Which side do you think benefited the most from the Native American involvement in the war? Why?
The British benefited the most, from one point of view. Most of the Indians fought on their side. These Indians perpetrated no massacres or torture of prisoners on British soldiers or civilians. But from another more long range point of view, the Americans may have benefited more. The Indians’ alliance with the British exempted them from considerate treatment as the nation moved west. The climax was the 1794 battle of Fallen Timbers, often called the last battle of the Revolution. Anthony Wayne shattered an Indian army. They fled to the shelter of a nearby British fort and found their former allies had locked the gates and coldly told them to keep running. Wayne was able to negotiate a treaty that opened the west to massive white settlement.
The British benefitted most, but we need to be cautious about over-estimating the extent of commitment by Native American nations, which tried to navigate troubled waters in ways calculated to preserve their sovereignty. Even within nations, there were often dissenting approaches. This is particularly true in the Southwest, were the tangle of Native allegiances was complicated by the involvement of Spain. To make sense of that morass, take a look at Kathleen DuVal’s new book, Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution. As she shows in her complex narrative, no simple formula can explain allegiances there.
This may sound glib, but I think the United States benefitted the most, in an ironic way. Because so many Native Americans sided with the British, the U.S. felt justified in appropriating Indian lands and dispossessing them by “right of conquest.” One of the goals of the Revolution had been westward expansion (as indicated by complaints about the Proclamation Line of 1763). The United States was able to expand at the Indians’ expense because the war had enabled the federal government to characterize the Indians as conquered enemies.
Like so many other things in history, I think the answer to this question is situational. The Indian tribes’ attitudes were as different from each other as any European-based ethnic groups, and one size does not fit all. Think, for example, of the different attitudes towards the war of 18th century Scots-Irish and the Highland Regiments. Native Americans determined which side to support based on their own relationships with their British, French and American neighbors. The tribes had various histories with their European neighbors and were not naïve. They did what they thought would bring their tribes the most benefit. I have some Seneca ancestry and I grew up not far from Sullivan’s Campaign Trail. I also have Connecticut Yankee ancestors who were killed in Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Massacre. Who benefitted the most from Indian involvement depends on which story you are telling and when and where, and why. There is no right or wrong answer.
Since the Americans won, I have to say they benefited most. Before the war, the British Empire’s obligations to its Native American allies limited westward expansion of its colonies, and in some regions that was a big political grievance against the Crown. During the war, both sides recruited Native soldiers and allies—Massachusetts had “Stockbridge Indians” at the siege of Boston even before Bunker Hill. Eventually the British gained stronger Native support. However, the involvement of those fighters stoked Americans’ fears, as reflected in the Declaration of Independence and the Jane McCrea propaganda, so those alliances may ultimately have hurt the British war effort more than they helped. In any event, the people who lost the most from the Revolutionary War were the Native nations pushed out and oppressed by the land-hungry U.S. of A.
Great Britain, by all odds. The vast majority of those tribes which got involved did so on behalf of their English “Father.” For relatively moderate investment, Crown forces were able to maintain a crippling second front against the Americans. The war on the frontier consequently funneled energy and resources away from the main theater in the east, where the contest would clearly be won or lost. It’s difficult to contrive any scenario by which America could be regarded as the leading beneficiary of native involvement in the conflict. The territorial provisions of the Treaty of Paris were widely regarded as a “cession” of tribal lands, but it was certainly not that cut and dry. The United States faced a costly series of bloody frontier wars from 1774 to 1795. The fact that such vast numbers of American Indians abandoned neutrality was simply an utter disaster for the Patriot war effort.
Looking at Native American involvement in the war for the south, two truths stand out. First, the British received far more military assistance than the Patriots. From the Cherokee War of 1776 to the last battle against the Chicamaugans in 1786, many Cherokee warriors actively fought on the side of the British. The Creeks furnished significant military support along the southern frontier in Georgia. They fought alongside Daniel M’Girth and Thomas Brown in their constant raiding below the Altamaha River. Both tribes had warriors who fought with the British in the sieges at Augusta. In contrast, militarily speaking, the Patriots received help from the Catawba, who were a much smaller tribe located in the South Carolina back country. All of that said, it can still be argued that the impact of Native American involvement favored the Patriots. I say that because the tribes were fairly readily defeated each time they rose up making the impact of all that support fairly minimal. Meanwhile, the mere fact of Indian ties to the British was a major factor in turning the population of the back country against the British. Early in 1775, widely supported petitions circulated rejecting association and requesting crown help defending against the Indians. Later in the summer, when it came out that British Indian agents were actually lining up the tribes against the frontier, many of those same petitioners became staunch Whigs. While some still dispute British intentions regarding use of the tribes, there is little doubt that the Secret Committee of William Drayton used the issue to great advantage in the back country. So, who benefited the most? I would say the political issue was more valuable than the military assistance thereby giving the advantage to the Patriots.
The Americans benefited the most from Native involvement for several reasons. First, the attacks and atrocities of Britain’s Indian allies drove would-be loyalists to the patriot side (i.e. the Jane McCrea incident). Second, the Indians who sided with the losing British (such as the Mohawks) saw American armies destroy their villages and possess their lands as a result. Third, the Americans received scouting, ranging, and combat services as well as a psychological edge from Indian allies such as the Catawbas, Stockbridges, Oneidas, and Penobscots. Fourth, tribes that divided over whether to support the Americans or the British often remained divided well into the future, leaving them less effective in blocking U.S. expansion.
Certainly the British, because alliances with the Native Americans allowed the British to retain control of western frontier posts at the end of the war; had the native tribes sided with the rebellion, the British certainly would have had to cede Detroit, Niagara and other western holdings. We have to wonder, too, how the fledgling United States would have treated the native tribes had they been allies during the war – would they have honor land boundaries instead of aggressively expanding westward?
In the short run, the British. They made all sorts of promises about rolling back the colonists and restoring ancient tribal lands to the Indians. So the British gained some fighting power, perhaps helpful to them but not decisive. Then they abandoned their native allies in the Peace of Paris (1783) by ignoring them. In turn, the rebellious colonists gained in the long run. Think of the New York frontier and elsewhere. Those Indians who fought against the American rebels, such as most of the Six Nations, had to fork over land as their penalty for having allied with the British. Even the Oneidas, who fought along side the rebels, gained nothing in the long run. New York entities were quick to gobble grab as much traditional Oneida territory as they could. Bottom line: Native Americans benefitted the least from their involvement in the Revolutionary War.
The British. They benefited the most because the Indians gave them a force that could be utilized to raid the frontiers of the United States and the constant threat of such raids tied down several Continental regiments on the frontiers, e.g. at Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania. Other than the Oneidas and some Delaware Indians, the Americans had almost no Indian allies, and these Indians did not raid into Canada.
The British benefited the most, but only by a slim margin. British leaders failed to capitalize on the assistance of their Native allies. One major example is during 1779, when Washington detached 4000 Continentals to attack the Iroquois. This should have provided the British with the opportunity to at least attempt something against the Continental Army outside New York, but Clinton remained idle. Another example is in 1780 when Thomas Brown asked Cornwallis for permission to lead the Cherokees and Creeks against the “Overmountain” settlements. Cornwallis refused, which left the men free to strike Patrick Ferguson at King’s Mountain, disrupting the entire British campaign. The Indians won important victories at the Wyoming Valley, Blue Licks, and played a key role in the defense of Pensacola, but British leaders never managed to get the Indians to act in coordination with regular troops or other Natives in a decisive manner.
With the exception of the Oneida, Stockbridge and Tuscarora nations who sided with the Americans, the remainder of Native Americans (including most of the Iroquois Confederation) sided with the British-Loyalist side. The reason was that a British victory could help ensure the continuation of their native lands and culture, through resumed British restriction of colonial westward expansion. The British benefitted throughout the war, in turn, with scouting and intelligence support, and by tribes conducting devastating raids upon Patriot settlements. This siphoned off American army and militia units to furnish protection to wilderness families. In the end, however, all Native American nations lost out because of the Revolutionary War. There were no Native American representatives at the peace talks and the British sold out their former allies. Post-war, the Native American nations were pushed aside. Along with renewed encroachment, the war had also unleashed disease, starvation, and brutal tribal infighting.
Certainly Native Americans did not benefit from the Revolution! At the end of the war, most tribes were considerably worse off as their population levels declined, quality of life suffered and their military contributions did not substantiate tribal sovereignty. Further, Native American participation did not impact the war’s strategic outcome. Numerically, the British attracted considerably more Native Americans to fight against the Patriots. However, other than raids and skirmishes, the British could not successfully deploy native forces during key campaigns such as General Burgoyne’s invasion from Canada or in Lord Cornwallis’s attempt to conquer the American South. Likewise, other than small contingents of Stockbridge, Oneida and other warriors, the Americans were not successful in leveraging Native American military capabilities.
Certainly not the Native Americans! Obviously the British. The American Indians drove such terror into the hearts of the frontier settlers that it drove out the northern frontier inhabitants and allowed them to establish a pretty effective raiding campaign into Pennsylvania and New York. They nearly destabilized the frontier region completely, from 1778 onward. Sullivan’s campaign may have subdued it for a time, but after it ended the raids continued until the end of the war.
I think that, generally speaking, it is assumed that the British benefited the most militarily from Native American involvement in the American Revolution. The Americans initially attempted to persuade Native American tribes, including the Iroquois and the Cherokees, not to join their side but to remain neutral. Native American actions, however, both on their own and as military allies of the British after 1777, complicated the American position, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Our contest with Britain is too serious and too great to permit any possibility of avocation from the Indians.” In the end, however, one could argue that the Americans actually benefited the most from Native American involvement in the war in the long-term. After the war, the fact that Native American tribes had allied with the enemies of the new nation, made it all the more easier to define Native Americans as not only outside of the new nation but in direct opposition with it. Their involvement gave a powerful rhetorical tool to proponents of westward expansion in the wake of the Revolution, making it that much easier for Americans and their federal government to rhetorically justify attitudes and policies that would lead to the systematic displacement and extermination of Native peoples well into the nineteenth century.