The War of 1812 and its Legacy at Akwesasne by Doug George-Kanentiio DEC 15, 2014

The War of 1812 and its Legacy at Akwesasne  by Doug George-Kanentiio  DEC 15, 2014

doug george KanentiioCFN – By December of 1814 the war between the US and Britain was coming to a close. Britain was under growing pressure to restore trade with the US and reduce the tax burdens of its citizens not only from the conflicts in North America but with France on the European continent.

Napoleon had been defeated in June, 1814 by Prussian and British forces at the small town of Waterloo,Belgium forcing the French ruler into exile. This meant that Britain was able to direct its military with full force against the Americans. Up to that date only small elements of British regulars actually fought in the American campaign but with the prospect of facing the largest land army in Europe the Americans pressed for a quick resolution of the war.

Negotiations directed at signing a peace treaty began in August, 1814 in the Belgian city of Ghent. The British delegation began the discussions by insisting on the creation of an aboriginal state in the Ohio-Michigan-Wisconsin area to act as a buffer between Canada and the US while serving as a brake on American expansion into the upper Midwest.

A primary cause of the war had been the US invasion of Native lands and the subsequent efforts by Tecumseh to form an alliance to thrust the Americans back. Tecumseh proved to be an exceptional political and military leader whose forces inflicted numerous defeats upon the US but needed British supplies to continue to do so. When Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of Moraviantown in October of 1813 the dreams of a broad aboriginal alliance died with him.  While most Native nations (including the majority of Mohawks) fought alongside the British and Canadians there was no chance of continuing the war without necessary firearms and ammunition only the British could supply.

The American response to the British demands at Ghent was to demand that all of Canada be ceded to the US without any regards for the aboriginal nations. Both sides spent the next few weeks exchanging positions until they were given news about the burning of Washington in August and the Battle of Plattsburgh in September. While the torching of the US Capitol was a moral victory for Britain the defeat at Plattsburgh under incompetent military command meant the end of the plans to march down the Lake Champlain-Hudson River corridor and divide the US into sections. The British knew there was movement in New England to secede from the US had such an invasion been successful but those hopes evaporated after Plattsburgh.

With no compelling reason to continue the war as a result of the military stalemates on the Niagara Peninsula and on Lake Champlain the US and Britain came to terms in December of 1814 with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent. Only one provision, Article Nine, cited Natives. It held that the pre-war status of the Native nations would be acknowledged but it also meant that Britain would no longer support them in their fight against the Americans.


For Akwesasne the treaty failed to remove a prime source of contention on the community. The international border would remain in place. Its exact place would be subject to further surveys and included in the 1842 Webster Ashburton Treaty, again between the US and Britain exclusive of aboriginal participation.

Despite the sacrifices of the Mohawk people in defending Canada they would not warrant specific protection under the terms of the Ghent Treaty. The Americans, and particularly New York State, would continue to intrude upon Mohawk lands using the fraudulent  Seven Nations of Canada (1796) and Joseph Brant (1797) “treaties” and by empowering the three “trustee” system now known as the St. Regis Tribal Council.  In 1899 at force of arms Canada would replicate the Americans when it imposed its own “elected” system with the formation of the St. Regis Band Council (now the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne).

The basis for generations of internal tension and periodic conflict at Akwesasne was set. While the majority of the community desired then (as now) one governing council the external powers would not-and will currently oppose-the return to singular Mohawk jurisdiction.

The War of 1812 solved nothing for the Mohawks. It was the last time the Mohawks fought as cohesive units using ancestral battle techniques. It was the last time the Iroquois fought other Iroquois in pitched battle. It was the last chance for the border at Akwesasne to be redrawn.
But the war has another unforeseen effect. Eleazer Williams, the Anglican deacon and son of Thomas Williams a signatory to the Seven Nations Treaty, had served as a US spy during the conflict.



It is said his information at the Battle of Plattsburgh enabled the US to defeat the British land forces but it made him a controversial person at Akwesasne. As a result he moved to the pro-American Oneidas in Oneida Castle, NY where he used his government ties in Albany and Washington to effect the removal of the majority of Oneidas to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Unknown to the Oneidas Williams was also an agent for the Ogden Land Company (hence the name Ogdensburg), accepting bribes to open Oneida lands for settlement.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is a co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association and the former editor of the journal Akwesasne Notes. A former member of the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian he is the author of “Iroquois on Fire” among other books. He may be reached via

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2 Responses to "The War of 1812 and its Legacy at Akwesasne by Doug George-Kanentiio DEC 15, 2014"

  1. Ian Kemp   December 18, 2014 at 12:55 PM

    A correction is needed in the second paragraph. An alliance of Austria, Sweden, Russia, Great Britain, Spain, Portugal and Prussia forced Napoleon to abdicate in April 1814 and he was then exiled to Elba. He was defeated at Waterloo in June 1815.

    The contribution of the Native Nations to the defence of Canada during the War of 1812 should never be forgotten.

  2. jules   December 18, 2014 at 2:09 PM

    Good for you Ian Kemp. People do not realize the contribution of the Native People and yes these people have done a lot and much more than what we were ever taught. If it were not for the Native People the whites would never have survived. People do not know of the terrible hardships involved in making a country and the Native People taught the inhabitants about certain foods that they could eat to survive during the winter months. There are not enough thank yous to go around to the Native People and we treated them very badly.

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