To this end, 35 nations assembled at Sandusky, in the Wyandot territory of Ohio. Joseph BRANT (Thayendanegea) was one of the leaders trying to forge an alliance, on the lines of the SIX NATIONS. The tribes discussed a looser confederacy and agreed to hold the boundary that had been established by the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768. But time and again the Americans showed that they had no intention of honouring ABORIGINAL RIGHTS. Americans assumed that by their declaration of independence they automatically acquired title to all land east of the Mississippi. In the battles that erupted, the First Nations twice defeated the Americans, but the latter rallied a large expedition and destroyed the coalition at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794.
In 1807, after the CHESAPEAKE AFFAIR, the British concluded that a fight with the Americans was inevitable. London instructed Governor General Sir James CRAIG to ensure the loyalty of the western First Nations. With their commitments in the NAPOLEONIC WARS raging in Europe, the British were convinced that First Nations support would be vital in an upcoming war. Despite the betrayals in the past, even the unreliable British looked preferable to the expansionist Americans.
The Emergence of Tecumseh
After the death of Brant, a new leader emerged, the Shawnee war chief TECUMSEH ("Shooting Star"). Tecumseh sided with the British not because he trusted them, but because he saw them as the lesser of two evils. In his mission, Tecumseh was linked with a religious leader, his brother TENSKWATAWA. Known as "the Prophet," Tenskwatawa's nativist religious revival prepared the way for Tecumseh's political intertribal movement. Tecumseh preached that the land belonged to all the First Nations, not to specific groups, and that no tribe had the right to surrender any land. That could only be done with the agreement of all.
Tecumseh was an imposing figure who combined a passionate concern for his people with an acute strategic military sense. His colleague Isaac BROCK declared that if Tecumseh were English he would have been a great general. During the War of 1812, some 35 tribal nations fought under Tecumseh, who worked tirelessly to gain the support of the Potawatomi, Ojibwa, Shawnee, Ottawa, Kikapoos and others. He had less success with some, notably the Creeks.
Following the depression in the fur trade after 1808, destitute First Nations turned to the British for help and the British responded generously. AMHERSTBURG became a centre for "gift distribution" of food, clothing, nets, traps, snares, guns and ammunition. Americans were convinced that the British were preparing the First Nations for war. In point of fact the British were far more interested in fostering peace and trade than in war.
In a dispute over First Nations resistance to land surveyors, the Indiana governor William Henry Harrison took advantage of Tecumseh's absence to attack Prophetstown, at the Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers. After some heavy losses from a First Nations attack, Harrison burned Prophetstown to the ground, destroyed the food supply and disinterred the bodies of the dead. Tecumseh was anxious for revenge and impatient in waiting on the British.
The War of 1812: A Turning Point
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 First Nations were largely responsible for the fall of MICHILIMACKINAC on 17 July 1812; the surprise attack had been worked out by Tecumseh. After the victory at Michilimackinac, First Nations flocked to the British cause. Their presence with Brock at DETROIT was instrumental in the surrender on 16 August of a superior force. Tecumseh and General Brock rode side by side into the fallen fort. In turn, the fall of Detroit encourage the Six Nations, who were an important factor in the American defeat at QUEENSTON HEIGHTS on 13 October when they appeared in an auspicious moment under the leadership of John NORTON (Teyoninhokarawen).
Tecumseh's forces cut an American force to pieces at Fort Meigs, Ohio, 5 May 1813. But control was slipping away as the Americans destroyed the Creek nation. Meanwhile, an American naval victory on LAKE ERIE, 10 September, cut the British supply line to Amherstburg, thus endangering First Nations support.
The Iroquois played the central role in the BATTLE OF BEAVER DAMS, 24 June 1813. According to John Norton, "the Caughnawaga fought the battle, the Mohawk got the plunder and [British general] FITZGIBBON got the credit."
Tecumseh was unimpressed with the new British general who had succeeded Brock, Henry PROCTER. In retreat Procter decided, perhaps at Tecumseh's urging, to make a stand at MORAVIANTOWN (on the Thames River). The brunt of the fighting fell to the First Nations and they were routed and Tecumseh was killed. No one knows what happened to the great chief's body. 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. The Americans saw an opportunity and persuaded some First Nations to join their cause, and a group of Seneca fought on the US side at CHIPPAWA 5 July 1814.
While the First Nations made valuable allies, they were not always easy for the Europeans to deal with. They had a very different philosophy of war, summed up by the great Sauk leader BLACK HAWK as "to kill the enemy and to save our own people." 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.
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. This was a profound disappointment and loss for the First Nations, since, despite all their efforts, they were unable to recover lost territory. Three years after the death of Tecumseh, Indiana became a state and began to remove all First Nations from their traditional lands.
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.
Author JAMES MARSH
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge
The website for the Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge, which features Canada's largest essay writing competition for Aboriginal youth (ages 14-29) and a companion program for those who prefer to work through painting, drawing and photography. See their guidelines, teacher resources, profiles of winners, and more. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Life of Tecumseh and of His Brother The Prophet
See a digitized online copy of an 1841 biography of Tecumseh and his brother The Prophet. Focuses on their pivotal roles as First Nations leaders in the War of 1812. See the "Table of Contents" for chapter highlights. From canadiana.org.
The story of Tecumseh
The full text of a 1912 book "The story of Tecumseh." Scroll down to page ix for a list of images of Tecumseh and scenes of various battles. Right click on some images to rotate scenes clockwise. Part of the "Canadian Heroes Series" written for younger students. Contains some outdated phrases and vernacular language. Note: a large PDF document. From the archive.org website.
Veterans of the War of 1812
View a photo of veterans of the War of 1812. From left to right: John Smoke Johnson, Jacob Warner and John Tutlee. Warner and Tutlee were two of the Iroquois warriors who encountered Laura Secord as she approached the British camp to warn of an impending American invasion. The Iroquois led her to Lieutenant Fitzgibbon, whose troops mobilized and overcame the Americans. From the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Statement of Significance – Michigan in the War of 1812
A concise summary of the lasting impact of the War of 1812 on the development of the state of Michigan. From the Michigan Commission on the Commemoration of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. A PDF document.
A visitors' guide for Fort Meigs, a historic US Army post in Perrysburg, Ohio. It was the location of two failed attacks led by British general Henry Proctor and Shawnee leader Tecumseh during the War of 1812. Click on "Meet the People" for more information.
The Battle of Frenchtown
A brief (American) account of the Battle of Frenchtown (Battle of the River Raisin), a bloody engagement that was a major defeat for American forces. Check the menu at the left side of the page for more information, maps, and illustrations. From the riverraisinbattlefield.org website.
British defeat spelled the end of Fort Meigs
A brief newspaper story about the military significance of the British defeat at Fort Meigs in 1813. A Niagara Falls Review article at discover1812.com.
Sose Sononsese and John Pegeon Omeme
See the Military General Service Medal awarded to Sose Sononsese and John Pegeon Omeme, two of only 103 surviving Canadian First Nations 'warriors' to receive their medal. From the National Army Museum website at the National Archives in the UK.
Ohio Archaeology Blog: Tippecanoe and Two Horses Too
An extensive description of the British attacks on Fort Meigs, Ohio, in the War of 1812. Includes details about archaeological finds unearthed at this historic site. From the Ohio Archaeology Blog.
In Their Own Words -- Aboriginal Leaders and the War of 1812
See excerpts from key speeches delivered by Tecumseh and Black Hawk to First Nations followers and British military officers during the War of 1812. From the War of 1812 Magazine.
Rural Raids and Divided Loyalties: Southwestern Ontario and the War of 1812
An account of the "Battle of Malcom's Mills," the last military action ever fought on Canadian soil against a foreign power. From the website for the Ontario Visual Heritage Project.
Leading Myths of the War of 1812
This article debunks some of the more outlandish myths about British and American achievements in the War of 1812. From the War of 1812 Magazine.
The Western Theatre in the War of 1812
An article about apparent deficiencies in Canadian and British historiography concerning events and notable figures in the "western theatre" of the War of 1812. From the War of 1812 Magazine.
Remember the Raisin! Anatomy of a Demon Myth
This article examines historic biases and inaccuracies in American accounts and claims of British complicity in regard to supposedly unrestrained treacherous actions of First Nations warriors at the Battle of Frenchtown in the War of 1812. From the War of 1812 Magazine at napoleon-series.org. Note: contains common 19th century vernacular references.
Niagara Parks: Commemorative Plaques & Markers
See the text of individual plaques and markers commemorating the War of 1812 found throughout the grounds of Niagara Parks in Ontario. Also, check this site for more information about specific park locations and events.
The Trial of Red Jacket
An 1869 print depicting the trial of Seneca chief Red Jacket, who fought on the side of the Americans in the War of 1812. Click on the image for an enlarged view. From 1812history.com
A Painting by George Jones, RA. of the Rescue of Captain John Wilson after the Battle of Chippawa
A painting that depicts a First Nations woman caring for a wounded Captain John Wilson following the battle of Chippawa. From the War of 1812 Magazine.
Aboriginal People in the Canadian Military: In Defence of their Homelands
Scroll down the page for an illustrated account of how the leaders of the First Nations actively supported the British fight against American forces in the War of 1812. From the website for the Department of National Defence.
A profile of Black Hawk, a First Nations leader who supported the British side during the War of 1812. From the Black Hawk State Historic Site at Rock Island, Illinois.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...