The Lost Treaty of Fort Meigs; or, Why Didn’t the Myaamia Sell Their Rights to Land in Northwest Ohio?

October 3, 2019

By Isaac Stephani and Cam Shriver

Note: This blog post stems from original research conducted by undergraduate student Isaac Stephani in Dr. Cam Shriver’s Intro to the Miami Tribe class at Miami University in spring 2019.

In late September of 1817, the Treaty of Fort Meigs, also known as the Treaty of Maumee Rapids, was signed. In it, six Native nations collectively ceded over 4.5 million acres of territory to the United States. Representing the United States was Governor of the Michigan territory Lewis Cass, and Ohio legislator Duncan McArthur, while numerous leaders represented the six Native tribes present: ​Wyandot​s, ​Senecas, Delawares, Shawnees, Potawatomis, Ottawas, and Ojibwes. Marking one of the largest cessions of land by Native peoples since the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, the Treaty of Fort Meigs was part of a larger effort to move Native people Westward of the Mississippi River, as was Lewis Cass’ objective over the course of his nearly three decades as Governor of the Michigan territory.[1] Secretary of War George Graham, who oversaw the U.S. Indian Department, congratulated Cass on his negotiation at Fort Meigs, writing that the “extent of cession far exceed[s] my most sanguine expectations.”[2] But despite the treaty’s cession of land that the Miami leader Mihšihkinaahkwa ‘Little Turtle’ had claimed as belonging to the Miami nation, no Myaamia leaders signed it. Where were the Myaamia at the 1817 Treaty of Fort Meigs? Until now, we have had little evidence to explain Myaamia feelings at the time; there are still questions to answer. But the lack of Myaamia participation at Fort Meigs contextualizes the Treaty of St. Mary’s, signed by Myaamia leaders just over a year later on October 6, 1818, which ceded a huge area of Miami country. It also puts into clearer focus the pressures on Native American nations to yield swaths of their heritage homelands.

According to treaty commissioner Duncan McArthur, the American goal of the treaty negotiation was “relinquishment of [Native] claim to as much as possible of the lands within the State of Ohio.”[3] It appears that U.S. politicians encouraged the Miami Tribe to negotiate throughout the process, including after treaty talks were underway at Fort Meigs in modern Perrysburg, Ohio.[4] Initial explanations for their absence were cryptic. “Had the Miamies attended the Council agreeably to our expectations, we doubt not but the whole Indian title in the state of Ohio, would have been extinguished. Circumstances however, which it is unnecessary here to enumerate, prevented their attendance.”[5] Once the Treaty of Fort Meigs was signed, news quickly traveled to Fort Wayne, causing “considerable commotion among the Indians,” including local Myaamia and Potawatomi communities.[6] For their part, Miamis demanded that Wyandots pay them their fair share of the proceeds from selling land along the upper Maumee River, and asserted that they should have been party to the cession to receive their “just proportion” of the sale price, specifically for territory north of the Maumee River, and South and West of the Auglaize River.[7] After all, Myaamia towns had dotted the river valley just two decades before and Myaamia merchants had continued traveling from the headwaters of the Wabash and Maumee down to Detroit-area kin and business associates. Mihšihkinaahkwa had expressly claimed much of the land as belonging to the Miami Nation in 1795, including land between the Scioto headwaters and Detroit–in essence, Northwestern Ohio.[8] Miamis registered their surprise and made their complaints through the U.S. Indian Department that they viewed the Treaty of Fort Meigs as unjust. It must have seemed patently illegitimate for leaders other than the Myaamia to sell this portion of their territory to the United States. Indian Agents noted these arguments.

1817 cessionsMap 1: Territory ceded by Native signatories in the 1817 Treaty of Fort Meigs. Map does not include reservations retained.

1817 Miami claimsMap 2: Myaamia claims in 1817-1818 on territories ceded in the Treaty of Fort Meigs. “The rejection of the late treaty is pleasing intelligence to the Indians in this quarter, particularly to the Miamies, For they think that in the event of another treaty, that the Wyandots will give up to them so much of the annuity as may be a just proportion for that portion of Land West of the Auglaise [B], and the Puttawatimies and Ottawas, that on the North of the Miami [A]” Stickney to Cass, April 10 1818, Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, Letters Received and Sent, roll 3. Maps drawn by Cam Shriver.

Even after the “successful” Treaty of Fort Meigs, the U.S. Indian Department, spurred by clamoring American citizens and politicians in Indiana, spared no time planning the next land purchase. Attention turned to Myaamia land in Western Ohio and Indiana. This territory was within the agency of Fort Wayne, led by Major Benjamin Franklin Stickney. In a letter written just fifteen days after the signing of the Treaty of Fort Meigs, Stickney asked Cass for power to start negotiations with the Miami tribe. “I have sounded the Miamies,” Stickney wrote, “in relation to the sale of the remaining piece of Land in Ohio. I think the purchase can be affected [sic]. If you vest me with sufficient powers, I am ready to make [an] attempt.” Stickney believed that the delivery of the Myaamia yearly annuities “will afford a good opportunity to try the land purchase.”[9] In the views of the knowledgeable agent at Piqua–John Johnston–Stickney might bribe Akima Pinšiwa ‘Jean Baptiste Richardville.’ “I think you might promise Richardville something handsome if he would induce the Miamis to sell us the White River Country” in southeastern Indiana Territory. “Either a pension, cash in hand, or land reserved for him.”[10]

Johnston also immediately began working to negotiate the purchase of central Indiana, generally called the “White River Country.” This broad swath was populated by Delaware families, as well as some Miamis, Kickapoos, Piankeshaws, Weas, Shawnees, and Potawatomis. Johnston asserted that he would have no trouble negotiating with the Delawares, “with the view of removing them completely out of the country to the Mississippi.” But “the great difficulty in the business would be with the Miamies who unfortunately I perceive are under very bad Goverment [sic].” Again, he urged Cass to bribe or otherwise influence Pinšiwa, “who is everything in the nation.”[11] Later, Johnston asserted that the Miamis “who have many scoundrels incorporated among them” would be the most difficult to bargain with in an upcoming land treaty, naming “Richarville & son,” “Antoine Bondy, young Lafontaine, Mr. Bureau, Longloy” and “the young Godfroys.”[12]

For the Myaamia and the United States agents in Indiana and Ohio, future treaty negotiations continued in the knowledge that the United States could buy land without Myaamia signatures. The Indian Department correspondence leading to the 1818 St. Mary’s treaty revealed that the Miami tribe was invited to attend the Treaty of Fort Meigs along with the six other tribes and it was of their own accord they refused.

“But I think I shall succeed, in proving to [the Miamis], that it was their own fault that they did not attend the treaty. And that they must open their ears, that they should not be so deaf in the future, or they will loose [sic] all their land. Many have already acknowledged that the blame is not to be attached to the United States, but to their own deafness. Richardville has made the acknowledgement today to Bondie. Those circumstances, in my opinion, will prepare the minds of the Miamies to be more yielding about next Spring, than at any other period.”[13]

Stickney’s explanation highlights the unrelenting pressure mounting on the communities in the Midwest to sell their land before losing it by other means. By 1818, military force seemed a distant threat in Ohio and Indiana. Instead, the sharing of homelands and territory among Native nations turned to U.S. advantage. “However great is the odium attached to the sale of land,” Stickney detailed, “[the Miami’s] avarice will prompt them in the future to embrace the first opportunity the U.S. may offer to any tribe of a bargain, least some other tribe shall stand ready to sell for them.” Furthermore, Richardville’s supposed acknowledgement of turning a blind eye to treaty negotiations apparently did not sit well with his Myaamia colleagues and kin. In the words of Stickney: “The Indians are throwing all of the blame of their not attending the treaty unto Richardville. This excites his fears, and renders him quite plastick. By Spring, I think he will be ready for the mold.”[14] To those in the U.S. Indian Department, the sale of central Indiana seemed a foregone conclusion, a sentiment bolstered by their success in the autumn of 1817.

Pinšiwa, for his part, did not necessarily accept that he had been “deaf” to U.S. overtures. Stickney’s position was being threatened by a rival named William Turner, a doctor and the husband of Ann Wells (Ah-piz-zah-quah*), a Myaamia woman.[15] According to Stickney, “To be supplanted by such a character would be mortifying to be sure.” Turner’s marriage to Ann also made him kin to Pinšiwa. Among his gripes was a revealing complaint: Turner and Pinšiwa claimed that Stickney had not called them to treat at Fort Meigs at all. (Defending himself, Stickney asserted that their complaints were false.)[16]

U.S. senators, meanwhile, objected that the Fort Meigs negotiation allowed too many Indian reservations and–the sticking point–granted land in fee simple to Native individuals. The Treaty of St. Mary’s thus offered a kind of re-negotiation of the specific legal categories that would describe Native landholding. Eventually, four interwoven negotiations took place at St. Mary’s in western Ohio over the course of several weeks in early autumn of 1818, which included the Wea, Delaware, and Potawatomi tribes, in addition to the Myaamia.[17] The new treaties of the St. Mary’s helped re-define the status of the dozens of Indian reservations dotting Ohio and Indiana, but did not address existing Myaamia claims to land ceded by the previous Treaty of Fort Meigs.

1817-1818 cessions.jpgMap 3. Treaty of Fort Meigs (1817) and Treaty of St. Mary’s (1818) land cessions. Map does not include reservations retained. Map drawn by Cam Shriver.

We may never have a clear answer for why Myaamia leadership did not sign the Treaty of Fort Meigs–had they been summoned to negotiate and remained absent? Or had they not been called to Fort Meigs at all? In either case, the record illustrates that Miami chief Pinšiwa did not want to sell the land, and negotiations simply proceeded without Miami input. Significant tension thus led to the Treaty of St. Mary’s the following year. Factors such as increased intra-tribe pressure, negotiations over proper tribal ownership, and U.S. Senate objections to the Treaty of Fort Meigs all contributed to the Treaty of St. Mary’s. Examining the absence of Myaamia people at the 1817 treaty helps answer a question often posed by students of Native American history: why didn’t they just refuse to sell their land? In this case, refusing to sell simply meant losing the land for nothing.

 

[1] Biographies of the Secretaries of State: Lewis Cass (1782–1866), ​History.State.Gov.

[2] Graham to Lewis Cass, October 17, 1817, in Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, Letters Received and Sent, roll 3.

[3] Duncan McArthur to Lewis Cass, May 29, 1817, in Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, Letters Received and Sent, roll 3.

[4] For example, Charles Jouett to Lewis Cass, September 15, 1817, in Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, Letters Received and Sent, roll 3.

[5] Cass? To Graham?, October 2, 1817, in Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, Letters Received and Sent, roll 3.

[6] Stickney to Cass, November 2, 1817, in Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, Letters Received and Sent, roll 3; B.F. Stickney to Lewis Cass, January 28, 1818, in Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, Letters Received and Sent, roll 3.

[7] Rebecca Kugel, “Planning to Stay: Native Strategies to Remain in the Great Lakes, Post-War of 1812,” Middle West Review, (2, no. 2): 14; Stickney to Cass, April 10 1818, Roll 3_159.

[8] American State Papers. Indian Affairs, 1789–1815 (Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1832), Vol. 1: 570-571.

[9] Lewis Cass to Maj. B.F. Stickney, October 13, 1817, in Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, Letters Received and Sent, roll 3.

[10] Johnston quoted by Maj. B.F. Stickney in Stickney to Cass, November 18, 1817, in Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, Letters Received, roll 3.

[11] Johnston to Cass, December 31, 1817, in Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, Letters Received and Sent, roll 3.

[12] Johnston to Cass, January 20 1818, in Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, Letters Received and Sent, roll 3.

[13] B.F. Stickney to Lewis Cass, January 28, 1818, in Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, Letters Received and Sent, roll 3.

[14] B.F. Stickney to Lewis Cass, January 28, 1818, in Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, Letters Received and Sent, roll 3. Authors’ emphasis.

[15] Charles Lanman, Biographical Annals of the Civil Government of the United States: From Original and Official Sources, 508. Ann was the daughter of William Wells and Sweet Breeze. *We are unsure of the meaning and modern spelling of this Myaamia name.

[16] Lewis Cass to Maj. B.F. Stickney, February 24, 1818, in Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, Letters Received and Sent, roll 3.

[17] Kugel, “Planning to Stay,” 6-8.

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