The Northwest Indian War

Some Background

In 1757, long before the Revolutionary War with Great Britain, Benjamin Franklin was sent to England by the Pennsylvania Assembly as a colonial agent to protest the political influence in Pennsylvania of the Penn family, the proprietors of the colony.  There may be a lesson in this for those of us who wonder about the political dynasties in America today.  In any case, after remaining in England for five years, Mr. Franklin had little to show for his efforts — except that he arrived in Great Britain as a loyal Englishman and departed as an American patriot.  At no time during his stay in England was Mr. Franklin treated with dignity or respect by British politicians.

Franklin was returned to England in 1764, ostensibly to continue the Pennsylvania Colony’s struggle against the Penn family, but while in London, newly-minted patriot Franklin vocally opposed the Stamp Act of 1765, which caused British politicians to double-down on the insults offered to Mr. Franklin.  However, this time, Franklin’s testimony before the House of Commons resulted in a repeal of the Act.

Before the outset of the rebellion, despite the anger many colonists felt toward the Parliament after establishing the Coercive Acts, some members of the First Continental Congress were willing to confirm their loyalty to the King — but with this caveat: in return for the American’s loyalty, Congress asked King George III to address and resolve specific grievances of the British colonies.  John Dickinson’s petition laid out a succinct “sense of the Congress.”  Of course, monarchs did not negotiate with their subjects, and King George III was no exception.  When the king failed to respond to the Congresses petition, on 6 July 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted a resolution entitled, “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms.”

Two years later, British peace commissioners traveled to the American colonies to negotiate terms with Congress.  The Carlisle Peace Commission offered the Americans self-rule and representation in the British Parliament.  But by then, it was too late for reconciliation.  The Continental Congress knew that the revolution was bankrupting Great Britain, and they were fully aware that the Carlisle commission was not authorized to discuss the matter of independence —so the American Revolution continued and was finally “won” in 1783.

Historians place great emphasis on the surrender of British General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1783, and of course, there was a formal accord in the same year.  However, ongoing events might suggest that war between Great Britain and the Americans continued for some time — at least to 1814.  Any suggestion that the British had their noses out of joint because of their inability to defeat the ragtag Continental Army may be unkind, accurate, or both. If we think that the British politicians treatment of Franklin was shoddy, their post-war perfidy from behind the Canadian curtain was ten-times worse.

Despite the formal cessation of hostilities between Great Britain and the American colonists, British officials continued their long-standing agitation among native populations living within the (then) Northwest Territory.[1]   Of course, the surge of white settlers across the Appalachian Mountains aided British activists in 1783-84.  Of concern to the British was their suspicion that it was only a matter of time before the Americans set their sights on British Canada.  It was not an unfounded misgiving.

For centuries, conflict in the Northwest Territory had been a fact of life — tribal conflicts complicated by shifting alliances among two or more tribal groups.  In 1783, there was nothing “united” about the Indian tribes in the expansive Northwest Territory.  The British reasoned that the best way to protect Canada from encroachment by the Americans was to convince Indian populations that they were entitled to possess this land, as set-asides, protected from white settlements.  To do that, however, the British had to first unite several tribes against the United States — and the timing couldn’t have been better.  The Americans had won their war of independence, but in 1783, they had no clear idea about what to do with their hard-won victory.

As for the Indians, they were well-aware of white expansion and encroachment, and they knew that the whites were at least partially responsible for tribal conflicts.  Beginning in 1783-84, British agents began working to unite the several tribes, speaking to them of the danger of continued white expansion.[2]  Actually, British efforts were little more than a continuation of their strategies against the French between 1754-63 (French and Indian Wars).  What the Indians needed to do, British agents argued, was to form a confederation of all tribes so that they could speak with one powerful voice, unite their tribes into a military league to fight the Americans, to regain control over the Northwest Territory, and protect it for their progeny.  And, of course, the British were more than happy to help the Indians with weapons, ammunition, and sound strategic advice.

Native American cooperation in resisting European encroachments was not a new concept.  Shifting alliances among Indian tribes and with French, British, Spanish, or American interests was simply a fact of life in North America.  In 1783, native tribes began working with British agents to formalize united resistance to white intrusion.  The Confederation came together in the autumn of 1785 at Fort Detroit.[3]  The Confederation is known to history as the Huron Confederacy, but only because Huron leaders initially served as the spokesmen for the movement.[4]  In the agreement, participating Indian nations decided that all member tribes would deal with the Americans with one voice; member tribes were prohibited from entering negotiations with the Americans.[5]  Any tribe doing so would become an enemy of the Confederation.  The Confederacy determined that the Ohio River would serve as the eastern boundary of Indian land; everyone agreed to prohibit all white settlements beyond it.

The Northwest Territory Indian Wars began in 1785; it wasn’t the first Euro-Indian war, nor would it be the last. 

What made the timing of this effort perfect was that following the Revolutionary War, the United States (more or less) disbanded its army.  America’s only military force was its irregular state militia.  The single exception was a standing regiment (1st US Infantry) employed to protect the Western Frontier and one battery of field artillery to guard the arsenal at West Point.  With time, continuing conflicts with the Indians convinced Congress that the United States needed a well-trained standing army.[6]  In its infant stage, America’s army consisted of poorly led, marginally trained troops and a ragtag volunteer militia.  Between 1790-91, the United States suffered among the worst military defeats in its entire history.

An evolving confederacy

Of course, there was nothing new about tribal cooperation, but Indian collaboration only occurred when the Indians themselves reasoned that alliance served their interests.  Despite the Huron Confederacy, bands of Shawnee, Delaware, and Huron did open negotiations with the US officials and agreed to allow white settlement in an area north of the Ohio River as part of the Treaty of Fort Finney.[7]  Signed on 31 January 1786, the accord ceded parts of the Ohio Country to the United States.  The treaty sparked the eruption of violence not only between Indians and settlers but among the Indians themselves.  The Shawnee that signed the accord were angrily repudiated by the Shawnee who rejected it.  A Huron envoy warned members of congress that Wabash, Twatwa (Delaware), and Miami nations fully intended to disrupt US surveyors, and Congress resolved that there would be reprisals for any disruption.  British agents couldn’t have been happier.

In July 1787, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, a formal organization of the territory claimed by the United States.  The Ordinance prohibited the taking of Indian lands without their consent.  Congress directed the newly appointed territorial governor (Major General Arthur St. Clair (also, Sinclair)) to reassert the United States’ peaceful intentions with native nations.[8]  General St. Clair didn’t arrive in the Northwest Territory until July 1788, but he wasted no time in his attempt to open negotiations by inviting Indian chieftains to a parlay at Fort Harmar.[9]  The meeting broke down almost immediately.

Behind the Scenes

Working against the United States’ interests, British agents in the Northwest Territory provided weapons and ammunition to the Indians and encouraged and helped them plan attacks against American settlements.  Colonel Alexander McKee (1735-1799) was one of these agents.  He was attached to the British Indian Department during the French and Indian Wars, the American Revolution, and the Northwest Indian Wars.

Alexander McKee was the second son of Thomas McKee, a Scots-Irish immigrant to Canada, fur trader, Indian Agent, and Indian language interpreter for General Forbes at Fort Pitt.  Alexander’s mother, Mary, was a white captive from a North Carolina settler’s family.  The Shawnee adopted Mary and assimilated her into the tribe.  After Mary died, Thomas remarried a woman named Margaret Tecum-sa-path Opessa, a daughter of Pride Opessa, the chief who signed a treaty with William Penn in 1701.  Margaret was the older sister of Alexander McKee’s first wife, Sewatha Sarah Straighttail, and Meth-eo-tashe Mary Opessa.  Mary Opessa was the mother of the Shawnee leader, Tecumseh.  It was Margaret who taught Alexander the language and customs of the Shawnee people.  This familial relationship enabled Alexander to develop and maintain a lifelong relationship with the Ohio Indian tribes.

Because of McKee’s relationship with the Shawnee, British Indian Agent George Croghan recruited him for service in the British Indian Department within the Pennsylvania Colony.  In 1764, Alexander settled in present-day McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania.[10]  George Washington visited Alexander at his home in 1770.  The white settlers moving westward were not good neighbors; their poor treatment of Alexander and his mixed-race family caused Alexander to leave the Americans and join the British at Fort Detroit.  Alexander dedicated himself to promoting an alliance between native populations and the British during the next twenty-five years — especially with the Shawnee.  Significantly, Alexander had tremendous credibility with the Northwest tribes, but it should be no surprise that Congress branded Alexander as a traitor.

British Lieutenant Governor (of Upper Canada), Lieutenant General Sir John Graves Simcoe, began his military career in 1770 in the 35th Regiment of Foot.  He accompanied his regiment to the American colonies and saw action during the siege of Boston, in New York and New Jersey, and during the Philadelphia Campaign.  During the Battle of Brandywine, Simcoe commanded the 40th Regiment, where he was wounded.  Some historians point to the fact that at Brandywine, Simcoe ordered his men not to fire upon three fleeing rebels, one of whom was General George Washington.  In 1777, Simcoe recommended the formation of a regiment of free Negroes, but he was instead appointed to command the Queen’s Rangers.  In this assignment, Simcoe planned and executed a successful surprise attack at the Battle of Crooked Billet.  

Parliament’s Constitutional Act of 1791 divided Canada into Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec) provinces.  Lower Canada was the French-speaking eastern portion of Canada that retained Napoleon Law and safeguarded the Roman Catholic Church.  In September 1791, Lieutenant General Simcoe received an appointment as Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada.  As governor, one of his priorities was the Northwest Indian War between the United States and the Western Confederacy of Indians west of the Appalachian Mountains.

The conflict, which began in 1785, was still going strong when Simcoe arrived in 1792.  He relished the American failures in the Northwest Territory because his goal was to create an Indian barrier state between the United States and Canada.  Initially relying on Joseph Brant as his principal advisor in Indian affairs, Simcoe rejected Article 2 of the Treaty of Paris because since the Americans had violated the treaty, it was therefore null and void.[11]  In 1793, Simcoe received instructions from London to seek good terms with the Americans to avoid giving them a reason to support France —improved relations with the United States being preferable to creating a new American front in the French Revolutionary Wars.[12]  In February 1794, Lord Dorchester, Governor-General of Canada, publicly stated his concern that war with the United States was imminent.  Dorchester’s pronouncement encouraged the Indian Confederation and increased the flow of British weapons and ammunition/gun powder to the Indian nations.  Simcoe urged London to declare war against the United States as a strategy for creating an Indian State in the Northwest Territory.  When London rebuked Lord Dorchester for making undiplomatic public statements, Simcoe relaxed his hawkish stance toward the Americans.


Confederacy war parties began raiding and murdering white settlers in April 1786, a behavior one might expect from savages.  But what we find in history is that American militias, in implementing a quid-pro-quo raiding strategy, behaved no better than the Indians.  After a militia attacked an Indian village of the Pian-ke-shaw near the Embarras River, four-hundred warriors responded by threatening the settlement at Vincennes.

In the autumn, George Rogers Clark and Benjamin Logan led a two-pronged force of Kentucky militia in punitive raids against Indian villages.  Their design was to force the Indians to withdraw north of the Ohio River.  One questions the wisdom of waiting until the autumn to begin his campaign because, by the time Clark set out from Kentucky, the weather was already turning cold, the terrain was rugged, and resupply impossible.  In time, his men lost interest in the campaign, rebelled, and returned to their homes.  With only a handful of men remaining, Clark arrived in Vincennes as a discredited military leader.

As previously noted, the Shawnee nation was not of one mind about white settlements in the Northwest Territory. That is until General Logan made his thrust along the Mad River with Kentucky mounted rifles and infantry.  Logan foolishly made no distinction between hostile and friendly Shawnee.  In the process of destroying Indian villages and obliterating their winter food stores, Captain Hugh McGary murdered in cold blood an elderly Shawnee chief named Moluntha.[13]  Moluntha was the one man who was vital in helping persuade other Shawnee leaders to accept white settlements into the Northwest Territory.  Afterward, the Shawnee were more willing to listen to what British agents had to say.  Worse, Logan’s actions generated a series of Indian raids into Kentucky, where more than 2,000 settlers lost their lives.  Disgusted by the constant warfare, U. S. Secretary of War Henry Knox blamed this bloodshed directly on Congress and the Northwest Ordinance.

Josiah Harmar

George Washington assumed the office of President of the United States in 1789.  The following year, Washington ordered Brigadier General Josiah Harmar to initiate an offensive into the Shawnee and Miami country.  Harmar’s ultimate design was to strike Kekionga (president-day Fort Wayne, Indiana), a prominent Indian center with importance to the British trade economy.  Harmar’s force numbered around 1,500 militia and army regulars.  Between 19-21 October, Harmar lost three successive engagements near Kekionga.  Leading a mixed force of 400 men, Colonel John Hardin allowed himself lured into an ambush that caused the loss of 129 men (also known as Hardin’s Defeat).  The following day, another scouting party under Ensign Phillip Hartshorn was ambushed and destroyed.  Harmar made no effort to assist Hartshorn or to recover any of the party’s remains.  On 21 October, Hardin established a position near Kekionga and awaited reinforcements from Harmar.  The Miami war leader Michi-kini-kwa (known as Little Turtle) overwhelmed Hardin, forcing his retreat.  General Harmar never dispatched reinforcements.

There were two immediate consequences of Harmar’s defeat: a loss of self-confidence and esprit de corps among the American militia and the magnification of the leadership ability of Indian war chiefs, particularly Little Turtle of the Miami and Blue Jacket of the Shawnee.

Having demonstrated their battle efficiency, the Indians enlarged their anti-white campaign.[14]  In January 1791, Indian forces attacked the settlement near present-day Stockport, Ohio.  Earlier, in 1790, 36 members of the Ohio Land Company traveled upriver to Marietta and settled on untitled lands.[15]  Local Indians didn’t want them there, and everyone knew that.  A prevalent frontier rumor suggested that the settlement was about to be attacked.  The rumors and warnings were ignored.  On 2 January 1791, Lenape and Wyandot warriors struck the settlement, killing 12-14 settlers, men, women, and children.  A few days later, the Indians laid siege to Dunlap’s Station.

Arthur St. Clair

At the time Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, Arthur St. Clair was president of Congress.  In 1791, St. Clair served as Governor of the Northwest Territory.  Following Harmar’s defeat, President Washington commissioned St. Clair as Major General and ordered him to undertake a more aggressive military effort before the end of summer, including the construction of a series of forts along the Maumee River.  In his haste (and with no experience as a military commander), St. Clair put together an expeditionary force that lacked adequate provisions and skilled craftsmen.

As St. Clair marched northward, Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkinson (See also: James Wilkinson: Image of Respectability) conducted diversionary raids along the Wabash River.[16]  In one of these, Wilkinson captured 34 Miami prisoners, one of whom was the daughter of the war chief Little Turtle.  Up until this point, several of the Confederation leaders had considered submitting peace terms to U. S. officials.  After Wilkinson’s raids, there could be no question of peace.

Even though he lacked adequate provisions and that many of his men were at the end of their enlistments, St. Clair departed Fort Washington in October 1791 with 1,500 militia and two-hundred camp followers.[17]  Owing to St. Clair’s delay in departure, the Indian Confederation had more than enough time to prepare for war.  General St. Clair seemed to be in no hurry.  He twice stopped along the route of march to construct forts.  Men whose enlistments expired turned around and returned home, and St. Clair’s force dwindled to about 1,100.

At daybreak on 4 November, while St. Clair was bivouacked with weak, inattentive perimeter defense,  two-thousand Indian warriors, led by Little Turtle and Blue Jacket, overran the camp.  It was a one-sided, extremely bloody engagement.  St. Clair lost 70% of his men and officers.  Out of 920 soldiers, 640 were killed, and another 265 received severe wounds.  Indians killed nearly all St. Clair’s camp followers.  It was the worst-ever defeat by the United States in any of its engagements with Indians.  A furious President Washington revoked St. Clair’s military commission and appointed Major General Anthony Wayne as a senior military officer in the Northwest Territory.

Curiously, the Indians did not capitalize on their victory.  They instead returned to their homes to prepare for winter.  Kekionga was largely abandoned, the inhabitants resettling near the Auglaize River, which, if not a wise move, was undoubtedly prudent.  The Indian victory caused General Simcoe to reconsider his earlier demands to renegotiate the Treaty of Paris; he instead sought to curry favor with the Washington administration.  President Washington petitioned Congress for a declaration of war against the Indian Confederation.  Washington further urged Congress to raise an army capable of conducting successful operations against the Northwest Indian alliance.

In 1792 Congress authorized The Legion of the United States as the first standing army after the Revolutionary War.  The legion was formed with four sub-legions under the command of Major General Anthony Wayne.  Brigadier General James Wilkinson served as Wayne’s deputy commander.  Even though Congress authorized a brigadier general to command each of the four sub-legions, lieutenant colonels filled these billets.  Each sub-legion contained two battalions of infantry (one mounted), one company (battery) of artillery, and a medical unit.  Commanding the sub-legions in their numerical sequence were Lieutenant Colonel Jean François Hamtramck, Lieutenant Colonel David Strong, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Gaither, and Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Butler.  The Militia Acts of 1792 (there were two) authorized the President of the United States to activate state militia or call them into federal service.  The second act authorized conscription of every “free able-bodied white male citizen between 18 and 45.

Following St. Clair’s defeat, President Washington asked Joseph Brant to help negotiate peace negotiations.  When Washington learned that Brant was working for the British, he dispatched two peace emissaries: Major Alexander Truman and, following him, Colonel John Hardin.  Both men were killed en route to establishing contact with the Indian Confederation.[18]

A grand council of Indians met in September 1792 to consider whether to continue the war or sue for peace from a position of strength.  Alexander McKee represented the interests of Great Britain.  The council agreed that the Ohio River must remain the boundary of the United States, that all forts constructed in the Ohio Country must be destroyed, and that they would meet with U. S. representatives in 1793 near the Sandusky River.  Henry Knox agreed to the meeting and suspension of military offensive operations.  Indian raids continued, however.

After Little Turtle raided Fort St. Clair, Wilkinson demonstrated his abominable nature by writing a letter to Secretary Knox criticizing his superior, Major General Wayne, who, in compliance with Knox’s instructions, ordered his forces to engage in “defensive measures only.”

The Sandusky River Council was like a modern-day childcare facility during cracker hour.  Indian representatives began bickering almost immediately; some even demanded that the United States honor the Stanwix Agreement between the British and Indians in 1768.[19]  The council ended with no progress toward peace and scant agreement within the Indian Confederacy.  This led some to conclude that all one had to do to break up an Indian alliance was to call for a meeting.

General Wayne immediately advanced his troops northward into Indian territory.  The Legion wintered at newly constructed Fort Greene, but Wayne dispatched 300 men to build another fortification at the site of St. Clair’s earlier defeat.  Wayne named it Fort Recovery.  Wayne also wanted to recover the artillery pieces left there when St. Clair withdrew.  Wayne once more signaled his willingness to negotiate peace with the Northwest Indians.  Responding to Wayne’s initiative, George Mason White Eyes arrived to negotiate with General Wayne, but Wayne insisted that all members of the Confederacy must participate in the peace process.[20]  Because the other Indian chiefs believed that Great Britain and the United States would soon be at war, none felt the need for negotiations.

Lord Dorchester’s remarks caused a stir in the United States, of course. Still, Dorchester doubled down by warning the United States that taking possession of any part of the Northwest Territory would be a direct violation of His Majesty’s rights.  General Simcoe directed the construction of Fort Miami and garrisoned it with a company of soldiers of the 24th Regiment of Foot, a battery of eight cannons, and ordered the commander there to be vigilant for an attack by the United States.  No doubt General Simcoe would have liked nothing more.  Major General Wayne did fume about it, but his force was inadequate to the task of assaulting a fortified position.

In June 1794, British officers arrived at the gates of Fort Recovery with an Indian force of 1,200 warriors led by Blue Jacket, Egu-sha-wa, and Bear Chief of the Ottawa tribe.  Well-provisioned, the British announced their intent to collect recovered cannons, shot, and gun powder.  The British-Indian group did manage to capture one cannon, and they successfully corralled or scattered several hundred pack animals, but they failed to capture Fort Recovery, which was adequately defended by American artillery, dragoons, and Chickasaw scouts under the direct command of General Wayne.[21]  The American’s defense cost the Indians 23 killed, 29 wounded, and the loss of three captured British soldiers.  Little Turtle petitioned the British for the use of the captured cannon, but their request was denied.

General Wayne planned to leave Fort Recovery, but he made another attempt to negotiate with the Indian Confederacy before doing so.  Little Turtle was wary of Wayne, but he began to distrust the British and argued for peace negotiations.  Blue Jacket mocked Little Turtle as a traitor and argued successfully that Wayne could be defeated as easily as Harmar and St. Clair. Little Turtle, insulted, resigned from his confederate leadership position.

On 16 August, an Indian messenger brought word to Wayne to delay his departure while the Indians conferred with one another.  Wayne, suspecting that the request was a delaying tactic, departed Fort Recovery the next day.  Meanwhile, the British worried that their concocted Indian confederacy was falling apart.  As a show of force (and perhaps solidarity with the Indians), the British sent reinforcements to Fort Miami.

General Wayne pushed northward with plans to construct three additional forts, naming Fort Adams, Fort Defiance, and Fort Deposit.  By 20 August, Wayne’s Legion of 3,000 men arrived near present-day Toledo, Ohio.  The Indian Confederation (Shawnee, Delaware, Wyandot, Miami’s, Roundheads, Mingo’s, Mohawks, and a company of British Canadian militia (dressed as Indians under Lieutenant Colonel William Caldwell) laid an ambush near a place called Fallen Timbers, an area of devastation created by an earlier tornado.  Blue Jacket concealed 1,500 warriors within the destroyed forest.

When the Indians rushed into the attack, Wayne quickly rallied and directed his men in several assaults, including a bayonet charge into the thick of the Indian center.  British-Canadian Rangers made a rapid withdrawal into Fort Miami.  The battle lasted about one hour.  Wayne’s force sustained 33 killed and 100 wounded, with Indian casualties possibly twice that number.  Subsequently, Wayne bivouacked his force within sight of Fort Miami.  When the officer commanding demanded to know why the Americans were camped there, Wayne replied, “The answer has been given by the sound of your muskets and the retreat of your confederacy.”  The next day, General Wayne mounted his horse and carefully inspected Fort Miami’s exterior while the British looked on from within.  Major Campbell, commanding Fort Miami, decided it would be prudent not to molest General Wayne — principally because he had no orders to fire on the Americans except in defense.

While “Mad Anthony” Wayne made a show of his inspection, The Legion destroyed Indian villages and food stores adjacent to Fort Deposit, destroyed Alexander McKees’ trading post, and with some arrogance, withdrew from the battlefield at a slow pace.  The Indian Confederacy, which the British had so painstakingly assembled, began to crumble.  Bickering among Indian leaders continued, few warriors exhibited much interest in continuing the fight, and the British were utterly discredited.  None of this meant that Indian hostilities were at an end, however, but there was never again such a large-scale contest between Indians and American army forces.

General Wayne led his Legion back to Kekionga and began construction on another fort.  Before the winter was out, Wayne had four more forts.  But as to this particular fort, General Wayne’s requirements were exacting: a fort able to withstand 24-pound shot, Indian uprisings, and a full assault by British regulars.  He had his fort within a month and appointed LtCol Jean François Hamtramck as its first commander.  He named the edifice Fort Wayne, commissioned on 22 October 1794 — which is the date modern Fort Wayne, Indiana was founded.

(Next week: The New Northwest Territory)


  1. Allen, W. B.  A History of Kentucky: Embracing Gleanings, Reminiscences, Antiquities, Natural Curiosities, Statistics, and Biographical Sketches of Pioneers, Soldiers, Jurists, Lawyers, Statesmen, Divines, Mechanics, Merchants, and Other Leading Men, of all Occupations, and Pursuits. Bradley & Gilbert, 1872.
  2. Gaff, A. D.  Bayonets in the Wilderness: Anthony Wayne’s Legion in the Old Northwest.  Norman: University of Oklahoma, 2004.
  3. Hildreth, S. P.  Pioneer History: Being an account of the first examinations of the Ohio Valley and the early settlement of the Northwest Territory from original manuscripts (1848) (not sighted).  Ohio State Historical Society, 1906.
  4. Knopf, R. C.  Anthony Wayne: A Name in Arms.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1960.
  5. Kochan, J.  United States Army 1783-1811: Men at Arms.  Osprey Publishing, 2001.
  6. Labaree, L. W.  The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (Vol. 12).  Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1968.
  7. Nelson, P. D.  Anthony Wayne: Soldier of the Early Republic.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.
  8. Paulett, R.  An Empire of Small Places: Mapping the Southeastern Anglo-Indian Trade, 1732-1795.  Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012.
  9. White, R.  The Middle Ground Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815.  Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  10. Wulff, F.  Alexander McKee: The Great White Elk, British Indian Agent on the Colonial Frontier.  Denver: Outskirts Press, 2013.


[1] Article 2 of the Treaty of Paris (1783) which officially ended the American Revolutionary War, delineated the Great Lakes as a border between British Canadian territory and the United States.  Numerous Indian tribes inhabited the Northwest Territory, known among the Americans as the Ohio Country, and Illinois Country.  Regardless of the Treaty of Paris, the British retained its forts in this area and continued policies that supported Indians against the United States.

[2] ware of Great Britain’s mischief in the Northwest Territories in 1783, the retiring George Washington advised Congress in the strongest of terms that it should be the task of the American army to enforce US sovereignty over these territories.

[3] Originally named Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit, Antoine de La Mothe Cadillac established it in 1701.  The fort was taken over by the British during the French and Indian Wars and held by them until the American Revolution.  The British then constructed Fort Lemoult, further north, in 1779, later named Fort Shelby.

[4] The Huron people (also Wyandot) are an Iroquoian-speaking people who emerged as a tribe along the north shore of Lake Ontario.  Today, 3,000 Huron remain in Canada and 5,600 live in the United States.

[5] What made this confederation significant is that culturally, native Americans were (and are) fiercely individualistic, even to the extent of tribal members having the right to ignore any decision by their chief and go their own way.

[6] The First Regiment was called The Legion of the United States,  established between June and November 1792 at Fort Lafayette, Pennsylvania, and placed under the command of Major General “Mad” Anthony Wayne.  Wayne earned his sobriquet owing to his fiery personality and military daring.

[7] Fort Finney was constructed in 1785 at the mouth of the Miami River near present-day Cincinnati, Ohio by Major Walter Finney.  The fort was needed to secure the territory on behalf of the United States and to serve as a suitable location for negotiating settlements with the Shawnee.  Major General George Rogers Clark, Major General Richard Butler, and Samuel Parsons received commissions to negotiate a settlement with the Shawnee, but in time, Clark would do more harm than good.  George Rogers Clark was the older brother of William Rogers Clark who had made a substantial contribution to the Revolutionary War in the western colonies.  Fort Finney, Ohio is today part of the coal yard at the Miami Fort Power Plant.

[8] The Northwest Territory included present-day Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota.  St. Clair named the Cincinnati settlement after the Society of Cincinnati.  It is where St. Clair later established his home.

[9] Fort Harmar was named after LtCol Josiah Harmar, Commanding Officer of the First American Regiment and the U. S. Army’s senior officer from 1784-1791.  Harmar was reputed to be a politically connected man with a fondness for drink.  He served as Brevet Brigadier General while in command of the US Army in the Northwest Territory.  

[10] Allegheny County, along the South bank of the Ohio River.  The Hopewell mounds are nearby.  Militia colonel George Washington considered McKees Rocks as an ideal location for Fort Pitt, which was ultimately constructed on the site of the former Fort Duquesne, today part of Pittsburg’s Point State Park.

[11] Also, Thayendanegea (1743-1807), Joseph Brant was a Mohawk military and political leader who closely associated with Great Britain during the American Revolution, Brant rose to prominence through his education, ability, and his connection to British officials.  Brant’s sister Molly was consort to Sir William Johnson, the superintendent of Indian Affairs in New York.  During the American Revolution, Brant led Mohawks and British loyalists against the American rebels.

[12] The French Revolution changed the government of France from a monarchy into a republic, morphed into a bloody civil war, and pitted France against Great Britain and several other European monarchies with implications to its North American territories.  Two periods of conflict involved the War of the First Coalition (1792-97) and the War of the Second Coalition (1798-1801).

[13] Hugh McGary (1744-1806) was a contemporary of Daniel Boone who migrated to the American colonies from Ireland as an indentured servant.  He was a quarrelsome man who, more than his inhumanity and unpleasantness, nurtured an intense hatred for all Shawnee.  In killing Moluntha, McGary guaranteed the deaths of many more white settlers.

[14] During the American Revolution, militia Lieutenant Colonel David Williamson from Pennsylvania led 160 men to the missionary village of Gnadenhutten and murdered 96 unarmed Lenape (Delaware) Christians on 8 March 1782.  Indians of the Northwest Territory never forgot this incident.  It may be interesting to note that the Delaware migrated to Ohio from the mid-Atlantic coastal plain to escape colonial encroachment and pressure from the Iroquois tribes, who frequently attacked them.

[15] The Ohio Land Company was an association of New England Revolutionary War veterans who, having purchased land in the Ohio Country from the US government, sought to re-sell the land for profit.

[16] After Wilkinson’s resignation from the Continental Army, he received an appointment from the State of Pennsylvania as a brigadier general of state militia (1782).  It was in this capacity that he led a force of Kentucky volunteers against the Indians in 1791.  In October 1791, Wilkinson was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the Army of the United States and ordered to assume command of the infantry regiment.

[17] Camp followers are civilians who follow field armies.  They are either wives and children who follow their soldiers, or service providers who see to the needs of the encamped soldiers, which included sutlery, cooking, medical nursing, laundry, whiskey, and personal services.  Normally, camp followers accompany the baggage train, “in the rear with the gear.”

[18] It is likely that these murders were intentional and part of the British-Canadian game.

[19] Perhaps the Indians who made this demand were demonstrating a refined sense of humor.  The Fort Stanwix Treaty was an agreement by the British to halt all westward migrations of British settlers.  This treaty wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, and the Indians knew this better than anyone.  It was from the Stanwix Treaty that the Indians learned that agreements with white people were utterly worthless.

[20] George Mason White Eyes was the son of Delaware chief George White Eyes.  George Mason was a college educated man with degree from the College of New Jersey (later, Princeton), back in the days when Princeton offered a quality education.

[21] Indians referred to Wayne as “The black snake who never sleeps.”  Whether this derisive term ever met with the approval of the entire Confederacy is unknown.

About Mustang

Retired Marine, historian, writer.

1 Response to The Northwest Indian War

  1. Andy says:

    Interesting account of the early and bloody travails of our neophyte nation.


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