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Restoring the thin red line: British policy and the Indians of the Great Lakes, 1783–1812

Timothy David Willig, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study examines British-Indian relations in the Great Lakes and Upper Canada between 1783 and 1812 and focuses on intercultural frontier relations and Native responses to Britain's actions and imperial Indian policies as Native Americans explored ways to preserve their lands and cultures while simultaneously attempting to redefine their relationship with their former British allies. Specifically, the project compares British-Indian interaction and diplomacy in three regions throughout Upper Canada and the Old Northwest. These three locales correspond roughly to the areas served by Britain's three principal Indian agencies in Upper Canada at the time—namely Fort St. Joseph, Fort Amherstburg, and Fort George. The Natives of each of these three areas developed unique relationships with the British, and as a result, Britain could not establish a single Indian policy that applied everywhere in its North American borderlands. Government leaders and Indian agents in Canada and the Great Lakes were forced to adapt Whitehall's policies to conditions and circumstances that were prevalent in each of the sectors in which British agents and leaders dealt with indigenous peoples. Several factors affected the evolution of British-Indian relations from region to region. These included the fur trade, Indian relations and warfare with the United States, geographical position, the influence of British-Indian agents, intertribal relations between various Native groups, the degree of Indian acculturation with whites, Native cultural revitalization, and the constitutional issues of Native sovereignty and legal status. As a result, Britain was unable to preserve the unity among its confederated tribal allies that it had enjoyed during the American Revolution, and by the War of 1812, the old “Chain of Friendship” had devolved into a collection of smaller alliances.

Subject Area

Canadian history|American history|European history

Recommended Citation

Willig, Timothy David, "Restoring the thin red line: British policy and the Indians of the Great Lakes, 1783–1812" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3078727.