Friday, July 20, 2012

June 19, 1754 – Iroquois Leave Albany Congress

As Europeans explored and settled North America, the Native American peoples gained new markets for prized beaver pelts.  A confederation of Iroquois-speaking peoples made up of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk tribes served as the dominant political entity in the region and economic center through which most of the beaver pelts passed on their way to Dutch traders.  In the seventeenth century, the French under Samuel de Champlain allied with enemies of the Iroquois such as the Algonquin and Huron and pushed the Confederation south, clearing the northerly trade route up the St. Lawrence River for French domination.  Overhunting due to the easy use of firearms caused a decline of beaver population, and the Iroquois, aided by the Dutch, pushed north and west in search of more hunting grounds.  Conflict with allies brought the French into the war directly, and the two fought for decades until the Iroquois saw a greater threat: English settlement.  The English had replaced the Dutch as trade-partners, but they settled much more aggressively, and in 1701 the Iroquois and French signed the Great Peace of Montreal despite English outrage.

A delicate balance of power formed around the Ohio Valley.  The French dominated Canada while the English held the eastern seaboard, and both vied for trade with the Iroquois, who transformed their society by improving farming and education.  Proximity and economics gravitated the Iroquois toward the English, even to the point of Queen Anne welcoming four chiefs to her court in London.  Despite familiarity, the problem of settlement continued.  The Tuscarora were pushed out of their lands in what the English claimed as North Carolina and became part of the Iroquois Confederacy when they settled among the Oneida and Onondaga.  Settlers in Virginia set up on land west of the Blue Ridge Mountains despite the 1722 Treaty of Albany, nearly leading to war before Governor William Gooch purchased settled land.  The Treaty of Lancaster in 1744 saw the Iroquois sell the rest of the territory claimed by the Virginia.  Both sides saw the sale meaning different territory, however; the Iroquois believed it to be the Shenandoah Valley while the English understood it to be the full 1609 claim stretching to the Pacific.

Amid the turmoil, the French determined to strengthen their hold on the Ohio Valley.  Their position had weakened among Native Americans due to the British blockade during King George’s War of the 1740s, leaving English settlers as the only trade-partners for locals.  In 1749, Governor-General of New France Comte de la Galissoniere dispatched Captain Céloron de Blainville from Detroit to demarcate river-ways to prove their claim and impress local Indians.  He came to Logstown, a settlement of thirty log cabins that had been placed in modern western Pennsylvania by the French several years before and donated to the local Indians.  There, he found English traders, and became enraged.  Instead of acting out, however, he decided to use the incursion to his advantage and point out mockingly just how far beyond their treaties the English would settle again and again while the French had yet to break any word from Montreal.  His Iroquois guides were impressed, and word spread about French recognition of treaties, creating a potent diplomatic victory upon the announcement of active settling in the area by the Ohio Company of Virginia.  Trade with the French became encouraged as the blockade ended, and a new market opened down the Mississippi River.  In 1752, Iroquois and Ohio Company representatives met, but the heightened Iroquois demands for payment were considered too expensive.

Relations worsened in December of 1753 as Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia, himself heavily invested in the Ohio Company and standing to lose money, demanded the French leave Ohio by letter through Major George Washington.  The French commander, Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, refused, and war began.  The Iroquois led by the Mohawk were caught in the middle of the growing conflict and agreed to meet with representatives from seven American colonies at a conference in Albany, New York.  The Iroquois demanded terms of permanent borders with stiff penalties for those who settled illegally.  When the colonists could not agree, the Iroquois left the conference with impressions of war.  Some historians believe the move was to show the seriousness of leverage and that the Iroquois expected to have another meeting soon.

Colonists at the time, however, were terrified of losing their ally to France and took very seriously the proposal for a defensive union made by Benjamin Franklin, head of the representatives from Pennsylvania.  His “Albany Plan” outlined a detailed confederated colonial government consisting of an executive President General appointed by the Crown and a Grand Council formed of representatives from the colonies.  While the full plan outlined ideals for shared trade powers and the right to create treaties with Indians, the assembly streamlined it for acceptance at a time of war to a simpler military union.

The panicked colonial legislatures, unnerved further by Franklin’s “Join or Die” cartoon, approved the confederation and began organizing taxes to support local armies beyond militia.  The Colonial Office in London agreed as well, seeing a chance to earn badly needed cash for the coming war with France and Spain in Europe.  Major General Edward Braddock was named the first President General and dispatched with an army to be joined by American troops, but his first expedition ended in failure and his own death.  The war went poorly for the British initially as the Iroquois joined with other French allies in attacking settlers, but the colonies rose up as former militia became hardened soldiers through British training.  By the end of the war, the Americans had stormed into the Ohio Valley and conquered Canada.

In the 1760s, the colonies enjoyed their newfound military autonomy under President Generals Jeffrey Amherst and Thomas Gage, who seemingly encouraged encroachment to further British military holdings in the face of Spanish Louisiana and Florida.  To fund their expansion, the colonists held congresses that sold seized land and offered prizes to colonies who volunteered treasury money.  The right to tax was discussed often, but outspoken leaders such as Thomas Paine and Samuel Adams refused to let the common man pay for another man’s profit.  London became nervous about coming so close to Spanish lands, but wealthy officers among the growing plantation class in the South and land speculators in the North encouraged cooperation by aiding with the enormous debts from the Seven Years’ War.  Colonies such as Delaware and South Carolina, who felt they had no stake in the military defense, left the union.  Further divisions such as the problem of slavery and the sale of bonds for infrastructure weakened the confederation into northern and southern camps.

Revolutions in France followed poor harvests in the 1780s, and like-minded thinkers in America called for direct representation in Parliament in the 1790s while others sought continued self-rule.  Prime Minister William Pitt agreed with the former, as the move would mean Americans would be responsible for aiding directly with the war effort against Revolutionary France.  Americans fought on battlefields in Europe as well as gaining Louisiana and Florida from the Spanish by conquest.  After the wars of revolution, Britain and her American colonies continued amicably until the empire-wide end of slavery caused several colonies to attempt secession.  After years of violent war in the early 1830s, these colonies were brought back into the fold under a Reconstruction program.  Later wars in the twentieth century would weaken the empire overall, spurring decolonization to the Commonwealth into a series of six dominions.


In reality, Céloron’s diplomacy was merely use of force as he threw out the English traders, which disgusted his Iroquois guides and provoked them to leave for home, tearing up demarcation plaques as they went.  Later Céloron wrote, "All I can say is that the Natives of these localities are very badly disposed towards the French, and are entirely devoted to the English. I don't know in what way they could be brought back." The Iroquois Confederation were tight allies with the British up to the American Revolution, when the tribes split with the Oneida and Tuscarora joining the patriots while the rest remained loyal to Britain and suffered when Britain surrendered.

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