North American Indian Chief’s Medal 1814, George III (Jamieson Fig. 24), silver, 75.5mm, fitted with original riveted suspension loop, edge bruising and light scuffs, otherwise good very fine and rare.
As Indian Chiefs of various ranks had accorded their help during the War of 1812-14, most notably at Fort Detroit, Chateauguay, and Chrystler’s Farm, it was decided to present a medal as a reward to those Indian Chiefs who had, by their loyalty and co-operation, assisted the British to win a decisive victory over the American forces. The medals were struck in three sizes, of which this example is the largest and most impressive.
Medals from this issue were distributed to North American Indian Chief’s from 1776 until 1814. They were very much ‘war’ medals rather than commemorative medals and they attracted influential Indians throughout what is now Canada and the United States of America to the British cause, and were worn with great pride by the recipients and their descendants.
The British Government tried to prevent seizures of tribal land by settlers for personal gain and enlisted indigenous tribes (about 13,000 men, mostly Shawnee, Iroquois, Cherokee, Creek and Seminoles) as Allies to fight the Thirteen Rebel Colonies in 1776-83, the United States in 1812-14 and to defend Canada. Both the Indian and métis (mixed blood) communities overwhelming sided with the British during the American Revolution. They were badly needed for military manpower. Very early in the revolution, the Americans posed a direct threat to Canada, and the famous Charles de Langlade (who was half Ottawa) led Indians from Wisconsin and Michigan in two campaigns against the Americans in 1776 and 1777.
Louisiana was still a Spanish possession in the late 18th century, and both the Spanish and the rebel colonies were fighting the British by 1778. The Indians of northern Wisconsin, and upper Michigan joined the British in an attack against St. Louis in 1780. The attack failed, and some Indians who took part in it were attacked by Indians under Siggenauk as they retreated through Illinois. The 1783 peace treaty between the United States and Britain transferred the entire trans-Appalachian West, including Wisconsin, to the United States.
The United States did not occupy any part of the upper Midwest until almost fifteen years after the American Revolution. The British refused to give up posts at places such as Mackinac Island and Detroit until the United States agreed to certain stipulations of the 1783 treaty. Moreover, the United States focused most of its energy on defeating the powerful Indian confederacy in Ohio between 1790 and 1794.
The United States defeated the Ohio Indians in 1794 and forced them to sign a treaty that gave away much of their land. That same year, the United States and Great Britain signed Jay’s Treaty, which settled outstanding differences between the two countries. The British abandoned their posts in the Midwest, and the United States took over the British Fort Mackinac in 1796 and established forts at Chicago (Fort Dearborn, 1803), and Des Moines (Fort Madison, 1808). These small forts were inadequate for controlling a large geographical area with a population opposed to their presence. Midwest tribes and resident fur traders remained solidly British during the 1790s and early 1800s. First, British companies such as the North West Company controlled the regional fur trade. Second, wars against the Ohio Indians in the 1790s revealed to all Midwestern Indian tribes that the United States wanted to acquire their lands. Even Indians such as Siggenauk – who once supported the Americans – switched sides.
In 1805 an Ohio Indian named Tenskwatawa, or the Shawnee Prophet, began to preach Indian resistance to American encroachment. He gained many adherents throughout the Midwest and Wisconsin, and Ojibwe from as far away as Lake Superior flocked to his village in Ohio and later in Indiana to hear his message. The Ho-chunk were particularly receptive to his message. The Shawnee Prophet’s brother, Tecumseh, took an active role in forming a military confederacy of several Midwestern and Southeastern tribes to resist American expansion.
During the War of 1812 the British in Canada and Indians under Tecumseh’s leadership became allies against the United States. When the War of 1812 began, the weakness of America’s hold over the Midwest was apparent. A combined Indian and British military force left their fort on St. Joseph’s Island and conquered the American fort at Mackinac Island without firing a shot. Meanwhile, the Potawatomi slaughtered the entire American garrison at Chicago. British fur trader Robert Dickson organized Wisconsin Indians to fight the United States. The Menominee, Ho-chunk, Ojibwa, Ottawa, Santee Dakota, Sauk, and Fox all fought on the side of the British during the war and fended off American attempts to regain control of the region.
In 1814, the United States established a small post at Prairie du Chien called Fort Shelby, but the Indians and British militia quickly conquered it, renamed it Fort McKay, and defeated two American relief expeditions sent up the Mississippi River from St. Louis to retake it. That same year, Indians from Wisconsin and Michigan repelled an American military force that attempted to retake Mackinac Island. The United States found the area of Wisconsin and northern Michigan virtually unassailable, and throughout the War of 1812, it remained firmly in the hands of the British and their Indian allies.