When we talk about Indigenous people throughout colonial American history (especially within the school curriculum in the United States), we often remove their agency and act like they didn’t really do much of anything other than simply exist. It creates a huge belief that they spent a lot of their lives being tricked by white Europeans before the Revolution and white Americans after.

Their involvement was largely much more than that, which I’d like to hope is obvious? But it’s apparently not because so many people remove the nuance from Indigenous Americans in their own history. It forces all tribes and nations to seem as if they were of one mind and were in perfect unison on every single aspect of anything that involved them, which they most certainly were not; it neglects to show the complex relationships between different tribes and nations, as well as within each nation. It’s also written largely in a way that makes it sound like Indigenous peoples were “easy to dupe” because the white colonists were “brilliant hucksters.” That also erases a lot of those complex relationships between Indigenous tribes and nations.

Yes, white Americans did often make tricky deals with Indigenous peoples, though it is probably more accurate to say that we would be culturally insensitive jerks and manipulate Indigenous customs to our ‘advantage’ (to the extent you can consider that murdering people, stealing from them, and kicking them off their land as an “advantage,” which I… don’t). But that isn’t the only historical narrative we should know.

Anyway, we do this a lot with the French and Indian War, as it’s known in the United States. The rest of the English-speaking world seems to refer to it as the Seven Years’ War (but for Europeans, the war was “officially” declared in 1756 despite the fact it had already been going on for two years in the United States).

I’m going to use the latter terminology because, well, I just prefer it to the former?

Watercolour titled ‘An East View of the Great Cataract of Niagara’ (1762) by Captain Thomas Davies (Credit: National Army Museum)

The Seven Years’ War (1754-1763)

In the United States, we tend to focus on the fact that the Seven Years’ War started because the imperial powers of Great Britain and France couldn’t decide who owned the upper Ohio River Valley. There was a lot of fort building, a lot of back-and-forth stealing, and a lot of general greed-based fighting. Every time I read about this war as a student, it always just sounded like a very bloody version of capture-the-flag.

One of the most surprising things for me that I know I wasn’t taught about this war was the fact that it had a global component and also impacted other areas of the world. I mean, if we’re calling it the “French and Indian War” in the United States, we’re really focusing on what happened between the French and English colonies (along with how the French “relied upon the Indians,” even though the British also had the support of Indigenous people.

Anyway, in the Introduction to The Culture of the Seven Years’ War: Empire, Identity, and the Arts in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World, Shaun Regan and Frans de Bruyn write:

The war unfolded in theatres on four continents, affecting the regions of South Asia (India), the Caribbean, Europe, the west coast of Africa, and the Philippines, along with North America. It involved an array of European powers, including Prussia and Portugal on the side of Britain, and Austria, Russia, Saxony, Spain, and Sweden on the side of France…

Yet despite its global reach, the Seven Years’ War in modern-day memory is often reduced, especially for North Americans, to a single event: the siege and fall of Quebec, which altered forever the colonial arrangements of New France and the rest of the continent.

Seriously, it took me a long time before I realised that the Seven Years’ War and the French and Indian War were really… part of the same event, and it’s largely because that was removed.

Anyway, in Fred Anderson’s essay “1759 — Year of Decision?” claims that the focus on the Battle of Quebec in the way that we discuss this war “has tended to obscure the significance of native people in determining the shape and outcome of the Seven Years’ War in America” and “utterly distorts our understanding of a war that depended at virtually every turn on native peoples and native agency.”

Many different groups of Indigenous peoples were involved in these wars, and they participated on both sides of the war. These include the Iroquois Confederacy, the Cherokee Nation, the Catawba Nation, the Huron (Wyandot), the Shawnee, the Ottawa, the Lepane (Delaware), the Mohicans, the Ojibwe, and the Wabanaki Confederacy. Before I continue, I just want to acknowledge to things:

  • The Iroquois Confederacy was made up of Six Nations from the Northeast (Kanien’kehá:ka or Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora);
  • The Cherokee (Upper, Lower, Middle, Overhill, and Out Towns) were composed of multiple groups that were often based on aspects of town and regional/geographical differences;
  • The Wabanaki Confederacy was made of five primary nations (Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki, and Penobscot).

While there were a number of Indigenous nations and groups that fought with both Imperial powers, I’m not going to be looking at all of them in depth. Instead, I’m going to focus primarily on the Cherokee but wanted to make clear that there were more tribes and nations than just them involved in the Seven Years’ War.

Lieutenant Henry Timberlake’s “Draught of the Cherokee Country,” showing the locations of Overhill Cherokee towns at the end of the Anglo-Cherokee War. (Credit: Henry Timberlake, Memoirs)

Alliances, Promises, and Failures

At the beginning of the war, the Virginians believed that having an alliance with the Cherokee would benefit them against the French and negotiated for their participation. Much of this was due to the fact that the English really wanted more control of the continent and were seeking to push France out of the territories. They also feared alliances between the French and the Indigenous peoples, so they wanted to seek out their own native allies.

The negotiation with the Cherokee guaranteed them the ability to trade freely with the settlers in Virginia and should’ve provided them with “presents.” These “presents” really should’ve been called “payment for fighting,” but many historians refer to it in this manner and act as if the Cherokee just wanted perpetual gifts (I can’t say that this is surprising, as we like to use terminology that undermines non-white groups throughout much of our history). As a result of this war being global, the British had been spending quite a lot of resources on many other continents in order to maintain (and, in some cases, grow) their empire everywhere.

Before we move on, it’s important to note that members of the Cherokee Nation took part in war efforts with the British at Fort Duquesne in September 1758. Native scouts and warriors provided a lot to the British military, including but not limited to: knowledge of land, traversing long distances, and strength in numbers. Often, this is left out because a lot of Cherokee (and Catawba) people left two days before reaching the fort. This is partly as a result of the British being arrogant, telling them to just wait for the payments they were owed, and willingly being ignorant of their Indigenous allies.

Anyway, looking back at the fact that this was a global war for the British, they weren’t able to maintain the promises that were necessary to keep the alliance with the Cherokee Nation because they stopped putting resources towards that relationship. The Cherokee, among other Indigenous allies, “would refuse to be treated as auxiliaries.General John Forbes, known for leading an expedition against Fort Duquesne and someone who originally praised the Cherokee, complained that “they cost the Crown ‘incredible sums of Money’ for not ‘any one piece of service’.”

The Cherokee, and many of the other Indigenous peoples, would return home “disgruntled and disillusioned with their British allies’ conduct” after having witnessed the inner workings of the British forces in 1758.

As they were returning home, the Cherokee replaced horses they had lost in previous battles with those that had been “running loose on the range,” as it was often customary for horses to be loose (whether they were owned or not). British authorities, in response to so-called “fears of horse-stealing,” implemented a system of certification for any horse that was taken out of Virginia; this was primarily aimed at the Cherokee people in order to prevent them from leaving the colonies with any additional resources, giving the Virginians the ability to jail anyone trying to take the horses if they didn’t have the necessary certification. It was openly declared that “any Indians not having such a certificate ought to be stopped.”

Unsurprisingly, this would actually make the relationship between the colonists and the Cherokee worse, since actions that were once confrontations and robberies would instead become murders.

Once again, we have to mention scalping because that was a thing that the colonists in Virginia would do. Despite the Cherokee having been allied with the British, the frontiersmen were angry at their so-called “betrayal” (which was definitely not a betrayal, seeing as the British did not keep the terms of their agreement). According to trader James Adair, the frontiersmen murdered the Cherokee and left their bodies mutilated, collecting the scalps in order to trade them in for bounties while claiming they were of the French Indians and then “sold at the regular price then established by law.”

So, once more! If someone is claiming that r*dskin isn’t a slur, there is a lot of history that rightfully claims otherwise because it is definitely a slur.

This all led to an event within the Seven Years’ War that is known as the Anglo-Cherokee War. Among white Americans, we typically refer to this as the “Cherokee War.” Perhaps it’s worth exploring the reasons for why we do this. On whom does this place the blame and frame as the antagonist? How does the removal of ‘Anglo’ remove the blame from the colonists, making it seem as if it’s a one-sided conflict? How does this name obscure the reality of the situation? The way that we name and discuss things all reflect how we perceive or believe them to be.

Honestly, it would benefit us greatly to start considering all of the names we give to wars. Having read up on the Seven Years’ War, would it be fair to exclude these global conquests that led to brutal wars in many places on behalf of their colonisers? Wouldn’t this actually be World War I, as the European powers were “dragged” into a war that would grant them power and much of it also took place in multiple theatres?

In the next post, I’m going to go into a little more detail about the Anglo-Cherokee War and provide some of the information that I came across. This is mostly to prevent this post from getting too long, but it will include the role of the governor (colonial administrator) of South Carolina who could’ve actually kept it from happening but chose not to and a colony’s House of Commons that just couldn’t let its pride get hurt.

Note: Should there be any errors, including insensitive language, please feel free to contact me (email or Twitter) so I can update my post. If there are questions or requests for clarification, those are also helpful, too!

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