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The Confederate Lawyer
March 9, 2011

Virginians, New Englanders and Indians
Part I: Westward Expansion

by Charles G. Mills
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GLEN COVE, NY — The people of New England failed to understand the danger to their fellow countrymen that Indians armed by the British posed. This failure led New Englanders to oppose the War of 1812 — and to be disgraced in the eyes of the country by 1815. Their disgrace increased the resentment of Virginia and sowed the seeds of New England’s hatred of the South.

When the United States gained its independence, Massachusetts and Virginia were the two largest and most powerful states. Thanks in large part to John Adams, these two states cooperated for the good of the country.

New England, which is geographically isolated from the rest of the United States except northern New York, had no access to the westward expansion that occurred between 1787 and 1815. New England was isolated by history as well as geography, especially by the history of its relations with Indians. In the 1670s, an Indian chief known as King Philip united most of the tribes of New England in a last great war against the white man. King Philip lost his war in 1676 and was executed. His body was cut into four pieces and his head displayed on a pike. Although some New Englanders continued to believe that Indian attacks were a divine punishment, major attacks were a distant memory in the region by the time of Independence.

For the rest of the United States, Indians were a daily concern. In 1774, the British had tried to turn the area later called the Northwest Territories into a huge Indian nation. This area extended from the Great Lakes to the Ohio River and from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River. In 1787, the Continental Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, which indicated that the lands of the Northwest would eventually become new states of the Union. The British and their two Canadian colonies opposed this, maintaining illegal forts in the Northwest, arming Indian allies, and encouraging them to make war on Americans. Indians were notorious for killing women and children and for mutilating the dead.

During George Washington’s administration, Kentucky and Tennessee were admitted to the Union, making western expansion a reality.

Two years after Jefferson became President, Ohio, formerly part of the Northwest Territories, was admitted as a state. The purchase of the Louisiana Territory was completed in 1803. This acquisition not only doubled the size of the United States; it gave the nation access to the Gulf of Mexico and control of both banks of the Mississippi. It also fostered good will between the United States and France.

After American Independence, the British divided Quebec into Upper Canada and Lower Canada. There was one Canadian governor with vice governors in the two colonies, but each colony had its own elected legislature. The Indians, the Upper Canadians, and the British officials in Upper Canada did not accept the results of the War of Independence; from 1785 to 1810, the coordinated wars by British-supported tribes persisted. The Indian Chief Tecumseh created a grand alliance of his own tribe, the Shawnee, with the Creek and many smaller tribes in 1811. The British and Canadians encouraged Tecumseh to wage wars to try to keep Americans out of the western three-quarters of the Northwest Territories.

In the South, a major slave revolt on the German Coast in Louisiana occurred in 1811. All Louisiana cooperated to put down the revolt, uniting French-, English-, and Spanish-speaking Louisianians as one people. Louisiana was admitted to the Union the following year, confirming America’s westward expansion. Although there was no opposition to Louisiana statehood on the basis of its slavery, one Boston newspaper opposed it because the Louisiana slaves had killed white people. Many Americans associated slave revolts with Indian attacks, because both involved the killing of women and children and other uncivilized practices. Indeed, Indian attacks and slave revolts are cited together as one grievance in the Declaration of Independence.

Britain’s decision to support Tecumseh’s deadly attacks on innocent Americans and its policy of stopping American ships at sea and enslaving American seamen laid the grounds for war with its former colony. The second part of this series will discuss that war.

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The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2011 by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.

See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.

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