In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson clearly described the role of American Indians in the American Revolution. In addition to his other oppressive acts, King George III had “endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” Inscribed in the founding document of the United States, almost a sacred text, Jefferson’s words placed Indians on the wrong side of the struggle for liberty and the wrong side of history from the very beginning of the Revolution. Thus while Americans fought for their rights and freedoms, Jefferson argued that Native Americans fought against them, the vicious pawns of a tyrannical king.
All nations have their creation stories, where myth and history merge, and the creation story of the United States is no exception. In July 1776, the British had not—at least not yet—unleashed Indian warriors on the frontiers. In fact, the Stockbridge Indians of western Massachusetts, who were among the first to get involved in the Revolution, joined Washington’s army, fighting against the redcoats. Most Indians tried to stay neutral in what they saw as a British civil war—getting caught in the middle of a domestic disturbance is never a good idea. Even when, eventually, most sided with the British, they were not fighting against freedom; like the American patriots, they fought to defend their freedom as they understood it. In Indian eyes, aggressive Americans posed a greater threat than did a distant king to their land, their liberty, and their way of life. The American War of Independence was an Indian war for independence as well.
This was not the first time Indians had waged a war of independence. A dozen years before American colonists rebelled against Britain, American Indians in the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes took on the mightiest empire in the world. In 1763, fresh from their triumphs in the French and Indian War, the British were behaving like conquerors in Indian country. Baulking at the presence of British garrisons and the absence of British gifts, which the Indians believed served to cement alliances and ensure good faith relationships, Pontiac of the Ottawas, Guyashota of the Senecas, Shingas of the Delawares, and other war chiefs launched a multi-tribal assault that destroyed every British fort west of the Appalachians except Detroit, Niagara, and Fort Pitt. The colonial government in London responded by declaring the Appalachian Mountains the boundary between British settlement and Indian lands. This Royal Proclamation of 1763 alienated American land speculators like George Washington who had hoped to get rich by selling trans-Appalachian lands to westward moving settlers. Designed to bring order to the American frontier, the Proclamation initiated a chain of events that culminated in revolution and independence.