Enacted in 1784
Reprinted on Oneida Indian Nation (Web site)
The United States agrees to give Native Americans control of the western territory
"The Oneida and Tuscarora nations shall be secured in the possession of the lands on which they are settled."
The flow of European emigrants to the United States that started in the early seventeenth century created constant pressure to acquire more land for farming in areas occupied by Native Americans. A long series of treaties, or formal agreements, were negotiated by the Native Americans on one side and the British or American governments on the other in an effort to avoid conflict. The Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784 is one example of an American promise to protect native lands from further takeovers by Europeans. Likewise, it also stands as an example of yet another treaty that was ignored by European settlers and never enforced by either the British or the U.S. government. For the arriving Europeans, the paper meant nothing compared with the opportunity to own land. Pushing out Native Americans was viewed as simply a necessary part of European migration to North America.
From 1754 to 1763, the British and the British colonists fought a war against France—the French and Indian War (1754–63; known in Europe as the Seven Years' War)—allied with several tribes of Native Americans, for domination over North America. The territory involved in the war included much of present-day Ohio as well as northern New York and western Pennsylvania. The British colonists won the conflict, but their victory led to many new problems. The British, having paid the cost of fighting the war, turned to the British colonialists to help repay those costs. But since the colonialists did not have representatives in Parliament, the new taxes raised a storm of protest. "Taxation without representation!" the settlers complained, and eventually their discontent sparked the move for American independence, in 1776.
The British victory over the French also created a new set of problems for the British. Native Americans who had been allied with the French fell under British rule, even though British troops did not firmly control the disputed territory. White settlers, starting with the British and continuing under the government of the independent United States, repeatedly negotiated peace treaties with the Native Americans. The general form of the treaties was similar: the government (British or American) promised to keep new settlers east of a line specified in the treaty, giving the Native Americans control of the territory to the west.
These treaties, of which the Treaty of Fort Stanwix signed in 1784 is an example, are remembered by Native Americans as demonstrations that Europeans could not be trusted to keep their promises, even when the promises were put in writing. None of the treaties had any meaningful impact on slowing the flow of Europeans moving westward in search of new land to settle.
European migration to North America, starting in the early seventeenth century, was not just a question of peaceful Europeans coming under attack by natives. It was also a story of two peoples, native and European, each organized into a form of government, formally agreeing to establish a boundary between them—and of the Europeans repeatedly breaking those agreements to accommodate the desires of Europeans for farmland.
Things to remember while reading the Treaty of Fort Stanwix:
- The Treaty of Fort Stanwix was not the first attempt to avoid conflict between settlers and Indians by promising Native Americans a halt to European settlement. Not long after the French and Indian War ended, the Proclamation of 1763 had forbidden English colonists from moving west of the Appalachian Mountains. The intent of the proclamation, an official public announcement sometimes in the form of a rule or law, was to reserve the land between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River for Native Americans. From the British viewpoint, the proclamation was a means of keeping peace. To the British colonialists, the proclamation was merely a slight stumbling block to achieving economic success in the New World.
- In 1768, the British had signed an earlier treaty with the Six Nations at Fort Stanwix. In that agreement, the Iroquois Indians agreed to give up lands east and south of the Ohio River, in exchange for being left alone in their territory. The 1768 treaty was unsuccessful for two reasons: English settlers largely ignored it, and some Native Americans living in the territory did not recognize the rights of the Iroquois to negotiate on their behalf. Among the tribes that did not agree to the 1768 treaty were the Delaware, the Mintos, and the Shawnees. By 1774, violence had broken out between the two sides. The natives, especially the Shawnee tribe, tried to drive the whites east of the Appalachian Mountains.
- Possession of farmland was not the only source of friction between the white settlers and native inhabitants. Most Native Americans in the region depended on hunting deer and other wild animals for their food. Some white men took up hunting as a means of earning a living, killing animals and selling them for meat to fellow Europeans. Some Native American leaders in the disputed territories viewed this as an intrusion on Indian hunting grounds, every bit as objectionable to them as it was for the white settlers when Native Americans killed one of their cows or hogs for meat. The arrival of Europeans in North America did not represent simply a clash of possession; it was also a clash between an ancient culture of hunters and gatherers with a more modern culture of farmers. For the Native Americans, possession of land was not important; their lives revolved around following herds of animals. For the European settlers, possession of land for farming was the essence of their civilization. It was, perhaps, inevitable that the two sides would clash, regardless of diplomatic efforts to avoid violence.
The Treaty of Fort Stanwix
Articles concluded at Fort Stanwix, on the twenty-second day of October, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-four, between Oliver Wolcott, Richard Butler, and Arthur Lee, Commissioners Plenipotentiary from the United States, in Congress assembled, on the one Part, and the Sachems and Warriors of the Six Nations, on the other.
The United States of America give peace to the Senecas, Mohawks, Onondagas, and Cayugas, and receive them into their protection upon the following conditions:
Six hostages shall be immediately delivered to the commissioners by the said nations, to remain in possession of the United States, till all the prisoners, white and black, which were taken by the said Senecas, Mohawks, Onondagas, and Cayugas, or by any of them, in the late war, from among the people of the United States, shall be delivered up.
The Oneida and Tuscarora nations shall be secured in the possession of the lands on which they are settled.
A line shall be drawn, beginning at the mouth of a creek about four miles east of Niagara, called Oyonwayea, or Johnston's Landing-Place, upon the lake named by the Indians Oswego, and by us Ontario; from thence southerly in a direction always four miles east of the carrying path, between Lake Erie and Ontario, to the mouth of Tehoseroron or Buffalo Creek on Lake Erie; thence south to the north boundary of the state of Pennsylvania; thence west to the end of the said north boundary; thence south along the west boundary of the said state, to the river Ohio; the said line from the mouth of the Oyonwayea to the Ohio, shall be the western boundary of the lands of the Six Nations, so that the Six Nations shall and do yield to the United States, all claims to the country west of the said boundary, and then they shall be secured in the peaceful possession of the lands they inhabit east and north of the same, reserving only six miles square round the fort of Oswego, to the United States, for the support of the same.
The Commissioners of the United States, in consideration of the present circumstances of the Six Nations, and in execution of the humane and liberal views of the United States upon the signing of the above articles, will order goods to be delivered to the said Six Nations for their use and comfort.
Otyadonenghti, his x mark (Oneida)
Dagaheari, his x mark (Oneida)
What happened next …
The Treaty of Fort Stanwix made little difference in the European rush westward. Five years after it was signed and almost entirely ignored, the United States negotiated another formal treaty with the Six Nations. The governor of what was then called the Northwest Territory (roughly present-day Ohio), Arthur St. Clair (1734–1818), signed another agreement with the Six Nations at Fort Harmar, "for removing all causes of controversy, regulating trade, and settling boundaries, between the Indian nations in the northern department and the said United States, of the one part, and the sachems and warriors of the Six Nations, of the other part." This treaty, like the one at Fort Stanwix, promised peace and friendship between the United States and the Six Nations. But like the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, the Treaty of Fort Harmar was soon to be ignored.
Some of the tribes that signed the treaty, notably the Shawnee, tried to strike back when it became obvious that the U.S. government either could not or would not stem the flood of Europeans. In so doing, the Native Americans effectively played into the hands of the Europeans, who sent troops to protect settlers, making it even easier and safer for the settlers to ignore their treaties with the natives and push the borders of the United States westward.
Did you know …
- Fort Stanwix was designated a national historical monument in 1935 and has been developed into a tourist attraction. The fort played an important role both before and after the Revolutionary War (1775–83) in guarding an important route, called the "Carrying Path," that linked the headwaters of the Hudson River with Lake Erie. The fort is not far from the route of the Erie Canal. The canal was built in the 1820s to aid hauling goods by water from New York to the Great Lakes and from there as far west as Chicago.
For More Information
Costo, Rupert. Indian Treaties: Two Centuries of Dishonor. San Francisco: Indian Historian Press, 1977.
Jones, Dorothy V. License for Empire: Colonialism by Treaty in Early America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.
Kappler, Charles J., ed. Indian Treaties, 1778–1883. New York: Interland Pub., 1972. (Reprint of Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, vol. 2. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1904.)
Prucha, Francis Paul. American Indian Treaties: The History of a Political Anomaly. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
Mullin, Michael J. "Personal Politics: William Johnson and the Mohawks." The American Indian Quarterly (Summer 1993): p. 350.
Haudenosaunee: People Building a Long House. http://www.sixnations.org/ (accessed on January 21, 2004).
"1784—Treaty with the Six Nations (Treaty of Fort Stanwix)." Oneida Indian Nation. http://oneida-nation.net/treat-1784-stand.html (accessed on January 16, 2004).