A Confederation of Native peoples seek peace with the United States, 1786
In 1786, half a year before the Constitutional Convention, a collection of Native American leaders gathered on the banks of the Detroit River to offer a unified message to the Congress of the United States. Despite this proposal, American surveyors, settlers, and others continued to cross the Ohio River.
Speech of the United Indian Nations, at their Confederate Council held near the mouth of the Detroit River between the 28th November and 18th December, 1786
Present The Five Nations, the Hurons, Delewares, Shawnese, Ottawas, Chippewas, Pottawatomies, Twichtwees, Cherokees, and the Wabash Confederated
To the Congress of the United States of America
Brethren of the United States of America
It is now more than three years since peace was made between the King of Great Britain and you, but we the Indians, were disappointed finding ourselves not included in that peace according to our expectations, for we thought that it’s conclusion would have promoted a friendship between the United States and Indians, & that we might enjoy that happiness that formerly subsisted between us and our elder brethren. We have received two very agreeable messages from the Thirteen United States. We also received a message from the King, whose war we were engaged in desiring us to remain quiet, which we accordingly complied with. During the time of this tranquility we were deliberating the best method we could to form a lasting reconciliation with the Thirteen United States. Pleased at the same time we thought that we were entering upon a reconciliation and friendship with a set of people born on the same continent with ourselves, certain that the quarrel between us was not of our own making. In the course of our Councils we imagined we hit upon an expedient that would promote a lasting Peace between us.
We still are of the same opinion as to the means which may tend to reconcile us to each other. We are sorry to find although we had the best thoughts in our minds during the before mentioned period mischief has nevertheless happened between you and us. We are still anxious of putting our plan of accommodation into execution and we shall briefly inform you of the means that seem most probable to us of effecting a firm and lasting peace and reconciliation. The first step towards which should in our opinion be that all treaties carried on with the United States on our part, should be with the general voice of the whole Confederacy and carried on in the most open manner without any restraint on either side. And especially as landed matters are often the subject of our councils with you, a matter of the greatest importance & of general concern to us in this case we hold in indispensably necessary that any cession of our lands should be made in the most public manner & by the united voice of the confederacy. Holding all partial treaties as void and of no effect.
We think it is owing to you that the tranquility which since the peace between us has not lasted and that essential good, has been followed by mischief and confusion having managed everything respecting your own way. You kindled your council fires where you thought proper, without consulting us, at which you held separate treaties, and have entirely neglected our plan of having a general conference with the different nations of the confederacy. Had this happened we have reason to believe everything would now have been settled between us in a most friendly manner. We did everything in our power at the Treaty of Fort Stanwix to induce you to follow this Plan, as our real intentions were at that very time to promote peace and concord between us, and that we might look upon each other as friends, having given you no cause or provocation to be otherwise —
Notwithstanding the mischief that has happened we are still sincere in our wishes to have peace and tranquility established between us, earnestly hoping to find the same inclinations in you. We wish therefore you would take it into consideration and let us speak to you in the manner we proposed. Let us have a treaty with you early in the spring. Let us pursue reasonable steps. Let us meet halfway for our mutual convenience. We shall then bury in oblivion the misfortunes that have happened and meet each other on a footing of friendship.
We say let us meet halfway and let us pursue such steps as become upright and honest men, we beg that you will prevent your surveyors and other people from coming upon our side of the Ohio River. We have told you before we wished to pursue just steps, and we are determined they shall appear just and reasonable in the eyes of the world. This is the determination of all the chiefs of our Confederacy now assembled here, notwithstanding the accidents that have happened in our villages, even when in council, where several imminent chiefs were killed when absolutely engaged in promoting a peace with you the Thirteen United States.
Although then interrupted the chiefs here present still wish to meet you in the spring for the before mentioned good purpose, when we hope to speak to each other without either haughtiness or menace.
We again request of you in the most earnest manner, to order your surveyors and others that mark out land to cease from crossing the Ohio until we shall have spoken to you because the mischief that has recently happened has originated in that quarter, we shall likewise prevent our people from going over until that time.
It shall not be our fault if the plan which we have suggested to you should not be carried into execution. In that case the event will be very precarious, and if fresh ruptures ensue we hope to be able to excultrate ourselves, and shall most assuredly with our limited force be obliged to defend those rights and privileges which have been transmitted to us…. And if we should be thereby reduced to misfortune, the world will pity us when they think of the amiable proposals we now make to prevent the unnecessary effusion of blood. These are our thoughts and firm resolves and we earnestly desire that you will transmit to us, as soon as possible, your answer, be it what it may.
Done at our Confederate Council Fire at the Huron Village, near the mouth of the Detroit River December 18, 1786
The Five Nations
The Wabash Confederation
Speech of the United Indian Nations at their Confederate Council; 12/18/1786; Letters from Major General Henry Knox, Secretary at War; Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774 – 1789; Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, Record Group 360; National Archives Building, Washington, DC.