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.

Part 1 – The Western Frontier

Chapter 2 – The Northwest Ordinance, July 13th 1787

The British Indian Department was trying to manipulate the Indian nations into a war with the Americans, in order for the British to stop any American western settlements, and to maintain control of the western posts and control of the fur trade – but with no written assurances. The British never signed treaties with the Indians. The Americans needed ‘written’ treaties between the different Indian nations and Congress, in order to guarantee peace and to be able to begin settling the Ohio country.


Guy Carleton, Lord Dorchester, Governor of British North America

In August 1785, at an Indian Council of the Six Nations (Iroquois) at Niagara, it was decided to send a message to Congress asking that a delegation be sent to the Seneca village at Buffalo creek, to hear their complaints about the treaty they had signed at Fort Stanwix in October 1784. 

After the council ended, the (Canadian) Mohawk leader, Joseph Brant, left to travel to Quebec, where in October he met with Sir John Johnson, head of the British Indian Department in Canada, who had returned to Canada with new instructions for the Department. Despite attempts by both Johnson and Lt-Governor Hope to convince him otherwise, Brant left on his own trip to London, accompanied by Captain Houghton, who was assigned to oversee him on his trip.

On January 4th 1786, accompanied by officers of the Indian Department – including Guy Johnson, Daniel Claus and John Butler, Brant met with Lord Sydney ostensibly to argue in favour of compensation for the Mohawks for losses suffered during the war – ‘their sufferings, losses and being drove from that country which their forefathers long enjoyed’ – because they had sided with the British during the Revolutionary war, and had been forced to flee to Canada.

But also he wanted to sound out the British minister on the amount of assistance that might be expected in the event of a general Indian war against ‘the American States, who have surveyed and laid out great part of the lands in our country, on our side of the boundary line fixed at Fort Stanwix in 1765, the last time we granted any territory to the King’.

This seems to imply that the possibility of a coming war was being considered.

The British government would award £15,000 in compensation to the Mohawks and £12,000 in compensation to the rest of the Iroquois, for services past, that was a great deal more than the compensation received by the Tories. Brant would also later receive half-pay, when in 1787 all Indian Department officers who had been reduced at the war’s end were given half-pay. 

Interestingly, Brant was somehow able to make a short trip to Paris in his quest to delve into ancient Indian customs and arts and religion, thinking that there might be something in the French archives that might solve the mystery of the great mounds that he had seen in the Ohio country.

After a meeting of the Privy Council, and after the February 28th reply to John Adams’s memorial on the evacuation of the western posts, on April 6th, Sydney replied to Brant concerning ‘the desire of the confederacy to be informed what assistance they might expect from this country in case they should be engaged in disputes with the Americans relative to their lands, situated within the territory to which His Majesty has relinquished his sovereignty’.

“His Majesty, in consideration of the zealous and hearty exertions of his Indian allies in the support of his cause, and as a proof of his most friendly disposition toward them, has been graciously pleased to consent that the losses already certified by his Superintendent-General shall be made good … His Majesty recommends to his Indian allies to continue united in their councils, and that their measures may be conducted with temper and moderation; from which, added to a peaceable demeanor on their part, they must experience many essential benefits, and be most likely to secure to themselves the possession of those rights and privileges which their ancestors have heretofore enjoyed.”

Sydney also sent new instructions concerning Indian affairs to Colonel Hope, Lt-Governor of Canada:

“To afford them open and avowed assistance, should hostilities commence, must at all events in the present state of this country be avoided; but His Majesty’s Ministers at the same time do not think it either consistent with justice or good policy entirely to abandon them, and leave them to the mercy of the Americans, as from motives of resentment it is not unlikely that they might hereafter be led to interrupt the peace and prosperity of the Province of Quebec. It is utterly impracticable for His Majesty’s Ministers to prescribe any direct line for your conduct should matters be driven to the extremity, and much will depend upon your judgement and discretion in the management of a business so delicate and interesting, in which you must be governed by a variety of circumstances which cannot at this moment be foreseen.” 

By not issuing ‘any direct line for your conduct’, the British were maintaining a case of plausible deniability should an Indian war against the Americans break out.

Since the British had signed a peace treaty with the United States, and since no British army reinforcements to the upper posts were forthcoming, then the Indians would have to form a barrier to check any American settlement of the Ohio country – by maintaining a formidable Indian Confederacy, and by granting the Indians supplies for defence. Indian favour could be purchased, through the fur trade, with supplies and presents and Indian allegiance fostered by the retention of the upper posts.

However, the British did not want a war against the United States, but only to create constant instability in the northwest territories. 

By arming and supplying the Indians to continue their raiding into Kentucky and the Ohio country, the British, in effect, were furthering the conditions that would make new settlements impossible and make the western territory ungovernable, and would stop the surveying and sale of the western lands by the United States – thus preventing Congress from raising the funds needed to begin to manage their enormous war debts – i.e. ‘financial warfare.

Back in Canada, in July, Brant travelled to Niagara, to first consult with Major Archibald Campbell, the new British commander, and to attend an Iroquois council at Buffalo creek to report on his trip to Britain – that they could expect no military help from the British

Also attending the council, were delegates from the Ohio country, of the Wyandots, Chippewas, Ottawas, Potawatomies, Shawnees, Mingoes and northern Cherokees, who wished to make a common cause with the Iroquois against the American peace treaties. Cornplanter, from the Senecas, read a message to the council from Congress.

It was decided to wait until the arrival of the new Governor of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton, for his advice, and that another council was to be held in the fall in Shawnee country. Brant and a delegation of 57 Iroquois would travel to Detroit to attend this ill-fated council.

On April 9th, Henry Knox, the Secretary at War, wrote a letter to Congress as to ‘the posts necessary to be established on the frontiers’ and reported that:

“[the] idea of a general council or meeting with the Indians … would probably be the wisest and most economical mode, not only of avoiding hostilities at present, but of laying the foundations of a firm and durable peace.” 

On April 20th, the Secretary at War, presented his report to Congress on the intrusions into the western territory that:

“if the disposition, to seize the public lands, be not curbed in the first instance, in a manner demonstrative of the fixed purpose of government, all future attempts to remove intruders may be abortive. Their numbers may be so great as to defy the power of the United States.”

And on April 25th, Congress received the report of the Committee on Ordinance for disposing of the Western Territory, and that the delay, caused by ‘the danger to which the surveyors are liable from the Indians, prevent their proceeding except when they can be covered by troops’.

But when the Americans requested that the Wabash Indians, along with the Miami and other western Indians, meet at the mouth of the Miami river to negotiate a peace treaty, no Indian nations attended. Soon however, Indian raids began against the frontier settlements of Virginia, committing murders and depredations against the inhabitants. The raiding parties were being supplied with weapons, ammunition and provisions by Colonel Alexander McKee, the deputy agent of the British Indian Department at Detroit!

In May 1786, General George Clark wrote to Patrick Henry, Governor of Virginia, about the continuing Indian raids (induced by the British at Detroit) against the Kentucky settlements, that:

“before the assembly meets, or any assistance can be got from congress on your making application to them for it, I doubt great part of these beautiful settlements will be laid waste, without protected by volunteers penetrating into the heart of the enemy’s country. Nothing else will do.”

Hearing that a large army of Indians were gathering at the upper Wabash for an attack on the Kentucky settlements, a council of officers of the district of Kentucky met at Harrodsburg on August 2nd and decided to make a campaign, under General Clark, against the hostile Wabash Indians. Another campaign, under Colonel Benjamin Logan, was decided upon at a meeting in Danville, against the Shawnee Indians. Virginia Governor Henry approved of the action. 

At the end of September, Colonel Benjamin Logan assembled 800 men at Maysville, and marched north against the Shawnee villages on the Mad river. On October 8th, Logan’s army attacked Mackachack – most of the warriors were away at the gathering on the Wabash – and over the next two days, they proceeded to attack another eight villages nearby, including Wapatomika and Wapakoneta, and destroyed a large amount of foodstuffs and fields of corn, killing 22 Indians and capturing 33 prisoners, before returning.

By September 10th, General Clark had assembled over 1000 militia at the falls of the Ohio and then moved across the wilderness to Vincennes, where they were joined by a number of the inhabitants. After a delay due to the late arrival of the supplies, sent by water down the Ohio river from the falls, they marched up the Wabash, with a view to attacking the Indians, especially those in the vicinity of Ouiatenon. They travelled as far as the villages at the mouth of the Vermilion river, that the Indians had deserted on the army’s approach, and due to the fatigue of the march and a lack of provisions, Clark decided to return. 

At Vincennes on October 8th, with the approval of a council of officers, Clark enlisted 140 men to remain there as a garrison, to hold the neighbouring Indians in check, and also to re-establish law, order and good feeling to the inhabitants in the Illinois country. Being wholly destitute of money, provisions and supplies, (again with the approval of the council of officers, and with the prior approval given by Governor Henry), Clark impressed the property of a Spanish merchant, that was receipted and accounted for by the commissary. In the course of a month, Clark was to bring the whole of the Wabash Indians to agree to cease hostilities, putting off the signing of a treaty until it could be known from Congress what articles to agree to.

Brant and his Iroquois delegates had been waiting at the Shawnee town of Wapakoneta to await the assembling of the Indian council, but luckily they were away hunting when it was attacked by Logan and his army, and Brant and all of his party were able to escape. With the Shawnee towns in ashes, the council was removed to the Huron Village at the mouth of the Detroit river at the end of November, attended by delegates from the Wyandots, Delawares, Shawnees, Ottawas, Chippewas, Potawatomies, Miamis, northern Cherokees and also delegates from the Wabash Indians – the Wea and the Piankashaw. On December 18th, the council sent a letter to Congress proposing a peace treaty be held in the spring. 

Brant and his party returned to Niagara where, on February 10th 1787, they held a council of the Iroquois Confederacy. The British asked them whether they would help defend the western posts if the Americans attacked and attempted to take the posts by force. The Indians instead replied that they had not received an answer as to whether the British would assist them, in case they were attacked by the Americans.

The British could not start a war in the Indians’ behalf, but needed their help to keep possession of the posts.

Brant also wrote to Major Mathews, Haldimand’s former secretary, for an answer. Mathews replied that:

“[they] must see it is in his Lordship’s intention to defend the posts; and that while these are preserved, the Indians must find great security therefrom, and consequently the Americans greater difficulty in taking possession of their lands; but should they [Americans] once become masters of the posts, they will surround the Indians, and accomplish their purpose with little trouble.”

Lord Dorchester had arrived at Quebec as the new Governor – along with his voluminous instructions, on October 23rd 1786.

Guy Carleton had been made Lord Dorchester, and had been appointed Governor-in-chief of all the British North American colonies; his brother, Colonel Thomas Carleton was appointed as the first Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick; and his nephew (and brother-in-law) Christopher Carleton was made the freemasonic Provincial Grand Master of Quebec.

In a reply to his initial dispatches, Carleton received a letter from Sydney, dated September 17th 1787:

“… it was the firm opinion of the King’s servants that the retaining the Possession of the Posts was a measure perfectly justifiable, and from the conduct observed since that time on the part of the American States, they have no reason to their sentiments upon that point. It therefore becomes necessary that steps should be taken by putting them into a temporary state of defence, to resist any attack which the citizens of the states may meditate and the sooner it can be done, the better … His Majesty’s servants, considering that the protection of the fur trade, and perhaps the general security of the Province of Quebec may, in some degree, may depend upon the part these people [i.e. the Indians] may take, would rather submit to an augmentation of such supplies, than suffer them to be discontented or dissatisfied, particularly at this moment when their active assistance may possibly be called for and which must happen should the Posts be attacked. It is to be hoped that the Americans will not proceed to hostile measures but if they should avail themselves of any opportunity which may offer of seizing upon the Posts, it will become your Lordship’s duty to use every endeavour to regain the possession of them if you should find yourself sufficiently strong to be able to effect it.”

If the (British-instigated) Indian raids caused the Americans to attempt to seize the posts, then the British would consider it necessary to fight to regain the posts and to continue to supply the Indians with military supplies.

The letter also approved of establishing a militia and of procuring a sufficient number of seamen to compose the crews of the vessels to be employed upon the lakes.

By November 1787, Dorchester reported that in Canada there were over 2000 regular troops and over 30,000 militia – 1300 regular troops, 1000 British militia and 25,000 (enforced) Canadien militia in Quebec; 50 regulars at Mackinac; 230 regulars and 840 militia at Detroit; 300 regulars and 450 militia at Niagara; 60 regulars at Carleton island; 20 regulars and 840 militia at Cataraquai; 50 regulars at Oswego; and over 1000 militia at the new townships at New Johnstown and New Oswegatchie.

The British were militarily prepared for a war for the western posts – they just needed the Indian nations to commit to the war.

After another council at Buffalo creek in May 1787, the Iroquois considered the promise they made to Congress binding and that they would not stir against the Americans until an answer to their message was forthcoming. 

Brant sent an account of this council to Richard Butler, the American superintendent of northern department of Indian affairs, at Fort Pitt. Butler received Brant’s letter in early summer – the same day that he received the letter to Congress from the council at Detroit in December! The delivery of that letter had been delayed due to a famine among the western Indians. These letters were finally received by the Secretary at War, Henry Knox, on July 17th and presented the next day to Congress.

On July 21st, Congress resolved to invite the hostile Indians ‘in a friendly manner to a treaty with the United States to hear their complaints, to know the truth and the causes of their quarrels with those frontier settlers’.

Days earlier on July 13th, Congress had passed ‘An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States north west of the river Ohio’ that provided for the appointment of a Governor, a Secretary and a Legislative Council, and for the election of a General Assembly, that would include ‘the French and Canadian inhabitants and other settlers of the Kaskaskies, Saint Vincent and the neighbouring villages, who have heretofore professed themselves citizens of Virginia’. 

This 1787 Ordinance replaced the Land Ordinance of May 27th 1785, and settlement of the Ohio country could now begin!!!

The surveying had started in September 1785 – beginning at the point where the western boundary of Pennsylvania touched the Ohio river, but surveying was stopped and the surveyors returned to Fort Pitt, because of word of Indian attacks in the area.

Earlier on June 3rd 1784, the Continental Congress authorized the establishment of a 700-man army, the First American Regiment, that were now to be stationed at the various posts along the Ohio river to protect the frontier settlements

Construction had begun in October 1785 on Fort Harmar, near the mouth of the Muskingum river; and construction also had begun in October 1786 on Fort Finney, that was relocated, rebuilt and renamed Fort Steuben.

And the surveyors returned and were protected by the soldiers of the First American Regiment under Colonel Josiah Harmar, as they patrolled the Ohio river valley and were also charged with burning and destroying any illegal homesteads.

The surveying of this area between Pennsylvania and the Muskingum river, called the Seven Ranges, was completed by July 1787, and land sales were undertaken in New York in September. 

In late 1787, the first settlement in the Seven Ranges was started by Captain Absalom Martin, who had been part of the survey team, at ‘Martin’s Ferry’ along the Ohio river opposite Fort Henry at Wheeling. 

With the cession of western land claims by New York, Virginia, Massachusetts and Connecticut, Congress was now able to sell 913,833 acres, north of the Ohio river and west of the Seven Ranges, to the Ohio Company for $500,000.

In April 1788, the first settlers, led by General Rufus Putnam, would arrive at the mouth of the Muskingum river, opposite Fort Harmar, and begin building cabins and a stockade, calling the new settlement ‘Marietta’. 

Another land sale was made to John Symmes of New Jersey and his friends of the Miami Company, of 330,000 acres between the Great Miami and the Little Miami rivers. 

In November 1788, a party of settlers, led by Major Benjamin Stites, would arrive at the mouth of the Little Miami river and begin a new settlement called ‘Columbia’.

Late in December 1788, another party led by Matthias Denman and Robert Patterson, would arrive at a site opposite the mouth of the Licking river (7 miles from Columbia) and begin to build a settlement called ‘Losantiville’. 

In October 1789, Colonel Harmar would begin the construction of Fort Washington to protect the settlers at the Miami Purchase.

And thousands of settlers were also arriving at Fort Nelson (at Louisville), and at Limestone on their way to the Kentucky settlements south of the Ohio river. Passage down the Ohio could be made aboard the river schooner, named the ‘May Flower’.

On October 5th 1787, Congress elected Arthur St. Clair to be the governor for the western territory, and then resolved:

“that a general treaty be held with the tribes of Indians within the limits of the United States inhabiting the country north west of the Ohio and about lake Erie … for the purpose of knowing the causes of uneasiness among the said tribes and hearing their complaints; of regulating trade and amicably settling all affairs concerning lands and boundaries between them and the United States.”

On September 20th, Congress received from the Convention of the States (that had met from May 25th until September 17th) a report, that included a letter from its president (George Washington) to the president of Congress (Arthur St. Clair), with the convention’s resolution and the proposed constitution. 

On September 28th Congress resolved:

“unanimously that the said report … be transmitted to the several legislatures in order to be submitted to a convention of delegates chosen in each state by the people thereof in conformity to the resolves of the convention.” 

On October 27th in the Independent Journal, appeared an article, signed Publius and addressed to the People of the State of New York, proposing that:

“in a series of papers, to discuss the following interesting particulars: The utility of the union to your political prosperity; the insufficiency of the present confederation to preserve that union; the necessity of a government at least equally energetic with the one proposed, to the attainment of this object; the conformity of the proposed constitution to the true principles of republican government; its analogy to your own state constitution; and lastly, the additional security which its adoption will afford to the preservation of that species of government, to liberty, and to property.”

This first letter, written by Alexander Hamilton, was to become the introduction to the 85 letters, written over the following ten months by Hamilton, along with James Madison and John Jay, later known as ‘The Federalist Papers’ that would help to win support for this new constitution.

[ next week – chapter 3 – The Treaty of Fort Harmar, January 9th 1789 ]

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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