserved for Indian use except the lands occupied by the western posts and certain areas in possession of the French and other white settlers, "who hold their lands by the consent of the United States."66
These provisions advocated by Pickering were followed by Wayne and incorporated into the final draft of the upcoming Indian treaty. The tribes began to assemble at Greenville in the summer and, according to Brant, "All appears by the movements of the Indians, that Wayne will have everything done in his own way. . . the poor Indians must lose their Country."67 Indeed, by the terms of the Treaty of Greenville signed by all the principal tribes of the Northwest on 3 August 1795, the Indians lost the greater portion of the Ohio valley.68 In addition to giving up strategic land around the forts of Niagara, Detroit and Michilimackinac, the tribes agreed to sell all lands not covered by the 1795 treaty south of the 1783 line to the United States only. The native claim for the Ohio River, the Indian barrier state, and the struggle for the Ohio valley was ended forever.
After the Treaty of Greenville, British officials and officers of the Indian Department endeavoured to maintain Anglo-Indian amicability. At Fort Erie, Simcoe told a group of Iroquois that the British had not deserted the tribes. The posts, explained the lieutenant governor, had been given to the United States only after all the treaty stipulations of 1783 had been complied with, and the trade with the Indians would now be easy because the British were free to enter or leave the Ohio country at any time. Therefore, pleaded Simcoe, unite and trust the king.69 However, tribal loyalty to the British had died at Fallen Timbers, and all efforts at reconciliation were disdained by the Indian leaders.
In January, 1796, Dorchester instructed Simcoe to perform a survey of the king's stores and posts, to destroy everything that could not be removed, and to be prepared to evacuate at short notice.70 On 1 June 1796 George Beckwith, adjutant general of Upper and Lower Canada, issued a general order to the commanders at Forts Ontario, Niagara, Miami, Detroit and Michilimackinac to evacuate the posts "with all convenient speed," taking care to prevent any disorders.71 By ll August 1796, the last fort was presented to American forces. The transfer was conducted efficiently and without incident. Timothy Pickering commented that "the deliveries, as far as we have received intelligence, have been made in the most handsome manner, on the part of the British."72
To the tribes of the Ohio valley, the treaty of Greenville provided a permanent boundary line; but, like the lines established in 1758, 1763, 1768, 1774 and 1775, the 1795 boundary was regarded as temporary by a Congress which had never lost sight of the dream of acquiring all the land between the Ohio and Mississippi and beyond. Although the Indians in 1795 had only relinquished territory in southern and eastern Ohio and southeast Indiana the United States ensured itself of the final acquisition by asserting the right of pre-emption to the remaining lands of the Northwest. In addition, the Americans were granted 16 reserves in the Indian country for the use of the western posts and free communication between them. As Washington, Knox, Pickering and others had predicted, the large influx of settlers followed by rapid settlement destroyed the last vestige of the traditional and nomadic way of life for the tribes of the Ohio valley. The wilderness was hacked away, the game fled, and the beginnings of an industrial society appeared in the region.
The Ohio valley might have been preserved as an Indian state if the tribal confederacy had managed to remain united. But the Algonkian and Iroquoian tribes had a long history of mutual acrimony, and the common threat to their traditional existence was not sufficient to maintain an alliance and prevent the advance of the American frontier. Thus the disintegration at Sandusky in 1793 made the pretence of the existence of such an Indian state the merest of fictions.
A further deterrent was the refusal of Britain to join in a military alliance with the tribes of the Ohio valley. Overburdened with the costs of colonial responsibilities and engaged in a war with France, Britain was not interested in provoking a war with America by actively supporting native territorial claims. With the signing of Jay's Treaty, Britain's imperial involvement in the Ohio valley was ended.
The tribes were caught in the grip of two forces, an empire and a frontier, neither of which was particularly distinguished for mercy, and both of which were destined to resolve their differences by other methods than costly native wars. Both the British and the Americans regarded the Indians as expendable. Thus betrayed by their own political primitiveness and abandoned by the British at Fort Miami, the tribes lost the Ohio valley to the Americans.