By Allen Guelzo, Ph.D., Gettysburg College
Thomas Jefferson expressed his sadness over the suffering of many Indian tribes and believed them to be almost extinct. However, this was far from the case. Instead, tribes were found in large numbers all over North America. Learn how they worked to preserve their cultural identity and find a place among the majority population.
Ubiquitous Indian tribes
Indian tribes were far from extinct and existed in a number of complicated social and economic relationships. The basic unit of Indian political organization has remained as it was when white Europeans first landed in North America, and that was the tribe. Tribal identity was porous and several tribes created larger super-tribes, federations and alliances, such as the Northeast Iroquois, and individual tribes allowed the adoption of other Indians and even whites. as members of the tribe.
Similarities Between Indian Tribes and Agrarian Republic
The Indians were not as few and as easily dismissed as Jefferson imagined. Instead of 30,000, the Indian population of North America was probably closer to 750,000. What surprised Jefferson were the striking similarities that existed between Indian societies and the Agrarian Republic he admired. Like rural Massachusetts farming communities, Indian tribes were generally patriarchal, with a workforce divided by gender and age. In the case of the Shawnee, the largest tribal group in Kentucky and Ohio, adult males were only responsible for hunting, fishing, and the occasional war. Agriculture and the education of children fell entirely to Indian women.
Learn more about the manpower shortage to develop America which necessitated forced labor migration.
Three-way colonial economy
Like the whites, the Indians learned, even before the revolution, to make a place for themselves in the commercial networks of the white man. They carefully managed and negotiated the fur trade with white traders, to their great economic advantage. The colonial economy was seen as a two-way trade between European settlers and merchants; instead, it was a three-way arrangement, in which the Indians consciously played British or French settlers and agents against each other.
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Changing sides for tribal identity
With the French and Indian war, the Indians put their support behind the French and lost. Then, during the Revolution, the Indians supported the British, hoping that a British victory would help curb aggressive colonial expansion on the Appalachians, but they lost again.
As the dreaded Americans began to flock to Kentucky and the Northwest Territories in search of cheap land, despondent Indian tribes chose one of two ways to meet this challenge. One was housing, which usually meant the grudging but gradual sale or surrender of tribal lands to white settlement in return for various guarantees of protection or resettlement further west. In the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784, the once powerful Iroquois ceded most of their land in western New York and Pennsylvania. They sided with the British during the Revolution, just as they did with the British during the French and Indian War, but lost big.
Learn more about the U.S. Army’s campaign against the Plains Tribes to break their resistance.
Cherokees and the real meaning of lodging
In the Treaty of Hopewell in 1785, the Cherokees, who had thrown their people with the British during the Revolution, renounced all their claims to the lands of the Carolinas and Tennessee. In 1791, half-white, half-Creek Indian chief Alexander McGilliveray reluctantly ceded all of Creek’s land claims in Georgia. Sometimes accommodation meant the decision to internalize white civilization and convert tribal customs into sedentary agricultural models, with the reasoning that they could claim rights to the land in the same way as whites. The Cherokees organized a common government for their villages, adopted a written legal code, and in 1827 drafted a constitution that, among other things, legalized black slavery and deprived descendants of blacks from voting in tribal elections.
Accommodation for Seneca?
Accommodation also meant cycles of cultural collapse. The Senecs of western New York fell prey to alcoholism and poverty after the Revolution. They may be dead, but a middle-aged Seneca named Handsome Lake had a dramatic vision in 1799, which led to the creation of a new tribal religion. The Handsome Lake religion was a curious amalgamation of Quakerism and traditional Senec beliefs, revitalizing the Senecs, leading them to adopt models of moral behavior and land ownership that ensured the survival of their tribe.
Resistance option by Indian tribe
The alternative to accommodation was resistance for many other Indians. There was no question of putting up with the hated but victorious Americans, and their animosities were fueled during the 1790s by British Canadians, who feared American expansion as much as the Indians, believing that the only way to curb American expansion was the creation of a self-contained Indian buffer zone in the Northwest Territories.
Armed with British guns and out of their own indignation, the Indians of Ohio and Kentucky repeatedly tried to stop the white expansion by force. The most dramatic example of this resistance began in 1805, when a Shawnee shaman named Lalawethika, the prophet, experienced a vision and came out with a new name, Tenskwatawa, the open door, and a new one. creed for the Shawnee, which rejected assimilation into white culture.
Learn more about the Homestead Act which encourages farmers to acquire land for free.
History of Tecumseh
In 1809, Tenskwatawa’s brother, Tecumseh, joined his brother’s religious view of plans for a general Indian confederation and joint armed resistance against whites. “Tecumseh,” as William Henry Harrison, the territorial governor of the Indiana Territory, described it, “was one of those unusual geniuses who occasionally arise to produce revolutions and turn things around.”
Tecumseh certainly overcame the usual reluctance of Indian tribes to cooperate with each other, and in 1811 he united the Wyandot, Chippewa, Sauk and Foxes, Winnebago and Potawatomi tribes. At the same time, Governor Harrison decides not to take any risks and organizes a militia force to attack Tecumseh‘its capital, Prophet’s Town, on the Tippecanoe River, while Tecumseh negotiated with the Creeks and Cherokees. Tecumseh’s brother, Tenskwatawa, recklessly led the Indians on November 7, 1811 to attack Harrison, who defeated them, humiliated Tenskwatawa and burned the city of Prophet. Tecumseh’s alliance collapses and Tecumseh is forced to seek refuge with the British in Canada.
Clashes between Americans and Indian tribes
Tecumseh’s flight to Canada has become the symbol of a deadly cycle of suspicion and expansion. Thomas Jefferson’s Agrarian Society provided a virtuous alternative to the corruption of Britain’s international network of commercial capitalism. However, this society could not survive without a constant expansion westward, bringing the Americans into a serious and often fatal confrontation with the Indian tribes. These tribes were both armed and encouraged by the British in Canada, who believed they had as much to fear as the Indians from the expansion of the United States.
The Americans concluded that the root of their difficulty in perpetuating a virtuous Republican society in the West was, once again, the British. The short-term solution was to hit the Indians before they hit. The long-term solution was to strike instead the dark force that was preparing the destruction of the righteous Republic, which was Britain.
Common questions about the cultural identity of Indian tribes
Like the rural farming communities of Massachusetts, Native American tribes were generally patriarchal, with work divided by gender and age.
According to the Territorial Governor of Indiana Territory, William Henry Harrison, Tecumseh was one of those unusual geniuses born from time to time who produce revolutions and upset the order of things.
Tecumseh’s brother, Tenskwatawa, recklessly led the Indians release on november 7, 1811, to attack Harrison, who defeated them, humiliated Tenskwatawa and set Prophet’s Town on fire.