The Oneida Nation, which was just one of the members of the Six Nations or Iroquois Confederacy, played an important role in the American Revolution. However, before siding with American colonials during the conflict, Oneidas, as well as other members of the Iroquois Confederacy, declared neutrality first. As it is clear from the speech by Captain Solomon Ahhaunnauwaumut to the Congress, their choice was primarily due to a desire to protect the tribe, avoid losses, and maintain peace. A detailed analysis of the speech will be provided in the present paper.
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When speaking of the historical context in which the speech was made, it is appropriate to note that the alliances between American settlers and Native Americans were developed long before the Revolution began. The first colonials aimed to obtain the support of Native tribes and recognized the strategic significance of good relationships with them (Hine & Faragher, 2007). When it comes to Oneida’s side, the tribe managed to maintain neutrality throughout a significant period in the French and Indian war even though, by its end, Oneida’s chief, Skenandoa, became an ally with the British (Faragher, 1996). Nevertheless, the Oneida Nation had good relations with American colonials as well and, therefore, the tribe initially attempted to stay out of the conflict between the two parties involved in the American Revolution.
When it comes to Oneida’s declaration of neutrality, first of all, it appears that they did not want to support any side because of the lack of necessary resources to engage in an active military conflict. As Captain Solomon Ahhaunnauwaumut dispatched by the Indians to the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts said,
… when you first came over the great waters, I was great, and you were little, very small. I then took you in for a friend, and kept you under my arms, so that no one might injure you … But now our conditions are changed. You become great and tall … and I am become small, very little … Now you take care of me, and I look to you for protection (Stone, 1843, para. 17).
This statement may indicate that Oneidas realized that their involvement in the Revolution could induce substantial human losses and adversely affect the well-being of the nation.
Secondly, Oneidas referred to the conflict between colonials and Old England as a family quarrel. They said, “we never till this day understood the foundation of this quarrel between you and the country you came from” (Stone, 1843, para. 18). Thus, the nation did not want to take any specific side in that what they called a familial dispute. Nevertheless, it may also be presumed that their hesitation was due to ambiguity in terms of which benefits they might gain if siding with one of the rivals. On one hand, Britain was a much stronger opponent with a plethora of military victories on its account. On the other hand, the victory of the British would inevitably result in the loss of Oneida’s sovereignty, whereas the victory of colonials allegedly promised greater self-sufficiency to the nation.
Lastly, when declaring neutrality, Oneidas promised to remain loyal to Americans and to persuade other members of the Six Nations to become allies with them. It is possible to say that the nation’s decision influenced the choice of other tribes because after the American Commissioners of the Albany Committee requested neutrality from the Six Nations, they agreed. Nevertheless, as the American infringements on the tribal territories persisted during the American Revolution, most of the Iroquois nations decided to ally with Britain (Faragher, 1996). At the same time, the Oneidas were among the few ones who sided with the Americans. Thus, after the neutrality became broken, Oneidas provided colonials with support in the form of information, warriors, spies, and so forth. The costs of the tribe’s participation in the conflict between Britain and its colonies were tremendous and did not benefit the nation even after the end of the Revolution, resulting in the loss of their native lands.
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Faragher, J. M. (1996). The encyclopedia of colonial and revolutionary America. New York, NY: Da Capo.
Hine, R. V., & Faragher, J. M. (2007). Frontiers: A short history of the American West. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Stone, W. L. (1843). Three rivers. Web.