Treaties and Treacheries

Treaties and Treacheries, The Early Years of the Revolutionary War on America's Western Frontiers 1775-1778
By Gavin K. Watt

Treaties and Treacheries
For my readers who are accustomed to my concentration on the events of the Revolutionary War in lower Quebec, upstate New York and Vermont, this new book will come as a surprise.

In Treaties and Treacheries, I’ve ventured further west and south examining the war out of Detroit (at the time located in an enlarged Quebec) into western Pennsylvania and the Ohio, Illinois and Kentucky territories. Not many Canadian books consider the Revolution from that perspective, instead concentrating on the eastern seaboard and lower Quebec where most of the fighting took place, or as a secondary venue, the localities I have earlier dealt with, while the more western regions have been ignored, as if they were entirely uninvolved.

Yet, many Canadians have heard of Daniel Boone and of George Rogers Clark, two arch rebels who rampaged through the old north-west carving outsized reputations, whereas British commanders such as Henry Hamilton and Richard Lernoult, and active loyalist partisans like Simon Girty, Pierre-Louis Lorimier, Jehu Hay, Guillaume Pierre LaMothe, Alexander McKee and Mathew Ellliott go virtually unrecognized.

Prior to and even during open conflict, a number of treaties were negotiated by individual American colonies and Congress with the north-western Natives, guaranteeing their occupation of their territories. Despite the apparent good intentions and fine words of these documents, all of these treaties were either ignored or broken by hordes of uncontrollable, adventurous settlers seeking better lands and waters.

Treachery was common. In the midst of the war, Native peace activists who attempted to end the fighting by negotiating with the rebels were often mistreated and at times killed, as were many innocent Natives, young and old, who had allied themselves to the rebels. The diversity of Native peoples involved in the north-western war is astounding. Those of us who study the conflict in Lower Quebec and eastern upstate New York are very familiar with the critical involvement of the Six Nations, their allied Delawares and Mississaugas and the Canada Indians, yet to the west, a more substantial number of Native confederacies and alliances came into play and provided major contributions frequently -- but not always -- in support of the Crown.

Scattered across this vast region were small communities built by Francophones and their mixed blood kin who had supported the French Regime’s fur trading empire. After the British emerged the victor in the war for French Canada, their army manned only a few unconnected posts in the western region with tiny garrisons, which presented little barrier to rebel ambitions and necessitated Lieutenant-Governor Hamilton’s employment of large numbers of Native warriors.

Hamilton strengthened his Detroit branch of the Quebec Indian Department by appointing several experienced, competent local Canadiens, some of whom had seen service in the previous war. All were well thought of among the local Native peoples, and all spoke various dialects. These men accompanied the raids, but in a different capacity than Capitaine LaMothe’s Volunteers. In this sense, the situation was similar to the war out of Niagara. The employment of the Indian department’s Canadien officers was comparable to that of the men of the Six Nations’ Indian Department and the Volunteers to that of Butler’s Rangers. The raising of a substantial regiment of Detroit Militia commanded by Major Hay was like the efforts of lower Quebec’s citizenry in 1777.

Treaties and Treacheries deals with the first four years of the war during which control of the northwest region remained questionable. Thereafter, the new United States became dominant and the British abandoned attempts to control the region. At war’s end, many of the anglo-loyalists settled western Ontario, while the majority of the Canadiens, many of whom had supported the Crown, accepted United States governance and remained in their pre-war, established settlements.


Lieutenant Jacob Schieffelin, Detroit Indian Department

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Gavin K. Watt - Historian & Writer