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 6 – The British-Indian War Agreement, August 15th 1791

Secretary of War, Henry Knox, moved forward with his plan to obtain a peace treaty with the Indian nations in the Northwest Territory. The British were manipulating the Indian nations into a demand for a return to the boundaries that had been agreed upon at Fort Stanwix in 1768 – a demand that the Americans could not constitutionally agree to, because it would nullify the treaties of 1784, 1785 and 1789!

With no prospects for peace, due to British manipulations of the Indians, Governor St. Clair sent General Scott to attack the Indian towns along the Wabash river.


Henry Knox, by Charles Willson Peale

On March 12th 1791, a day after receiving his instructions from Secretary of War Knox, Colonel Procter, along with Captain Houdin, left Philadelphia to travel to meet with Cornplanter, a Seneca chief, who had earlier travelled to Philadelphia to present a list of grievances to the President of Pennsylvania on October 29th 1790. He had stayed in Philadelphia until February, in order to meet and correspond with President Washington, and he had offered to go to the Miami Indians ‘to endeavor to persuade them to peace’.

On April 8th, Procter met with Cornplanter at Fort Franklin, where Cornplanter had taken sanctuary, after a party of militia that was seeking revenge for an earlier Indian raid, had seized his boat and canoes with the goods that the government had presented to him. By an order from Knox, the boat, canoes and goods were returned to Cornplanter. After a council meeting, Cornplanter and the other 11 chiefs couldn’t agree to accompany him directly to the Miamis, but must determine on that business at full council at Buffalo Creek. That evening, Procter wrote to St. Clair that this delay ‘would be a means of exceeding the time limited by the Secretary of War for my meeting him at Fort Washington’.

On April 27th, Procter, accompanied by the Seneca and Delaware chiefs, arrived at the council fire at Buffalo Creek, noting that:

“[the Indians there were] far better clothed … owing entirely to the immediate intercourse they have with the British … supplied with almost every necessary they require, so much so as to make them indifferent in their huntings … And the chiefs, who are poor in general, have to look up to them for almost their daily subsistence, not only for provisions, but for apparel.”

A week earlier, Procter reported, the assembled Indian chiefs at Buffalo Creek had been visited by British Colonel Butler and Captain Brant ‘who desired of the chiefs, in private council, to pay no attention to what should say to them by me and advised them not to assist me in going to the Miamis, as the consequence would be fatal to those that should attend me’. Brant then received ‘private instructions from headquarters to set out to Detroit to carry instructions of some kind to the Indians at war with the United States’.

The council didn’t begin until the arrival of Captain Powell of the British Indian Department. Procter recounted the journey of Cornplanter and read the letters between him and President Washington; read the letters of Knox to the Six Nations, to the Delawares and Wyandots, and to the Miami and Wabash Indians; and explained the recent treaty with the Creek Indians. In answer to this, Red Jacket called for the council fire to be moved to Fort Niagara! Procter replied that:

“to move to Niagara, a British garrison, there to transact important business in which the United States were concerned, is of such a nature, that neither my principles nor commission would warrant me in such a transaction’.

Red Jacket then sent for Colonel Butler to meet with them. 

Procter wrote that:

“[this] plainly demonstrates that most of the chiefs of the Six Nations are under the influence of the British; as no business of consequence will be undertaken, to the advantage of the United States, but what must be sifted by British counsel.”

On May 3rd, Butler arrived, not at Buffalo Creek, but at Fort Erie, where he desired a meeting with all of the chiefs – but without Procter!!! After the meeting, Procter was invited to dine with the chiefs and with the British officers. Butler reported that he and the other officers now had to return to Niagara to meet with and receive instructions from their commander, Colonel Gordon. He also reported, to the chiefs, that Brant and McKee, the agent for Indian affairs at Detroit, ‘were now preparing to go among the Indians at war with the Americans, to know what their intentions were, whether for war or for peace; advising them, by all means, to wait the information that would be received from them; and, should it not come as early as expected, they should not go without it, as thereby they would draw war upon their own nations’.

Procter argued that:

“the tenor of the Colonel’s advice being, to leave the whole of the treaty, and adjustment of the same, to the chiefs of Buffalo, Colonel Brant, and McKee, whom he should engage for, to accommodate the disputes between the Indians at war and the United States, and on no account to attempt the undertaking myself … that a peace could not be confirmed with the thirteen States, but with his Britannic Majesty’s subjects, in their behalf; that on the completion of this business, due honor would rest with the negotiators and … I should justly entail on myself lasting disrepute … That, for those reasons, the chiefs of the Six Nations must be decisive in their answers to me, within a few days.”

On May 5th, Butler returned to Fort Erie with ‘every public paper received by Cornplanter at Philadelphia, together with the message that I brought to the Six nations’ to be presented to Colonel Gordon. Procter then ‘wrote a letter to obtain permission from the commanding officer of Niagara, to freight one of the schooners upon the lake, to conduct me, and such Indians as were willing to go with me, to Sandusky’.

Finally(!) at a council on May 15th, Red Jacket spoke and named the sachems and chief warriors that would accompany Procter to the Miamis, but the Indians still wanted a response from Gordon – ‘your request is granted, and when we hear from our brothers, the British, then we shall know what time we can start’ – and on the 17th, Procter again sent a request for passage in one of the vessels on lake Erie.

But on May 19th he received an answer from Gordon that ‘I am not authorized to comply with your request’ and Procter noted that ‘this unfriendly denial puts a stop to the further attempting to go to the Miamies’. The next morning, Procter met the chiefs in council and informed them of Gordon’s denial and ‘perceiving … that nothing farther can be done by us at this time, I must take my leave of the Six Nations’. After receiving their farewell speech, Procter left Buffalo Creek, arriving at Fort Pitt on May 26th and at Philadelphia on June 7th.

Meanwhile, while Proctor was following his instructions from Knox, St. Clair received his orders on March 21st, and left Philadelphia on the 28th ‘in order to be in the northwest country as early as possible … to observe the motions of the Indians, that if any opportunity offered, means might be taken to induce them to peace, and he arrived at Fort Pitt on April 19th, and then proceeded to Lexington to meet with Scott.

On May 8th St. Clair directed General Scott:

“Not to hurry the muster, and as the distributing the ammunition and provisions would take some time, to contrive matters so that they might not be in readiness to move until the 24th, hoping that the Colonel [Procter] might arrive by that time.”

The 750 volunteers arrived at the mouth of the Kentucky river on May 19th to be transported across the Ohio river and, when there was still no account from Procter, on the 23rd the army began its march northwest. After marching 155 miles, on June 1st Scott observed two small Indian villages, and immediately detached Colonel Hardin with 60 mounted infantry and a troop of light horse to attack the 2 villages, while Scott and the main army proceeded toward the main town of Ouiatanon, on the banks of the Wabash river.

Upon arriving at a summit overlooking the Indian towns, Scott discovered the inhabitants ‘in great confusion, endeavouring to make their escape over the river in canoes’. Scott sent Wilkinson and the first battalion rushing down to the riverbank and, ‘regardless of a brisk fire kept up from a Kickapoo town on the opposite bank, they, in a few minutes, by a well directed fire from their rifles, destroyed all the savages (nearly 30 Indians) with which the 5 canoes were crowded’. In order to dislodge the Indians from the Kickapoo town, Scott then sent 2 companies down the river below the town to cross over and take post on the opposite bank, but when they were discovered, the village was abandoned.

That evening, Hardin and his troops returned to Ouiatanon to rejoin Scott, after having killed 6 Wea and taken 52 prisoners in their attack on the 2 villages. The next day, Scott sent Wilkinson and 360 men to attack the important town of Kethtipecanunk, at the mouth of the Eel river, 18 miles away. Upon their approach, the Indians fled across the river in canoes, and Wilkinson and his men burned the town and then marched back to rejoin Scott.

‘After having burned the towns and adjacent villages, and destroyed the growing corn and pulse’, Scott’s army began their march back to the rapids of the Ohio, arriving on June 14th, without the loss of a single man.

On June 24th, St. Clair wrote to the Committee of Kentucky, congratulating them ‘upon the success of the late expedition from Kentucky’ and that ‘as it will, however, be some time before the general and more systematic operations of the campaign can be put in motion, another expedition of the same nature, it appears to me, would be still of very great use’.

On July 31st, St. Clair wrote his instructions to Wilkinson, who was appointed by the Committee to lead the upcoming expedition, to proceed to the Indian village of Kikiah, situated at the junction of the L’Anguile or Eel river with the Wabash river, about 38 leagues above Ouiatanon –

“Assault the same and the Indians therein, either by surprise or otherwise … saving all who cease to resist, and capturing as many as possible, particularly women and children [and] whether the assault … should succeed or fail, you will proceed to such other Indian towns or villages upon the Wabash or in the prairies, to the destruction of which you shall judge your force adequate.”

On August 1st, Wilkinson and 523 volunteers left Fort Washington and for 3 days and 70 miles, marched north, ‘feinted boldly at the Miami villages’ and then turned northwest, arriving at the Wabash river, about 2 ½ leagues above the mouth of the Eel river. Upon reaching the town, he discovered that ‘the enemy had taken the alarm and were fleeing’ and ordered a general charge across the river. ‘The enemy was unable to make the smallest resistance’ – 6 warriors were killed, 34 prisoners were taken, and 1 unfortunate captive was released, with 2 men killed and 1 wounded. Very few who were in town escaped, as all the warriors had earlier left the town and rode up the river to the French store to purchase ammunition, and Wilkinson sent some troops in quest of where the ammunition was stored but they were unable to locate it.

The next morning, Wilkinson left behind 3 of the prisoners with a short message, that:

“You may find your squaws and your children under the protection of our great chief and warrior General St. Clair at fort Washington. To him you will make all applications for an exchange of prisoners or for peace”,

and after cutting up the corn and burning the cabins, he commenced the march for the Kickapoo town on the prairie.

But after he ‘pushed forward, through bog after bog, to the saddle-skirts in mud and water, and … found myself environed on all sides with morasses, which forbade my advancing’, he changed course and returned to the towns that had earlier been destroyed by Scott, and he found that the corn had been replanted. Wilkinson ordered his men to destroy the corn and towns again. With many of his horses lame or tired, and with only 5 days provisions left, Wilkinson resumed the march on August 12th, following Scott’s return path, and arrived at the Falls of the Ohio on the 21st.

During August, Knox informed St. Clair of the ‘treaty of peace and friendship’ signed on July 2nd, by the Cherokee nation and William Blount, Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs of the territory south of the Ohio, that placed the Cherokee under the protection of the United States – with a solemn guaranty to all their lands not ceded; and that agreed to the boundary with the United States – with the United States having a free and unmolested use of a road from Washington district to Mero district and having the navigation of the Tennessee river. 

Knox wrote that:

“All is, therefore, quiet at the southward, excepting a few rascally Indians, probably Creeks, have been committing some depredations on the Cumberland settlements.”

Knox also informed St. Clair that Colonel Thomas Pickering had been sent to meet ‘with the Senecas and all the other Six Nations, excepting the Mohawks’ at Tioga Point, ‘to conciliate the Indians, to prevent their listening to the invitations of the western hostile Indians, by withdrawing them to a greater distance from the theatre of war’.

Pickering had met with over 1000 Indians from July 2nd to 17th, and although no treaty was agreed to, by cementing the friendships between the United States and the Five Nations of Indians, ‘it is to be expected the good effects flowing from this council will be hereafter manifested conspicuous’; and the Indians were invited to send a delegation to Philadelphia to meet with the United States government.

But while these efforts for peace with the Indians were progressing, Knox would warn St. Clair that:

“We must, by all means, avoid involving the United States with Great Britain, until events arise of such quality and magnitude as to impress the people of the United States, and the world at large, of the rank injustice and unfairness of their procedure. But a war with that power, in the present state of affairs, would retard our power, growth, and happiness, beyond almost the power of calculation.”

Earlier in April at the Indian council at Buffalo Creek, Brant’s proposal that he and other deputies should be sent to visit the Western Indians was accepted and they immediately left for Miami Town a few days before the arrival of Procter and Cornplanter. At the Maumee Rapids, Brant received a June 11th letter from Colonel Gordon at Niagara, repeating the desire of Britain to be the mediator between the Americans and Indians, that:

“It must strike you very forcibly, that in all the proceedings of the different commissioners from the American States, they have cautiously avoided applying for our interference, as a measure they affect to think perfectly unnecessary … Had they, before matters were pushed to extremity, requested the assistance of the British Government to bring about a peace on equitable terms, I am convinced the measures would have been fully accomplished long before this time.”

McKee had also arrived at the Maumee Rapids to deliver the annual presents to the Indians and to tell them that:

“I am directed to consult with you what means could be fallen upon … to put an end to the fatal disputes between you and the United States … if it be in your Father’s power to assist in accomplishing it, he will be happy, that through his means, any misfortune to you may be avoided’. 

McKee wrote to Johnson that:

“In obedience to His Lordship’s command, I should use every possible means within the limits of my power, to be informed on what terms the unfortunate troubles between the western Indians and the American states could be terminated … [but] the continual alarms of the hostile intentions and preparations of America … has rendered it altogether impracticable to detain here a sufficient number of chiefs of the different nations for the purpose of deliberating on a question of that magnitude … the pressing importunities of the Shawanese and Miamies Indians to come to their assistance … hurried them off [to the Miami towns] … In case of the approach of an army, the safety of the King’s post at Detroit does require that troops should occupy a distant station, and without such aid the post and country will be in immediate danger of falling by surprise. The station which from experience and my best knowledge of the country I conceive to be the most proper and advantageous is the foot of the Miami Rapids” [at McKee’s trading post!!!]

The Indian council began on July 2nd, but the chiefs instead decided to send a delegation, with Brant as their spokesman, to Quebec to meet with Dorchester to ask if they could expect military aid from the British. The delegation travelled by boat to Fort Erie, crossed over to Buffalo creek, and proceeded by land to Fort Niagara, arriving on July 20th, where they met another American envoy, Captain Hendrick Aupaumut.

Captain Hendricks was a chief of the Stockbridge Indians and had lived among the Oniedas – allies of the Americans during the war. He had been at the council with Colonel Pickering at Tioga Point that ended a few days earlier, and had volunteered to travel to the western Indians to urge them to make peace. Brant advised the Indians not to talk or to listen to Hendrick. Brant also sent word to the Mohawks at Grand river, to stop Hendrick’s party from travelling west to the Miami country until his return from Quebec. By the end of July, Brant and his party left Niagara by boat to Kingston, and then travelled on to Quebec to meet with Governor Dorchester.

On August 14th, Brant and the 6 western chiefs met with Dorchester and with Indian Superintendent Johnson, asking:

“That a fort may be built at the Miamis Rapids for the protection of that country, Detroit, and the country about it, to which it is the key … that provisions may be ordered for the Great Council we are to have at the Miamis Rapids early in September to consider on our present situation … that we had pointed out a boundary line which we mean to abide by … that you will freely tell us in case of another attack which we have great reason to expect shortly, how far we can be assisted that we may know what to depend upon.”

On August 15th, Dorchester answered that:

“When the King made peace and gave independence to the United States, he made a treaty in which he marked out a line between them & him; this implies no more, than that beyond this line he would not extend his interference … the posts would have been given up long since, according to the treaty, had the terms of it been complied with on the part of the states, but they were not; the King therefore remains in possession of the posts, and will continue to hold them, until all differences between him and the states shall be settled.”

Dorchester said that:

“But Brothers, this line which the King then marked out between him and the states, even supposing the treaty had taken effect, could never have prejudiced your rights … When the King your father discovered that notwithstanding his care there had been encroachments upon your lands by some of his people, that you were made uneasy, and that you had reason to complain, what did he do? He called the leading people of these colonies, between whom and you the differences had arisen, together, to meet your nations at Fort Stanwix to settle the dispute, and to fix a final boundary.”

This referred to the treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768, that was masterfully negotiated by the American, William Johnson, who had been appointed by the British to be the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, that finally secured a boundary line for the colonies that was west of the Appalachians and south of the Ohio river, and for which Johnson was severely rebuked by the British – because that line was not in accordance with his instructions from the Board of Trade, but which was finally accepted by the British cabinet ‘rather than risk defeating the important object of establishing a final boundary line’.

[Note: William Johnson, who died in 1774, was a member of Dr. Franklin’s American Philosophical Society.]

That 1768 line, that the British were opposed to during the revolutionary war, and that they would have redrawn – back to the Appalachians – had they won that war, was now the line that they were the great defenders of !!!

The British were proposing that all Indian treaties with the Americans, after they separated from Britain – at Fort Stanwix in 1784, at Fort McIntosh in 1785, at Fort Harmar in 1789 – treaties that the British were not a part of (!!!), should be scrapped.

Note: this 1768 line would again, be the same line as demanded by Tecumseh, leading into the war of 1812! It would seem that the British Empire was in constant denial – that they had lost the Revolutionary War!

At their final meeting with Dorchester on August 17th, Brant and the other chiefs marked onto a map ‘a line running from the confluence of the Cherokee (Tennessee) river with the Ohio to the mouth of the Muskingum, thence to the portage, which crosses to Cayahaga, from thence in a direct line across the country to Venango, where it joins the line agreed upon in 1768, from thence along the said line ‘til it strikes the line of purchase made by Pennsylvania in the year 1784’ and this boundary line was ‘examined by all the deputies present, who declared that the several nations, their constituents, had determined to abide by that line, and that this was their final resolution’.

In effect, Dorchester was telling the Indians that the British did not recognize the American treaties with the Indians, and was accepting their proposed boundary line for any coming negotiations with St. Clair.

The next day, on August 18th, having set this evil into motion, Dorchester sailed away to London, leaving Major General Alured Clarke in charge, and leaving Prince Edward, then in Canada, as second in command of the British forces in North America.

The western chiefs arrived back at Detroit on October 17th and proceed to the Miami Rapids. Brant returned to Grand river, where he met with Hendricks, who had been detained there but was still wanting to go to Detroit, and he asked Brant to accompany him. Brant refused to go, and Hendricks had to give up on his peace mission to the western Indians and he returned home.

[ next week – chapter 7- The Battle of the Wabash, November 4th 1791 ]


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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