Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
January 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


History of Canadian Indians



[This text was published in 1914. For the full citation, see the end of the document. To be true, Duncan Scott uses much vocabulary that is rejected in the social sciences today. His attitude is judgmental and paternalistic. His hero is Sir William Johnson who sought to protect Indians, especially against American encroachments on Indian lands. He readily uses stereotypes and does not question the right of the British to "civilize" the Indians. While this text is dated, it still provides much information of value on the indigenous population of Canada in the period under study.]


- I -




THE time divisions which are convenient for the larger purposes and scope of this history have no significance for Indian affairs. The administrative changes which occurred in 1763 and 1841 did not affect the Indians in their government, and the date of Confederation serves but to mark the responsibility for Indians then cast upon the Dominion. The year 1830 may be fixed as the limit of the first regime in Indian affairs. Before that date a purely military administration prevailed, the duty of the government being restricted to maintaining the loyalty of the Indian nations to the crown, with almost the sole object of preventing their hostility and of conserving their assistance as allies. About 1830 the government, with the disappearance of the anxieties of the first period, began to perceive the larger humane duties which had arisen with the gradual settlement and pacification .of the country. The civilization of the Indian became the ideal; the menace of the tomahawk and the. firebrand having disappeared, the apparent duty was to raise him from the debased condition into which he had fallen owing to the loose and pampering policy of former days. Protection from vices which were not his own, and instruction in peaceful occupations, foreign to his natural bent, were to be substituted for necessary generosity. When the Dominion in 1867 gathered up and assumed the responsibility of the colonial governments to the Indians of the provinces this policy was not changed, but a great expansion in its current occurred, and the development of the new western territories largely increased the burden.


It will be seen that the treatment of the relations of the government to the Indians cannot naturally be broken up into the same periods as the political history, and it has been thought convenient to deal in the first period, from 1763 to 1841, with those subjects which are germane to the military superintendence of the Indians ; in the second period, from 1841 to I867, with the first attempts to protect, civilize and educate them ; and in the third period, from 1867 to the present time, with the advancement which has taken place among the Indians of the older provinces, the obligations which have arisen with the new political divisions of the country, and with the efforts made to meet them.




The policy of the French crown was, in at least one essential particular, different from that of the British government. French discovery meant conquest so far as the Indian was concerned. Whatever interest was to be shown, whatever favours were to be granted, flowed from the clemency of the crown ; the Indian in himself had no title in the soil demanding recognition, nor, in his inferior position as a savage, had he any rights which could become the subject of treaty or negotiation. When the French standard was set up the Indian passed at once from undisputed possession of his ancestral domain to a mire precarious occupation. His land was parcelled out and patented without his consent; his hunting-grounds were constrained by feudal tenure and customs, without tribal or individual acquiescence. In theory he was not to be treated cruelly or unjustly; he was, in fact, the object of immense curiosity and of a passionate desire for the welfare of his soul, out of which arose a spiritual conflict which has covered the early Jesuit missionaries with the mantle of heroic martyrdom. Little plots of land were set apart for him, and seigniories were granted that he might be fostered and educated, and, above all, christianized; but the acknowledgment of any right or title to the soil was absent.


From the earliest times the policy of the British government was marked by an essential contrast. One of the first recorded instructions to British colonial governors, issued by Charles II in 1670, declares the justice that is to be shown to the Indians, and directs that persons be employed to learn their language and that their property be protected. After the enumeration of civil rights came the direction that the governor was to consider how the Indians might be best instructed and invited to the Christian religion. These words were merely the enunciation of a former policy, for earlier in the seventeenth century. lands had been ceded with due formalities and for definite considerations, and treaties and agreements had defined the civil relation of the aborigines and the ruler. It was the British policy to acknowledge the Indian title to his vast and idle domain, and to treat for it with much gravity, as if with a sovereign power. According to the doctrine of English law, the lands occupied by the Indians before the Conquest vested thereupon in the British crown; the Indians continuing to occupy under the crown by a sort of precarious title. That title may exist merely as policy, but it has actuated all the British dealings with the Indians ; and while it sprang in the seventeenth century from ideals of right and justice, it could be understood and interpreted in the nineteenth by the law lords of the crown in the following words : 'There has been all along vested in the Crown a substantial and paramount estate, underlying the Indian title, which became a plenum dominium whenever that title was surrendered or otherwise extinguished.'




The idea that there existed something in the relations of the white man with the Indian which demanded more than casual attention, which in fact required special training and study, is formulated in the instructions of 1670 to which reference has just been made. Persons were to be employed to learn the Indian languages, and from this special class of official intermediary or interpreter rose the separate department of the government which was to be charged with the supervision of Indian affairs, and the oversight by which traditional policy should be expanded to meet the needs of advancing civilization. In New France the affairs of the Indians were merged in the government of the country ; there was no officer or board of commissioners designated to control or influence the conduct of the natives ; the missionaries were free agents for evangelization, but had no official standing; and the nerves of policy spreading from the central authority were therefore neither numerous nor sensitive. The British colonial government began early to appoint officers to conduct Indian affairs, the first on record being Arnout Cornelius Veile, a special commissioner to the Five Nations in 1689. Commissioners were appointed in 1696 by the government of New York for the Indian management and control ; at first they were four in number, but had increased in 1739 to thirty. Abuses crept in where authority was so diffused, and the hand of a strong man was needed when William Johnson was appointed Indian agent by Clinton in 1744. From that date to the present there runs through the Indian administration a living and developing theory of government.


The policy formulated by this great prototype of all Indian officials has been the foundation of the British control of Indian affairs; varied by changed conditions, it dominates the present administration. In a letter to the Earl of Shelburne, dated January 15, 1767, he thus states his policy:


"We should employ men acquainted with their manners to put forth measures adapted to win upon their affections, to coincide with their genius and dispositions, to discover all their designs, to prevent frauds and injustice, to redress grievances, to remove their jealousies and apprehensions, whilst by annual or other stated congresses, as practised among themselves, we mutually repeat our engagements, refreshing the memories of those who have no other records to trust to-this would soon produce most salutary effects ; their apprehensions removed, their attachment to us would acquire a solidity not to be shaken, whilst time, intercourse with us and instruction in religion and learning would create such a change in their manners and sentiments as the present generation might live to see ; together with an end to the expense and attention which are as yet so indispensably necessary to" attain these great purposes and to promote the safety, extend the settlements and increase the commerce of this country."


What Sir William Johnson thought of his charges he may be allowed to state in his own words:


"Now as the Indians who possess these countries axe by numbers considerable, by inclination warlike and by disposition covetous (which last has been increased from the customs in which the French have bred them), I find on all hands that they will never be content without possessing the frontier, unless we settle limits with them, and make it worth their while, and without which should they make peace to-morrow they would break the same the first opportunity . . . . I know that many mistakes arise here from erroneous accounts formerly made of Indians ; they have been represented as calling themselves subjects, although the very word would have startled them, had it been ever pronounced by any interpreter. They desire to be considered as Allies and Friends, and such we may make them at a reasonable expense and thereby occupy our outposts, and carry on a trade in safety, until in a few years we shall become so formidable throughout the country as to be able to protect ourselves and abate of that charge ; but until such measures be adopted, I am well convinced, there can be no reliance on a peace with them, and that as interest is the grand tie which will bind them to us, so their desire of plunder will induce them to commit hostilities whenever we neglect them."


This was clearly a policy of necessity. To keep the Indians at bay by friendship, to distrust them profoundly while cementing treaties with them, to heal each treachery with the salve of presents, to be ready with ample rewards for negative services - these were to be the actuating principles until the increase of population should abate the terror of the savage, and the pressure of civilization should turn him into a peaceful subject.


- II -




WHEN. the influence of France disappeared from the northern part of the continent, the system which had been developed by Johnson was extended to the new territory; Quebec became part of the Northern Indian department, and Johnson's successors endeavoured with varied success to imitate and continue his policy. When he found the Northern division of the Indian department enlarged by the conquest of Canada , he appointed deputies for the new territory, and extended his organization to meet the demands of the time. In 1763 he informed the Lords of Trade regarding the Indian population of his department. He enumerated the number of men as follows : - Six   Nations, 2,030 ; Indians of Canada in alliance with the Six Nations, 630 ; Indians of the Ohio, 1,100 ; Indians of the Ottawa Confederacy, 8,020. Although he does not compute the total population of all ages and of both sexes, it must have reached 42,000. After the Revolutionary War probably not more than half that number were to be found on British territory; but until after the negotiation of Jay's Treaty, and the transfer of the western posts to the United States government in 1796, they were all under the real or assumed protection of the crown.


Johnson's power over the Indians, beginning first with his influence over the Six Nations, arose from their instinctive perception that he was honest with them, and that his allegiance was no mere pretence in order to subdue or deceive, a perception which was fortified by countless proofs of his disinterestedness. This has been, and we may yet hold it to be, the chief power in British relations with the native races, even though we may point to men who have abused the opportunities given them by this traditional power. In the Six Nations he was dealing with the highest aboriginal type of the northern half of the continent - a people who had armed their confederacy for peace purposes and who forced peace upon the conquered tribes; a people who   had developed a form of government which suited admirably the genius of the race, and which might have developed into something even higher but for the arresting and diverting hand of European civilization.




The Six Nations had not only forced the conquered nations into alliances, but had even impose, upon them many of the peculiar customs of the League. As, therefore, the relations between the government and all the Indian nations were coloured and influenced by the practice of the great Confederacy, it might be well to devote a few words to the outstanding features of their form of government. According to the traditions, before the formation of the League the five aboriginal tribes were hostile to each other, but were brought together and the League constituted by the wisdom of Da-ga-no-we-da, a sage of the Onondaga nation. The character of the League was determined by forms of government already existing among the nations, which must have been of slow growth. Da-ga-no-we-da, the traditional lawgiver, who, by reason of an impediment in his speech, chose Ha-yo-went-ha (Hiawatha) as his speaker, established what had been the practice throughout many years, and gave it form and stability. The supreme power resided in a council of fifty sachems, who bore traditional names and whose positions were hereditary in their several nations. Of these, nine were allotted to the Mohawks, nine to the Oneidas , fourteen to the Onondagas, ten to the Cayugas and eight to the Senecas. They held equal authority, and the sachems of each nation ruled their people as the whole council of sachems ruled the national affairs. Their political edifice was the Long House, erected with its door opening upon the west. In order of precedence the nations stood as follows : the Mohawks, the Onondagas, the Senecas, the Oneidas and the Cayugas. The Tuscaroras, the sixth nation, who were not admitted to the League until 1715, had not an equality with the original five nations, and upon their entrance no increase was made to the fifty sachem. Later in the history of the League an order of elective chieftainships was formed. Many Indians known to history - Red Jacket, Brant and Cornplanter, for example - were chiefs of the later order ; these subsidiary chiefs never sat as sachems in the order of the League, but in time gained great influence. Each nation was divided into eight tribes, and the tie of consanguinity was powerful between each tribe. A member of the Heron tribe of the Mohawks was brother to the Herons of the Senecas ; or a member of the Beaver tribe of the Cayugas was brother to the Beavers of the Oneidas . 'With the ties of kindred as its principle of union,' to quote from Lewis H. Morgan's League of the Iroquois, 'the whole race was interwoven into one great family, composed of tribes in its first subdivisions ; and the tribes themselves, in their subdivisions, composed of parts of many households.'


The stability of the League was ensured by this interweaving of kith and kin, and the permanency and strength. of the bond is proved by the constancy of the League as a whole to the British side in the Revolutionary War. The Oneidas and Tuscaroras alone openly favoured the Americans, and even they were always wavering, always being influenced by the spirit of old times and old customs. A more serious division in the ranks of the Six Nations would have meant for their a desperate civil war, involving every warrior in the guilt of his brother's blood.


Descent was fixed in the female line, and thus it was assured that the sachems would be of the same tribe as the original holders of the position. A survival of the days when the woman was wife to all members of the tribe of which her husband was a member - this was the only way of securing purity of descent. The son of a marriage was not the son of his father but of his mother ; he could inherit from his sire neither honours not property. If his father were a sachem, the office was open only to choice from among the descendants of his father's brothers or sisters.


In their great councils, which could only be summoned by the Onondagas, who were the guardians of the council fire, business was conducted with high formality, and absolute unanimity was necessary to the decision of any question. The unanimity was assisted and almost assured by a system of concurrence between sachems of the same class. Each department of the national life, and every relation of family intercourse, was woven through with subtle bonds and filaments of association. It is not necessary to pursue the subject deeper into its labyrinths; enough has been said to make clear the nature of these master Indians who so long troubled the British with their intrigue and strategy.


Johnson entered into the spirit of their policy, used their imagery, spoke to them perpetually in Wampum, and kept the council fire fed with wood that made the brightest and warmest flame. In 1763 the Indians of the newly created government of Quebec, and the Indians of the West, saw his name signed to the proclamation of that year, which gave them a strong protection and an acknowledged title to their lands ; and they might feel, indeed, to use the figurative language of the council fire, that a tree had been set up whose branches were large enough to afford shelter for them and all their brethren to come and consult under it.




It is a comment on the importance of the Indian question in those days that at least one-third of the Proclamation of 1763 should have been devoted to defining the protection to be accorded to the Indians and their property and trade. After the four new governments of Quebec , East and West Florida and Granada had been erected and their administration provided for, the proclamation turns to the Indians:


"And where it is just and reasonable and essential to our interest and the security of our colonies that the several nations or tribes of Indians with whom we are connected, and who live under our protection, should not be molested or disturbed in the possession of such parts of our domains and territories as not having been ceded to us are reserved to them or any of them as their hunting grounds."


So runs the preamble, followed by instructions to the governors that no warrants of survey or land-patents are to be granted beyond the bounds of their districts. All the land except that granted to the Hudson 's Bay Company, and also all the land to the west of the head-waters of rivers 'which fall into the sea from the West or North-West,' were reserved for the Indians. No purchase or settlement was to be allowed, and all squatters were to remove from these unceded lands. No private person was to presume to negotiate a land-purchase from the Indians, but 'if at any time any of the said Indians should be inclined to dispose of the said lands the same shall be purchased only for us, in our name, at some public meeting or assembly of the said Indians to be held for that purpose by the governor or commander-in-chief of our colony.'


Trade with the Indians was to be free ; but the prospective trader had to take out a licence, and he was to give security that he would observe all regulations imposed from time to time. Five years after the date of this proclamation, at Fort Stanwix, the great treaty was signed which determined, for the time being, the western boundaries of the colonies and defined the vast unpurchased Indian domain lying farther west. The treaty grew out of the proclamation ; Johnson negotiated the one, his influence can be traced throughout the wording of the other, and his strong will dominated affairs even after his death and well into the first decades of the nineteenth century. It was by his methods that the Indians were controlled during the Revolutionary War, and amid the uncertainties of the eleven years from 1783 to 1794 between the signing of the Treaty of Paris and the signing of Jay's Treaty.


The outstanding events in which the Indians played an important part during these troubled times were the Revolutionary War, the peaceful settlement of the Mohawks on the Grand River in Upper Canada , and the contrasting hostilities surrounding the Indian claims to the western country.


In order to understand the position of the Indians after the close of the Revolutionary War, when they were rolled back upon Canada, it will be necessary to glance briefly at the events between the years 1774 and 1783. Throughout the spring and early summer of 1774 the strained relations existing between the American colonists and the government caused the Indians much uneasiness. They had been approached by emissaries who attempted to educate them-in the rebel politics, and Johnson was active in allaying their fears. The burdens of such unrest as preceded the cataclysm were too great to be borne by a man already enfeebled, and Sir William died suddenly on July 11, 1774, immediately after an important conference with the Six Nations. His death threw the Indians into a panic, and if it had not been for Johnson's foresight the results might have been serious. He had recommended as his successor Colonel Guy Johnson, his nephew and son-in-law, who at once took up the reins of government, and was later confirmed in office.



- III -






THE intrigues for the neutrality or active sympathy of the Indians continued, but more openly. Early in the year 1775 the revolutionary party had begun a correspondence with the Six Nations through their missionary, the Rev. Samuel Kirkland, who had great influence over them. Colonel Johnson endeavoured to have him removed from his station, but the Indians objected. They found their best friends on opposite sides ; and shortly after their effort on behalf of the disloyal clergyman they had to intervene on behalf of their loyal superintendent, and protest to the Tryon County Committee against any restriction upon his liberty. 'The love we have for the memory of Sir William Johnson,' they urged, 'and the obligations the whole Six Nations are under to him must make us regard and protect every branch of his family.'


Underlying the protestations of both sides that their efforts were directed solely toward maintaining the Indian neutrality, there must have been the hope that the neutrality would pass, and that active armed support would ensue. Colonel Johnson, finding that all necessaries for the Indians were stopped by order of the committees, left his headquarters in May 1775, proceeded to Oswego and thence to Montreal , holding councils on the way with the Indians. He was accompanied by Joseph Brant and by a large body of Mohawks, who never again returned peacefully to their old homes. At the same time the Continental party were not idle, and won the friendship of the Oneidas and Tuscaroras; but during the war they wavered, and even these nations were scattered between the two camps. In 1780 Colonel Johnson reported that the major part of the disaffected tribes had returned to their allegiance. The first occasion on which the Indians took part in the hostilities was at St Johns, in the summer and autumn of 1775 ; the Mississagas were there actively associated with the Indians of the St Lawrence. But Governor Carleton would not allow them to cross the frontier, or, to quote his own language, 'to let them loose on the rebel provinces lest cruelties might have been committed and for fear the innocent might have suffered with the guilty.'


Gradually the separation of the nations from their ancestral domains was accomplished. Sir John Johnson, with certain of the Six Nations who had not joined Colonel Guy Johnson and Brant, fled to Canada in 1776 ; and the great council fire tended by the Onondagas since the formation of the League was extinguished. The council at which the Six Nations were finally persuaded actively to support the British by promises of reward and protection, and by a liberal supply of presents, was held at Oswego in the summer of 1777. Colonel John Butler was there with Captain Caldwell and Brant; and then began a lurid chapter of warfare in the Indian manner, with episodes of flame and the torture stake.


It would be unprofitable to trace events with minuteness. It is doubtful if the Indian allegiance was of any real benefit to the British. Neutrality, if it could have been obtained, would have been a jewel of price to both sides; but Britain gained the costly prize of a savage ally. The Indians were at all times moody and fickle fighters, eager to be purchased every season with a new supply of merchandise, and quick to imagine slights and insults. There was ever present the fear of their treachery the fear that some last offer from the Americans, such as was constantly being made, might please

their whim ; even Lafayette in 1778 addressed himself to the task of winning the Canadian Indians. Guy Johnson gives this detailed list of their exploits in the campaign of 1780 : 'They have killed and taken 14 rebel officers and 316 men, and destroyed 714 houses and granaries full of grain, with 680 head of horses and cattle, 6 small forts and several mills'


The close of the war found the powerful Confederacy crowded about Niagara . Their exploits had not been of a nature to bring them wealth or even means of subsistence, and they were pensioners on the bounty of Great Britain . Indians are never slow in making demands, and a promise sinks into their minds and becomes as perdurable as an index of brass. The Six Nations had been promised by Carleton, and the pledge had been renewed by Haldimand, that they should be placed in as favourable a situation at the close of the war as they enjoyed in their former 'castles.' They remembered and urged the fulfilment of this promise, and pressed for the payment of their losses. Great Britain paid these at their own valuation of £15,000 ( New York currency), and she purchased for them from the Mississagas for £2,000 a fertile tract extending down the Grand River from its source to its mouth. A portion of the Mohawks settled at the Bay of Quinte under the chief Deserontya, whose name is preserved in Deseronto, the name of a town near the reserve. The Six Nations still reside near Brantford upon the 49,696 acres which remain of their grant, the greater portion having been sold for their benefit, and keep up a lively semblance of their traditional form of government.


The treatment of the Six Nations and other friendly tribes on British territory after the close of the war was a matter merely of spending money and giving lands, but the Indian problems arising from the Treaty of Paris were more difficult and dangerous. The Indians who considered themselves the allies of Great Britain , bound to suffer or profit with her, expected that they would be named in the Treaty of Paris, and that their old treaties would be confirmed and respected. General Haldimand, writing to Lord North in November 1783, told him that the Indians had as enlightened ideas of the nature and obligations of treaties as most civilized nations, and knew that no infringement of the treaty of 1768 fixing boundaries between their country and the North American provinces could be binding without their consent. When those residing in the newly formed republic realized that they were at the mercy of the Americans, their surprise was equalled only by their scorn. They had been neglected by the power whose understanding of the sacredness of treaties they had imagined to be as pure and lofty as their own. They never ceased to advance and support their claims by clear and simple reasoning until their voice was hushed in defeat; and, having proved by this appeal to arms the justice of their contention, the right for ever remains on their side. They were capable of urging their case in such straightforward language as follows:


"The King surely would not pretend to give the Americans that which was not his to give ; and would not believe that the Americans would accept that which the King had not power to give. They were allies of the King, not subjects, and would not submit to such treatment. They had given the French King right to establish posts along the waterway between Canada and the Western Indians in the heart of their country, for trading purposes only, no land, and after the war [i.e. Pontiac's war] granted to Sir William Johnson to hold these forts for their ally the King, but this gave the King no right to grant these lands to the Americans. They would look for favours from neither, nor would they be aggressors, but would defend their own. If England had done so it was an act of cruelty and injustice and capable only of Christians. "


They afterwards came to know, from the acknowledgment by the Americans, that they possessed the right to their unceded lands, that Great Britain had not given away their country at the peace ; as Governor Simcoe expressed it, 'the only rights in the Indian Territories resigned by the King to the United States were those against the nations of Europe.'


After the Treaty of Paris, if England could have handed over the western country to the United States , she would have been in no way concerned with what was purely an American question. Unfortunately for the Indians, their lands had become the property of the conquerors, and their title de­pended upon the view which their masters would take of old treaties and new duties. Great Britain could not actually interpose ; she could only mediate, and was all the time strongly compromised in a way which gave her less power over the Indians than she might have had under other conditions. For during all this time that the conflict raged around the Indian boundaries, the British flag waved over forts and posts far within the American territory as defined by the treaty. Clauses v and vi provided for the restitution of the losses of the loyalists and the cessation of reprisals on the loyalists remaining in the United States . These clauses had not been respected, and to enforce them Great Britain had withheld the transfer of the western posts. So long as this semblance of suzerainty was maintained, the Indians felt that they could claim some protection, or at least advice, from their old ally. Brant's name was as yet a tower of strength, and they looked to him as a mediator. The Treaty of Fort Stanwix, consummated by their old friend Sir William Johnson in 1768, fixed the Ohio as the western boundary of the colonies ; beyond that river the lands yet remained un­ceded to the white man. All that the British could do after the peace to preserve the Indians' title was to endeavour to assist in establishing a great belt of neutral Indian territory between the Ohio and the Mississippi and the borders of Canada.




But the active hostilities of the Indians on the frontier hampered the American settlements, and General St Clair was sent to crush the rebels, only to be himself defeated in November 1791. During the following year efforts were made to settle the question peacefully. Brant made a visit to Philadelphia , and a grand council was arranged between the representatives of the United States and the Indians for the spring of 1793. Meanwhile the Indians themselves held counsel together, and listened with contempt to the Six Nations' chiefs, who were taunted with having 'the voice of the United States folded under their arm.' A preliminary council was held in Freemasons' Hall one Sunday morning in July 1793. Three commissioners from the United States were present, with Governor Simcoe, several Quakers and others who were anxiously promoting a peaceful settlement. Brant was the spokesman of the Confederates, and his party wished him to ask whether the commission had the power to fix the Ohio as the boundary. Ignoring the reference to the Ohio , he merely asked whether they were empowered to fix the boundary. The answer was in the affirmative, but if Brant had gained time he had lost all influence with the Confederate Indians and weakened the confidence of the British.


More than a month afterwards, near Detroit , to which point the commissioners had proceeded, the question was decided. The Indians, filled with suspicion, refused to receive the commissioners again, and sent an abrupt refusal to consider any terms but their own. They claimed the Ohio as the boundary; Brant and the Six Nations were willing to accept the restricted boundary of the Ohio and the Musk­ingum, but the commissioners could agree with neither. The negotiations were broken off, the Indians complaining to Simcoe that the Americans insisted on taking the whole of their country, and offered money, which was useless to them, in payment.


General Wayne, who had organized an expedition against the Indians after the defeat of St Clair, pressed still farther into their territory, and his advances were considered a menace to the safety of the British posts. Both Lord Dorchester and Governor Simcoe considered that the country was on the eve of war, and prepared for it. But Wayne contented himself with crushing the Indians, which he did on August 20, 1795, and, under the terms of Jay's Treaty , Great Britain retired from the debatable ground and from the western Indian problem. Once more, however, she showed her generosity to the Indians by purchasing from the Chippewas of the River Thames a tract of land for the western Indians, who, it was supposed, would settle there to the number of three thousand, and many of whom eventually moved to Canada. These events disrupted the close connection of the Indians of Canada with the western nations; but we shall realize again that the old heat had not died out of the embers of the council fire when we see Tecumseh appearing out of the West to assist the British in the War of 1812. It was even years after that-in fact, not until the British restricted the issue of presents to their own Indians that the bond of the old fealty was finally severed.




It is somewhat difficult to trace the course of British diplomacy throughout- the tangle of this Indian territorial dispute, involved, as it was, with the larger question of treaty obligations and the sovereignty of the West. American writers have charged the British with, bad faith and a desire to foment the Indian troubles ; they point to an active interest manifested by the issue of ammunition and supplies. It would be easy to exculpate and defend the British if the responsibility for all orders, and all obedience to orders, lay in one direct channel from the source onwards. But the separation between the executive government and the Indian department, which gave rise to much protest, was in large measure chargeable with the misunderstandings which made the action of the British open to suspicion. It must be granted that in negotiations with the Indians much that is important is often concealed. It is not always the gentleman commissioner with gold lace on his coat who is master of the situation ; some obscure parson, trader, or adventurer is often the real pilot of events. There is a phrase full of meaning which appears in the old records : 'The council fire was now covered up.' When the council fire was thus 'covered up '.many other unofficial blazes were kindled either for bane or benefit. The remoteness of the posts, the time which passed between the dispatch of reports and the receipt of orders, tended to make a consistent administration more difficult. Tribute is due to such Indian officials as McKee, Claus and Elliot for the fact that it was, in all essentials, successful. During the years of strife after 1783 ammunition and other presents were constantly and periodically issued to the Indians. These were for subsistence .only, and were given as by a grand almoner to pensioners ; to withdraw them would have meant inconceivable hardship to the recipient and a lasting disgrace to the dispensing power. It is safe to take the British diplomacy at its face value, and goodwill and a desire to settle the Indian question peacefully are written plainly upon it. At the same time, there is evident the desire to safeguard His Majesty's interests in Upper Canada . For a long period, in fact until after the War of 1812, a certain fear of the Indian runs through the dispatches from Upper Canada.


There is no doubt that the administration of the Indian department was open to criticism. In 1795 Governor Simcoe arraigned the policy which separated the department in his province from the executive; the department was, he averred, unpopular by reason of charges of peculation, arid 'from belief that the officers foment ill-will between the Indians and the United States.' He states : 'I therefore, if it shall continue on its present independent footing, declare that I consider the power and authority of my station, requisite for the good government and internal welfare of the Province of Upper Canada, to be materially weakened.' His appeal to the governor-general that the evil be remedied was effective, and in 1796 the lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada was given control of Indian affairs in his province.




So long as the Indians were in the majority and under separate control, the difficulties of administering the government, particularly in the department of criminal justice, were great. The incident of the murder of Lowell by Isaac Brant, one of Joseph Brant's sons, is a case in point. Governor Simcoe was prepared to demand the surrender of the murderer; if met by refusal, he had decided to support the civil power with the whole military force of the country, and he had begun preparations. The fear was that the execution or punishment of a brave would bring the Indians into conflict with the settlers. In the case cited Isaac died from a wound inflicted by his father in self-defence; and Brant, showing his people an example of obedience to the law, gave himself up to the authorities, and was acquitted of any criminal responsibility for his son's death.


The scroll of this uneasy period cannot be rolled up without a more distinct reference to Joseph Brant, the master Indian of the time. He was not a sachem of his nation, but only one of those elected chiefs of whom mention has been made; yet he succeeded by his native force in placing himself at the head of the Confederacy, the acknowledged arbiter between civilized governments and the savage forces which opposed them. He was fortunate in his early training in the school of Sir William Johnson , being domesticated in his house by reason of the relations which existed between his sister Molly and the baronet. He was educated ; he wrote English in a rugged style, and translated portions of the Scriptures and the Prayer Book into Mohawk. But his acquirement was less remarkable than his native endowment. Shrewder, more cunning and deeper than any other Mohawk, he had also a breadth of mind and a capacity for assimilating the genius of European thought and politics. His intellectual vigour impressed great men of various minds, and he played his part well, until, as it would seem, he became confused amid the greatness of the contending forces, and accepted, with the defeat of the policy of the western Indians, his dwarfed position as the head of a disrupted league composed of dissatisfied and truculent individuals. Yet even in this position one must recognize his worth, and record that he worked diligently for his people. Altruism is absent from the Indian character ; yet Brant's last words were for his race : 'Have pity upon the poor Indians ; if you can get any influence with the great, endeavour to do them all the good you can.'



- IV -




ALTHOUGH the general history of the War of 1812 does not come within the purview of this chapter, certain space must be given to the share which the Indians took in the defence of Upper and Lower Canada .


In one particular the part they played was unique and final, as the western Indians, who had never ceased their hatred of the United States , appear for the last time as allies of the British. Tecumseh, the great chief of the Shawnees , is the heroic Indian figure of this war. His steadfast adherence to the policy of an alliance with Great Britain, when many of his own and his confederate people were opposed to his diplomacy, and his death for his adopted cause, will always surround his fame with a lustre of romance. He was born in 1768, the year of the great Treaty of Fort Stanwix, and he had taken part as a young man in the turbulent times between 1783 and 1796. The Indians had observed the tone of hostility which the Americans had adopted toward the British, and it had thrown them into a state of feverish unrest. On November 7, 1811, in the absence of Tecumseh, they had attacked General Harrison and   had inflicted upon him considerable loss. Harrison followed them up only to find the deserted village of Tippecanoe , which he destroyed. Tecumseh,. when he returned in January 1812 from his mission to the Creeks in the south, found the desolate site of the once prosperous village.


On December 3, 1811, General Brock writes in a letter to Governor Craig:


"My first care, on my arrival in this province, was to direct the officers   of the Indian Department at Amherstburg to exert their whole influence with the Indians to prevent the attack, which I understood a few tribes meditated against the American frontier. But their efforts proved fruitless, as such was the infatuation of the Indians, that they refused to listen to advice ; and they are now so deeply engaged that I despair of being able to withdraw them from the contest in time to avert their destruction. A high degree of fanaticism, which has been for years working in their minds, has led to the present event."


He reports again : 'The Indians felt that they had been sacrificed in 1794, they are eager to avenge their injuries.' Suasion and advice were of no avail ; Tecumseh with over a thousand of his warriors crossed the frontier into Upper Canada, and met General Brock in August of 1812. Brock thus describes his fellow-warrior:


"He who most attracted my attention was the Shawanee chief, Tecumseh, who for the last two years has carried on, contrary to our remonstrances, an active warfare against the United States. A more sagacious or more gallant warrior does not, I believe, exist. He was the admiration of every one who conversed with him. From a life of dissipation, he has not only become in every respect abstemious, but he has likewise prevailed on all his nation, and many of the other tribes, to follow his example."




The defection of Tecumseh drew from the Americans the most violent threats of extermination, which were even extended to include those white soldiers who might be captured fighting side by side with the Indians. But the Indians fought throughout the war, in their fashion, supporting the regular troops and the militia; and their share in the victories and defeats of the campaigns was marked with but one act of treachery, the massacre of some American prisoners after the affair at Frenchtown. They were present at every important engagement-at the capture of Detroit, at Queenston Heights, at the defences of York and Fort George, at the Thames, at Beaver Dam and Lundy's Lane, with de Salaberry at Chateauguay, and with Morrison's column at Chrystler's Farm. Not a few Indians were lost in the British cause, including Tecumseh, who was shot at the battle of the Thames , and whose burial-place is shrouded in mystery. In the Treaty of Ghent, which closed the war, the Indians were not forgotten. Brock had pleaded their cause before his death, and had urged that in any negotiations for peace they should not be 'exposed to the unrelenting fury of their enemies.' Clause ix of the treaty read as follows : 'Hostilities to cease with the Indian tribes ; all the possessions, rights and privileges enjoyed by them previous to 1811 to be restored.' The losses of the Indians during this war amounted to £4,750 ; the claims were paid by the government.


On August 8, 1814, a general order was issued stating that the commander of the forces had approved of a plan for the organization of a body of Indian warriors, to act together in the field under a superintendent as colonel, and to consist of four companies from Caughnawaga, the Lake of Two Mountains, St Regis, St Francis, Bécancour and Three Rivers. The officers of this corps received the same pay as officers of corresponding rank in the regular army. The corps served until July 24, 1815, when it was disbanded.


During the rebellion of 1837-38 the Indians remained loyal, and in one instance rendered invaluable service to the government. On November 4, 1838 , an attempt was made by a body of the insurgents to surprise the Caughnawaga Indians. It was Sunday, and the Indians, who were in church, were warned by a squaw of the intended attack. They defeated their antagonists and took seventy prisoners, whom they handed over to the authorities in Montreal the next day. Their gallant conduct was made the subject of a commendatory dispatch from Lord Glenelg to Sir John Colborne, dated January 26, 1839.



- V -





With the gradual settlement of the Indians in the province of Upper Canada , the administration of Indian lands grew to be the most important question with which the government had to deal. The land question had two main divisions-the unceded lands and the reserved lands. In the lower province the crown simply maintained the state of affairs existing before the Conquest. There were no unceded lands in Lower Canada . There the Indians were found settled upon reserves which had been granted either to missionaries for the purpose of evangelizing the Indians, or to the Indians themselves by the crown or private persons. Some of these titles are of ancient date. The reserve at Caughnawaga was granted in 1680 to the Jesuits for the Mohawks whom they had converted, and who had occupied an older Caughnawaga in the Mohawk Valley. In the year 1762 this reserve was withdrawn from the management of the Jesuit Order, and the fee simple was retained by the crown for the benefit of the Indians. Another reserve, that of the Abnakis of St Francis, was donated by Dame Crevier to be held as a reserve so long as a Jesuit missionary was there maintained. In the upper province, when the Constitutional Act of 1791 became operative, vast areas of land were in possession of the Indians. The purchase of the tract from the Mississagas for the Mohawks was an early application of the principle of the Proclamation of 1763, and no sooner had Governor Simcoe seated himself in his province than he began to extinguish the Indian interest in the lands, and place the Indians upon reserves set apart as their own peculiar estate, inalienable without their consent. Large parts of Upper Canada were thus relieved of the burden of the Indian title before 1841. The consideration was usually an annuity and sometimes a direct purchase. The more important cessions were as follows:






Date of Surrender


Location of Surrenders

Described by Counties






£           s.      d.

May 19, 1790


Portions of Essex , Kent , Middlesex and Elgin Counties

1,200   0       0


May 22, 1798


Portion of Simcoe County

101       0      0

Sept. 7, 1796


Portion of Middlesex and Oxford Counties

1,200    0       0

Sept. 7, 1796


Portion of Lambton County

800       0      0

June 30, 1798


Island of St Joseph

1,200    0      0

Nov. 17, 1815


Portion of Simcoe County

4,000    0      0

Oct. 17, 1818


Portion of Dufferin, Grey and Simcoe Counties

1,200    0      0


Nov. 5, 1818


Peterborough and Victoria Counties , portions of Northumberland, Durham , Ontario , Haliberton and Hastings Counties , and District of Muskoka

740       0      0


July 8, 1822


Portions of Lambton , Kent and Middlesex Counties

600      0      0


July 10, 1827


Portions of Lambton, Middlesex, Oxford , Perth , Wellington , Waterloo and Huron Counties

1,100   0      0


Aug. 9, 1836


Portions of Bruce, Grey, Wellington and Huron Counties

1,250   0      0



Dec. 7, 1792


Norfolk , Haldimand, Brant and Wentworth Counties , and portions of Wellington , Oxford , Elgin , Welland , Waterloo and Lincoln Counties

1,180   7      4


Aug 21, 1797


Portion of Halton County

75        2      6

Aug. 1, 1805


Portion of York County

(amount incorrectly stated in original document)

Sept. 6, 1806


Portions of Halton and Peel Counties

1,000   0      0

Oct. 28, 1818


Portions of Peel, Halton, Wellington and Dufferin Counties

522      10    0


Feb. 28, 1820


Portion of Peel County

50         0     0

Nov. 28, 1822


Portions of Hastings , Addington, Frontenac, Lanark, Carleton and Renfrew Counties

642      10    0



July 20, 1820


Township of Tyendinaga

450     0      0



Oct. 25, 1836


Township of Zone

150     0      0




The reserved lands began also to be surrendered to the crown for sale, the proceeds to be invested for the benefit of the Indian owners. The Mohawks at an early date began to sell and lease portions of the Grand River tract. The Mississagas surrendered their reserves at the River Credit, and in 1841 the Indian Trust Fund accumulated from these land sales amounted to £8321.




Early Indian legislation was confined to the regulation of the fur trade and the suppression of the traffic in intoxicants. During the French regime ordinances provided these regulations, and also prohibited the purchase of Indian clothing and protected the cultivated lands of the natives from encroachment. After the Conquest, and until the Indians found themselves a distinct factor in a developed settlement and society, British legislation was of a like character. Before 1791 a few simple ordinances derivative from the Proclamation of 1763 will be found. Between 1791 and 1841 a little elaboration on the old theme is noticeable with the introduction of a new note, a recognition that the Indian who gained his subsistence by the chase should not be subject to the game laws. Special enactments gradually appeared on the statute book, as necessity arose, to provide for the peculiar position of a people who were wards in some of their relations to the government, yet at the same time free citizens of a free country. In these early days they were savages living an aboriginal life with some rough acquirements of civilization. In Upper Canada they lived until nearly the middle of the nineteenth century in their wigwams. The Six Nations were hut-builders, but their huts, if as sanitary, were little better than the wigwams. In Lower Canada the Indians had learned the benefit of permanent shelters, and were housed for the most part, though in a rudimentary way.


The plentiful supply of fish and game gave them a staple food-supply, and they were a well-nourished race capable of great endurance. They had cultivated and improved the maize, of which there were several varieties. It was used in many forms : green, it was boiled, roasted, or made into loaf-bread ; dried, it was made into cake, soups and puddings, with and without meat. They also cultivated beans and squashes, and used lichens, mushrooms and fungi, with berries, nuts and edible roots. They made sugar from the maple sap, and their diet was varied and nutritious. Their domestic utensils had been gradually improved to meet their primitive needs. They had invented the bark canoe and the snow-shoe. Before they had tasted the fierce liquor imported by the white man their condition was one of plenty. The improvidence with which they are usually charged was not an ancient characteristic, as they used granaries and storehouses, and husbanded their resources. But rum was let loose on them like a scourge, and destroyed them. Despite the restriction on the traffic, traders bartered liquor for furs, and the final price that would purchase anything and everything was a keg of rum or hollands. It was not until the trade in intoxicants was made absolutely illegal that the Indian began to recover a little of his ancient dignity and independence.


From the close of the Revolutionary War until nearly the middle of the nineteenth century the Indian government was conducted by means of a constant appeal to self-interest; amity was promoted by a system of gifts which became in the end degrading. The simple primitive interchange of tokens of friendship between the early discoverers and the chiefs had become so debased that it was a source of peculation to the whites and debauchery to the natives. But consideration of the question of Indian presents may well be deferred until recording the reasons which led to their abolishment, when there will be opportunity for a perspicuous review of the subject.




In a word, during the period under consideration the Indians were still savages; and although some effort had been made to christianize and educate, it had left the temper and disposition of the tribes unregenerate. The Jesuit missionaries had laboured in New France, and their self-sacrifice had influenced the outward demeanour of the savage, and made him a participant in the exercises of religion. In the British colonies matters were not so advanced. Johnson expressed the fear in 1763 that no such persons as the Jesuits would be found amongst the clergy. The British colonists' greed for land had greatly destroyed the influence of their missionaries with the Indians, and the Mohawks had lately told Johnson 'that they apprehended the reason they had not clergy as formerly amongst them was because they had no more land to spare.' Portions of the Scriptures and the whole of the Prayer Book had been translated into Iroquois, and there were in the Mohawk and Oneida nations little centres of Christianity.


When the settlement of Upper Canada began, greater attention was at first paid to the religious instruction and education of the Indian than to like service for the white population. The first school in the province was for the Mohawks, who settled on the shores of the Bay of Quinte ; the first church erected was on the Grand River reservation of the Mohawks. Missionaries of the Gospel were active in the villages of the Chippewas and Mississagas, and several Indians became prominent in the civil life of the province. John Brant, the son of chief Joseph Brant, was in 1832 elected a member of the provincial parliament. The county of Haldimand extended over the grant to the Mohawks. Brant had been elected to represent this county by the votes of persons who held their property under leases granted by his father, and the courts had decided that the title in fee simple was not held by the Indians. Brant's opponent, Colonel Warren, contested the election, and he was unseated; but he was worthy both by natural gifts and education of the honour the people had paid him.






IN the constitution of the Indian department few changes were made during the years between 1763 and 1830. Until the death of Sir John Johnson in 1830 the department was governed by the Johnson tradition.


After Sir William Johnson's death Colonel Guy Johnson was appointed to his office temporarily by General Thomas Gage, and afterwards permanently on September 8, 1774. He held the position until February 1782, when he was suspended owing to irregularities in the department. Upon reorganization Sir John Johnson, Sir William's son, was appointed by royal commission on March 14, 1782, superintendent-general and inspector-general, and continued to administer until June 25, 1828, when the office was abolished and his name was placed upon the pension list.


A deputy superintendent-general had been appointed in 1794 in the person of Colonel Alexander McKee. Both these titles and offices survive under the Federal government, the major being a minister of the crown, and the minor the deputy minister of the department of Indian Affairs. When Colonel McKee died on January 15, 1799, a controversy arose over the appointment of his successor, owing to a dispute as to whether the patronage of the department was under civil or military control. The Duke of Kent, as commander-in-chief, appointed Colonel John Connolly; Lieutenant-Governor Hunter promoted Captain William Claus, informing the Duke of Portland that he would not recognize Colonel Connolly ; he also wrote to the Duke of Kent that the removal of Captain Claus would he highly prejudicial to His Majesty's service. Upon these representations, the Duke of York ordered the cancellation of Colonel Connolly's appointment. Captain Claus was promoted to the rank of colonel, and served until his death in November 1826. Inspector-General Darling succeeded him, and when the office of superintendent-general was abolished in 1828, and the administration devolved upon a chief superintendent, he was the first occupant of that office. His headquarters were at Montreal, and his salary was six hundred pounds.




A general order of August 13, 1816, directed, by command of the secretary of state for the Colonies, that the superintendence and chief control of the Indian department and of all Indian affairs be transferred to the military commander of the North-West provinces. Thereafter the administration was military in character ; the officers had military rank, and were entitled to wear a uniform which was established by order in 1823. It consisted of a jacket of olive-green cloth, made in the same manner as -those worn by the infantry regiments of the line, with gold lace round the collar and cuffs, and gilt buttons with the crown and name of the department upon them ; waistcoat and pantaloons of the same colour ; a common round hat with cockade and button ; and a waist-belt and sabre - the superintendent-general and deputy superintendent-general, only, to wear a gold epaulette on each shoulder. Until 1832 they were paid from the military chest provided for the use of the Army Extraordinaries ; after that date from the imperial grant for the Indian department. Their duties have been described as consisting of 'conveying the presents to the Indians and attending at the different stations where they assembled to receive them with as much military pomp and display as the occasion would admit.'


In 1830, when Sir George Murray was secretary of state for the Colonies, an end was made of the exclusively military character of the administration. It was divided territorially into departments for Upper and Lower Canada . The former was controlled by the lieutenant-governor, at that time Sir John Colborne, with Colonel James Givens as chief superintendent ; the latter, by the military secretary of the governor-general at Quebec, then Lieutenant-Colonel Cooper. Lieutenant-Colonel D. C. Napier was secretary of Indian Affairs for Lower Canada, with the pay of a chief superintendent.


This organization continued until after the formation of the Province of Canada , and subsequent modifications and changes will be referred to in their proper sequence.


During the long period of seventy-eight years, from 1763 to 1841, which is now under review, the crown, from a wise view of the situation, retained the management of the Indians. The policy which centred the control of the Indians in the only power free from local prejudice is easily comprehended. In the early days the Indians were either feared as foes or valued as allies; and as their chief importance was military their government, it was wisely felt, was safe in the hands of those who must control them in the field. When the immediate fear of war faded away, the prudence of continuing unabated the care with which old treaties and traditions were honoured and preserved, and the sheer necessity of protect­ing the Indian estate from the rapacity of land-grabbers and speculators, led to the survival of the dominance of the governor-general over the Indians and their affairs long after the colonial ministry was responsible for the general government.


When in 1830 the secretary of state for the Colonies terminated the existence of what may be called the military Indian department he made more than a mere change and improvement in administrative methods. The Indian officers were no longer to be solely purveyors of presents or almoners of the crown grants ; they were to be transformed into the executants of a humane and progressive plan for the civiliza­tion of the aborigines. Sir George Murray announced as the policy of the government 'the settled purpose of gradually reclaiming the Indians from a state of barbarism, and intro­ducing amongst them the industrious and peaceful habits of civilized life.'


The years which had passed between 1796 and 1830 had made possible such a change of policy. At the latter date the majority of the western Indians had elected to which of the two governments they were to own allegiance.


The years ensuing between 1841 and 1867 will show the inception and development of many new ideas in Indian policy, the beginnings of a generous scheme of education, a still wider application of the principle of purchase of land­rights, and the gradual evolution of the legal status of the wards of the crown. Details of the later progress will be recorded in dealing with the relations of the provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island with the Indians.

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Source: Duncan SCOTT, "Indian Affairs, 1763-1841", in Adam SHORTT and Arthur DOUGHTY, eds., Canada and Its Provinces , Vol. IV, Toronto, Glasgow, Brook and Company, 1914, pp. 695-725.

© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College