The first Treaty of Fort Stanwix was signed in 1768 between the Haudenosaunee (also known as the Six Nations or Iroquois Confederacy) and British Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Northern District, Sir William Johnson. It was the first major treaty to be negotiated according to the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Five years after the proclamation had set the western boundary of colonial settlement at the Appalachian Mountains — reserving the vast North American interior as Indigenous territory — the Treaty of Fort Stanwix pushed the border west to the Ohio River, opening up lands to white settlers. The second Treaty of Fort Stanwix, signed in 1784, was an agreement between the Haudenosaunee and the newly independent United States. This treaty redrew the eastern boundaries of the first Treaty of Fort Stanwix, surrendering more Indigenous territory.
Treaty of Fort Stanwix, 1768
The Treaty of Fort Stanwix was prompted by fur trade companies in Pennsylvania that complained of damages sustained during Pontiac’s War and wanted to be compensated with a new commodity — Indigenous lands.
British Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Northern District, Sir William Johnson, (who was himself a land speculator) intended that the treaty would open up a large supply of land. Johnson was also invested in ensuring, through the treaty, the continued dominance of his long-time allies, the Haudenosaunee.
In 1768, the Six Nations signed the treaty in their territory (at Fort Stanwix, New York) and they received monetary payments in exchange.
The lands ceded in the treaty — most of modern-day Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Maryland, and western Pennsylvania — were the ancestral homes of the Shawnee, Delaware, and Cherokee. The Haudenosaunee’s signing of the treaty led to the emergence of hardline Shawnee leaders — in particular the brothers Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa — in the debate among the Indigenous peoples of the Great Lakes–Ohio Valley area about who was authorized to cede land in treaties. Until the end of the War of 1812, these leaders insisted on holding the British to their promise in the Fort Stanwix Treaty that the Ohio River would remain the firm eastern boundary of an internationally recognized Indigenous territory. After the death of Tecumseh in the war, the political influence of his confederacy largely disintegrated.
Indigenous peoples bitterly resented the role that land speculators had played in opening up a large amount of their territory through the Treaty of Fort Stanwix. Sir William Johnson had hoped that the treaty would satisfy the desire of speculators in both the Thirteen Colonies and Britain. However, the deal only fed their greed. This led to the emergence of new speculation firms like the Indiana Company, which counted among its shareholders the governor of New Jersey and Benjamin Franklin.
Treaty of Fort Stanwix, 1784
After the American Revolution, the Haudenosaunee and US officials signed the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784. Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) was present at the initial peace talks. In the treaty, the Haudenosaunee surrendered lands in western New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. This upset other Indigenous peoples in the area, including the Delaware and Shawnee, who also had claims to some of the surrendered lands. Tensions mounted between Indigenous peoples and white colonists wanting to settle on these lands. The US signed a series of other treaties with Indigenous peoples to resolve these issues.