Muskingum River as boundary
Many years passed before Europeans got control of the Ohio River and its tributaries. Immediately after the French and Indian War ended in 1763, Ottawa Chief Pontiac and his allies, in rebellion against the British victory, set the frontiers of America ablaze. They, too, lost and had little choice but to reach an agreement with the King’s representatives at Fort Stanwix (near Rome, N.Y.). The Treaty of Fort Stanwix of 1768 was disastrous for the Iroquois and their western vassals. With the stroke of a pen, the Six Nations relinquished their claim to a huge area south of the Ohio River and as far west as the mouth of the Tennessee River (Paducah, Ky.), making the Ohio River the official property boundary between Native Americans to the north and British subjects to the south. Western tribes, especially the Delaware and Shawnee, lost their hunting grounds south of the river. The treaty allowed white settlements south of the Ohio River in what is now West Virginia and Kentucky long before there were any in Ohio.
Events quickened on the frontier after the Treaty of Paris of 1783 ended the Revolutionary War. Because Native Americans were not mentioned in the treaty, they immediately organized. In August 1783 delegates from all lake area and Ohio Valley tribes met at Lower Sandusky (Fremont) to form a Confederation. The principal organizer was Joseph Brant, a bilingual Mohawk leader.
United States commissioners declared the Iroquois to be conquered, subdued, and propertyless at the first United States-Native American treaty, held at Fort Stanwix in 1784. Under duress, chiefs such as Cornplanter yielded large amounts of land in New York all the way to the Pennsylvania line. West of Pennsylvania, however, lake area tribes still considered the Ohio River to be the boundary.
At the Treaty of Fort McIntosh (Beaver, Pa.), Ohio chiefs conceded even more territory in 1785. The Ohio River boundary was cast aside and several Ohio tribes yielded nearly 70 percent of present-day Ohio. The United States practice of divide and conquer soon resulted in congressional passage of the Land Ordinance of 1785 and United States surveying of Ohio into ranges and townships began. In late 1785 a treaty was held at Fort Finney at the mouth of the Miami River, which moved the western boundary into Indiana. In 1787 Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance which set forth United States governance over the entire Old Northwest, including the land conceded under duress at the three treaties. On April 7, 1788, the settlement at Marietta began, and, the following spring, settlements were started at Belpre and Waterford.
Congress appointed Arthur St. Clair governor of the Northwest Territory and commissioner for the next treaty. St. Clair decided to meet with all affected tribes at the falls of the Muskingum (Philo) in May 1788. But, due to inclement weather, it was rescheduled for July.
Soldiers and army contractors stored supplies at the falls in preparation for the treaty, but in July 1788 Chippewa banditti
attacked the military guards and robbed the storehouse. St. Clair moved the treaty site to Fort Harmar, now delayed until late fall. While en route to the treaty, Brant, representing the Confederation, camped on the Licking River near present-day Zanesville. There on November 18, 1788, on behalf of “the Chiefs of the Six Nations and Western Confederacy,” he sent St. Clair a compromise proposal for peace: “We to avoid any farther trouble propose to give you all the lands on the East side of Muskingham river running along said River to the old Fort [Laurens] built at Tuscarawas in 1764 thence along said River to the South end of the portage that leads to Cayahoga[,] from said south end of the portage in a strait [sic] and direct line to the old Fort at the mouth of Venango and thence down the Ohio to that of said Muskingham.” Brant added, “All the lands comprehended within said Boundaries we do propose to give to the United States without the least wish or expectation of receiving any thing as a compensation for the same.”
The Confederation was willing to give the whites everything on the east side of the Muskingum River and a large portion of west-central Pennsylvania north of Pittsburgh. The Native Americans would retain ownership of everything on the west side-about 80 per cent of Ohio.
But Congress’ negotiation instructions to St. Clair for the treaty held at Fort Harmar from December 1788 to early January 1789 allowed no compromise. Although Brant refused to attend, Wyandot chief Duentete officially presented the Confederation’s Muskingum River boundary compromise during the treaty negotiations. St. Clair dismissed it with a scoff, followed by a threat of war.
Meanwhile, a disappointed Brant, after traveling as far south as the falls, returned home to Canada. En route he turned leadership of the Confederation over to the staunch Shawnee, Miami, and their western and lake area allies. That, combined with the United States’ unrelenting claim to 70 percent of Ohio, led to the Indian Wars of Ohio (1791-1795).
The Muskingum River boundary compromise and Brant’s advocacy for it, however, were far from over.
Phillip L. Crane, a Waterford resident and Marietta history teacher for 32 years, will share stories of historical events in the Lower Muskingum Valley.