Beaver Wars (1650s)
The land east of the
Mississippi River and south of the
Great Lakes had been fought over for centuries before the
United States government was formed.
Engraving based on a drawing by Champlain of his 1609 voyage. It depicts a battle between
tribes near Lake Champlain
Samuel Champlain sided with the
Huron people living along the
St. Lawrence River against the
Haudenosaunee Confederacy ("Five Nations") living in what is now upper and western
New York state. The result was a lasting enmity by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy towards the French, which caused them to side with the
fur traders coming up the
Hudson River in about 1626. The Dutch offered better prices than the French and traded
knives to the Iroquois in exchange for furs.
With these more sophisticated weapons, the Five Nations nearly exterminatedHuron and all of other
Native Americans living immediately to their west in the
Ohio country during the
Beaver Wars, beginning in the 1640s. The Native American tribes were competing for hunting grounds for the fur trade. The western tribes had also been weakened by
epidemics of European
infectious diseases, against which they had no acquired
immunity. The Five Nations's use of modern weapons caused the wars to become deadlier. Historians consider the Beaver Wars to have been one of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of North America.
About 1664, the Five Nations became trading partners with the
British, who conquered the
New Netherlands (renamed
New York) from the
The Five Nations enlarged their territory by
right of conquest. The number of tribes paying tribute to them realigned the tribal map of eastern North America. Several large
confederacies were destroyed or relocated, including the
Shawnee. The Five Nations pushed several other eastern tribes to and even across the
Mississippi River. The
Ohio country was virtually emptied, as the defeated tribes fled west to escape the Five Nations warriors. After the Five Nations' warriors were defeated, they left much of the
Ohio almost unpopulated and with abandoned villages. They had claimed the entire Ohio Valley as their own exclusive hunting ground.
After about 1700, some remnants of the Native American tribes began returning to the Northwest Territory. They were often
conglomerations of several tribes who paid tribute to the Five Nations (see also
French and British occupation
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, both Britain and France claimed ownership of the Ohio Country, in competition with the Five Nations (who became the "Six Nations" after the admission of the
Tuscarora in 1722), and by the mid-18th century had sent merchants and fur traders into the area to trade with local Natives, the actual inhabitants of the territory. Violence quickly erupted. During the
French and Indian War, an extension in North America of the
Seven Years' War in Europe. Indian tribes allied with either the French or British, often depending on trading priorities, and warred with each other and the colonists. When it was defeated, France relinquished all its territorial claims to Britain in the
Treaty of Paris in 1763.
The British still faced opposition from numerous Native American tribes, including in the Great Lakes region: the
Pottawatomi, and Huron; in the eastern
Illinois Country: the
Piankashaw; and in the Ohio Country: the Delaware (
Mingo, and Wyandot. The tribes were angered by the arrogance of British colonial officials who treated them like defeated subjects and concerned by the growing threat of British colonials moving to settle in their territories. They attacked during
Pontiac's Rebellion of 1763–66, when the Indians burned several British forts on their land. They killed and drove many settlers out of the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes territory. In response, Britain sent troops to reinforce
Fort Pitt, which ultimately succeeded despite an ambush by the Natives in the nearby
Battle of Bushy Run. The war petered out without a clear winner. The Natives remained undefeated yet had not managed to drive British colonial forces out of their territory.
Britain officially closed the Northwest Territories to colonial settlement by the
Proclamation of 1763, in an effort to create peace with the tribes west of the Appalachian Mountains. On June 22, 1774, the
British Parliament passed the
Quebec Act, which annexed the Northwest Territories to the province of
Quebec. Some colonials, wanting to move to "new lands," described this as one of the
Intolerable Acts that contributed to the
A faction of the
Cherokee led by
Dragging Canoe, as well as the
Shawnee, were already at war with the "
Long Knives" starting in 1776, in the
Cherokee–American wars, which merged into the Northwest Indian Wars.
American Revolution, four of the Six Nations of the
Iroquois League sided with the British. The Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca fought against colonists in the
Battle of Oriskany, aided the British in the
Battle of Wyoming in
Pennsylvania, and at
Cherry Valley, and other raids throughout the
Mohawk Valley in New York, as well as in numerous other actions on the frontiers of New York and Pennsylvania. As the British concentrated on the
southern United States in 1779, General
George Washington took action against the Six Nations.
He instructed General
John Sullivan to
attack and destroy Six Nations villages in upper New York. Leading about 5,000 troops, Sullivan defeated the Six Nations forces in the
Battle of Newtown, then destroyed over 40 Six Nations villages and all their stored crops in the fall of 1779. Because of the social disruption and crop losses, some Six Nations men, women, and children died of starvation that winter. Many Six Nations families retreated to
Fort Niagara and other parts of
Canada, where they spent a cold and hungry winter. Their power in the present-day United States territory was lessened, and their claim to the Northwest Territories was challenged.
In 1778, American General
George Rogers Clark and 178 men
captured the British forts on the
Wabash Rivers. This gave the United States control of the
Ohio River and a claim to all the land north of the Ohio. In the Fall of 1779, Indians allied with the British attacked a company of men under Col. David Rogers and Captain
Robert Benham near Cincinnati; only a handful of soldiers survived the attack.
[Note 1] In 1780, a French officer named
Augustin de La Balme led a volunteer militia from
Vincennes on a raid of
Kekionga, with a goal of capturing
Fort Detroit. This marks the first known victory for
Little Turtle, who gathered available warriors and destroyed La Balme's force.
As the war with the British came to a close, the young United States looked to secure their borders, exact revenge for Native American raids, and expand westward. In March 1782, a band of Pennsylvania militia entered
Ohio Country and
massacred a Christian
Lenape village of
 Two months later, Colonel
William Crawford led 500 volunteers deep into Ohio Country and
attacked Native American villages near the
Sandusky River. Crawford's force was defeated with a loss of about 70 Americans killed, and several prisoners were executed in retaliation for the Gnadenhutten massacre. In August 1782, the last battle of the American Revolutionary War, the
Battle of Blue Licks, was fought in
Kentucky. On a hill next to the Licking River in what is now
Robertson County, Kentucky, a force of about 50 British rangers and 300 Natives ambushed and routed 182 pursuing Kentucky militiamen.
With the end of the war, the
Treaty of Paris (1783) with Great Britain gave the United States independence and control of the Northwest Territories, at least on paper. The Six Nations' allies were forced to cede most of their land in New York state to the United States, and many Six Nations families moved on to land reserves in
old Quebec Province (now southern Ontario).