The First Treaty between the US and Native Americas


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When I was in Northwestern Pennsylvania, I had the privilege of meeting members of the Eighth Pennsylvania Re-enactors. The original Eighth Pennsylvania’s leadership where the ones who signed the treaty with the Lenape.

When I was researching my book A Coward’s Solace, I discovered that the first American treaty with the Indians were between the Lenape or Delaware I decided to share this story this week as my focus for Native American History Month. I wrote about it at the end of my book A Coward’s Solace.

The Treaty with the Delaware, signed on September 17, 1778, at Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), was the first formal written treaty between the new United States of America and any Native Americans. This treaty gave the United States permission to travel through Delaware territory and required the Delaware to allow American troops whatever aid they required in their war against Britain, including warrior support. What the Delaware and our story’s naïve protagonists did not know was that the United States planned an attack on the British fort at Detroit, and Lenape friendship was essential for that campaign’s success.

In exchange for the Delaware support, the United States promised to provide clothing, utensils, and weapons. They offered to build a fort in Delaware country with the promise that fort would provide safety for their women, elderly, and children while the warriors fought any common enemy. Although it was not specifically stated in the written treaty, the American Government assumed that along with their French allies, the Delaware would become active participants with the Americans against the British.

The Delaware, on the other hand, assumed, like their treaties with other Native American tribes, that the agreement simply allowed the Continental troops free passage through Delaware country and the building of a protective fort for defending white settlers. However, the American government wanted the Delaware to do much more. The United States intended to use the fort for offensive campaigns and wrote into the treaty that the Delaware would attack their native neighbors. This way, the Delaware would be responsible for controlling the other native tribes so that the Continental and militia troops could focus on subduing British forces.

The treaty recognized the Delaware as a sovereign nation, guaranteeing territorial rights, even encouraging the other Ohio Country Native American tribes who were friendly to the United States to form a state. A member of Delaware leadership would represent the Delaware state in Congress. This measure had little chance of success, and some experts believe that the authors of the treaty were dishonest and deceitful. Others believe that the Delaware chief White Eyes proposed the measure. The Delaware state was to become the fourteenth state of the United States. In any case, neither the United States nor the Delaware acted upon this measure.

Delaware Grievances

Before a year passed, the Delaware Indians expressed grievances with the treaty. A Delaware delegation visited Philadelphia in 1779 to voice their dissatisfaction to the Continental Congress, but nothing changed and peace between the United States and the Delaware Indians dissolved.

Of the members who signed the treaty on September 17, 1778, White Eyes, the tribe’s most outspoken ally of the United States, died in mysteriously. Initially the official army report stated that White Eyes died of smallpox on an expedition to attack Detroit, but upon farther investigation, an officer killed him in “friendly fire”. The stated reason for the cover-up was an attempt to keep the Delaware from seeking revenge for his death.
The Pipe had tried to stay neutral throughout the American Revolution even after General Edward Hand killed his mother, brother, and several of his children during a military campaign in 1778. Because Hand did not know the difference between the Native American tribes, he mistook the neutral Lenape for the Shawnee who allied with the British, so he attacked hoping to reduce Indian threats against settlers in the Ohio Country. When Pipe and other Lenape leaders protested the US interpretation of the treaty, General Lachlan McIntosh demanded that Lenape warriors assist the Americans in capturing Fort Detroit. If they refused, he would exterminate them. Pipe and other leaders left the Fort Pitt area and relocated to the Walhonding River near what is now Coshocton, Ohio.

Many Lenape joined the war against the Americans. In response, Colonel Daniel Brodhead led an expedition out of Fort Pitt on April 19, 1781, which destroyed Coshocton. Surviving residents fled to the north. The soldiers left the Lenape at the Moravian mission villages unmolested because they were Christianized and considered non-combatants.

Due to indiscriminate American attacks against the Lenape during the war, chiefs of several clans switched to ally with the British. After being pushed out as principal chief, the Pipe led an American attack on a major Lenape town, and then retreated to Fort Pitt. After the war, he converted to Christianity at a Moravian mission in Salem, Ohio, where he took the Christian name of “William Henry.”

The Lenape after the American Revolution

Pipe’s neutrality ended in 1781 when Colonel Daniel Brodhead attacked and destroyed Pipe’s village. He moved his people to the Tymochtee Creek near the Sandusky River. This village became known as Pipe’s Town. Captain Pipe spent the rest of the American Revolution resisting American expansion into the Ohio Country. He helped defeat the Crawford Expedition in 1782 headed by William Crawford, and Crawford was ritually tortured and then killed. After the Revolution, Pipe continued resistance efforts against white settlements in what the US called the Northwest Territory.
Over time, Pipe realized the futility of his attempts to defeat the Americans. so he negotiated treaties with the government. These treaties did nothing to limit the number of settlers who moved onto lands the American government reserved for the Lenape. Time after time, the Lenape moved only to be moved again when settlers wanted to settle on Lenape lands.
In 1812, the Lenape moved west again and the government moved them yet again in 1821. No one knows exactly where Chief Pipe died. Some say that he died in 1818 near Orestes; others say somewhere in Canada. His son also called Captain Pipe signed many treaties and moved with the tribe to Kansas.
Today, the tribe is organized west of the Mississippi. They have an official newspaper based out of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The Delaware Indian News is the official publication of the Delaware Tribe of Indians. It is published by the Delaware Tribe and mailed free to tribal members. Check it out here http://delawaretribe.org/delaware-indian-news/

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2 comments
  1. Billybuc said:

    I cannot read about U.S. treaties with the Native Americans without becoming livid.

    • 1authorcygnetbrown said:

      I know what you mean. However, I think that it is very important that the story is told.
      Skeletons are best kept out of the closet and open for everyone to see.
      I hope this history is not doomed to be repeated.

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