Muskingum boundary proposal – again

Mohawk leader Joseph Brant believed that making the Muskingum River the western boundary between the United States and Native Americans was the only fair compromise which could prevent war between the two sides and avoid catastrophe. If the Confederation demanded restoration of the Ohio River as the boundary, the lake tribes and Ohio Valley tribes would be defeated and destroyed. Brant argued for the Muskingum River boundary on five key occasions.

The first occasion, noted in the previous installment, was via Brant’s letter to treaty commissioner Arthur St. Clair on November 18, 1788, on the eve of the Treaty at Fort Harmar.

By the time Brant offered his proposal on the second key occasion, Gen. Josiah Harmar’s ill-conceived attack on the Upper Wabash tribes occurred in October 1790. His invasion ignited all-out border warfare, including the destruction of Big Bottom by Delaware warriors on January 2, 1791.

In May 1791 Brant was advocating peace at a council on the Maumee with Miami, Shawnee, Wyandot and Delaware chiefs. News circulated that Kentucky militia under Gen. Charles Scott had made another invasion. The Confederation sent Brant with a delegation to Canada to solicit British aid. Accompanied by twelve chiefs, Brant met with Governor General Lord Dorchester four times in July and August. Brant argued, “It is a Grievous thing to us that the Americans always insist that our Country was given to them by the King,… making that a pretence (sic) for taking possession of it, and fixing such lines as they think proper.” The British, who had long claimed that the Native Americans still owned their hereditary lands, envisioned the tribes as a buffer state between the United States and Canada. On August 17 Brant presented the Muskingum River boundary proposal to Major General Alured Clarke, Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, and Sir John Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs. The plan was submitted to cabinet ministers in London who incorporated it into their buffer-state plan. George Hammond, British ambassador to the United States, presented it through back channels to United States officials at Philadelphia, who rejected the plan.

The third occasion was a private, face-to-face conversation with President Washington. After Confederation forces slaughtered the United States Army led by Gen. St. Clair on November 4, 1791, Washington invited Brant to Philadelphia. Brant made it clear that the coerced treaties at Fort Harmar must be abandoned and a new boundary established. An invitation was accepted to negotiate a new treaty in early summer 1793 at Lower Sandusky.

The fourth occasion was on the Maumee in the summer of 1793 during the Confederation’s pre-treaty council to debate its negotiating position. With settlers either fleeing Ohio or confined in forts, leaders of the Confederation and their tribal delegates argued for the Ohio River boundary, as established in a treaty with the British in 1768. But Brant, having met Washington, knew that

plan was futile, and his faction argued for the Muskingum River compromise.

In their pre-treaty message, the United States commissioners, who were waiting near Detroit, conceded to the Confederation that prior United States commissioners had put an “erroneous construction” on the Treaty of Paris of 1783. The commissioners stated, “Brothers: We, therefore, frankly tell you, that we think those commissioners put an erroneous construction on that part of our treaty with the King. As he had not purchased the country of you, of course he could not give it away; he only relinquished to the United States his claim to it…. Brothers: We now concede this great point. We, by the express authority of the President of the United States, acknowledge the property, or right of soil, of the great country above described, to be in the Indian nations, so long as they desire to occupy the same.” (American State Papers: Indian Affairs, Vol. 1, pp. 352-54)

In council debate the Ohio River faction pointed out that the United States had officially rejected the Muskingum River proposal twice, once in 1788 and again in 1791. They said the time for compromise was over. Brant and his followers walked out. When the Confederation sent its final demand to restore the Ohio River boundary to the United States delegation at Detroit, the United States commissioners rejected it and immediately left for home.

There was, therefore, no treaty at Sandusky.

For a fifth time, a few months later, Brant, now a rogue in defiance of the Confederation which he himself had founded in 1783, sent Washington the Muskingum River boundary proposal. Washington replied ambiguously, and Brant, exhausted, returned to his home in Canada.

In the meantime, Gen. Anthony Wayne’s well-trained army defeated the Confederation at Fallen Timbers on August 20, 1794.

The next year the Treaty of Fort Greeneville reasserted United States’ claims in former treaties and added new demands. The destruction of the Native Americans’ woodland hunting culture soon followed.

In hindsight, in late 1796 Sir John Johnson, long-time British Indian Superintendent, summed up Brant’s fight for the Muskingum River compromise when he conceded, “Brant was Perfectly right in his opinion about treating with the American commissioners in 1793-and if his Advice had been taken the Indians would have had a Better Boundary and Saved [a] great Part of that country they have now Lost.”