Focus on Treaties for Native American Heritage Month
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Treaty of Greenville

The Treaty of Greenville (1795) was a major treaty that established peace between tribal people in the Northeast and the Great Lakes region and Europeans or Americans. Signed on August 3, 1795, with the Wyandotte, Shawnee, Ottawa, Chippewa, Potawatomi, Miami, Eel River, Wea, Kickapoo, Piankashaw, and Kaskaskia, the Treaty of Greenville ended almost half a century of internecine warfare between Native Americans, the colonial powers, and the new United States.

Throughout much of the 17th and 18th centuries, the western Iroquois and Ohio tribes had successfully played off the British and French, periodically shifting their allegiance from one side to the other to prevent either colonial power from achieving sufficient power to dominate the Ohio Valley and Lake Erie region. Although the British had vanquished the French during the Seven Years' War (1756–1763), tribespeople remained a significant military and political power in the region and during the British attempt to enforce new trade regulations in the conflict's aftermath. Native Americans had risen during Pontiac's Revolt (1763) and had forced British officials to reconsider their Indian policies.

A decade later, when colonial settlers from Virginia attempted to occupy Kentucky, the Shawnee and Mingoe rebelled against colonial authority, and, although they had been beaten in Lord Dunsmore's War (1774), they remained a significant factor in any attempts to control the upper Ohio Valley. When the Crown and the colonists went to war in the American Revolution, the Ohio tribes sided with the British, renewed their attacks upon Kentucky, and fought the Americans to a standstill. Yet at the Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended the American Revolution (and which was not signed by Native Americans), Britain officially acknowledged American control over the Ohio Valley, and the tribes felt betrayed. When the Americans attempted to occupy the region, Miami, Shawnee, and other tribes opposed their entrance, attacking settlers and inflicting decisive defeats upon two American armies (Harmar's defeat, 1790; St. Clair's defeat, 1791) before suffering a major setback at the Battle of Fallen Timbers (August 1794). In the aftermath of Fallen Timbers, the tribes were forced to sign the Treaty of Greenville, in which they acknowledged federal control over the region and agreed to remain at peace with the Americans.

The Treaty of Greenville was the death knell for Native American political autonomy in the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes region. Although many midwestern Natives would support Tecumseh and his brother's, the Shawnee Prophet, efforts to defend Native American lands and autonomy in the years preceding the War of 1812, the Shawnee brothers' movement was doomed to failure. By 1812, newly settled Americans in the region so outnumbered Native Americans and their reluctant British allies that Tecumseh and his followers had little chance of success. Moreover, significant numbers of indigenous peoples (including many Shawnee) sided with the federal government against the Shawnee war chief. The treaty and its aftermath marked a significant turning point for Native Americans in the Great Lakes region.

R. David Edmunds

Further Reading
Prucha, Francis Paul. American Indian Treaties: The History of a Political Anomaly. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994; Kappler, Charles J. Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties. Mattituck, NY: Amereon House, 1972; Richter, Daniel, and James Merrell, eds. Beyond the Covenant Chain: The Iroquois and Their Neighbors in Indian North America, 1600–1800. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1987.

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