Red Dreams, White Nightmares: Pan-Indian Alliances in the Anglo-American Mind, 1763-1815

Red Dreams, White Nightmares: Pan-Indian Alliances in the Anglo-American Mind, 1763-1815

by Robert M. Owens

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806149936
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 03/16/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 7 MB

About the Author

Robert M. Owens is Associate Professor of History at Wichita State University. He specializes in colonial U.S. history and the Early Republic. He is the author of Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer: William Henry Harrison and the Origins of American Indian Policy (OU Press, 2007). His articles have appeared in the Journal of the Early Republic and the Journal of Illinois History.

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Red Dreams, White Nightmares

Pan-Indian Alliances in the Anglo-American Mind, 1763â"1815

By Robert M. Owens


Copyright © 2015 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-4993-6


Pontiac and Pan-Indianism

After nearly three years of relative calm in North America, British officials felt they could exhale and finally start enjoying their victory in what William Pitt had called the "Great War for Empire." Predictably, they did so with a sense of smug self-satisfaction. The relief and joy they felt with the Peace of Paris in 1763 soon vanished, however. And that would have been predictable for them, had they been paying closer attention to America's natives. While many Indians were now presumed to be conquered peoples, and others had recently been valuable allies, they all shared at least some common goals. Political sovereignty, financial independence, and territorial security had all been factors that swayed Indians in the Seven Years' War, regardless of whose side they had taken to reach those goals. Only imperial myopia could prevent British authorities from seeing it was so. Only their ethnocentric tone deafness could keep them from hearing the warning cries.

The story of what became known as Pontiac's War is well known. Starting in May 1763, most of Britain's forts in the Great Lakes region were suddenly captured, destroyed, or abandoned. The western settlements, especially north of the Ohio River, were thrown into a panic. The cost in Anglo-American lives and treasure, particularly coming in an era of astounding debt for the Crown, was shocking and disheartening. Historians often forget what contemporaries could not; the conflagration could have been much worse. Pontiac's War was but another in a series of panics where not just a fight with Indians in one region, but the dreaded general Indian war, might have broken out. After Pontiac's War, both the British and their American successors remained ever mindful of the horrific threat of pan-Indian alliances against them, and would take whatever measures necessary to prevent such a doomsday scenario.

Indian coalitions and the intense fear they engendered in British America easily predated Pontiac. In 1622, upon learning of the Powhatan Confederacy's desperate surprise attack to wipe out the Jamestown colonists, the settlers at Plymouth, more than 600 miles distant, "responded by taking careful stock of the Indians around them." Three decades later, the United Colonies of New England seriously considered launching a preemptive strike against a rumored alliance of Indians and the Dutch of New Netherland, who were supposedly bent on wiping out the New English. (Cooler heads prevailed, and the alliance came to nothing.) Still, as Cynthia J. Van Zandt notes, it is striking that the Puritans "found it quite plausible" that "their fellow European Calvinists" could "make an alliance with Indians to exterminate the New England colonies."

During King Philip's War (1675–1676) in New England, wherein a multitribal coalition led by the Wampanoags did battle with their Puritan neighbors, Englishmen again feared even broader Indian conflicts. Virginia's governor, Sir William Berkeley, worried that Philip's men might strike up an alliance with the Indians of Virginia and Maryland, who were coincidentally embroiled in their own war against colonists, the result of Bacon's Rebellion (1675–1677). "The infection of the Indianes in New-England," Berkeley maintained, "has dilated it self to the Merilanders and the Northern parts of Virginia." If pan-Indian alliance was an "infection," then it was a virus for which Britain's American colonies had no inoculation.

During the conflicts collectively known as the French and Indian Wars (1689–1748), Anglo-America had been largely fortunate in Indian alliances. France and Spain continued to enjoy the bulk of native auxiliaries, but they rarely seem to have carried out concerted attacks against Anglo-America. Further, some, like the Iroquois League of northern New York, remained allies. But during the 1750s, the groundwork for broader Indian alliances, and even cracks in the Anglo–Iroquois alliance, began to show.

In the mid-1750s, Anglo-American arrogance and ignorance helped throw important allies into the anti-English (though not rabidly pro-French) camp. In 1753, South Carolina authorities foolishly intervened in a Shawnee raid against South Carolina Catawbas, holding the Shawnees prisoners for months. The Shawnees responded not only by abandoning the English, but seeking Huron help to fight their erstwhile allies. South Carolina had not only lost valuable allies, but largely initiated what would be forty-some years of Shawnee resistance to Anglo-American settlement.

British officers had themselves engaged peripatetically in the business of pan-Indianism, sometimes encouraging, sometimes discouraging, but always trying to manipulate the situation to the Crown's advantage. In December 1755, for example, Governor Robert Morris of Pennsylvania wrote nervously to Governor William Shirley of Massachusetts regarding the Delawares and their hostility to the British cause. While the Southern tribes, in particular the Cherokees, were numerous and valuable allies, Morris noted, intelligence reports indicated that they had favorably received Delaware embassies seeking aid against the English. Yet by the summer of 1758 Sir William Johnson, the Mohawk land speculator and Indian superintendent, sought to promote greater coordination between the British-allied Iroquois League and the Southern tribes. Johnson argued that "a Union between our Indian allies to the Southward & Northward, is a desireable Event & worthy of our Endeavours to compass." Johnson later came to curse the very thought.

In late 1758, Virginia backwoodsmen attacked a party of Cherokees moving through the western part of the colony, killing several. The Cherokees had been stalwart allies of Britain, and were returning home from offering their services to the Crown. The Virginians carried the fratricidal insult to the point of trying to disarm the chief Attakullakulla (Little Carpenter), and matters took a turn. "These differences I fear will not tend to our advantage," groaned Indian agent George Croghan. The only hope of precluding a general Indian war would be military victories in the northern quarter to dissuade their cousins to the south. "Nothing in my opinion could prevent a War with the Southern Indians but our Success at Ohio, and it yet depends much on our keeping possession of what we so luckily got."

The situation continued to deteriorate into 1760, when official neglect and colonial impertinence had managed to infuriate the Cherokees into not only breaking their alliance, but actually attacking British forces and destroying Fort Loudoun in what is now eastern Tennessee. (The loss was doubly shocking, as Fort Loudoun had been built at the insistence of the Cherokees.) This time it was the Cherokees and Choctaws who sought help from the Ohio Valley Indians. Britain averted disaster once more, and again largely through luck, when the Ohio tribes declined. Timing had favored the Crown: by 1760, the Ohio Valley tribes had largely come to an armistice, or even outright peace with Britain. Disaffected Creeks had long called for Cherokee aid in their war against the colonists in Georgia, but they too—after an intense effort by the British to keep them neutral—were now quiet and disinclined to join in a broader war. After a brief campaign of "chastisement," and of course another round of land cessions, South Carolina made peace with the Cherokees.

Perhaps Britain's greatest allies were the old feuds that made unifying the Northern and Southern tribes so difficult. But they were never absolute. By the winter of 1762, reports circulated that the Shawnees, Delawares, and some Ohio Valley Senecas—the westernmost peoples of the Iroquois League—were preparing to fight off an anticipated attack from the English. Indeed, Seneca embassies, complete with red wampum belts, had been calling for such a league since at least 1761. Britain's refusal to supply arms and ammunition, necessary for both hunting and raiding their traditional Southern enemies, helped convince these tribes that the English would attempt their destruction. Further, as Gregory Dowd has demonstrated, Indians increasingly felt common cause through spiritual means.

Ohio Valley tribes, especially the Lenni Lenapes, or Delawares, had spoken of pan-Indian movements for years. Delaware prophets—male and female—had preached of radical visions at least since the "Walking Purchase" of 1737, when Pennsylvania's authorities shamelessly defrauded the Delawares of some 1,200 square miles of land. They spoke of a separate creation of whites and Indians, with whites being malevolent beings from across the ocean. They spoke of sins committed by Indians that had angered the Great Spirit—alcohol abuse and greed for the material goods of the fur trade. In essence their preaching was quite similar to that which the Delaware Prophet Neolin would offer in the early 1760s. The message of the separate creation of Indians and whites carried implicit notes of pan-Indianism, and Delaware prophecy also became increasingly critical of domination from outsiders, especially the Iroquois League to the north.

As the Delawares became increasingly influential in pan-Indian circles, their connections with the Southeastern Indians also grew. The phenomenon of the Black Drink, a powerful emetic consumed for physical and spiritual purging, had long been used by the peoples of the Southeast. It became common with the Ohio Indians of Neolin's era, perhaps introduced to the Delawares by their well-traveled Shawnee neighbors. As harnessed by Delaware prophets, the Black Drink demonstrated that pan-Indian sentiment was winning converts both body and soul. The Delaware–Shawnee connection proved important for pan-Indianism as well, because of the Shawnee ties to the southeastern tribes. Especially with the Creeks, the Shawnees had a long history of kinship and diplomatic ties to a region with a large population and many warriors to recruit.

At times it seemed that there were as many cultural forces hindering cooperation between Indians north and south as there were aiding them. While most peoples north of the Ohio had a well developed sense of "covering the dead," of ritual condolences and gift-giving that could heal rifts (even homicidal ones) between individuals or tribes, the main nations in the South generally adhered to the theory of "crying blood." For the Cherokees, Creeks, and others, if a member of one's clan were killed, whether by malice or accident, the universe was suddenly out of balance. The only way to restore that balance, in a rationale Hammurabi would certainly have appreciated, was the taking of another life from the group—clan or tribe—responsible for the death of the relative. Until they had done so, the spirit of the departed clansman would, essentially, haunt the living, unable to enter the afterlife. Similar to the "mourning war" practiced by other Iroquoians to the north, Cherokees in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were quite insistent in following this practice, even though it made warfare (at least on a small scale) a never-ending cycle.

Furthermore, for the Southern tribes in particular, during this time period they viewed humanity as a fairly simple dichotomy: there were relatives, whose kin ties gave their lives meaning, and outsiders/strangers, who had no kin ties. Southern Indians saw such a person "as an enemy, and enemies had no rights, not even the right to live." Diplomacy certainly could involve a temporary assignment of kinship to outsiders, but outsiders emerged from "chaos," and they "were leery of anything that emerged from the chaos."

Only two months before Pontiac began his siege of Detroit, intelligence again indicated that there were at least attempts at a grand North/South Indian alliance. A Shawnee chief reported that the Cherokees had sent a war belt—passed on by the French still in the Illinois Country—but that the belt "was not unanimously accepted of." Still, the same report boded ill, noting that "all the Indian nations were," as he said, "become very jealous of the English, who had erected so many Posts in their Country, but were not so generous as the French." According to some Miami chiefs in a speech in late March 1763, the Shawnees had also passed on a similar belt that originated with the Senecas, who were "very much enraged against the English" and wanted to "put the English to Death all about this place." The Miamis took pains to note that they themselves sought ammunition and war paint to attack the Cherokees, rather than the English.

War belts calling for a broad multitribal alliance "had in fact never ceased to circulate among the western Indians after the conquest of Canada." Some of the belts were politically obsolete, having been sent out by the French during the war and never officially recalled. Newer ones sprang from the Geneseo Senecas, who had grown angry with the British at Fort Niagara, and sought allies to smite them. It is possible that spiteful French still living in the Ohio Valley circulated some of the belts. The primary evidence for this comes from outraged British officials, rather than any direct source, however. In late 1762, Colonel Henry Bouquet, safe in Philadelphia, passed on reports of what he called "a pretended new conspiracy" of Western Indians. General Jeffrey Amherst, the commander-in-chief for North America, proved equally dismissive of the notion.

Adding to the confusion, in the spring and early summer of 1763 there were at least some signs that pan-Indian efforts would be held at bay. Newspapers reported warfare between tribes from both sides of the Ohio River, such as the Shawnees attacking the Catawbas of South Carolina. There were also accounts of the continuing violent feud between the Creeks (in present Alabama and Georgia) and their neighbors, the Chickasaws to the west and the Cherokees to the northeast. Nevertheless, General Amherst, on the eve of Pontiac's attack in the Northwest, was thinking of the Southeast. Amherst was troubled by the Crown's decision to demolish three key forts there. "I am persuaded the Indians will always be best Neighbours, when they See that We are in a State to Defend Ourselves, should they be inclined to Mischief." He also mentioned that the governors of the colonies south of Maryland, as well as John Stuart, the Southern District's Agent for Indian Affairs, were to call for a great council with the Southern Indians to allay their fears and explain "His Majesty's Just and Equitable Intentions towards all the Indian Nations." At least Amherst was honest enough to note that the kind intentions toward Indians were the king's, and not his own.

In fairness to Amherst, his policy of reducing Indian access to arms was not as obviously foolish as it now seems. As David Dixon notes, Amherst saw the Cherokee War end favorably in large part because the Indians ran out of ammunition, and assumed that this would work universally. And, a year prior to Pontiac's War, Amherst could note that in dealing with Indian affairs, specifically some scalpings perpetrated by a party of Shawnees, Sir William Johnson knew best. "I would not have you take any steps against them until I have his advice," he wrote Colonel Bouquet. Yet Amherst would soon ignore Johnson's advice regarding the sagacity of diplomatic gifts to Indians, infuriating both Johnson and his subordinate, George Croghan. Croghan tried to resign even before the war broke out, noting, "there is no ocation [occasion] for an Agent here on Sir Jeffrey Amhersts present Plan." Amherst did at least have the sense to oppose Croghan's resignation in the midst of the subsequent crisis, though that only deepened the agent's enmity for the general.

Pontiac launched his attack on Detroit on May 7, 1763. Soon the idea had spread throughout much of the Great Lakes/Ohio Valley region, and with great fury. The war in the Northwest caught Amherst completely by surprise. Ironically his parsimony regarding the Indian trade, meant to lower administrative costs and raise his own stock with his superiors, would help bring on a nearly catastrophic frontier war. The cost in currency and casualties would lose Amherst the job he hoped to keep. Soon after the initial reports of violence at Detroit and outside Fort Pitt, Amherst wrote to the governors in Montreal, Trois Riviers, and Quebec, directing them to take precautions lest Pontiac's allies "seduce as many of the Nations as they can, to Joyn them in their Wild & Treacherous Schemes." Defensively, Amherst quickly added that the hostile Indians were "a Giddy Tribe," and that "Should they Persevere [in their war], it must End in their Total Ruin, and Extirpation." Displaying the slow comprehension of Indian affairs that brought on Pontiac's War, Amherst waited three more days before writing to John Stuart, to similarly direct him to stop "any of the Nations to the Southward from Hearkening to any Messages that may be sent from those misguided Tribes."


Excerpted from Red Dreams, White Nightmares by Robert M. Owens. Copyright © 2015 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
Part I Tenuous Empire,
1. Pontiac and Pan-Indianism,
2. Dueling Diplomacies,
3. Stuart Besieged,
4. Dunmore's Fleeting Victory,
5. Revolution and Realignment,
Part II Pan-Indianism and Policy,
6. Britain's Pan-Indian Gamble,
7. A New Nation with Old Fears,
8. The Talented Mr. McGillivray,
9. Ohio Confederates Triumphant,
10. Henry Knox's Nightmare,
11. Bowles, Part One,
12. Pan-Indianism Crests,
13. The Fear Remains the Same,
Part III Paternalism vs. Pan-Indianism,
14. Bowles, Part Two,
15. Indians and the Jeffersonian Mind,
16. Fear's Resurgence,
17. Death by the River's Side,
18. Bleeding Pan-Indianism,
19. Mistimed Alliance,
Epilogue: A Second Tecumseh?,

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