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The American Revolution
Revolutionary War: The Home Front
The Continental Congress Deals with the "Savages," 1776-1778

American-Indian relations were generally not good over the course of British colonization of North America. Recall that the reason for the British Proclamation of 1763 was conflict over settlement in the lands west of the Allegheny Mountains, which the British wanted to stop. Of course, the colonists' response to that edict was heated to say the least. After war broke out between the British and Americans, Indian tribes were in a quandary as to which side, if either, to take. Although some tribes did take sides, most attempted to sit out the Revolutionary War. Even so, Indian relations were ever on the minds of patriot leaders. In the following documents, what issues are raised? What does the Continental Congress attempt to do about some of these issues?

View the original documents by clicking on the links below. All documents are from the Journals of the Continental Congress, which can be found in A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.

Committee for Indian Affairs, September 19, 1776

The Committee for Indian Affairs brought in a report, which was taken into consideration; Whereupon. . .

That the commanding officers of the several posts, on the frontiers of Virginia and Pensylvania, be desired to give the earliest intelligence they can, of every important occurrence they may have notice of, respecting the Indians, to the commissioners, or, when they are not in the way, to the agent for Indian Affairs:

That it be recommended to the inhabitants of the frontiers, and to the officers at all the posts there, to treat the Indians, who behave peaceably and inoffensively, with kindness and civility, and not to suffer them to be ill used or insulted...

Congress Considers the Report of the Special Committee, November 20, 1777

That an inroad has been made on the western frontiers of Virginia and Pensylvania, by some savage tribes of Indians, wherein a number of helpless people have been cruelly massacred, and the peaceable inhabitants driven from their homes and reduced to great distress:

. . . appears that these savages have been instigated by British agents and emissaries . . . to this barbarous and murderous war.

Your committee apprehend, that so long as that post continues to be garrisoned by British troops who are restrained by no laws of humanity from using every means to accomplish their purpose of subjugating these states, those frontiers will be incessantly exposed to the barbarous ravages of the Indian tribes under their influence.

That by means of the said agents and emissaries a dangerous spirit of disaffection has been excited and fomented among some worthless and evil-disposed persons on the said frontiers, who, lost to all sentiments of virtue, honor, or regard for their country, have been induced to aid our remorseless enemy.

That the Shawanese and Delaware Indians continue well affected and disposed to preserve the league of peace and amity entered into with us; for which reason they are threatened with an attack by their hostile neighbours who have invaded us, and are at the same time exposed to danger from the attempts of ill-disposed or ill-advised persons among ourselves.

Your committee therefore are of opinion, that for the safety and security of the frontiers, as well as to preserve the public faith of these United States, plighted to our Indian allies, speedy and effectual measures ought to be taken to suppress the spirit of disaffection among our own deluded people, to repel and put a stop to the hostile invasions of our enemies, to protect our Indian allies, and confirm them in their good disposition, and to remove, if possible, the cause from whence all the evils in that quarter arise. For which purpose your committee submit the following resolutions,

Resolved, That three commissioners be appointed to repair, without delay, to Fort Pitt; that they be instructed to investigate the rise, progress, and extent of the disaffection in that quarter, and take measures for suppressing the same, and bringing the deluded people to a sense of their duty:

That the said commissioners be invested with full power to suspend for misconduct any officers in the service of the United States employed in that quarter, and appoint others in their room, and to confine, in safe custody, all such officers against whom they shall. have satisfactory proof of being offenders against the rights and liberties of America:

That the said commissioners be directed to cultivate the friendship of the Shawanese and Delawares, and prevent our people from committing any outrages against them:

That they be empowered to engage as many of the Delaware and Shawanese warriors in the service of the United States as they judge convenient:

That they be empowered and directed, for effectually checking the progress of the enemy, to concert with Brigadier General Hand a plan of carrying the war into the enemy's country, and cause the same to be executed with all convenient despatch:

And in order to prevent such barbarous incursions for the future, that the said commissioners be empowered to cause the operations of the war to be extended against the British garrison at Detroit and its dependencies, provided the reduction of that fortress can, in their opinion, be effected at this season of the year, and the whole can be accomplished by a force not exceeding two thousand men, exclusive of Indian auxiliaries:

That it be earnestly recommended to the legislative powers of Virginia and Pensylvania, to invest the commissioners with every necessary authority over their respective militias, to empower them to arrest and commit for trial such of their respective inhabitants on the western frontiers as shall appear to have been concerned in any conspiracy or plot against the United States; and otherwise to afford the said commissioners such assistance as shall be necessary to prosecute with vigour the measures that they may adopt in consequence of these resolutions.

Board of War Report, June 11, 1778

The Board of War, to whom were referred the letters from the late commissioners at Fort Pitt, dated 27 April, the letters from the commissioners of Indian affairs, convened at Albany the 15 April, and sundry letters from Major General Schuyler, relative to the temper and disposition of the Six Nations, report,

That . . . it appears that the cruelties lately exercised by the savages on the frontiers of New York, Pensylvania and Virginia, are the commencement of an Indian war, which threatens, with extensive devastation, the frontiers of these United States:

That the nations concerned in carrying on the same, are the Senecas, Cayugas, Mingoes, and Wiandots in general, a majority of the Onondagas, and a few of the Ottawas, Chippawas, Shawanese, and Delawares, acting contrary to the voice of their nations, amounting, in the whole, to about 1,600 warriors, exclusive of several tories and other emissaries from the posts occupied by the enemy in the Indian country:

That from the presence of Mr. Butler and Mr. Magee, two of the British agents for Indian affairs, amongst the Indians, and from a variety of other circumstances, it appears incontestibly that this cruel war has been industriously instigated, and is still prosecuting with unrelenting perseverance, by principal officers in the service of the king of Great Britain, particularly by Colonel Hamilton, commanding officer of the garrison of Detroit:

That the frequent attempts which have been made to conciliate the minds of the hostile tribes, and even the threats which have been made use of by the commissioners convened at Albany in April last, have produced no good effect; but, on the contrary, have confirmed the savages in an opinion industriously inculcated on them by the enemy, that the forbearance of these states proceeds from their inability to revenge the outrages committed against them:

That the Delawares, Oneidas, Tuscaroras, and other friendly Indians, are collecting themselves in bodies, in order to guard against the impending storm; and call loudly for assistance against enemies, whom they have rendered implacable by a warm and steady attachment to the cause of these states:

That from the papers referred to the Board, it appears to be the design of the enemy to take post this year at Oswego with a view, probably, of prosecuting the plan commenced by the French in the year 1753.

That from the account given by Captain White Eyes, a Delaware chief, to the commissioners of Indian affairs lately convened at Fort Pitt, the fortress of Detroit was, during the last winter, in the same defenceless situation it has been in for some years past . . .

Resolved, That an expedition be immediately undertaken, whose object shall be, to reduce, if practicable, the garrison of Detroit, and to compel to terms of peace such of the Indian nations now in arms against these states as lie on, or contiguous to, the route betwixt Fort Pitt and Detroit:

That three thousand men be engaged in the service of these states, for the purpose above mentioned . . .

And, whereas, the success of the expedition against Detroit may be facilitated, and the hostile tribes of Indians sooner reduced to terms of peace, by another expedition from the Mohawk river to the Seneca country, in order to chastise that insolent and revengeful nation, and to dispossess the enemy from Oswego, should they have taken possession of that post; therefore,

Resolved, That Major General Gates, or the officer commanding the troops on the east side of Hudson's river, and in the northern department, be directed to take the most expeditious measures for carrying the war into the Senecas' country, in order to reduce to terms of peace, such of the Six Nations as are hostile, and to dispossess the emeny from Oswego in case they should have taken possession of that post[.]
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View the original documents by clicking on the links above. All documents are from the Journals of the Continental Congress, which can be found in A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.