Westward Migration towards the Interior

Even before the conclusion of a treaty of peace between the French and English, the westward migration of European-Americans commenced in earnest. Despite restrictions established by the British officials and treaties that prohibited settlement on tribal lands, they kept coming and coming. For a few brief years, the great chief of the northern tribes, Pontiac, held these incursions in check. The pattern of encroachment was repeated all along the frontier. Not long after the first settlers cleared the land and built homes, they were followed by land speculators and the colonial administrators in league with them to sanction their claims. By 1771, for example, the European-American population in the Ohio Valley exceeded 10,000 families. All along the colonial frontier they came, settling first on land secured by treaty, then taking from the tribes what the indigenous people would not sell or otherwise relinquish.

During the colonials' rebellion against British rule, the southern frontier settlements were attacked by Chickamaugas, Choctaw, Creeks and Cherokee. Further north, Shawnee and Delaware warriors attacked settlers throughout the Ohio Valley. In this struggle, the indigenous tribes saw alliance with the British as their only chance of preserving their own independence. From Canada and northern New York, Iroquois warriors and Loyalists also threatened the larger eastern population centers. In hindsight, the tribes were in a no-win situation. Had they joined the rebellion against the British, they might have been given more opportunity to abandon their way of life and become citizens of the new nation. At least some Christianized tribes might have gained protection in this manner. The frontier was by nature a region of extremes, of lawlessness and conflict. As early as the mid-seventeenth century, a commission established by the New England Confederation worked to prepare the indigenous tribes "for full citizenship." Even at this early stage of interaction between Europeans and indigenous North Americans, those enlightened enough to view these people as potential equals failed to recognize in their culture or socio-political arrangements anything worthy of incorporation into the new European-American society. Modernization formed the cornerstone of the post-conquest relationship envisioned by the commissioners:

The New England colonists attempted to establish the English form of government among the conquered [tribes] ... based on the assumption that the English way was better, and it was only done in the spirit of making the Puritan Saints feel that they were performing their worldly obligation to a people that they had seen fit to crush. The epic of America has seen the demands for equalization and sameness -- this desire for homogeneity may be a worthy standard when not carried too far, but to bring a savage race, on both feet, into a society it is not accustomed nor fitted to compete in does in the long run an injustice to the group affected.

By the mid-nineteenth century, at least some Easterners were already becoming sympathetic to the cause of the indigenous people of the frontier region. During Tocqueville's visit to North America in 1831, he visited the Mohican village near Albany, New York, where "the first Indians [he] saw ran after the carriage begging." By 1877 even the President of the United States, Rutherford Hayes, was sufficiently moved by the plight of the indigenous tribes to write: "Many, if not most, of our Indian wars have had their origin in broken promises and acts of injustice on our part." Only in 1887, however, did the government of the United States attempt to set a national policy of peaceful incorporation of the indigenous peoples into the European-American civilization. The Dawes Severalty Act paved the way for individual titleholdings to be distributed to tribal members, and in 1924 all indigenous people were granted full citizenship rights. The aggregate result of these and other measures was continued destruction of tribal societies and the loss of their territorial sovereignty.

As early as 1779, the southern tribes had been defeated in several key battles and were successfully neutralized for the remainder of the conflict between the European-Americans and the British. In the west and north the tribes continued their attacks, pushing settlers back all along the frontier. Then, in October of 1781, Lord Cornwallis surrendered his army to George Washington at Yorktown in Virginia. As the British pulled their troops out of the rebellious colonies, the last hope of the tribes to retain their lands and their sovereignty disappeared. More than 100,000 Tory loyalists also left for Canada or England, their titleholdings and property confiscated by their victorious brethren. Even before the fighting ended, the newly-independent states began to argue over the disposition of the unoccupied western territories. Negotiations ensued, and the western boundaries of the original thirteen states were established as, one by one, they ceded land to the jurisdiction of the national government.

Passage of the Ordinance of 1785 allowed settlers to pour into the Ohio Valley and up tributaries of that great river. The Iroquois were forced to relinquish their claims to the lands of western Pennsylvania, and very soon thereafter title to tribal lands from Lake Erie south and westward was surreptitiously acquired by the national government under treaties signed in most cases by minor village chiefs who had no authority to act on behalf of their nations. As a direct result, late in 1786 the Iroquois, Shawnee, Miami and other major tribes repudiated the earlier treaties and prepared to defend their territorial claims. Full-scale war broke out on the frontier three years later. Again, the tribes suffered defeat and further loss of territory. In the south, a united Creek nation managed to resist encroachments until 1790 when they were overwhelmed and forced to surrender their territory.

New roads now connected the heavily populated eastern regions with the interior, and tens of thousands of settlers made their way westward during the 1790s. Kentucky was admitted to the Union in 1792, followed by Tennessee (1796), Ohio (1803), Louisiana (1812), Indiana (1816), Mississippi (1817), Illinois (1818), Alabama (1819) and Maine (1820). By 1820 the population of the Union of states had reached more than 9.6 million. Conversely, the indigenous population was on a continuous decline.