The Treaty of Greenville (1795) – Part II

aweentioni weešihtooyankwi
myaamiaki neehi eeweemakinciki mihši-maalhsaki
We Make Peace
The Myaamia and Our American Relatives (Part II)

The 1795 Treaty of Greenville both established a peace and negotiated a transfer of lands. In Part 1, George narrated the beginning of the treaty negotiations in the early summer of 1795. When we left off, Mihšihkinaahkwa ‘Little Turtle’ and the rest of the Indigenous leaders present had established peace with General Anthony Wayne, the representative of the Mihši-maalhsaki ‘Americans.’

Turning to territory and boundaries, Mihšihkinaahkwa firmly refuted any treaties negotiated previously–these had not been signed by the Miamis even though they involved Myaamia domains. To drive home this point, Mihšihkinaahkwa enunciated boundaries of Miami territory and informed Wayne and the Native delegates in the council that the Miamis (and their siblings the Potawatomis on the St. Joseph River and the Miami-speaking communities on the Wabash River) retained dominion over this broad swath of territory.

Map approximating the land claimed by Mihšihkinaahkwa on behalf of the Myaamia, Potawatomi of the St. Joseph’s River, and other Wabash Tribes. Base map by Joshua Sutterfield. The western border, from the confluence of the Wabash and Ohio Rivers to Chicago, is an approximation.

Mihšihkinaahkwa’s land claim in the heat of late July serves as a useful demarcation in the negotiations in part because most of the other tribal chiefs began to distance themselves from the hard line the Myaamia leader had drawn. Mihšihkinaahkwa finished his explanation of Myaamia territory saying “I was much surprised that my other brothers” were apparently willing to give up “their lands to any white man who wore a hat, as soon as he should ask it of them.” He publicly chided his colleagues “that you are rather unsettled and hasty in your conduct.”[1]

If the early talks illustrated an orchestrated plan by the Myaamia Mihšihkinaahkwa to maintain a negotiating edge on the one hand, and the Wyandot Tarhe to establish peace through conciliatory terms on the other, then proceedings in late July 1795 saw that plan fray and begin to fall apart. Following Mihšihkinaahkwa’s stern speech, Tarhe fulfilled a condolence ceremony, ritually removing the tomahawk from Wayne’s skull, wiping up blood and tears, and clearing eyes, ears, and throats.[2]

Blue Jacket, the Shawnee leader, took a new seat next to the Wyandots and Delawares. He proclaimed support for Tarhe and his “uncles,” while recommending his “younger brothers” the Miamis do the same. Over the next few days, Potawatomi, Ojibwe, and Ottawa speakers avoided the Turtle’s land claim. Wayne exploited this fissure two days later. After repeating Mihšihkinaahkwa’s territorial description, he said “Brothers: These boundaries enclose a very large space of country indeed; they embrace, if I mistake not, all the lands on which all the nations now present live, as well as those which have been ceded to the United States.”

Not only was Mihšihkinaahkwa ignoring Wyandot, Delaware, Shawnee, and Ottawa claims to these territories, Wayne stressed, but additionally he was forgetting European claims as well. “We discover the marks of the French possession throughout this country,” Wayne responded, and “these have since been in the occupancy of the British, who must, in their turn, relinquish them to the United States.” So you must agree, Wayne continued addressing Mihšihkinaahkwa, that the various Indian nations had already sold land to the French and British, colonial beacheads now conquered by a United States army. Asserting his right of conquest, Wayne then read portions of the 1783 Treaty of Paris (in which Great Britain had acceded to American independence) and the 1794 “Mr. Jay’s Treaty,” probably highlighting the British promise to vacate its forts from what is now the United States–places such as Fort Miamis on the lower Taawaawa Siipiiwi ‘Maumee River,’ Fort Detroit, and Fort Mackinac.[3] Wayne expected to convince his former enemies that the young United States was the successor of the French and British fathers.

In these arguments, Wayne fundamentally disagreed with Mihšihkinaahkwa. In Wayne’s telling, the land was not Myaamia territory, at least not all of it. And most of the other Indigenous nations had legitimately relinquished much of the land already. And lastly, even Miamis had sold land to European empires, positions that now the United States would occupy by force of arms and international agreement.

In the following days, groups of leaders debated how to respond, and publicly used typical talking points, such as the need to be unified. But Mihšihkinaahkwa retained his role as the only voice willing to disagree with Wayne, at least in full council. Mihšihkinaahkwa said that the proposed land cession “takes too much” of their territory, making hunting “too contracted. Your brothers, the Miamies, the proprietors of those lands,” asked for a boundary adjustment. He wanted the primary boundary moved to the east.

Even more pointedly, Mihšihkinaahkwa addressed Wayne’s version of imperial land claims, taking aim at the U.S. acquisition of a string of fortified posts as places such as Sandusky, Fort Wayne, Chicago, Michilimackinac, and Ouiatenon. These were called, in English, “reservations,” being places reserved for the United States in Indian Country. “I will inform you in what manner the French and English occupied” their forts, the Turtle said. “Brothers, these people”–the French and British”–never told us they wished to purchase our lands from us.” For each example of a French or British occupied spot, Mihšihkinaahkwa had an answer. As for the old post at Pickawillany that the U.S. intended to claim, “It was not a French fort, brother; it was a fort built by me.” (This quotation, recorded only in English, could indicate that Mihšihkinaahkwa said that an elder man named Mihšihkinaahkwa had been a founder of that town, or perhaps he was using the common metaphorical language that his people, Miami-speakers or “me,” had founded the Pickawillany town.) Wayne had claimed both ends of the important portage between Fort Wayne and the Little Wabash River. “This is a request that our fathers, the French or British, never made us; it was always ours.” As for a few acres at a spot known as “Loramie’s Store,” Mihšihkinaahkwa conceded shrewdly, “‘tis true, a Frenchman once lived there for a year or two.”[4]

These rebukes, like in previous days, received little attention as most Native speakers focused on friendlier messages about establishing lasting peace. Mihšihkinaahkwa, again, was the speaker really negotiating boundaries. He had questioned the largest and the smaller territories that the Native polities were surrendering. (Turtle was even the speaker on behalf of Amehkoonsa, a Wea leader who was suffering from a cold and “cannot speak well at present.” Mihšihkinaahkwa relayed the Wea’s message that “I can’t give you any lands” at Ouiatenon. Instead, “I will lend you some as long as you want it.”)[5]

This map depicts territories relinquished by Myaamia and other Indigenous communities party to the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. A U.S. reservation near Michilimackinac is not mapped.

And because “all the other nations give their assent to the general boundary line, and to the reservations, therefore,” Wayne had to address Mihšihkinaahkwa directly. On the topic of the general boundary line, Wayne asserted that his original proposed boundary between Fort Recovery and the Kentucky River was a straight line, and therefore best. As for fears over hunting territory being restricted, Wayne reminded them that the treaty would allow Native folks to hunt in the ceded territory as long as the United States owned it. (This was true, until the U.S. sold that land to private ownership, a process already underway and nearly completed within a few years.) Regarding Mihšihkinaahkwa’s position that the Miami Nation had not sold land for the fort at Kiihkayonki: Wayne invented a logic that “it is ever an established rule, among Europeans, to reserve as much ground around their forts, as their cannon can command; this is a rule as well known as any other fact.” Accepting Myaamia claims to the portage between Kiihkayonki (Fort Wayne) and the Wabash watershed, Wayne stated that Miami profits from this portage had historically been at the expense of Native families who paid portage fees.

“I will inquire, of all the nations present, whether the United States are not acting the part of a tender father to them and their children, in thus providing for them, not only at present, but for ever?” Here, on a Thursday in July, Wayne affirmed his nation’s transition from an elder brother to a father. Following his point-by-point refutation of Mihšihkinaahkwa and reserving for himself the last word, Wayne proclaimed that “it is now time for the negotiation to draw to a conclusion.”

“You, Chippewas, do you approve of these articles of treaty, and are you prepared to sign them? [A unanimous answer.] Yes.”

Down the line, to Ottawas, Potawatomis, Wyandots, Delawares, Shawnees, Miamis, Weas, and Kickapoos, each community’s leadership group, over a thousand people in total, assented with unanimous agreement.[6] A week later, Tarhe of the Wyandots acceded to the new relationship with a large blue and white wampum belt. Wayne accepted it. “I now adopt you all, in the name of the President and Fifteen great Fires of America, as their children, and you are so accordingly.”[7] The negotiations over, silver medals were delivered and Native men put their marks to the parchment. The momentous treaty had been completed; folks started off for home.

Above are two detailed insets from the Greenville signature pages. Like many of their colleagues, Miami leaders signed in distinct areas of the physical parchment rather than as a unified national bloc.

Mihšihkinaahkwa stayed a day or two longer. With some of his colleagues, Miamis, Eel Rivers, and Kickapoos, he addressed Anthony Wayne, expressing that “the opposition he exhibited on sundry occasions” had been caused by “a duty which he conceives he owes his country,” and that he hoped “his Father would not think unkindly of him for it.”[8]

The treaty negotiations in 1795 helped set a trajectory for Native American and United States diplomacy in the coming nineteenth century. It underscored the post-Revolutionary violence in the Trans Appalachian West–the Mihši-maalhsa Wars–as a conflict over territory. It solidified the idea that Indian Country could be traded for annual payments, or annuities. Although it did not resolve which tribal nations owned what ground, it reinforced a policy aim of the United States that the federal government was the sole legitimate buyer of Indigenous lands.

For the Myaamia communities largely represented by Mihšihkinaakwa, the Treaty of Greenville negotiations likewise set precedents. It was the first of many treaties that the Miami Nation would eventually sign with a new “father” in the United States. The treaty’s text did stipulate that all former treaties–obliquely referencing the Treaties at Muskingum and Fort McIntosh–were “void.” This would suggest a victory for the Turtle, who had so strongly opposed using those former treaties (and their boundaries) as precedents. At the same time, the border between Indian Country and the United States all but replicated the border enunciated in those former treaties. And crucially, the leaders had forged a new peacetime relationship between Miami communities and their Mihši-maalhsa neighbors. Despite pressures and debates among Myaamia chiefs in the ensuing years, the Myaamia consensus never swayed from a diplomatic relationship with the U.S. federal government, even as warhawks in other communities–tribal and Euro-American–waged a war in Myaamionki ‘Miami Country’ in 1812-1814.

Mihšihkinaakwa’s own transition from neenawihtoowa ‘war leader’ to akima ‘chief’ is illustrated in his post-Greenville lobbying. The Turtle spoke with President Thomas Jefferson in early 1802 at the president’s mansion in the new federal district called Washington. “Father,” he said through his son-in-law William Wells, the same voice that had translated his words at Greenville, “it has again fell to my lot to make known to you the wish of your children.”

“Father, A Treaty was made six years since at Greenville between the President of the United States and your children the Red People.

Father, I with some of my Brethren made certain objections to that Treaty, but finally thought it best it should be signed, and we wish to adhere to it, and hope our white brethren will do so.”

Mihšihkinaakwa then launched into an extensive, and specific, list of requests to reinforce the Treaty of Greenville’s establishment of peace and proper boundaries. Among other things, he asked for the border to be marked and American settlers to be restricted to their own territory. He complained that the annuity goods were inferior and often ruined en-route to Fort Wayne, and suggested an alternative transportation route. “Father, we are sorry to trouble you so much; but these things are of consquence [sic] to us.”

“My Father, at that Treaty it was understood that the white people would be the fathers friends and protectors of the red People, that they would use their best endeavours to maintain friendship and good understanding between us and the United States, and we believe it has been generally attended to both by the White and Red People.”[9] Yet it remained for Indigenous leaders, Myaamia and otherwise, to convince their “fathers friends and protectors” to uphold their agreements and maintain proper relationships. It is a conversation that continues, even today.

The significance of the Treaty of Greenville remains to be discussed and discovered; our understanding will continue to evolve. But this first negotiated settlement between the Miami Nation and the United States established a pattern of increasing U.S. power. As Mihšihkinaakwa learned in later years, the new “fathers” intended a colonialism of dominance over Myaamia communities, and U.S. would demand not only Miami land, but eventually a transformation of Myaamia people.

Note: For those interested, a high-resolution image of the Treaty of Greenville can be viewed on the National Archives website: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/299800


[1] American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Vol. 4, Indian Affairs (ASPIA), no. 1 (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1832), 571.

[2] ASPIA 1: 571.

[3] ASPIA 1: 573.

[4] ASPIA 1: 576.

[5] ASPIA 1: 577.

[6] ASPIA 1: 578.

[7] ASPIA 1: 580.

[8] ASPIA 1: 583.

[9] “I. Address of Little Turtle, [4 January 1802],” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-36-02-0168-0002. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 36, 1 December 1801–3 March 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009, pp. 280–286.]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.