Indian Delegation Meets with Congress Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Representatives of the Iroquois Confederacy attempted to secure neutrality during the Revolutionary War. They believed they had succeeded, but secret American plans to recruit Iroquois mercenaries, as well as a British alliance with the Mohawks, led not only to Iroquois involvement but also to warfare between Iroquois tribes, ultimately causing the dissolution of the confederacy.

Summary of Event

The withdrawal of the French in 1763 from the New World was a watershed event for the American Revolution (1775-1783);Iroquois Confederacy Iroquois Confederacy (the Six Nations). Between 1640, when the Iroquois established their hegemony over the Trade;fur fur trade, and the end of the French and Indian War (1754-1763) French-American Indian conflicts[French American Indian conflicts] American Indian-French conflicts[American Indian French conflicts] French and Indian War in 1763, the Iroquois were profoundly involved in the imperial rivalries between the English and the French and were pivotal in the balance of power in the New World. When the French left, the Iroquois lost the fulcrum on which they had kept the balance. [kw]Indian Delegation Meets with Congress (May 24 and June 11, 1776) [kw]Congress, Indian Delegation Meets with (May 24 and June 11, 1776) [kw]Delegation Meets with Congress, Indian (May 24 and June 11, 1776) American Indian-American diplomacy[American Indian American diplomacy] Iroquois Confederacy;and American Revolution[American Revolution] [g]United States;May 24 and June 11, 1776: Indian Delegation Meets with Congress[2250] [g]American colonies;May 24 and June 11, 1776: Indian Delegation Meets with Congress[2250] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;May 24 and June 11, 1776: Indian Delegation Meets with Congress[2250] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;May 24 and June 11, 1776: Indian Delegation Meets with Congress[2250] Brant, Joseph Johnson, William Johnson, John Kirkland, Samuel

The British government’s Proclamation of 1763 Proclamation of 1763 provided that all territory between the crest of the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River and from Florida to 50 degrees north latitude were closed to settlers and land speculators and reserved “for the present” to American Indians. This proclamation, however, served the British agenda, not the needs of either natives or settlers. Britain wished to protect valuable furbearing animals’ habitats from encroaching colonists. Guaranteeing boundaries, moreover, did not guarantee sovereignty.

In fact, the British were less accommodating to the Iroquois than the French had been. Native resistance flared with Pontiac’s Resistance (1763-1766), Pontiac’s Resistance (1763-1766)[Pontiacs Resistance] in which the Senecas Senecas—one of the Iroquois Nations—fought on the side of Pontiac, Pontiac (c. 1720-1769) while the Mohawks Mohawks supported the British. When that rebellion failed, the Senecas were punished by William Johnson, the commissioner of Indian affairs, and were forced to cede some of their land to the British. In 1775, the Senecas successfully negotiated with the Americans at Pittsburgh to remain neutral in the frontier battles and the impending Revolutionary War, as long as the Americans stayed out of Iroquois territory. This negotiation was approved by the full governing council of the Six Nations. It was the last significant action to exhibit the council’s control over its warriors.

In that Pittsburgh agreement, American settlers who encroached on Mohawk territory were supposed to be punished by American authorities. However, encroachment of the farmers and frontiersmen called the Albany Group (Mohawk River Valley) Albany Group near the Mohawk River Valley never abated. Since the Americans failed to police their own settlers, the Mohawks, led by Joseph Brant, grew more dependent on the British to help defend against American encroachment.

During 1775 and into the spring of 1776, the British expended considerable effort to create military alliances with all the tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy. So great was their influence among the Mohawks that Joseph Brant and several other warrior chiefs sailed to England in November, 1775, professedly to secure Iroquois sovereignty in exchange for allegiance to the British during the war. By 1776, the Continental Congress wanted desperately for the Iroquois to join the fight on the side of the colonies but did not have the financial wherewithal to dispense the gifts of food, ammunition, clothing, and other necessities that the Iroquois expected when asked to fight as mercenaries. The American alternative was a proclamation of friendship and the stated desire that the Iroquois remain neutral.

In England, King George III guaranteed Joseph Brant that the boundaries of the Iroquois homelands would remain unchanged, but this was no concession of sovereignty over those homelands. It is believed that Joseph Brant misunderstood the distinction drawn by the British between territorial sovereignty and territorial occupancy. It is known that Brant believed the Americans’ goal was to overrun the continent at the expense of all American Indians. Brant decided the Iroquois’ future lay with the British. In England, Joseph Brant was commissioned a colonel in the British colonial militia.

Up to this time, the Americans had done no violence to the Iroquois and, with the exception of the Albany Group, were careful to avoid trespassing on Iroquois territory. This situation changed when the patriot missionary Samuel Kirkland traveled to Oriskany, a stronghold of the Oneidas. Acting Indian commissioner John Johnson attempted to arrest Kirkland, and the Albany Group responded by entering Mohawk territory to arrest Johnson. Both actions failed in their objectives, although Kirkland was momentarily muzzled and Johnson had to flee to Canada with a significant force of Mohawk warriors.

These events formed the background against which an Iroquois delegation of twenty-one members, representing four of the Six Nations, traveled to Philadelphia to be presented to the Continental Congress on May 24, 1776, and again on June 11. Brant was still in England. The delegates were presented to “the great warrior chief” [p]Washington, George;American Indians George Washington on May 24 and to the full congress on June 11. While in Philadelphia, they boarded in a room directly above the meeting room of the congress.

Washington had spent the previous two weeks persuading the Continental Congress, Second (1775) Continental Congress to break the Pittsburgh agreement and allow him to recruit an Indian militia. On May 25, the congress resolved that it would be expedient to engage American Indians in the service of the colonies. The significance of this decision was twofold: The congress was ignoring or nullifying the sovereignty of the Council of the Confederacy that had approved the Pittsburgh agreement, and the congress was ignoring the purpose of the Iroquois delegation, which was to assure the sincere and serious effort by the Iroquois to hold fast to the neutrality agreement.

Washington knew the path to either a British or an American victory led through Iroquois land. The strategic importance of that land could not be ignored. The congress was clever enough not to tell the Iroquois delegates that Washington was about to recruit Iroquois as soldiers, as the minutes of June 11 show:

We shall order our warriors not to hurt any of your kindred, and we hope you will not allow any of your young brothers to join with the enemy . . . we desire you accept these few necessaries as tokens of our good-will . . . we hope the friendship between us will be firm as long as the sun shall shine and the waters run, that we be as one people.

While saying these words, the congress did not understand the disastrous implications of its conniving efforts to recruit American Indians.

The order to recruit Native Americans, including Iroquois, was passed through patriot channels to the Reverend Kirkland and the Oneida and Tuscaroras Tuscarora, and also to General Schuyler, Philip Philip Schuyler of the Albany Group. Schuyler was asked to recruit two thousand Iroquois, who were to be paid a reward of one hundred dollars for every British officer killed or taken prisoner and thirty dollars for every enlisted man. Schuyler was dubious not only of the policy but also of the numbers—there were not two thousand Iroquois men available, much less warriors, who were not already aiding the British. The Oneida, however, decided to send five hundred warriors to help protect the American Fort Stanwix near Utica, New York. This unilateral action by the Oneida breached the Iroquois Confederacy;dissolution of Iroquois Confederacy.

Significance

The Iroquois delegation to Philadelphia was one of a set of events and commitments that entangled the Iroquois nation at the time of the American Revolution. The delegation made promises to the Continental Congress that several Iroquois Nations felt bound to honor. Other nations, however, allowed their warriors to fight as mercenaries on behalf of the Americans or formally allied themselves with the British.

The Revolutionary War thus brought about an event that had heretofore seemed impossible to the Iroquois Nations: Their Covenant Chain Covenant Chain broke. In 1777, the league chiefs “covered their fire.” For the first time within living memory, Iroquois fought and killed Iroquois, and their league shattered. The Paris, Treaty of (1783) Treaty of Paris in 1783 said nothing about the American Indians. Those who had allied with Britain were abandoned to the care of the Americans. Joseph Brant’s pledge to the king, made, he thought, in exchange for a pledge of Mohawk sovereignty, ended particularly bitterly, as he discovered that the British had ceded all Mohawk land to the Americans. That the Mohawks were given a reserve in Canada was little consolation.

Further Reading
  • 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. A survey of Iroquois history and culture from the mid-sixteenth century until 1794. Includes information about Brant, Kirkland, Johnson, and the Continental Congresses.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Graymont, Barbara. The Iroquois. New York: Chelsea House, 1988. A useful book by a recognized expert on the subject.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">________. The Iroquois in the American Revolution. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1972. The author is considered to be the foremost authority on the Iroquois and the Revolutionary War.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jennings, Francis. The Founders of America. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993. This exceptional history of the events around the American Revolution is accessible to both casual readers and scholars.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Josephy, Alvin M., Jr. Five Hundred Nations: An Illustrated History of North American Indians. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. Companion book to the CBS television series Five Hundred Nations, written by one of America’s foremost authorities on American Indian culture.
  • 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">Stone, William L. Life of Joseph Brant. Albany, N.Y.: J. Munsell, 1864. A source for quotations of early colonial documents. Contains some historical inaccuracies; for example, this is the source of the erroneous information that Brant was in North America at the time of the Philadelphia meeting.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wise, Jennings C. The Red Man in the New World Drama. Edited by Vine Deloria, Jr. New York: Macmillan, 1971. The key words “New World drama” provide a clue to the American Indian perspective of this author and editor.

French and Indian War

Pontiac’s Resistance

Proclamation of 1763

Boston Tea Party

Lord Dunmore’s War

First Continental Congress

Battle of Lexington and Concord

Second Continental Congress

Declaration of Independence

Battle of Oriskany Creek

Battles of Saratoga

Franco-American Treaties

Cornwallis Surrenders at Yorktown

Treaty of Paris

Fort Stanwix Treaty

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Eighteenth Century</i>

Joseph Brant; George III; Pontiac; George Washington. American Indian-American diplomacy[American Indian American diplomacy] Iroquois Confederacy;and American Revolution[American Revolution]

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