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Pen and Ink Witchcraft: Treaties and Treaty Making in American Indian History . Colin Calloway, author of over a dozen books on Native American history, here.
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By Colin G. Description Indian peoples made some four hundred treaties with the United States between the American Revolution and , when Congress prohibited them. They signed nine treaties with the Confederacy, as well as countless others over the centuries with Spain, France, Britain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, Canada, and even Russia, not to mention individual colonies and states.
In retrospect, the treaties seem like well-ordered steps on the path of dispossession and empire. The reality was far more complicated. Calloway narrates the history of diplomacy between North American Indians and their imperial adversaries, particularly the United States. Treaties were cultural encounters and human dramas, each with its cast of characters and conflicting agendas.
Many treaties, he notes, involved not land, but trade, friendship, and the resolution of disputes. Far from all being one-sided, they were negotiated on the Indians' cultural and geographical terrain. Caption credit: From the Smithsonian exhibition label. Join the discussion at a Greater Philadelphia Roundtable or add your nomination online. From the arrival of Europeans in the seventeenth century through the era of the early republic, treaties were an important tool in diplomacy between native nations and colonial Pennsylvania and later the nascent federal government.
Treaties followed indigenous modes of diplomacy, into which colonists introduced, and imposed, the signing of treaty documents. However, treaty councils did not always culminate in a signed document. Indeed throughout the colonial period the term treaty described the process of negotiation and diplomacy, regardless of what such meetings produced.
Most famous in Pennsylvania was the legendary treaty of Shackamaxon negotiated by William Penn and Tamanend, which produced no written record. In the colonial period, treaty councils took place in Philadelphia as well as native and colonial towns within and beyond the growing colony like Shamokin, Conestoga, and Lancaster.
Treaties that secured large swaths of land for Pennsylvania at times occurred outside the colony, as with the Albany Purchase of and the New Purchase and Last Purchase , both of which occurred at Fort Stanwix in New York. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Councils were formal affairs steeped in native diplomacy, particularly Iroquoian ceremonies.
Over the ensuing days, or often weeks, Pennsylvania officials and native leaders exchanged speeches, gifts, and strings of wampum. While chiefs and colonial officials were key players, more often than not it was skilled orators who conducted negotiations, aided by interpreters. Metaphorical language, compelling voice and gestures, and command of an audience were all key to being a skilled native orator. Interpreters and intermediaries, or go-betweens , who relied on their trustworthiness excelled when they could translate not only between languages but also the cultural nuances that inflected negotiations.
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Colonial scribes recorded speeches from the interpreters and created minutes for treaty councils that offer historians a glimpse of the process and rhetoric of negotiation. In the early decades of colonial settlement, treaties were often small local gatherings consisting of a few dozen participants. As the eighteenth century progressed, councils grew in size so that several hundred attendees would swarm the treaty grounds.
At the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in , commissioner Sir William Johnson recorded 2, native participants as the council opened. The vast concourse of spectators at treaties was important to the process itself, for native diplomacy relied on a notion of consensus. Indigenous onlookers became participants as they signaled their assent or discontent at the speeches that made up formal negotiations. The struggle for consensus also played out away from the formal and public arena as native leaders, officials, and intermediaries deliberated and worked out their differences in private.
Pen and Ink Witchcraft: Treaties and Treaty Making in American Indian History
The search for common ground could protract the process, and treaty councils sometimes lasted for weeks. While diplomats and intermediaries worked toward agreement on the issues at hand—land and boundaries were common concerns, but trade and, most importantly, war and peace spurred negotiations—colonial and native spectators busied themselves as well. Councils attracted traders of victuals, cloth, tools, munitions, and accessories. There were times for feasting, singing, dancing, and playing games.
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National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Quaker authority declined in Pennsylvania during the eighteenth century, however, as did their formal role in Indian-colonist negotiations. Nevertheless, treaties of colonial officials with local Indian nations and Iroquoian nations dominated the colonial period even as relations between natives and the Pennsylvania government deteriorated—at times due to treaties themselves.
By the time the federal government ensconced itself at Philadelphia in the waning days of , treaty negotiations in the city became more diverse and less conclusive. President George Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox were deeply concerned with Indian relations in Iroquoia, the Ohio country, and the southeast, rather than in Pennsylvania, where relatively few native people remained. Indeed, delegations to the city in the early s primarily concerned the developing war in the west, where confederated nations of the Ohio country defeated the American army in and again in While only the Cherokees signed a treaty in Philadelphia in these years, negotiations at the capital preceded or followed treaties elsewhere in the country.
Like earlier treaty councils, formal speeches, or talks, formed the core of negotiation between delegates and the federal government. The Seneca Red Jacket c. However, negotiations in the capital were much smaller than those from earlier decades. The largest visit in the s consisted of forty-nine Iroquois who attended Philadelphia in , though no treaty was signed at the conclusion of negotiations.
However, the average was fewer than a dozen. Deliberations with the president and secretary of war were protracted, with days sometimes intervening between the exchanges of talks, prolonging negotiations, as in the past, over weeks and sometimes months. Library of Congress.
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During that time, native negotiators toured many cultural and civic sites, such as theaters, museums, churches, and the new waterworks. Several of the iconic prints of William Birch captured native visitors moving about the city.
As they negotiated the urban landscape, diplomats engaged with Philadelphians informally in streets and taverns and in more formal meetings with members of the Quaker Indian Committee and local and foreign dignitaries. Through these meetings long-standing relationships were solidified and new ones forged between the Friends and distant nations like the Creeks and Cherokees. Cast in large lots at the mint in Philadelphia, medals were a ubiquitous gift to indigenous diplomats.
Rank determined the size of medals that the diplomats received, as the most prominent leaders received the largest medallions. Stephanie Gamble received her Ph.