The War of 1812 was a turning point for the First Nations, being the last conflict in north-eastern North America in which their participation was important, if not critical.
The peace treaty of 1783, which concluded the American Revolution, saw the ceding of all lands west of the Ohio River to the United States. However, the British still saw the Indian nations as valuable allies and a buffer to its Canadian colonies and they provided them with arms. Attacks on American settlers in the Northwest further aggravated tensions between Britain and the United States, and was one of the causes of the War of 1812.
In 1812 the Shawnee chief Tecumseh gathered 10,000 warriors, hoping to unify First Nations peoples into a confederacy with their own land and government. Tecumseh sided with the British not because he trusted them, but because he saw them as the lesser of two evils.
With the British fighting Napoleon Bonaparte in Europe, their troops in North America were stretched and the participation of native warriors was key to their campaign. However, First Nations warriors preferred to rely on stealth and spontaneous attack. They were puzzled and sometimes appalled by European tactics and by the extreme casualties the Europeans seemed to countenance. And the advocates of European tactics were unable to understand First Nation tactics, although they often turned the tide of battles.
Just prior to the British capture of Fort Detroit, communications across the Detroit River were all-important. Fast canoes manned by loyal First Nations warriors performed this task (Downriver Despatches by Peter Rindlisbacher).
The First Nations were largely responsible for the fall of Michilimackinac on 17 July 1812, and subsequent victories. However, due to the inefficiency of the British commander at Moraviantown, the brunt of the fighting fell to the First Nations and they were routed and Tecumseh was killed. His loss is hard to overestimate and with him went the remains of the nativist movement. Nevertheless, First Nations warriors continued to fight until the end of the war.
During negotiations for the Treaty of Ghent, the British did try to bargain for the establishment of an Indian Territory but the Americans resolutely refused to agree. The most that they would accept was the status quo before the war. But despite all their efforts, the First Nations were unable to recover their lost territory.
Three years after the death of Tecumseh, Indiana became a state and began to remove all First Nations from their traditional lands, a mass eviction that was repeated in state after state. In the South East, the Creek War came to an end, and about half of the Creek territory was ceded to the United States, with no payment made to the Creeks. This was, in theory, invalidated by Article 9 of the Treaty of Ghent, thereby restoring to the Indians “all the possessions, rights and privileges which they may have enjoyed or been entitled to in 1811.” The British failed to uphold this, and did not take up the First Nations cause as an infringement of an international treaty. Without this support, the Indians’ lack of power was apparent and the stage was set for further incursions of territory by the United States in subsequent decades, such as the forced removal of the Choctaw and Cherokee under the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
Indian Removal Act 1830. A tragic time in American history that led to the long forced relocation of Indigenous Americans on what is appropriately called the “Trail of Tears”.
In Canada, the War of 1812 was the end of an era in which the First Nations had been able to keep their positions in return for service in war. Soon, with the growth of Upper Canada, the First Nations were outnumbered in their own lands. It was almost forgotten that if not for their support Upper Canada might very well have fallen into American hands.
In 1992, Georges Erasmus, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said, “You have a phrase called “Golden Age.” We do not want to be depicted the way we were, when we were first discovered in our homeland in North America. We do not want museums to continue to present us as something from the past. We believe we are very, very much here now, and we are going to be very important in the future.”
PREVIOUS A TO Z POSTS:
A is for Anishinaabe ~ B is for Brock ~ C is for Coloured Corps ~ D is for Detroit ~ E is for Erie
The brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out, the A to Z Challenge is posting every day in April except Sundays (we get those off for good behaviour.) And since there are 26 days, that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet. On April 1, we blog about something that begins with the letter “A.” April 2 is “B,” April 3 is “C,” and so on. Please visit other challenge writers.
My theme is ‘The War of 1812’, a military conflict, lasting for two-and-a-half years, fought by the United States of America against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, its North American colonies, and its American Indian allies. The Memoirs of a British naval officer from the war is central to my novel “Seeking A Knife” – part of the Snowdon Shadows series.
Further reading on The War of 1812: