Chapter Four: Native Peoples and the Fall of European Empires

Chapter Four

Native Peoples and the Fall of European Empires



European colonizers seldom sought war with the continent’s native peoples. They recognized that they could most easily and least expensively obtain their colonial and imperial objectives with the assistance of Indians. Hostile Indians would not trade with the newcomers, nor would they allow colonists to establish stable agricultural settlements. Indians at war with the colonists might seize the opportunity to play one European power off against another or descend upon colonial settlements in “savage” fury.   European missionaries, meanwhile, could not convert to Christianity the same Indians their countrymen were trying to kill.   Native peoples, too, sought peace, and to transform strangers into kin. But conflict always arrived.  The colonizers failed to achieve any sort of meaningful control over the frontier and its inhabitants, Native American and European.  Settlers expanded onto Indian lands, provoking crises that too often ended in violence.  In the end, this warfare, and the instability and economic burden it brought, would cost them their empires.


To Learn More

For Pennsylvania, see James H. Merrell, Into the American Woods: Negotiators on the Pennsylvania Frontier, (New York: Norton, 1999); Jane T. Merritt, At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); Francis Jennings, Empire of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies and Tribes in the Seven Years War in America, (New York: Norton, 1988) and The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire: The Covenant Chain Confederation Of Indian Tribes with the English Colonies, (New York: Norton, 1984); Jean R. Soderlund, Lenape Country: Delaware Valley Society before William Penn, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015); and David Preston, The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquoia, 1667-1763, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009).

The eighteenth-century history of the Potawatomis and their neighbors is ably recounted in the following works: James A. Clifton, The Prairie People: Continuity and Change in Potawatomi Indian Culture, 1665-1965, (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1998); R. David Edmunds, The Potawatomis: Keepers of the Fire, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978); Donald Fixico, “The Alliance of Three Fires in Trade and War, 1630-1812,” Michigan Historical Review, 20 (no.2, 1994), 1-23; Michael A. McDonnell, Masters of Empire: Great Lakes Indians and the Making of America, (New York: Hill and Wang, 2016); Brett Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012); and “Slavery, the Fox Wars, and the Limits of Alliance,” William and Mary Quarterly, 63 (January 2006), 53-81; and “`A Little Flesh We Offer You’: The Origins of Indian Slavery in New France.” William and Mary Quarterly, 60 (October 2003), 777-808. Finally, see Michael Witgen, An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).

For the Cherokees in the first half of the eighteenth century, two old books are still worth a quick look: David Corkran, The Cherokee Frontier: Conflict and Survival, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966) and Verner W. Crane, The Southern Frontier, 1670-1732, (Durham: Duke University Press, 1929).  Tom Hatley’s The Dividing Paths: Cherokees and South Carolinians Through the Revolutionary Era, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995) is an important addition to the literature. Students interested in the Cherokees will benefit greatly by reading about the southeastern region in general, and about the Cherokees’ neighbors.  Robbie Etheridge and Sheri M. Shuck-Hall, Mapping the Mississippian Shatter Zone: The Colonial Indian Slave Trade and Regional Instability in the American South, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009), Allan Gallay, The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670-1717, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002); and Christina Snyder, Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010) each provide important pieces of context about the Indian slave trade.  The recent works by Tyler Boulware, Deconstructing the Cherokee Nation: Town, Region and Nation among Eighteenth-Century Cherokees (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2011); Paul Kelton, Epidemics and Enslavement: Biological Catastrophe in the Native Southeast, 1492-1715, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007) and “Avoiding the Smallpox Spirits: Colonial Epidemics and Southeastern Indian Survival.” Ethnohistory, 50 (Fall 2003); and Gregory Smithers, The Cherokee Diaspora: An Indigenous History of Migration, Resettlement, and Identity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015) are all excellent.

For the Caddos during these years, see Juliana Barr’s Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007) and “A Diplomacy of Gender: Rituals of First Contact in the “Land of the Tejas,” William and Mary Quarterly,  61 (2004); Kathleen Du Val, The Native Ground: Indians and Colonists in the Heart of the Continent, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006); and F. Todd Smith, The Caddo Indians: Tribes at the Convergence of Empire, 1542-1854, (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1995).

The first half of the eighteenth century is a relatively under-studied period in the history of the Senecas and the rest of the Iroquois.  Two works specifically treating the period are critical: Richard Aquila, The Iroquois Restoration: Iroquois Diplomacy on the Colonial Frontier, 1701-1754, (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1983) and Kurt Jordan, The Seneca Restoration, 1715-1754: An Iroquois Local Political Economy, (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2008). Also useful is Jon Parmenter, “After the Mourning Wars: The Iroquois as Allies in Colonial North American Campaigns, 1676-1760,” William and Mary Quarterly, 64 (January 2007), 39-82.

The Powhatan experience in the period following Bacon’s Rebellion has not received the attention it deserves.  Helen Rountree’s work, Pocahontas’s People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990) remains the best work on this period.  Her copious endnotes will guide interested readers to the relevant primary sources.  For the Mohegans and New England Algonquians in general, there is no shortage of literature.  Daniel Mandell has explored this period in detail in his excellent  Behind the Frontier: Indians in Eighteenth Century Eastern Massachusetts, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996). A large number of works examine Christianity in New England native communities, including the Mohegans, like Kristina Bross, Dry Bones and Indian Sermons: Praying Indians in Colonial America, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004) and Linford Fisher, The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012) and “’It Provd But Temporary, & Short Lived’: Pequot Affiliation in the First Great Awakening.” Ethnohistory, 59 (Summer 2012), 465-488.  Also valuable are the essays in Colin Calloway, ed., After King Philip’s War: Presence and Persistence in Indian New England, (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth University Press, 1997); Jean M. O’Brien, Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010) and Dispossession by Degrees: Indian Land and Identity in Natick, Massachusetts, 1650-1790, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); and the work of David Silverman, especially Faith and Boundaries: Colonists, Christianity and Community Among the Wampanoag Indians of Martha’s Vineyard, 1600-1871, (New York: Cambridge, 2005).  An excellent archaeological study of the Narragansetts is Patricia Rubertone, Grave Undertakings: An Archaeology of Roger Williams and the Narragansett Indians, (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001).

Samson Occom has received a great deal of attention. An old biography, W. DeLoss Love, Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England, (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2000) is available in a nice new edition. On the Mohegan “land controversy,” see David Conroy, “The Defense of Indian Land Rights: William Bollan and the Mohegan Case in 1743,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 103 (1993), 395-424 and Craig Bryan Yirush, “Claiming the New World: Empire, Law and Indigenous Rights in the Mohegan Case, 1704-1743.” Law and History Review, 29 (May 2011), 333-373.

On the Great War for Empire in general, see Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, (New York, 2000); Gregory Evans Dowd, A Spirited Resistance: The Indians Great Awakening, 1745-1815, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992); Eric Hinderaker, Elusive Empires: Constructing Colonialism in the Ohio Valley, 1673-1800, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Wilbur Jacobs, Wilderness Politics and Indian Gifts: The Northern Colonial Frontier 1748-1763, (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1950); Francis Jennings, Empire of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies and Tribes in the Seven Years War in America, (New York: Norton, 1988); D. Peter MacLeod, “Microbes and Muskets: Smallpox and the Participation of the Amerindian Allies of New France in the Seven Years War,” Ethnohistory, 39 (Winter 1992), 42-64; Paul Mapp, The Elusive West and the Contest for Empire, 1713-1763, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011); Jane T. Merritt, At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); Preston, Texture of Contact; Timothy Shannon, Indians and Colonists at the Crossroads of Empire: The Albany Congress of 1754, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000); Ian K. Steele, Warpaths: Invasions of North America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); Daniel H. Usner, Jr., Indians, Settlers and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy: The Lower Mississippi Valley Before 1783, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992); Stephen Warren, The World the Shawnees Made: Migration and Violence in Early America, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014) and Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

The Cherokee War was a vicious conflict.  Its history is recounted in Boulware, Deconstructing the Cherokee Nation; Kathleen A Holland Braund, Deerskins and Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685-1815, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993); Paul Kelton, “The British and Indian War: Cherokee Power and the Fate of Empire in North America.” William and Mary Quarterly 69 (October 2012), 763-792; and John Oliphant, Peace and War on the Anglo-Cherokee Frontier, 1756-1763, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001)

The Potawatomis were major players in the imperial warfare of the eighteenth century. See McDonnell, Edmunds, and Michael Witgen, An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).

The massive uprising most commonly known by the name Pontiac’s Rebellion involved Indians throughout eastern America.  To read more about this important conflict, see Alfred F. Cave, “The Delaware Prophet Neolin: A Reappraisal,” Ethnohistory, 46 (Spring 1999), 254-78; Gregory Evans Dowd, War Under Heaven: Pontiac, the Indian Nations, and the British Empire, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002); Elizabeth A. Fenn, “Biological Warfare in Eighteenth-Century North America: Beyond Jeffery Amherst,” Journal of American History, 86 (no.4, 2000), 1552-1580.

On the Peace of Paris of 1763 and what it meant for native peoples, see Colin Calloway, The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

The Paxton Boys represent the violence that was a central part of the American frontier experience. See the excellent essay by Krista Camenzind, Violence, Race and the Paxton Boys,” in Friends and Enemies in Penn’s Woods: Indians, Colonists, and the Racial Construction of Pennsylvania, Eds. William A. Pencak and Daniel K. Richter, (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004) and Kevin Kenny, Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). James H. Merrell’s very dark Into the American Woods: Negotiators on the Pennsylvania Frontier,(New York: Norton, 1999) offers a searing portrait of the violence of the attack at Paxton.

On the Proclamation of 1763, its relation to the American Revolution, and the prospects for peace along the Anglo-American frontier, see Louis DeVorsey, The Indian Boundary in the Southern Colonies, 1763-1775, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975);  Woody Holton, Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999); J. Russell Snapp, John Stuart and the Struggle for Empire on the Southern Colonial Frontier, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996); and the opening chapters in Alan Taylor, The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution, (New York: Knopf, 2006).



On the Pennsylvania Charter, see the following online exhibit hosted by the PMHC. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has made available a copy of William Penn’s letter to the “Kings of the Indians in Pennsylvania” in October of 1681. The “Walking Purchase” of 1737 can be read about here.

Online information about the Fox Wars and the role in them played by the Potawatomis is relatively less abundant online, but the secondary sources are quite strong.  Students will benefit from reading the articles written by Brett Rushforth.  As for the Cherokee country and the Southeast, the North Carolina Digital History website has useful information here.  On Carolina Governor James Glen and his Indian policies, click here.

For a portrait of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, click here.  For the history of the Caddos during these years, you are best reading the secondary sources referred to in the “To Learn More” section.  For the Senecas, the Documents Relative to the Colonial History of New York State are essential.  I provided a link in the previous section. Also useful is Peter Wraxall’s Abridgment of Colonial New York’s Indian records.  Wraxall’s book can be read here.

The decline of the Powhatans is covered in Robert Beverley’s History of Virginia.  I have linked to a nineteenth-century edition here, but you should be aware of the recent new edition edited by Susan Scott Parrish, The History and Present State of Virginia, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013).  Some of those Virginia Indians attended the Brafferton School on the grounds of today’s William and Mary.  For a recent article describing archaeological work at the site, see this.  For information on the building itself, which still stands, you can check out the Library of Congress survey of the site.  Historic Deerfield has constructed a wonderful website telling the different stories of the 1704 Deerfield attack. Some of the material here would make for wonderful use in the classroom. Click here to visit.

Some of the documents relevant to an understanding of the Mohegan Land Controversy are available at the Yale Indian Papers Project, mentioned below, like this one. John W. DeForest’s History of the Indians of Connecticut, published in the middle of the nineteenth century but still of some value, is available online, too.

Dartmouth College has made available a digital edition of handwritten documents by and about Samson Occom which are housed in the Dartmouth College Library.  Yale continues to add material to its massive Yale Indian Papers Project, a rich collection of documents from the seventeenth, eighteen and nineteenth centuries.  As with Dartmouth’ Occom collection, these materials are relevant to several chapters in Native America.

For Braddock’s defeat, see this Explore Pennsylvania History Website, which includes an outstanding map of Braddock’s march.  Historian David Preston, who has recently published a fantastic history of Braddock’s defeat, was interviewed at Mount Vernon, shedding light on the battle and upon how he worked as a historian, and by Liz Covart on her excellent “Ben Franklin’s World” podcast. For William Johnson and his relations with the Senecas, see The Papers of Sir William Johnson, which has been digitized both by Google Books and Archives.Org.  I have provided a link to the first volume, here. Johnson’s southern counterpart was Edmund Atkin. Copies of his report on the Appalachian Frontier are still in print. The Potawatomis fought with many other native communities at Fort William Henry.  Here is a map of the British positions in the besieged fort.

For an overview of the Cherokee War, see the materials compiled by William Anderson and Ruth Wetmore on the NCPedia page.  Liz Covart interviewed Daniel J. Tortora, the author of the most recent book on the Cherokee War on Ben Franklin’s WorldJeffrey Amherst is the controversial figure associated with deliberate efforts to spread smallpox to the native peoples laying siege to Fort Pitt during Pontiac’s Rebellion.  Amherst College, named after him, recently repudiated their ties with the British commander. For the evidence of his involvement, check out this webpage.  The evidence is damning, but it should be considered in light of Elizabeth Fenn’s argument in her well-known essay. For the march of the Paxton Boys against the peaceful Conestogas, in addition to the secondary works mentioned above, see the encyclopedia article written by Michael Goode.  Well worth reading. John Fea, on his webpage, offered a post-conference report on a gathering to discuss the significance of the Paxton Boys massacre and challenge to the provincial government.  Students might consider the questions Fea raises.

You can read the Proclamation of 1763, and assess how important Indian affairs was to imperial officials.  Students will benefit from looking at a detailed map of the Proclamation line, like this one. The 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix was one effort to define this line with precision.  You can read the treaty here.  The Hard Labor Treaty was the other.  You can read about it here.  Click on the link for the 1768 Treaty of Hard Labor.  Students might benefit from taking a long look at this map of the Anglo-American frontier.


Assignments and Study Questions

  1. People, Peoples, Places and Things


William Penn                                                           Conestogas

Delawares                                                                 Shawnees

Walking Purchase of 1737                                   Potawatomis

Frederick Jackson Turner                                   Middle Ground

Fox Wars                                                                   Illinois

Ottawas                                                                    Ojibwes

Miamis                                                                      Foxes

Mascoutens                                                              Sauks

Mackisabe                                                                Winamac

Butte des Morts                                                      Louis de Louivigny

Onontio                                                                     Dakotas

Charles de. Beauharnois                                     Chickasaws

Fort Oswego                                                            Fort Niagara

Demoiselle (Old Briton)                                       Pickawillany

Joseph Celeron                                                       Langlade

Fort Duquesne                                                        Cherokees

Skiagunsta                                                               Governor James Glen

Bienville                                                                   Caddos

Quapaws                                                                  Louis Juchereau de Saint-Denis

Chef Blanc                                                               Antoine Crozat

Benard de La Harpe                                               Hasinais

Slavery                                                                    Wichitas

Nabitis                                                                     coninsi

Joncaire                                                                   Deerfield raid

Tuscaroras                                                              Six Nations

White Roots of Peace                                            Pamunkeys

Powhatans                                                               Mattaponis

Chickahominies                                                      Rappahannocks

College of William and Mary                                Owaneco

Mohegan Land Controversy                                 Samson Occom

Moor’s Charity School                                           Eleazer Wheelock

Comanches                                                              repartimiento

Great War for Empire                                           George Washington

Braddock’s Defeat                                                  Sir William Johnson

Covenant Chain                                                      Albany Plan of Union

Edward Atkin                                                          Cherokee War

Sir Jeffrey Amherst                                                Neolin

Papoonan                                                                 Smallpox at Fort Pitt

Pontiac’s Rebellion                                                Paxton Boys

Hard Labor Treaty                                                 Fort Stanwix Treaty of 1768

Michael Cresap                                                       Tachnedorus (Logan)

Proclamation of 1763                                             Revenue Act of 1764


  1. Discussion Questions and Writing Assignments
  1. Dependence.  My students come to the conclusion all too easily that Native Americans became “dependent” upon European manufactured goods, but they have given little thought to what that vexed term means or the mechanics of the process.  The examples provided by the Cherokees, Caddos, and Dakotas in this chapter give some opportunity for students to approach these issues.  In what ways did native peoples become dependent upon European manufactured goods? What did these goods mean to native peoples?  How did they use them?  And with what consequences for native communities?  The process was not nearly as simple as many students believe.
  2. Running through this chapter as a backdrop is the importance of European imperial warfare as a force with which native peoples had to contend. How did imperial competition between the French, Spanish, and English for control of North America and its peoples effect native peoples? What opportunities and challenges did this warfare present?
  3. Samson Occom is a figure who plays a large role in this chapter.  His writings, and the scholarship examining his career, could provide the basis for a challenging writing assignment (see Resources and the Bibliography).  How did Occom view his own community, other native peoples and Anglo-American settlers?  How did he view the entire process of European colonialism?
  4. In his famous Narrative, the African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass remarked upon the liberating effect literacy had upon his mind.  How did literacy affect native peoples?
  5. How does one best account for the viciousness of warfare between native peoples and Anglo-Americans in the 1750s and 1760s?
  6. This chapter covers the “deeply troubling lessons that lie at the heart of the history of the Anglo-American frontier, stories that lie at the heart of Native America.”  What are those lessons?
  7. What did Parliament and imperial officials in London hope that the Proclamation of 1763 would achieve?  Why was it unsuccessful?  And with what consequences?  What connections exist between the challenge of finding order on the frontier and the ministry’s determination to begin taxing the American colonists?











A Discussion Forum for Teaching and Writing Native American History