Fort Stanwix Treaty Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Iroquois tribes that had sided with the British in the Revolutionary War were forced to cede their lands to the United States and move westward. The dismissive negotiating strategy of the American government at Fort Stanwix marked the beginning of its tendency to treat Native American tribes as conquered occupants of the United States, rather than as equal, sovereign nations.

Summary of Event

The Treaty of Fort Stanwix, signed October 22, 1784, was a product of the American Revolution that involved colonists and the Iroquois Confederacy Iroquois Confederacy. Because several Iroquois tribes had fought alongside the British during the war, the victorious Americans maintained that they had won lands occupied by “defeated” Iroquois. The Treaty of Fort Stanwix marked the beginning of negotiations with Native Americans that dealt with them as a conquered people rather than as equals. The Revolutionary War and resulting treaty negotiations irreparably split the Iroquois Confederacy. [kw]Fort Stanwix Treaty (Oct. 22, 1784) [kw]Treaty, Fort Stanwix (Oct. 22, 1784) [kw]Stanwix Treaty, Fort (Oct. 22, 1784) Treaties;American Indians Fort Stanwix Treaty (1784) [g]United States;Oct. 22, 1784: Fort Stanwix Treaty[2570] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;Oct. 22, 1784: Fort Stanwix Treaty[2570] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Oct. 22, 1784: Fort Stanwix Treaty[2570] Brant, Joseph Madison, James St. Clair, Arthur

At the outbreak of the American Revolution (1775-1783);Iroquois Confederacy American Revolution, the Six Nations of the powerful Iroquois Confederacy were divided over whether to support the English, to side with the American rebels, or to remain neutral. The confederation had traded and fought alongside the English for many years and considered the English and colonists as the same. Both British and American Indian agents encouraged Native Americans throughout the colonies to remain neutral. Initially, the Iroquois remained nonpartisan. This decision allowed the Iroquois to deal with both the British in Canada and the Americans in the colonies, playing one against another as they had the French and British prior to the French and Indian War (1754-1763) French and Indian War.

As the Revolutionary War progressed, however, both the British and the Americans saw the advantages of including American Indians in their ranks, and they courted Native Americans as potential allies. The pressure to choose sides exerted by British and American agents split the six-nation Iroquois Confederacy into three groups. The Oneidas Oneidas and Tuscaroras Tuscaroras fought for the rebels. American attacks on Mohawk settlements encouraged the Mohawks Mohawks to support the British; they were joined by Onondagas Onondagas, Cayugas Cayugas, and Senecas Senecas. These tribes were effective in British attacks on frontier locations, especially in the Mohawk Valley around Fort Stanwix. Other tribal members attempted to remain neutral throughout the war, although they were still subject to retaliatory pillaging and burning in response to the actions of their fellow tribesmen.

During the war, British officers had made promises of land to Native Americans who fought with them, but during the peace negotiations in Paris, the defeated British ignored the interests of their Native American allies. The Paris, Treaty of (1783) Treaty of Paris surrendered all the land east of the Mississippi River to the former colonists. Some of this land belonged to various Native American tribes and was not England’s to grant.

New York State granted Iroquois lands to American soldiers as compensation for their services during the war. New York tried to negotiate land sales with the Iroquois that would directly benefit the state. The Confederated Congress and several American statesmen admonished New York officials; James Madison, then a member of the Virginia legislature, was particularly demonstrative in his criticism. The Congress appointed Indian commissioners Wolcott, Oliver Oliver Wolcott, Butler, Richard Richard Butler, and Lee, Arthur Arthur Lee to negotiate peace and land cessions for the United States with the Mohawks, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas.

A peace conference was called and held in New York at Fort Stanwix near Oneida Lake. A number of Iroquois could not attend because of illness and other factors, and only a quickly formed, irregular group of Iroquois representatives was present. The commissioners arrived at Fort Stanwix with an intimidating military escort. Rather than negotiating with the Iroquois as equals, as the English had done previously, American commissioners asserted political sovereignty over all tribal natives on American soil. Iroquois speeches were cut short and credentials challenged.

The commissioners insisted that the Iroquois tribes that fought on the side of the British were a conquered people. All lands held by those tribes, therefore, were forfeit to the United States as spoils of war. America would allow them to retain some of their lands but demanded land cessions in reparation for injuries inflicted on Americans during the war. The Iroquois contended (1) that England had had no right to cede tribal lands to America; (2) that if the Iroquois were to surrender their lands to Americans, they expected something in return; and (3) that they had not, in any event, been defeated in battle and therefore were not party to peace negotiations.

As part of the resulting Treaty of Fort Stanwix, the attending Iroquois ceded a strip of land that began at the mouth of Oyonwaye Creek on Lake Ontario, four miles south of the Niagara portage path. The boundary line ran south to the mouth of the Tehosaroro, or Buffalo Creek, to the Pennsylvania line, and along its north-south boundary to the Ohio River. In effect, the treaty took all Iroquois lands west of New York and Pennsylvania and all of Ohio.

The United States released any claim it may have had by right of conquest to tribal lands west of that boundary. Iroquois property in the western region of New York State east of the Oyonwaye remained unaffected. The treaty assured that the Oneida and Tuscarora who had fought on the side of the Americans continued peaceful possession of their lands. The United States agreed to protect the remaining Iroquois territories against encroachments, seizures, and other possible violations and guaranteed the right of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy to independence.

Representatives for the Iroquois Confederacy agreed to peaceful relations with the United States. The tribes who had fought against the colonies promised to deliver up all prisoners, black and white, whom they had taken during the war. As guarantee of that promise, six Iroquois would be taken as hostages to Fort Harmar by General Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory.

Immediately after the congressional commissioners concluded their negotiations, commissioners from Pennsylvania negotiated for large land grants in their state. In return, the Iroquois received five thousand dollars in goods and supplies. Soon after, New York State, in defiance of Congress, negotiated land sales with the Oneida and Tuscarora. Additional land treaties quickly ensued. Congress’s inability to prevent New York State from negotiating separate land sales and to uphold other aspects of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix highlighted the weaknesses in central government under the Articles of Confederation and served as a reminder that each state considered itself a sovereign nation.

In 1786, the Iroquois Confederacy held a council meeting at Buffalo Creek, New York. Disappointed and upset with their delegates, they refused to ratify the Treaty of Fort Stanwix and offered to return gifts presented to the delegates at the negotiations. Congress, however, considered the terms of treaty to be valid and acted on them accordingly.

After the American Revolution, British officials did little to discourage continued relations with northern Native American tribes. The English traded with and provided provisions to local tribes and allowed large councils to be held at British forts. After the council of Buffalo Creek, the Iroquois sought support from the British in their effort to denounce the treaty and continue their war against the United States. The Iroquois Confederacy soon discovered that the British had no intention of militarily supporting their former allies in defense of their land rights. Lacking the desire to go to war against the Americans alone, the Iroquois let the treaty stand.

On January 9, 1789, St. Clair negotiated the Fort Harmar, Treaty of (1789) Treaty of Fort Harmar with a group of Senecas. The treaty reaffirmed the terms and boundaries set forth in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix. The Iroquois were given permission to hunt in their old lands “as long as they were peaceful about it.”

Significance

The treaties of Fort Stanwix and Fort Harmar further fractionalized the Iroquois Confederacy’s six tribes, a process that had begun in 1777, when the Six Nations had split in choosing sides during the Revolutionary War. Joseph Brant led a group of Mohawk, Cayuga, and other tribe members out of the country and into Ontario, Canada, thereby splitting the Iroquois Confederacy;dissolution of confederacy in half. Those who remained in the United States were divided over other issues between the American Indians and the settlers. There was no single chief or council that could speak for the entire Iroquois Confederacy, and the Iroquois Confederacy was never again united.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Downes, Randolph C. Council Fires on the Upper Ohio: A Narrative of Indian Affairs in the Upper Ohio Valley Until 1795. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1940. Discusses the relations between settlers and various tribes in the Ohio Valley, including those at Fort Stanwix.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fenton, William N. The Great Law and the Longhouse: A Political History of the Iroquois Confederacy. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. Chapter 38, “Bitter Medicine at Fort Stanwix, 1784,” describes the treaty within the context of Iroquois politics and law.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Graymont, Barbara. The Iroquois in the American Revolution. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1972. Chapters 6 and 7 describe Iroquois warfare, diplomacy, decline, and removal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jennings, Francis, ed. The History and Culture of Iroquois Diplomacy: An Interdisciplinary Guide to the Treaties of the Six Nations and Their League. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1985. Extensive discussion of treaty negotiations, terms, and results.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Richter, Daniel K., and James H. Merrell. Beyond the Covenant Chain: The Iroquois and Their Neighbors in Indian North America, 1600-1800. Preface by Daniel K. Richter and James H. Merrell; foreword by Wilcomb E. Washburn. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003. A new edition of the book originally published in 1987. This collection of essays examines diplomatic and military relations among the Iroquois in seventeenth and eighteenth century North America.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Trigger, Bruce G., ed. Northeast. Vol. 15 in Handbook of North American Indians, edited by William C. Sturtevant. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978. Discusses Native Americans from the Northeast in considerable detail, including language, history, customs, culture, and religion.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Washburn, Wilcomb E., ed. History of Indian-White Relations. Vol. 4 in Handbook of North American Indians, edited by William C. Sturtevant. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988. Extensive coverage of relations between American Indians and whites across the United States, from first contact to 1987.

French and Indian War

Pontiac’s Resistance

First Continental Congress

Battle of Lexington and Concord

Second Continental Congress

Indian Delegation Meets with Congress

Declaration of Independence

Battle of Oriskany Creek

Ratification of the Articles of Confederation

Cornwallis Surrenders at Yorktown

Treaty of Paris

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