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Expedition under General Harmar
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The efforts of our government to secure peace with the Indians, were but partially successful. As our settlements extended westward in Pennsylvania, and along the Ohio and Kentucky borders, Indian hostilities and depredations continued to multiply. From the year 1783 when peace was concluded with Great Britain, until October, 1790, when the United States commenced offensive operations against them, the Indians killed, wounded and took prisoners on the Ohio and the frontiers, about fifteen hundred men, women and children; besides taking away two thousand horses, and a large amount of other property.
The Shawnee, Miami and Wabash Indians were chiefly concerned in these bloody transactions; and our government finding protection for her citizens could not be secured by pacific means, resolved to proceed with vigorous offensive measures.
General Harmar, a veteran of the Revolution, with a force of fourteen hundred and fifty men, three hundred and twenty from the regular army, and the balance made up of recruits from Kentucky and Pennsylvania, advanced toward the Indian country.
The expedition left Fort Washington, the present site of Cincinnati, on the 30th of September, 1790.
The Indians, who kept watch of his movements, burned before his coming, their principal village and retired. Seizing a favorable opportunity, they fell suddenly upon a detachment of the main army commanded by Colonel Harding, consisting of two hundred and ten men, thirty of whom were regulars.
At the first onset the militia, the main part of the force, fled. The regulars stood their ground bravely for a time, but at a fearful odds; seven only escaped.
Colonel Harding, desirous of retrieving the disgrace, the next day with three hundred militia and sixty regulars, gave battle to the Indians. They fought near the junction of St. Joseph and St. Mary rivers, and the struggle, though severe and bloody, ended with the defeat of the Americans.
Success elated and emboldened the Indians, and rendered hopeless the negotiations for peace. Nevertheless the mission of Colonel Proctor, with a deputation from the Iroquois was not given up, and when spring opened he repaired to their country, to be joined by Cornplanter, Red Jacket and others, and proceed on his visit to the hostile tribes of the West.
Anticipating his arrival, a council of the Iroquois had been called at Buffalo Creek. Already messengers had been sent, earnestly soliciting them to join the warriors that were rising everywhere, from toward the setting sun. They had defeated the Americans, and nothing was wanting but the united action of all the Indian tribes, to secure the broad lands of the North-west, where they could spread their blankets in peace, and dwell securely forever. The Seneca, particularly, were urged to join in a war, that opened so many hopeful and glorious anticipations. The distinguished warrior Brant was very solicitous on this point, and being encouraged by those at the head of British affairs in Canada, was sanguine of ultimate success.
Colonel Proctor, accompanied by Cornplanter, arrived at the council fire kindled at Buffalo Creek, on the 27th of April, 1791.
Among the Indian chiefs present were Young King, Farmer’s Brother and Red Jacket. The latter had now an acknowledged pre-eminence among his people, and took a leading part in the deliberations of this council. It was opened by a speech from Red Jacket, as follows:
“Brother: Listen. As is our custom we now address you, and we speak to you as to a brother that has been long absent. We all address you, and our chief warrior, Cornplanter; and we thank the Great Spirit for his and your safe arrival, coming as you do hand in hand from Honandaganius1 on important business.
“You have traveled long with tearful eyes, from the roughness of the way, and the inclemency of the season. Besides the difficulties between the bad Indians and our brothers the white people, everything has been conspiring to prevent your coming, thwart your business, and cause you to lose your way. The great waters might have prevented your coming; the wars might have stopped you; sickness and death might have overtaken you, for we know not what is to happen till it comes upon us. Therefore we thank the Great Spirit, who has preserved you from dangers, that would have prevented our hearing the good news you have come to bring us. And when filled with good news, how is it possible that disasters should befall you on the way?
“Wipe therefore from your eyes, the tears that have been occasioned by the dangers through which you have come. We now place you upon a seat where you can sit erect, a seat where you will be secure from the fear of your enemies, where you can look around upon all as your friends and brothers in peace.
“You have come with your heart and lips firmly closed, lest you should lose anything you had to say. With a brotherly hand we now open your hearts, and we remove the seal from your lips, that you may open them and speak freely without obstruction. Your ears too have been closed, that they might hear nothing until saluted by our voice. Open your ears to hear our counsels when we shall have had messages from you.
“We present therefore the compliments of the chiefs and head men of Buffalo Creek, to you and to our great warrior, the Cornplanter, hoping that you may each proceed safely with your business.”
To this Cornplanter replied briefly, in behalf of himself and Col. Procter, reciprocating the kindness manifested, in the welcome that had been given them.
After which Col. Proctor explained fully the object of their coming, which was to obtain from them a deputation of peace, to visit with him the hostile Indian tribes at the West; and assured them of the liberal views, and friendly feelings of the chief of the thirteen fires toward them.
Several days were thereupon consumed in devising expedients and raising objections, which terminated finally in the declaration that nothing could be done without consulting their British friends at Fort Niagara. They desired the colonel to go with them there. His business not being with the British, but with them, he declined going. They then insisted upon having one of the officers of the fort to sit with them in council.
This being allowed, Col. Butler afterward appeared among them, and after a little private consultation with him, they seemed to be utterly averse to sending the proposed delegation.
Captain Brant, just before starting on a visit to western tribes, had been holding a consultation with these chiefs, and had no doubt been influential in causing them to be averse to joining this embassy.
Col. Proctor, finding further negotiation hopeless, declared his purpose to return, and expressed his regret in having to carry back an unfavorable report to the government, on whose kind and pacific errand he had been sent forth.
This announcement made a deep impression on their minds, and immediately a change took place in their proceedings, which revealed a peculiar feature of Indian diplomacy.
The women, who had been carefully watching the proceedings of this council, began to express their unwillingness to send to General Washington an unfavorable reply. To them was conceded the right, in things pertaining to the safety of their homes, of reversing, if they thought proper, the decision of the men. They did so on this occasion, and employed Red Jacket to present their views on the following day.
It was decided by them, in view of the threatening aspect of affairs, that Cornplanter, their most experienced warrior, should not leave them; but that a sufficient deputation, for which they had obtained volunteers, should accompany Col. Proctor, at the same time advising him of the danger, admonishing him to proceed with caution; “to reach his neck over the land, and take in all the light he could, that would show him his danger.”
The journey being regarded as too hazardous by land, and the Indians unwilling to perform it with their canoes, the case was decided by the British officers, who refused them a vessel for the undertaking.
So great was the excitement among the Indians at this time, that before the result of Col. Proctor’s mission was generally known, another council of the Iroquois was invited to meet at Painted Post, and was held during the month of June following. The British officers at Niagara, and runners from the western tribes, exerted their influence to prevent the Iroquois from coming into alliances of peace with the United States. But through the exertions of Col. Proctor, assisted by Cornplanter and the elderly matrons, the minds of the leading chiefs were turned from the proposed western alliance to Colonel Pickering and the treaty ground at Painted Post.
Red Jacket, together with other leading chiefs was present, and took an active part in the deliberations of this council. It was well attended by the Indians, as also by several American gentlemen, and a number of speeches were interchanged, whose general drift was in the direction of peace.
The result of this gathering was satisfactory to all parties. It served to bind more closely the friendship of the leading chiefs to the United States, and it served also to interest the minds of the young warriors, who had else from a love of adventure followed the war path, with the tribes at the West.
At the close of this council, a large entertainment was prepared purely after the civilized style, and when it was about concluded, Colonel Pickering took occasion to place before them the blessings and advantages of a cultivated state of society; and the happy influences that would arise from the introduction among them of the arts of civilized life. He assured them of the kind interest felt by General Washington and others in their welfare, and promised to aid them in any efforts they were disposed to make, for the advancement of their people. Presents were then liberally distributed among them, and they were invited at a convenient time to visit General Washington, and confer with him more fully on the subject.
The Indians were pleased with these suggestions, and promised to accept of the proffered invitation. Thus happily closed this council, gathered amid distracting influences, the Indians returning home better satisfied with their friendly attitude toward the government, and their feelings in striking contrast with those of their brethren at the West.
Name given to General Washington. ↩
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