Native Struggle for Autonomy Post Revolutionary War

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: Native Peoples of North America

By Daniel M. Cobb, Ph.D., The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

In the 1790s, the US government that was formed after the American Revolution was weak and unable to stop land-hungry settlers from squatting on Indian land, or greedy traders from taking advantage of the Native people. And the Natives of Ohio Country were unwavering in their demand for autonomy. How did they come together to resist the growing encroachment?

Defiance pinned on a map of Ohio.
The Glaize, near present-day Defiance in Ohio Country, was a colorful mosaic where some 2,000 Shawnee, Lenape, and Myaamia coexisted peacefully. (Image: Dmitrijs Kaminskis/Shutterstock)

1790: Native Resistance Begins

In October 1790—and again in November 1791—the northwestern Native Indian confederacy—led primarily by Little Turtle of the Myaamia and Blue Jacket of the Shawnee—crushed two American invasion forces, the first under the command of Josiah Harmar and the second under the command of Arthur Saint Clair.

Against Saint Clair—who was the first governor of the Northwest Territory—the intertribal alliance inflicted some 900 casualties on a force of 1,400, making it the worst single defeat ever inflicted on the U.S. Army in terms of casualty percentage.

To underscore the righteousness of their cause, some Indian warriors stuffed the mouths of the dead Americans with soil, satisfying in death, writes historian Richard White, their lust for Indian land.

This is a transcript from the video series Native Peoples of North AmericaWatch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

A Native Community Develops

But military resistance—and winning, at that—was not the only way that Native people in the Ohio Country were conducting their lives. An old buffalo wallow in the north-central part of the Ohio Country, near present-day Defiance, was the headquarters of the resistance movement.

Known as the Glaize, it was also—in the words of historian Helen Tanner— a colorful mosaic where some 2,000 Shawnee, Lenape, and Myaamia peacefully coexisted. The Glaize was itself constituted of refugees from conflict all throughout the Ohio Country during the 1790s, as well as people of French, British, and African ancestry. In building what Tanner calls a multicultural frontier society, local Native and non-Native populations traded, intermarried, and shared a common sense of place with one another.

The Glaize

A lithograph of Little Turtle.
The Myaamia, Little Turtle, lived in the Glaize. (Image: Unknown author/Public domain)

The Shawnee leader, Blue Jacket, came from there, and his wife was half-French. The family of Big Cat, a Lenape civil leader, included an adopted son from Pennsylvania who had been captured in 1791. Meanwhile, the Myaamia, Little Turtle, had an adopted son born to a prominent Kentucky family taken captive. Both of these young white men fought against Saint Clair’s invading army in 1791.

However, a few years later, the Glaize became the target for yet another American assault. This time, General Anthony Wayne commanded the newly formed and outfitted Legion of the United States—an estimated force of 3,000 soldiers, well complemented with artillery and cavalry.

They set out from Fort Washington in Cincinnati late in 1793, building forts as they marched north toward the Glaize. The historian Gregory Evans Dowd estimates that the tribal nations were able to muster perhaps 1,300 warriors to meet them. In early August 1794, Wayne occupied a trader’s village within the Glaize and established there.

Learn more about the American Revolution through Native eyes.

Battle of Fallen Timbers

Vintage engraved illustration of Anthony Wayne.
General Anthony Wayne led the Legion of the United States at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. (Image: Morphart Creation/Shutterstock)

On the 20th  of August, Wayne’s army engaged the confederated Indian force on the west bank of the Maumee River. They fought on land littered with trees smashed by a tornado.

In the wake of the Battle of Fallen Timbers, the largely Algonquian force retreated toward Fort Miami, a nearby fortification still occupied by the British. The Indians of the Ohio Country still held onto the hope that the British might become their Father once more. But, at Fort Miami, the British refused them sanctuary. The doors remained shut. Their Father had abandoned them.

Outcome of the Battle of Fallen Timbers

The defeat at the Battle of Fallen Timbers proved disastrous. In the immediate aftermath, General Wayne ordered the destruction of a  50-mile  stretch  of corn that had supported the Indian communities of the Glaize—and the resistance. Little Turtle later said, “We raised corn like the whites. But now we are poor hunted deer.”

The Battle of Fallen Timbers—and, perhaps even more importantly, the British refusal of aid and Wayne’s destruction of their food supply—forced the intertribal confederation to the treaty table.

Learn more about the role of violence in and around Native American traditions.

Treaty of Greenville

In August 1795, after eight months of negotiations featuring the involvement of more than 1,000 Native people from approximately a dozen nations, the resulting Treaty of Greenville ceded a huge swath of land. It included two-thirds of present-day Ohio, portions of Indiana and Michigan, and a series of strategic locations in Illinois.

The Treaty of Greenville marked a turning point for a number of reasons. First, it brought an end to a remarkable period of pan-tribal cooperation between sometimes-unlikely allies. Second, it inaugurated the civilization program in the Ohio Country, which was intended to culturally assimilate Indians. And third, it opened the Ohio River valley to a flood of settlers and, in doing so, virtually guaranteed that the new permanent boundaries between Indians and whites in the northwest corner of Ohio wouldn’t last.

And yet, as this battle for continuing independence came to an end, another spirited resistance was beginning.

Common Questions about Native Struggle for Autonomy Post Revolutionary War

Q: What was the Glaize?

The Glaize was an old buffalo wallow in the north-central part of the Ohio Country. The Glaize was constituted of refugees from conflict all throughout the Ohio Country during the 1790s, including some 2,000 Shawnee, Lenape, and Myaamia, as well as people of French, British, and African ancestry.

Q: What was the Battle of Fallen Timbers?

In early August 1794, General Anthony Wayne occupied a trader’s village within the Glaize. And, on the 20th  of August, his army engaged the confederated Indian force on the west bank of the Maumee River. They fought on land littered with trees smashed by a tornado.

Q: What was the aftermath of the Battle of Fallen Timbers?

The defeat at the Battle of Fallen Timbers forced the intertribal confederation to the treaty table, resulting in the Treaty of Greenville through which the Natives ceded huge swaths of land. It included two-thirds of present-day Ohio, portions of Indiana and Michigan, and a series of strategic locations in Illinois.

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