Who fought in the Revolutionary War? Which side did the Indians choose, and why?
For many Indians, in particular, the Shawnee, Creeks and the very large and powerful Cherokee and Iroquois, the British seemed like a better bet. The British knew full well that the Indians wanted to stem the tide of settlement, and they promised the Indians that if they won, the settlers would be stopped. Of course, they hadn’t been able to arrest the tide of settlement the entire time they had been in power, but it was easy for the British to “blame” the rowdy settlers and rogue politicians…and by doing so, to strike a chord of harmony with the Indians.
Sometimes this loyalist leaning can be discerned and used as a hint relative to your genealogy research. Was your ancestor a loyalist? If so, was he also recorded as being “of color” in any records? If the answer is yes, especially twice, then you might suspect that his “color” was at least partially “red.”
But not all Indians fought for the British. Many Indians, in particular, the coastal tribes, fought for the Americans. Why?
The answers were often personal in nature. These tribes were the most involved with the people who would become Americans. They had lived among them for 150 years at this point, intermarried, and formed community and personal relationships with them. In many cases, for the Indians living among or near the white communities, the decision was a personal one.
In at least one case, the tribe believed that the Americans were right and England wrong. The St. John’s Indian leaders in Maine made the following statement in 1778 which sheds some light on how at least some of the Indians were thinking:
“The Chiefs, Sachems and young men belonging to the River St. Johns have duly considered the nature of this Great War between American and Old England. They are unanimous that America is right and Old England is wrong. The River on which you are with your soldiers belongs from the most ancient times to our Ancestors, consequently is ours now and which we are bound to keep for our posterity. You know we are Americans; that is our native country; you know the King of England with his evil councilors has been trying to take away the Lands and Libertys of our Country but God the King of our Heaven, our King, fights for us and says America shall be free. It is so now in spite of all Old England and his Comrades can do.”
Regardless of which side each Native person took in this dispute, the war itself and the outcome would affect every person, every tribe, and all of their descendants. As far as Native people were concerned, there were no winners.