Skip to content American Revolution (1775–1783)

For the American rebels the American Revolutionary War was essentially two parallel wars: while the war in the East was a struggle against British rule, the war in the West was an “Indian War”. The newly proclaimed United States competed with the British for the allegiance of Native American nations east of the Mississippi River. The colonial interest in westward colonisation, as opposed to the British policy of maintaining peace, was one of the minor causes of the war. Most Native Americans who joined the struggle sided with the British, hoping to use the war to halt colonial expansion onto their land. The Revolutionary War was “the most extensive and destructive” Indian war in United States history.

Many native communities were divided over which side to support in the war. For the Iroquois Confederacy, the American Revolution resulted in civil war: The Six Nations split with the Oneidas and Tuscaroras siding with the rebels and the other four nations fighting for the British. While the Iroquois tried to avoid fighting directly against one another, the Revolution eventually forced intra-Iroquois combat. Both sides lost territory under the new political dispensation. The Crown aided the landless Iroquois by rewarding them with a reservation at Grand River in Ontario. Cherokees split into a neutral (or pro-rebel) faction and a pro-British faction that the rebels referred to as the Chickamaugas, led by Dragging Canoe. Many other tribes were similarly divided.

Frontier warfare was particularly brutal, and numerous atrocities were committed on both sides. Both white and Native non-combatants suffered greatly during the war, and villages and food supplies were frequently destroyed during military expeditions. The largest of these expeditions was the Sullivan Expedition of 1779, which razed more than 40 Iroquois villages in order to neutralize Iroquois raids in upstate New York. The expedition failed to have the desired effect: the Native Americans became even more determined.

Native Americans were stunned to learn that, when the British made peace with the Americans in the Treaty of Paris (1783), the British had ceded a vast amount of Native American territory to the United States without informing their allies. The United States initially treated the Native Americans who had fought with the British as a conquered people who had lost their land. When this proved impossible to enforce, the policy was abandoned. The federal government of the United States was eager to expand, and the national government initially sought to do so only by purchasing Native American land in treaties. The state governments and settlers were frequently at odds with this policy, and more warfare followed.

“During the American Revolution, many Tuscarora and the Oneida sided with the Americans, while the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga and Cayuga remained loyal to Great Britain. This marked the first major split among the Six Nations. Joseph Louis Cook offered his services to the United States and received a Congressional commission as a Lieutenant Colonel- the highest rank held by any Native American during the war. However, after a series of successful operations against frontier settlements, led by the Mohawk war chief Joseph Brant, other war chiefs, and British allies; the United States reacted with vengeance. In 1779, George Washington ordered the Sullivan Campaign led by Col. Daniel Brodhead and General John Sullivan against the Iroquois nations to “not merely overrun, but destroy,” the British-Indian alliance.

After the war, the ancient central fireplace of the League was re-established at Buffalo Creek. Captain Joseph Brant and a group of Iroquois left New York to settle in Canada. As a reward for their loyalty to the British Crown, they were given a large land grant on the Grand River. Brant’s crossing of the river gave the original name to the area: Brant’s ford. By 1847, European settlers began to settle nearby and named the village Brantford, Ontario. The original Mohawk settlement was on the south edge of the present-day city at a location still favourable for launching and landing canoes.”