Published on September 10, 2012 by Casey
For the Americans 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 control of the territory of Native American nations east of the Mississippi River. The colonial interest in westward colonisation, as opposed to the British policy of maintaining peace by designating areas reserved to Native Americans west of the Appalachians following the end of the Seven Years’ War, was one cause of the revolution. Most Native Americans who joined the struggle sided with the British, hoping to use the war to reduce settlement and expansion onto their land. The Revolutionary War was “the most extensive and destructive” Indian war in United States history.
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Some native communities were divided over which side to support in the war. For the Iroquois Confederacy, based in New York and Pennsylvania, the American Revolution resulted in civil war; the Six Nations split, with the Oneidas and Tuscaroras siding with the rebels, and Mohawks, Senecas, Cayugas, and Onondagas, 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. In the Southeast, the Cherokee split into a neutral (or pro-rebel) faction and a pro-British faction, which the Americans referred to as the Chickamaugas, led by Dragging Canoe. Many other tribes were similarly divided.
Both immigrant and native noncombatants 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.
When the British made peace with the Americans in the Treaty of Paris (1783), they ceded a vast amount of Native American territory (without the consent of the indigenous peoples) to the United States. The United States treated the Native Americans who had fought with the British as enemy allies, a conquered people who had lost their land. The federal government of the United States was eager to expand, and the national government did so by purchasing Native American land in treaties and through warfare.