by Gerald Therrien

The Unveiling of Canadian History, Volume 3.

The Storming of Hell – the War for the Territory Northwest of the Ohio, 1786 – 1796.

During the American Revolution, when General Washington had asked General Wayne to undertake an extremely perilous enterprise – the storming of Stony Point, Wayne replied : “General, I will storm Hell, if you will only plan it.”

Part 1 – The Western Frontier

Chapter 1 – The British Refusal, February 28th 1786

Despite the signing of the Definitive Treaty of Peace, the British Empire still held on to the western posts, that had formerly been part of Canada, but were now part of the United States. Even though these posts were now on American territory, the battle for American access to the Ohio country would still continue, even after the ending of hostilities.

Because by handing over these western posts to the American government, the British Indian Department might lose their ability to manipulate the Indian nations, and might fail in their strategic plan to start a ‘new’ Indian war, in order to stop the western expansion of the American settlements past the Appalachian mountains.


Sir Frederic Haldimand

For the United States, after having agreed to a treaty of peace with the government of Great Britain, they now must secure treaties of peace with the Indian nations that resided in the agreed upon American territory, to establish a peaceful settlement of the Ohio country.

On May 1st 1783, the Continental Congress resolved:

“that the Secretary of War take the most effectual measures to inform the several Indian nations, on the frontiers of the United States, that preliminary articles of peace have been agreed upon, and hostilities have ceased with Great Britain, and to communicate to them that the forts within the United States, and in possession of the British troops, will speedily be evacuated; intimating also that the United States are disposed to enter into friendly treaty with the different tribes; and to inform the hostile Indian nations that unless they immediately cease all hostilities against the citizens of these states, and accept of these friendly proffers of peace, Congress will take the most decided measures to compel them.”

General Lincoln, the Secretary of War, sent Major Ephraim Douglass on a trip to Indian country, to meet with them, to tell them of the peace, and to convey to them the good intentions of Congress. Douglass left Fort Pitt on June 7th, arrived at Detroit on July 4th and met the British commander, De Peyster.

At an Indian council on July 6th, De Peyster read Douglass’s instructions from Congress to the Indians but Douglass was not allowed to speak to them!!! Sailing from Detroit, Douglass arrived at Fort Niagara on July 11th, and met Maclean, the new British commander, and with John Butler of the British Indian Department and Joseph Brant of the Iroquois, but he wasn’t allowed to talk with any of the Indians or visit any of their villages!!!

On July 12th, General George Washington sent Baron von Steuben to Canada to confer with the British Governor of Canada, General Frederick Haldimand, ‘for receiving possession of the posts now under his command within the territory ceded to the United States … and from which his Majesty’s troops are to be withdrawn.’

Haldimand was born in Vaud, Switzerland, became a Prussian mercenary, joined the British army at the start of the Seven Years War, and was later appointed as the Governor of Quebec in 1778 during the American Revolution.

On August 6th Steuben arrived at Sorel and met with Haldimand who refused to surrender the posts without instructions from the British ministry – fearing that if the British vacated the posts, there would be reprisals from the Indians who would feel abandoned, and Haldimand ordered the posts to be defended at all costs. The British wished to maintain their control over the Indians and to forestall any councils of peace between the Indians and the Americans.

Sir John Johnson, head of the British Indian Department, first met in July at Niagara with their Iroquois allies, assuring them of continued British patronage and seeking their aid in the establishment of a grand alliance of the western tribes. Travelling to Detroit to attend the grand council were Mr. Dease of the Indian Department accompanied by Joseph Brant and a Mohawk delegation. The council was attended by delegates of the Wyandot, Delaware, Shawnee, Mingo, Ottawa, Chippawa, Potawatomi, Creek and northern Cherokee nations.

Presiding over the meeting on September 6th, Alexander McKee read aloud a letter from Johnson, that assured the Indians that the ‘right of Soil belongs to and is in yourselves as Sole Proprietor as far as the boundary line agreed upon … in 1768 at Fort Stanwix’.

In other words, the British were recognizing the boundaries of the Quebec Act – as if 8 years of the revolutionary war and the treaty of peace had not changed a thing!!!

On November 27th, Haldimand wrote to Lord North, Secretary of State for the Home Department (formerly known as Secretary of State for the Colonies), that :

“in case things should proceed to extremities the event, no doubt, will be the destruction of the Indians but during the contest not only the Americans, but perhaps many of His Majesty’s subjects will be exposed to Great Distresses. To prevent such a disastrous event as an Indian war, is a consideration worthy of both nations and cannot be prevented so effectually as by allowing the Posts in the Upper Country to remain as they are for some time.”

Haldimand was claiming that the British must continue to occupy the western posts as the way to stop an Indian war!!! a war that the British were trying to start!!!

On April 8th 1784, Sydney, the new Home Secretary, replied to Haldimand :

“With regard to your refusing a compliance with the desire of Major General Baron de Steuben for delivering up to him the Posts within the Limits of the United States, you are certainly justified in every part of your proceedings, even if you had been in possession of the Definitive Treaty of Peace. The 7th Article stipulates that they shall be evacuated with all convenient speed, but no certain time is fixed, And as America has not, on her part, complied with even one Article of the Treaty, I think we may reconcile it in the present instance to delay the Evacuation of those Posts, at least until We are enabled to secure the Traders in the Interior Country and withdraw their Property. The management of the Indians requires great attention and address, in This Critical Juncture, but I am persuaded that our retaining possession of those Posts will not even be detrimental to America, and may be the means of preventing mischiefs which are likely to happen, should the Posts be delivered up whilst the resentment of the Indians continues at so high a pitch.”

Sydney wrote this letter, mere days before the British parliament ratified the Definitive treaty of peace on April 9th, showing that the British had already decided to hold onto the Posts, before they had ratified the treaty.

The Continental Congress, in attempting to deal with the economic crisis, would try to establish a plan to bring the western territory into the union and to establish the way that the territory would be surveyed and sold, in order to raise the funds necessary to run the government and to begin to payoff the enormous debt of the new nation. 

But firstly, they needed the individual states to cede to the United States those territories that they had claimed, and, secondly, they needed to establish peace with the Indian nations.

On March 1st 1784, Congress received the report from the committee for the western territory, and Congress resolved on the Land Ordinance for the Ohio country on April 23rd. Then, on June 3rd the Committee of States of Congress sent Colonel William Hull to Canada, to deliver a letter from Henry Knox, the Secretary of War, to Governor Haldimand.

On July 12th, Haldimand received the letter, dated June 13th, ‘in order to ascertain the precise time when of the forts within the United States, now occupied by the troops of his Britannic Majesty shall be delivered agreeable to the definitive treaty of peace’.

The next day, July 13th, Haldimand replied that :

“Tho I am now informed by his Majesty’s Ministers of the ratification of the definitive treaty of peace, I remain in other respects, in the same I then was, not having received orders to evacuate the Posts which are within the limits assigned the treaty of peace to this province. It is impossible therefore to ascertain the time when the evacuation of these Posts shall commence”.

On October 15th, Haldimand wrote to De Peyster, at Detroit, that :

“Finding from different Reports which have been circulated here by means of American News Papers & Travellers from their States, that Preparations are making for taking Possession of the Posts in the Upper Country, and as it is highly probable that the execution of this Measure with Respect to the manner & time of doing it, will turn upon the Result of the Meeting they are now holding with the Indians, the complexion of which will soon declare itself to you, I think it necessary to recommend to you every precaution that Can be taken for the security of the several Posts in the District of your Command … altho’ the definitive Treaty of Peace has been communicated to me, I have not yet received Instructions nor the least Authority for evacuating the Posts – I am therefore determined upon no Account whatever to give up the Posts until I have received His Majesty’s Order for that Purpose.”

After successfully stalling the handing over of the western posts to the United States (on mere technicalities), on November 16th, Governor Haldimand sailed from Canada to return to London – where he was made a Knight of the Bath.

In London, on March 16th 1785, Haldimand would present to Lord Sydney, his ‘Memorandums respecting Public Matters in the Province of Quebec’. In this memorandum, he wrote of his continued support for retaining the frontier posts, and the necessity of maintaining control over the Six Nations (i.e. Iroquois) :

“1st. Means the most probable to retain the Six Nations and Western Indians in the King’s Interest. 

The Indians of the Six Nations, the Oneidas excepted, having taken an early, and very sanguine part with Government have, by the fate of the war, and Treaty of Peace, forfeited their country, and many of them have been entirely driven out of it, with the loss of valuable settlements and stock. Seeing the policy, as well as necessity of providing a retreat for them, I made a purchase of a tract of land for that purpose, from the Chippawa and Messessague Nations on the north side of Lake Ontario … This settlement should meet with every indulgence and encouragement from Government, not only in consideration of their past services but in proportion as it shall be thought necessary to preserve the friendship of the Indians, in other words, the possession of the Upper Country and the Furr Trade. And these measures should be taken without delay; that the Indians may be comfortably established, and experience the sweets of the King’s protection before the posts shall be evacuated by us; otherwise even should we take post on the north side of the river, they will assuredly abandon us, and return to their former settlements, which the Americans already hold out to them in order to detach them from us … The conduct of the Western Indians, (tho’ infinitely a more numerous people) will always be governed by that of the Six Nations, so nice a management of them may not, therefore, be necessary …”

Meanwhile, the United States Congress would continue to negotiate peace treaties with the Iroquois confederacy and with the Indian nations of the Ohio country. 

On October 22nd 1784, at Fort Schuyler, the commissioners from Congress – Oliver Wolcott, Richard Butler and Arthur Lee, signed a peace treaty with the Iroquois Confederacy, that stated, :

“The United States give peace to the Senecas, Mohawks, Onondagas, and Cayugas, and receive them into their protection … The Oneida and Tuscarora nations [who had allied with the Americans during the revolution] shall be secured in the possession of the land on which they are settled.”

The United States sought to re-establish peace among the Six Nations – both those who fought with the British and those who fought with the Americans, by not expelling them but by forgiving them, and by restoring to them the lands that they held before the war.

On January 21st 1785, the commissioners from Congress – Richard Butler, Arthur Lee and George Clark met with representatives of the Wyandots, Delawares, Chippewas and Ottawas, at Fort McIntosh, near Fort Pitt, and signed a peace treaty, whereby the Indian nations ‘ do acknowledge themselves and all their tribes to be under the protection of the United States and of no other sovereign whatsoever’, and that established the boundaries of the Wyandot and Delaware nations – an area roughly bounded by the Cayahoga and Tuscarawas rivers on the east, by the St. Marys and the Maumee rivers on the west, and by a line drawn from the abandoned Fort Laurens (on the Tuscarawas river) to the destroyed post of Pickawillany (on the Great Miami river) – and that all the lands to the south of this area belong to the United States.

On January 31st 1786, the commissioners of Congress – General George Clark and Richard Butler, signed a peace treaty at Fort Finney with some of the chiefs of the Shawanoe, who agreed to ‘acknowlege the United States to be the sole and absolute sovereigns of all the territory ceded to them by the treaty of peace, made between them and the king of Great Britain’ and agreed to the boundary allotted for their lands – continuing the southern boundary line (of the Wyandot and Delaware nations) to the river de la Panse and the Wabash river – and relinquishing all the lands to the south of this boundary to the United States.

With peace treaties signed with the western Indian nations, on May 20th, Congress now resolved on a new Land Ordinance for the western territories.

A year earlier, on March 7th 1785, Congress had agreed to permit Dr. Franklin to return home to America from France, and on March 10th had appointed Thomas Jefferson to succeed Dr. Franklin as minister plenipotentiary to the court of France.

Also on March 7th, Congress had agreed to the ‘Instructions for a Minister Plenipotentiary appointed to represent the United States of America at the Court of Great Britain’:

“Sir, you will in a respectful but firm manner insist, that United States be put without further delay in possession of all the posts and territories within their limits which are now held by British Garrisons.”

On March 14th Congress had appointed John Adams to be the minister plenipotentiary to the court of Great Britain.

On November 30th 1785, Adams wrote a memorial on the Evacuation of the Posts to the Marquis of Carmarthen, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, that:

“although a Period of three Years, has elapsed, Since the Signature of the Treaty and of more than two Years, Since that of the Definitive Treaty, the Posts of Oswegatchy, Oswego, Niagara, Presque Isle, Sandusky, Detroit, Michillimachinac, with others not necessary to be particularly enumerated, and a considerable Territory round each of them, all within the incontestable Limits of the Said United States, are Still held by British Garrisons to the Loss and Injury of the said United States. The Subscriber therefore in the name and behalf of the said United States, and in obedience to their express Commands, has the Honour to require of his Britannic Majestys Ministry, that all his Majestys Armies and Garrisons, be forthwith withdrawn from the Said United States; from all and every of the Posts and Fortresses herein before enumerated, and from every other Port, Place, and Harbour, within the Territory of the Said United States, according to the true Intention of the Treaties aforesaid.”

On February 28th 1786, Carmarthen replied to Adams, that :

“The Fourth Article of the same Treaties as clearly stipulates, that Creditors, on either Side, shall meet with no lawful Impediment to the Recovery of the full Value, in Sterling Money, of all bona fide Debts heretofore contracted. The little Attention paid to the fulfilling this Engagement, on the Part of the Subjects of the United States in general, and the direct Breach of it in many particular Instances, have already reduced many of the King’s Subjects to the utmost Degree of Difficulty and Distress … I flatter myself however, Sir, that Justice will speedily be done to British Creditors; and I can assure You, Sir, that whenever America shall manifest a real Determination to fulfil her Part of the Treaty, Great Britain will not hesitate to prove her Sincerity, to cooperate in whatever Points depend upon her, for carrying every Article of it into real and compleat Effect.”

Britain was officially refusing to hand over the British-held posts to the United States, using the demand of reimbursing the tory debt, as the new excuse to hold on to the western posts.

[ next week – chapter 2 – The Northwest Ordinance, July 13th 1787 ]

For those who may wish to support my continuing work on ‘The Unveiling of Canadian History’, you may purchase my books, that are available as PDFs and Paperback (on Amazon) at the Canadian Patriot Review :
  • Volume 1 – The Approaching Conflict, 1753 – 1774.
  • Volume 2 – Forlorn Hope – Quebec and Nova Scotia, and the War for Independence, 1775 – 1785.
And hopefully,
  • Volume 3 – The Storming of Hell – the War for the Territory Northwest of Ohio, 1786 – 1796, and
  • Volume 4 – Ireland, Haiti, and Louisiana – the Idea of a Continental Republic, 1797 – 1804,
may also appear in print, in the near future, while I continue to work on :
  • Volume 5 – On the Trail of the Treasonous, 1804 – 1814.

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