Washington and the Northwest War, Part Two

In reality, the Sandusky Conference presented a way for Washington to rationalize the military steps he was taking. This peace conference was an unfortunate fiction, created to present the picture that the United States had been left with no options but war with the Indians. Washington and Knox both knew that any boundary negotiated with the Indians would never be permanent.247 Even so, Knox gave secret instructions to the commissioners stating that if concessions were the only way to avoid a general Indian uprising, they were allowed to yield an amount of land to the Indians, except lands owned by two land companies, the Ohio Company and the Symmes Associates.248 He stated that he ardently wished that the Fort Harmar Treaty stipulations could be confirmed, but was willing to cede some of that land back to the Indians. "But," he said to the commissioners, "you are to understand explicitly, that the United States cannot relinquish any of the tracts of land which they have already granted....," to the two previously mentioned companies.249

As it turned out, this concession to the Indians did not make any difference. In a pre-conference meeting, the Indians declared that they wanted all settlers removed from the north of the Ohio. They refused the partial though substantial United States concessions, explaining that they had no use for money. They suggested to the commissioners that the United States give the money earmarked for the Indians to the settlers, in order to help them resettle in United States territory.250 The British saw that the United States was not prepared to settle for anything seriously different from the 1789 Fort Harmar Treaty terms.251 The commissioners claimed that an Ohio River boundary was impossible.252 Washington and his administration were setting down demands that the Indians would never accept.253 With their recent success, the Indians saw no reason to surrender any land north of the Ohio River. They stated to the commissioners:

We desire you to consider, Brothers, that our only demand is the peaceable possession of a small part of our once great Country. Look back and view the lands from whence we have been driven to this spot, we can retreat no further, because the country behind hardly affords food for its present inhabitants. And we have therefore resolved, to leave our bones in this small space, to which we are now confined.254

The discussions stalled, breaking down completely in July of 1793. The commissioners never actually arrived at Sandusky. They were, rather, forced to accept British protection from the Indians in Fort Niagara.255

While the outlook for peace was extremely dim, the British had aggravated the situation. Sir Guy Carleton, Lord Dorchester, governor-general of Canada addressed a delegation of the Six Nations on February 10, 1794. In his address he told them "I shall not be surprised if we are at war with them [the United States] in the course of the present year." Washington, while angered at this deliberately provocative statement managed a measured response. He sent the Chief Justice of the United States, John Jay, to England in the hopes of settling their differences. The president wrote, "If he succeeds, well... if he does not, why, knowing the worst, we must take measures accordingly."256 It was, however, unlikely that the British would actually go to war with the United States over the Indians. Dorchester's speech was intended more to inspire the Indians against the United States rather than actually provoke the United States into war with Great Britain.

During the period of the peace talks, Anthony Wayne had been preparing his troops. By April of 1793, the army numbered approximately 1,200 men, enough men that Wayne felt confident enough in using militia forces to supplement his army. Training near Pittsburgh, Wayne employed extremely harsh discipline in preparing his troops. He also had some of the soldiers play the role of Indians in training exercises, dressing them as Indians and having them fight in the Indian manner (this was similar to what Washington had wanted to do in the French and Indian War).

The army began its advance into the forest on April 15, 1793. It marched slowly, arriving at Niagara in May. Indian leaders claimed that the "warlike appearance" of the army showed all signs of extremely vicious behavior. This convinced the Indians that the United States did not desire peace with them, but rather demonstrated that the Washington administration had resigned itself to war.257 Knox dubbed the new army with the grand appellation of the Legion of the United States.258 During his march, Wayne took the very field on which St. Clair had suffered his defeat. This caused the Indians to send a delegation to Wayne for peace discussions. Wayne did not wish to talk peace, he wanted to attack "those haughty savages... with the bayonet, espontoon and fire of the American Legion" as soon as possible.259 On the eve of the battle, Little Turtle, who understood that this time the Americans would not be defeated, tried to convince his tribesmen to sue for peace. He said, "We have beaten the enemy twice under separate commanders. We cannot expect the same good fortune always to attend us. The Americans are now led by a chief who never sleeps. The night and the day are alike to him. And during all the time that he has been marching upon our villages, notwithstanding the watchfulness of our young men, we have never been able to surprise him. Think well of it. There is something whispers [to] me, it would be prudent to listen to his offers of peace."260

On a hot August 20 morning the Legion of the United States clashed with 2000 warriors, consisting of the Shawnee, Wyandot, and Ottawa tribes. Near the British Fort Miami, this battle, which came to be known as the Battle of Fallen Timbers, was extremely violent. At its conclusion, Wayne's Legion of the United States had won the day. "With this triumph, Wayne handed Washington a key capable of unlocking the northwestern frontier to thousands of land-hungry American settlers...."261

Wayne was overflowing with enthusiasm when he informed Knox of the victory. "It is with infinite pleasure that I announce to you the brilliant success of the Federal army under my command." Knox informed the president that Fallen Timbers was a "complete victory." For three days Wayne's army remained in the area, destroying all Indian houses and cornfields in a fifty mile radius.262

Wayne's victory allowed him to convene a meeting with various chiefs at Fort Greenville in the spring of 1795. At that meeting he secured a treaty by which all traders who entered Indian territories without licenses from the government of the United States be taken and turned over to United States authorities. This treaty contradicted the recently signed Jay Treaty which explicitly guaranteed trading rights to the English as well as the United States. This caused a temporary rift, but it was soon resolved.263 Wayne's victory finally gave Washington's diplomacy in the west the respect it needed.264 The Treaty of Greenville was signed in August of 1795. With Little Turtle speaking (along with several other chiefs) for the Miamis, the ten articles of the treaty gave several concessions to the United States, while the Miamis retained a substantial portion of present day northwestern Ohio. This treaty prevented another Indian war until 1811.265

When the war in the Northwest was over, Washington spoke often of his desire to do justice for the Indians. In his sixth annual address, Washington pointed out several recent occasions where the United States had tried to accommodate Indian desires.266 Now that the war had been won, the president could be very sympathetic to the cause of the Indians. He wrote to Edmund Pendleton:

the plan of annual presents in an abstract view, unaccompanied with other measures, is not the best mode of treating ignorant Savages, from whose hostile conduct we experience much distress; but it is not to be overlooked, and they, in turn, are not without serious causes of complaint, from the encroachments which are made on their lands by our people; who are not to be restrained by any law now being, or likely to be enacted. They, poor wretches, have no Press thro' which their grievances are related; and it is well Known, that when only one side of a Story is heard, and often repeated, the human mind becomes impressed with it, insensibly. The annual presents however... are not given so much with a view to purchase peace, as by way of retribution for injuries, not otherwise to be redressed.267

Washington had always wanted to prevent war with the Indians. He did not believe that the cost and time involved in one was expedient. Once again, as in the days of the French and Indian War, violence committed against aggressive settlers by natives influenced Washington in his decision to use force against the Indians.

The president had used all the trappings of peaceful activities throughout his dealing with the Northwest Indians. He had sent emissaries to them, conducted peace discussions, and had met personally with important Indians, but he never gave serious consideration to any agreement that the Indians proposed. His diplomatic endeavors were a rationalization. Washington's early views of the Indians remained remarkably consistent with his views as chief executive. Washington advocated fairness to the Indians in the abstract; but, as in his younger days, Washington had little patience with Indians who would not comply with the desires of the white man.


181 Sword, 3-4.

182 George Washington to the President of Congress, June 17, 1783, Fitzpatrick, XXVII, 17-18.

183 Weston Albert Dyer, "The Influence of Henry Knox on the Formation of American Indian Policy in the Northern Department: 1786-1795" (PhD. Diss. Ball State University, published by University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1790), 70-71.

184 Ibid., 160-161.

185 Sword, 7.

186 Ibid., 35.

187 Carter, 26-27.

188 Dyer, 81-82.

189 Ibid., 95.

190 Ibid., 110-112.

191 Ibid., 122-125.

* They also claimed that the United States had not fulfilled its own treaty stipulations.

192 Ibid., 78.

193 Sword, 13-15.

194 Freeman, VI., 325.

195 Dyer, 72.

196 Ferling, 403.

197 Henry Knox to George Washington, June 15, 1789, W. W. Abbot, ed. The Papers of George Washington: Presidential Series (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1987), II, 494.

198 Ferling, 403-404.

199 Freeman, VI, 325.

200 Ferling, 403.

201 Dyer, 92.

202 Sword, 74-75.

203 Dyer, 130.

204 Ferling, 403.

205 George Washington to James Duane, Sept. 7, 1783, Schroeder, 162-163.

206 George Washington to the Cornplanter, Half-Town and the Great Tree, Chiefs of the Seneca Nation, Jan. 19, 1791, Fitzpatrick, XXXI, 197-199. He also offered them some farm animals, hoping to convince them of the efficacy of farming.

207 North Callahan, Henry Knox, General Washington's General (New York: Rinehart & Company, 1958), 315-316.

208 Henry Knox to George Washington, July 7, 1789, Abbot, III, 139.

209 Ferling, 404.

210 George Washington to Arthur St. Clair, Oct. 6, 1789, Fitzpatrick, XXX, 429-431.

211 Ferling, 404-405.

212 Richard Norton Smith, Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993), 69-75.

213 George Washington's First Annual Address to Congress, Jan. 8, 1790, Fitzpatrick, XXX, 492.

214 Smith, 69-75.

215 George Washington to the Senate, Sept. 17, 1789, Fitzpatrick, XXX, 406-408.

216 Smith, 69-75.

217 James Thomas Flexner, George Washington and the New Nation (1783-1793) (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1969), 295-302.

218 Sword, 24

219 Ibid. 145.

220 Reginald Horsman, "The British Indian Department and The Abortive Treaty of Lower Sandusky, 1793." The Ohio Historical Quarterly 70 (July 1961): 194.

221 Carter, 101-103.

222 Ibid., 14.

223 Sword, 145.

224 Ferling, 406.

225 Dyer, 135-136.

226 George Washington's Third Annual Address to Congress, Oct. 25, 1791, Schroeder, 161.

227 Ferling, 406.

228 Sword, 156.

229 Ibid., 178-192. For an excellent and detailed description of this engagement, see Sword, pp. 178-192.

230 Ibid., 195.

231 Ibid., 201-203.

232 Freeman, VI, 359; Dyer, 139.

233 Ibid., 140-141.

234 Sword, 203-207

235 Callahan, 323.

236 Freeman, VI, 359.

237 Ibid., 404-405.

238 Ferling, 405.

239 Sword, 238.

240 Ferling, 407.

241 Notes on a letter from Anthony Wayne, Oct. 28, 1792, Dorothy Twohig, Journals of the Proceedings of the President 1793-1797 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1981), 3-4.

242 Jan. 25, 1793, Ibid., 35-36.

243 Dyer, 142-144.

244 Freeman, VII, 56-57.

245 United States, American State Papers, I, Indian Affairs, 1832, 340.

246 Horsman, 195.

247 Dyer, 144.

248 Ibid., 146.

249 American State Papers, I, Indian Affairs, 341.

250 Dyer, 147-148.

251 Horsman, 200.

252 Ibid., 205.

253 Sword, 244.

254 Horsman, 209.

255 Smith, 173.

256 Sword, 259-260. It should be noted that, while important, the Northwest situation was not the only was not by any means the only reason that Jay was sent to England.

257 Sword, 234-236.

258 Callahan, 323-324.

259 Ibid., 324. The veteran's organization, called the American Legion, comes from this army.

260 Rosenstiel,104.

261 Smith, 218-219.

262 Callahan, 327.

263 Forrest McDonald, The Presidency of George Washington (Lawrence: The University Press of Kansas, 1974), 168.

264 James Thomas Flexner, George Washington: Anguish and Farewell (1793-1799) (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1972), 172-173.

265 Carter, 153. It is interesting that on November 29, 1796, Washington met with a delegation of Miami chiefs, Little Turtle among them. Washington presented Little Turtle with a ceremonial sword. Little Turtle so valued the sword that he was buried with it. Ibid., 158.

266 George Washington's Sixth Annual Address to the Congress, Nov. 19, 1794, Fitzpatrick, XXXIV, 36.

267 George Washington to Edmund Pendleton, Jan. 22, 1795, Schroeder, 163.

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