Tecumseh's Confederacy was a group of Native Americans in the Old Northwest that began to form in the early 19th century around the teaching of Tenskwatawa (The Prophet). The confederation grew over several years and came to include several thousand warriors. Shawnee leader Tecumseh, the brother of The Prophet, developed into the leader of the group as early as 1808. Deemed a threat to the United States, a preemptive strike against the confederation was launched resulting in the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe. Under Tecumseh's leadership, the confederation went to war with the United States during Tecumseh's War and the War of 1812. Following the death of Tecumseh in 1813 the confederation fell apart.
Following the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, the Native American tribes in the Northwest Territory began to move out of the lands ceded to the United States. Many of the Natives, including the Lenape and Shawnee, moved westward at the invitation of the Miami tribe to settle in land considered to be part of Miami holdings. The tribes intermingled one with the other and most villages contained inhabitants of multiple tribes. The dominant Miami tribe inhabited much of modern central Indiana and the powerful Pottawatomie tribe lived in northern Indiana and Michigan. The Wea and Kickapoo (both related to the Miami tribe) and Piankeshaw inhabited a series of villages in western Indiana and eastern Illinois. The Piankeshaw later moved north further integrating with the Wea and Kickapoo following the 1803 Treaty of Vincennes. The Sauk, another powerful nation, lived in northern Illinois, to the west of the Miami.
The Shawnee, who had lost most of their territory during the Northwest Indian War moved into northwestern Ohio and Northeastern Indiana. The Lenape likewise had lost their territory and moved into south-central Indiana. Other tribes, including the Wyandot, Fox tribe, Winnebago, Odawa, Mingo, Seneca, and others had a presence in the regions villages. Leadership was organized at the village level, and not tribal level, so in most cases, a leader represented members of multiple tribes who were living together in the same settlement. Leadership in the villages was likewise divided between War Chiefs and Civil Chiefs. The Civil Chiefs negotiated the treaties and maintained outside relations, while the war chiefs took power in times of conflict. As the war chiefs, like Little Turtle, were removed from power following the war, that large confederacy of villages in the region began to fade and the Civil Chiefs urged the native populations to work with the United States to maintain peace.
In May 1805 Lenape Chief Buckongahelas, one of the most important native leaders in the region, died of either smallpox or influenza. The surrounding villages believed his death was caused by a form of witchcraft, and a witch hunt ensued leading to the death of several suspected Lenape witches. The witch hunts inspired a nativist religious revival led by Tecumseh's brother Tenskwatawa ("The Prophet") who emerged in 1805 as a leader among the witch hunters. His early popularity was fueled by the support of Blue Jacket, a prominent Shawnee War Chief. The Prophet's growing influence quickly posed a threat to the influence of the accommodationist chiefs, to whom Buckongahelas had belonged. The suspected witches included a Christian missionary who had been living among the Lenape, and all were tortured. One of the victims was partially burnt by fire forcing him to confess to sorcery and to name his supposed co-conspirators.
Tenskwatawa was influenced greatly by the teachings of Neolin and Scattamek, Lenape religious leaders who had died years earlier, and had predicted a coming apocalypse in which the white men would be overthrown by supernatural powers. As part of Tenskwatawa's religious teachings, he urged Indians to reject the ways of the whites, like liquor, Europeans style clothing, and firearms. He also called for the tribes to refrain from ceding any more lands to the United States. Numerous Indians—who were inclined to cooperate with the United States—were accused of witchcraft, and some were executed by followers of Tenskwatawa. Black Hoof was accused in the witch-hunt but was not harmed. From his village at Greenville, Tenskwatawa compromised Black Hoof's friendly relationship with the United States, leading to rising tensions with settlers in the region. He attracted a large number of followers, mostly Shawnee but some of his early followers were also Wyandot, Mingo, and Ottawas. Black Hoof and other tribal leaders began to put pressure on Tenskwatawa and his followers to leave the area to prevent the situation from escalating into an open conflict.
They were invited to northwest Indiana by Pottawatomie Chief Winamac, who was also a religious leader calling for a return to many of the old ways, although he sought access to American agricultural technology. Tenskwatawa accepted the invitation and established the village of Prophetstown near the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers, land claimed by the Miami. Little Turtle told the Shawnee that they were unwelcome there, but the warnings were ignored.
Tenskwatawa's religious teachings became increasingly militant following an 1807 treaty between the Americans, Fox tribe and Sauk. Many members of the two tribes were outraged by the treaty which caused the Sauk to lose their greatest settlement. Many of the disaffected came to align themselves with the Prophet and his teachings. The Piankeshaw and Kickapoo had also been adversely affected by treaties and migrated closer to Prophetstown. His growing popularity attracted Native American followers from many different tribes, including Shawnee, Canadian Iroquois, Chickamauga, Ojibway, Mascouten, and Potawatomi.
Willig (1997) argues that Tippecanoe was not only the largest Native American community in the Great Lakes region but served as a major center of Indian culture and final rampart defense against whites. It was an intertribal, religious stronghold along the Wabash River in Indiana for three thousand Native Americans, Tippecanoe, known as Prophetstown to whites, served as a temporary barrier to settlers' westward movement. Led by Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh, thousands of Algonquin-speaking Indians gathered at Tippecanoe to gain spiritual strength. US government attempts, from the George Washington to William Henry Harrison administrations, to rid the area of the numerous Indian tribes eventually met with success as the Indians retreated westward by 1840 to avoid the large numbers of whites entering their territory. 
Rise of Tecumseh
By 1808 Tecumseh began to be seen as a leader by his community. He was outraged by the continued loss of land to the Americans and he began to travel around the southern Great Lakes region to visit village leaders and urge them to stop cooperating with the Americans and threatening to kill chiefs who continued to work with the Americans. His goal was to create a pan-tribal confederacy powerful enough to counter and resist the United States. His travels caused the largest growth yet in the confederacy as numerous villages agreed to join in his resistance. Even villages who did not accept Tecumseh's argument had individuals who would leave and move to Prophetstown, continuing to swell his numbers. At the height of his influence, Tecumseh had possibly as many as 5,000 warriors at his disposal scattered across the northwest.
In late 1808 the British in Canada approached him to form an alliance, but he refused. It was not until 1810 that the Americans first took notice of him. Tecumseh eventually emerged as the leader of the confederation, but it was built upon a foundation established by the religious appeal of his younger brother.
Quickly becoming the dominant Native American leader in the northwestern United States, Tecumseh turned his attention to the south. In 1811 he traveled to meet with leaders of the Five Civilized Tribes in the hope of uniting them with him in the confederacy in the north. With their help he believed they would be powerful enough to defy the Americans who would be forced to fight against them across the entire thousand-mile wide frontier. He was met with resistance and rejection though, and only a fraction of the Creeks accepted his call to arms, leading to the later Creek Wars.
Tensions had already been rising rapidly as the Americans had become aware of Tecumseh's war aims. While he was still in the south a preemptive strike was launched against Prophetstown, defeating his brother and a force of 500–700 warriors in the Battle of Tippecanoe. The defeat was a terrible blow for the confederacy which never fully recovered.
Tecumseh returned and began to rebuild the confederacy. Allying with the British in Canada at the outbreak of the War of 1812, Tecumseh began a series of coordinated raids, attacking American posts in Indian territories. The Americans responded quickly and launched a second campaign, destroying Prophetstown a second time.
Overall, Tecumseh's Confederacy played a crucial role in the War of 1812. For instance, Tecumseh's warriors, as shock troops, assisted a small force of 700 British regulars and Canadian militia to force the surrender of 2,500 American soldiers, capturing Fort Detroit in August 1812. And Tecumseh's frontier war forced the Americans into rearguard actions, which divided their forces and prevented them from concentrating large enough numbers to successfully invade and occupy the strategically important area of Lower Canada (Quebec).
In 1813, when the Americans mounted an expedition to retake Fort Detroit, Tecumseh was killed in the Battle of the Thames near Chatham, Ontario. A small retreating British force left Tecumseh's 500 warriors (who refused to retreat further) to face alone the 3,000 strong American force (including cavalry). The death of Tecumseh had a demoralizing effect on his aboriginal allies and his Confederacy dissolved soon after.
- Owens, p. 211
- Sugden, p. 114
- Sugden, pp. 121–123
- Sugden, p. 123
- Sugden, p. 120
- Owens, p. 210
- Sugden, pp. 117, 167
- Sugden, p. 168
- Timothy D. Willig, "Prophetstown on the Wabash: The Native Spiritual Defense of the Old Northwest," Michigan Historical Review, Mar 1997, Vol. 23 Issue 2, pp 115-158
References and bibliography
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- Cave, Alfred A. "The Shawnee Prophet, Tecumseh, and Tippecanoe: A Case Study of Historical Myth-Making," Journal of the Early Republic, Winter 2002, Vol. 22 Issue 4, p637-74
- Edmunds, R. David. Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership (2nd Edition, 2006)
- Edmunds, R. David. The Shawnee Prophet (1985) excerpt and text search
- Owens, Robert M. (2007). Mr. Jefferson's Hammer:William Henry Harrison and the Origins of American Indian Policy. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3842-8.
- Sugden, John (1997). Tecumseh: A Life. New York: Holt. ISBN 0-8050-6121-5.
- Willig, Timothy D. "Prophetstown on the Wabash: The Native Spiritual Defense of the Old Northwest," Michigan Historical Review, Mar 1997, Vol. 23 Issue 2, pp 115–158
- Willig, Timothy D. Restoring the Chain of Friendship: British Policy and the Indians of the Great Lakes, 1783-1815 (2008) excerpt and a text search
- "Tecumseh's Confederation". Ohio History Central. Retrieved 2009-03-09.