Battle of Tippecanoe

In 1808 Shawnee brothers Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa (the Prophet) founded Prophet’s Town in Indiana which they envisioned as an independent, sovereign Indian state that would preserve and protect Indian culture. Like Pontiac’s message in the 1760s after the Seven Years War, Tecumseh’s message to reject the white man and his ways galvanized Indian solidarity. The Creeks in the South who had lost millions of acres to the Americans were particularly receptive; in a few years the Prophet’s message would spark armed conflict between the Creek and American troops.

Back in Indiana, the territorial governor William Henry Harrison plied a group of Indian leaders with liquor and then arranged a deal to purchase 3 million acres for a pittance in 1809. Tecumseh decried the possibility that Indians could legitimately sell their people’s homeland to the US government.

In 1811, Harrison led 1000 US soldiers in an advance on Prophet’s Town. Before they could reach the settlement several hundred Shawnees attacked their camp on the Tippecanoe River. The Indians were soundly defeated and Harrison burned Prophet’s Town to the ground. Despite their initial feelings of superiority over the “soft” white man, Native Americans realized that military technology, not just will, would shape the course of western conflict.

The defeat of the Shawnee’s at Tippecanoe only inflamed western war hawks’ passions and inflamed their resolve to break the back of Indian resistance altogether. To do so would require the Americans to invade Canada and eliminate the British arms suppliers who had been trading with the Indians (and armed them during the American Revolution). This goal to end the conflict on the frontier with “savages” armed by the British in combination with Americans’ other recent grievances against England: the British seizure (and impressment) of American citizens on the high seas and the blockage of American goods prompted the War of 1812 with Britain.

War of 1812

Like in the American Revolution many Native Americans would fight with British during the War of 1812 (Tecumseh served as a brigadier general in the British Army) and many African Americans would claim their freedom by getting on British boats bound for Nova Scotia (along with those who fled during the American Revolution, many of these African Americans ultimately settled in Sierra Leone on the coast of West Africa). However many African Americans fought for the Americans as well. See page 336 for an image of Crafus, a man of African descent who led the barracks in the English prison where approximately 6000 American prisoners of war were held, many of whom were African Americans. Many African Americans fought in the Battle of New Orleans where American troops led by Andrew Jackson defeated the British (almost half of the soldiers in this historic battle were free black volunteers from .Kentucky).

Treaty of Horseshoe Bend

In the Southeast, Tecumseh’s message of Indian unity had resonated with particular force among Native Americans once the War of 1812 broke out. Some Cherokees and Choctaws cast their lot with the US. However a minority of Creeks, who would come to be known as Red Sticks, stood ready to do battle with the Americans. They faced opposition from the White Sticks who counseled peace. After the Red Sticks attacked a US fort in Alabama, Andrew Jackson (now a major general in Tennessee militia) was determined to retaliate.

Jackson, who had been a speculator in Indian lands, expressed an anti-Indian sentiment that was extreme even in his day. He and his troops including Native Americans laid waste to Creek territory and to 3/4 of the 1000 Red Stick men, women, and children in Horseshoe Bend (Alabama). Some American soldiers made bridles of the skin of their victims.

In the Treaty of Horseshoe Bend that followed the massacre, the Americans forced the Creek Nation to give up 23 million acres. The remnants of the Red Stick fled to the swamps of Florida (the Everglades) to join the Seminole Indians who were composed of fugitive slaves (maroon or cimarrones) from the South.

Outcomes of the War

The War of 1812 yielded little in the way of material gains for the US or concessions from England. Yet it permanently reshaped American social, political, and economic life. The nation exploited vulnerable southeastern Indians and hastened their removal from their homeland. Many veterans of the war gained land rights, military glory, and political influence in return for their sacrifices. (See page 335 caption: after the war the government issued almost 30,000 land warrants for nearly 5 million acres.) Although (or because) the war disrupted foreign trade, it gave home manufacturers a tremendous boost. The textile industry (based on southern cotton production) spearheaded a revolution in industry. And a new class of workers—factory operatives (machine tenders)—emerged to symbolize both the promise and the hazards of technological innovation.