Settler Colonialism Post-Seventeenth Century


“No Savage should inherit the land” 61

The key aim in the so called Indian Wars, starting with those along the Atlantic Seaboard in the 17th Century, was the acquisition of territory and often involved extermination attempts.  In the 1763 Pontiac’s Rebellion, the English Major General, Jeffery Amherst, made this clear when he wrote to Colonel Bouquet, a subordinate officer, “Could it not be contrived to send the Small Pox among those disaffected tribes of Indians?”.64 In 1867, the future U.S. Army commanding general, William T. Sherman, advocated that “we must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women and children”.65



The establishment of America’s first “Ranger” force towards the ending of King Philip’s War of 1675-76 fed into wars against ongoing Native resistance. Ranger numbers grew with the spread of the practice of offering state sponsored scalp bounties, and the rangers were important in the early 18th century wars in New England in establishing extermination practices.62


Irregular forces had become a feature of British colonial settlement in the 17th century, and the continued use of such militia irregulars during both the British colonial and United States phases, became mixed in with the process of the establishment of new colonial settlements. Settler groups violently took new areas of Indigenous territory, destroying the livelihoods of Indigenous peoples in the process.63

The story of the relationships in the 18th and 19th centuries between Indigenous peoples and the British and French, and, after 1776, American colonial expansionists, is a tale of wars. Though there were wars directly between colonists and Indigenous Nations, in addition there was deliberate involvement by the European powers of different Indigenous Nations at different times in intercolonial wars.

  • 1689-98 The Nine-Years’ War between European powers was known in the Americas as King William’s War,
  • Queen Anne’s War (1702–1713) (or The War of the Spanish Succession)
  • King George’s War (1744-48) (or The War of the Austrian Succession)
  • The Seven Years War (1754- 63) (or The French and Indian War)

The 1763 Crown proclamation

In October 1763 English colonial expansion was formally limited by proclamation by the English Crown, following British success in the French and Indian War.66 By implication, with this proclamation of settlement limitation, the Crown was laying claim to sovereignty to vast areas, then still not colonised, in the west of what is now known as Canada and the USA. In addition, in 1765 the British Parliament sought to reinforce these limitations to settlement which were being ignored by the colonists, with troops paid for through the introduction of a Stamp Act, that imposed a tax on the colonists’ printed materials. This led to the rebels’ slogan “taxation without representation is tyranny”.

By trying to confine his colonial settler subjects to the Atlantic coastal territories, and denying them the westward expansion they sought, George III unwittingly encouraged rebellion by 13 of the 15 North American British colonies leading to the declaration of the United States of America in 1776. The American revolution was both against the crown and for colonist expansion into the territories of the Indigenous Nations of the Delaware, Cherokee, Muskogee, Seneca, Mohawk, Shawnee, and Miami.

In the 1776-83 period, ‘the rebel forces were met with resistance movements and confederations identified with leaders such as Buckongeahelas of the Delaware; Alexander McGillivray of the Muskogee-Creek; Little Turtle and Blue Jacket of the Miami- Shawnee alliance; Joseph Brant of the Mohawk; and Cornplanter of the Seneca; as well as the great Tecumseh and the Shawnee-led confederation in the Ohio Valley. Without their sustained resistance, the intended genocide would have been complete.’67

The end of the revolutionary war

The British, having refocused their colonization plans to South East Asia, conceded defeat  in 1783 to the US rebels and their allies. The US Government now not only inherited the territory of the 13 former Atlantic coastal colonies as states, but also the right to claim the regions designated as under the sovereignty of the British Crown in the 1763 proclamation. The new independent Government was now free to create a colonization procedure involving military occupation of the land of the Indigenous Nations under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. In 1790 this was followed by the Six statutes, known as the Non-intercourse Act, which imposed what proved to be very temporary new limitation to settler expansion into the territories of Indigenous Nations.68

The early organization of the New England and Virginia settlements had provided the military model for the territorial wars against Indigenous Nations. In the “Indian Wars” that tookplace at the same time as the American Revolution, 1775-83, “we find the same elements – necessity and efficiency, the uncontrollable momentum of extravagant violence, and the quest for the subjugation of Indians – that had defined the first way of war throughout the colonial period”.69 Major General ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne, continued adopting these tactics with the formation of the US regular army in the 1790s. Wayne “also knew to strike directly at the Indians’ points of greatest vulnerability: their villages, fields, and non-combatants”.70 Both colonial militia irregular forces and regular US federal troops who they supplemented, now acted in concert.

The Second Amendment

Local militia had been established by English colonisers from the beginning of the 17th Century. However, with the Second Amendment contained in the Bill of Rights of 1791, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a freeState…” was enshrined in the US Constitution. The militias had, long before independence, added the role of slave catcher to that of “Indian fighter”. Both roles required that, for settlers to become militiamen, they needed to be armed. The Second Amendment’s supplementary provision of the Right to Bear Arms was a progression of the requirement of the very early colonial governments that colonists be armed.71

19th Century Colonial Expansion

In 1803 Napoleon Bonaparte sold the Louisiana territory of 828,000 square miles (2,144,520 square km) claimed by France to the US Government, which doubled the size of the United States. The Louisiana Purchase, together with the establishment of the USA/Canada border in 1818 and the sale of the Floridas by Spain in 1819 gave notice of forthcoming expansion plans into the territories of a large number of Indigenous Nations.

The Louisiana Purchase alone included the area later designated Indian Territory plus the territories of a number of Indigenous Nations including: Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow, Pawnee, Osage, Comanche.72 The wars of the 1790s, such as The Ohio Indian War (1790-1795) were soon to be followed by others, e.g. The Northwest Indian War (1810 -1813) and The Creek War (1813-1814), at the end of which Major General Andrew Jackson demanded 23 million acres as war reparations.73

In 1817 President James Monroe told Jackson, that, “the savage requires a greater extent of territory to sustain it than is compatible with the progress and just claims of civilized life, and must yield to it”.74

In 1823 Monroe outlined the Monroe Doctrine that the Western Hemisphere was closed to future colonization by European powers. However, he left it to Jackson, when he became President, to implement thisyielding of territory policy, now limited to the USA only, using new regulations such as the Removal Act of 1830. This policy led to the forced transfer of thousands of Indigenous people, in the course of which 50% of those forcibly relocated died; and yet more wars against Indigenous Nations, both official and unofficial.

‘Frustrated bycontinued Indian resistance and befuddled how best to quash it, the Army looked the other way when either its own men or citizens acting on its name subjected Seminoles, Arapahos, Cheyennes, and Sioux to the same treatment that earlier Americans had inflicted on Abenakis, Cherokees, and even Christian Indians.’75


California: “Utter extermination” General Sherman76

In 1848 the USA victory in the war with Mexico over Texas annexation also led to the acquisition of an additional 525,000 square miles to its territory. This including the land that makes up all or parts of present-day Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and California. ( guadalupe-hidalgo) “US occupation and settlement exterminated more than one hundred thousand California Native people in twenty-five years, reducing the population to thirty thousand by 1870 – quite possibly the most extreme demographic disaster of all time”.77

In the period 1846 – 1873 there were some 370 massacres in California.78 In the second half of the 19th Century, although military force and confinement was met with armed resistance, large scale rapid population decline of Indigenous people continued.

Native population USA: 1850 – 365000; 1890 – 228000
The data is conclusive, nearly three quarters of the decline in population can be attributed to westward expansion.79

“By the 1890s, although some military assaults on Indigenous communities and valiant Indigenous armed resistance continued, most of the surviving Indigenous refugees were confined to federal reservations, their children transported to distant boarding schools to unlearn their Indigenousness”.80


In the late 19th century, with the passing of a series of laws such as the General Allotment Act in 1887 and the Curtis Act of 1898, the loss of territory of the Indigenous Nations greatly increased, despite treaties stating the contrary. The new laws created two categories of what had been designated Indian Territory: allotted and unassigned. The total of allotments made to individual indigenous people left most of the Indian Territory unassigned and available for settlers to purchase or otherwise acquire. Land designated as “Indian” decreased from 156 million acres in 1881 to 50 million acres in 1934, when the Indian Reorganisation Act was passed.

In the case of the Osage Nation, attempts at acquisition by outsiders of land that had been “allotted” to Osage tribal members led to widespread violence. Having been forcibly moved several times in the 19th Century, in 1907 the Osage found themselves only allocated barren land plots in what became Oklahoma State. However, they retained mineral rights as a Tribe, and oil was struck on their land. In the 1920s, though tribal wealth was legally established, control over Osage wealth was in the hands of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which locally meant prominent white citizens of Osage County, including the soon to be notorious figure of William Hale. Recent research has exposed a string of Hale’s legal and medical frauds, intimidation, robberies and murders against Osage tribal members, known locally as the Reign of Terror. Most shocking is the revelation of large numbers of earlier murders unrelated to Hale in the Osage area. A prominent member of the Osage tribe is quoted in describing one of the court cases that followed the terror by saying, “It is a question in my mind whether the jury [all white] is considering a murder case or not. The question for them to decide is whether a white man killing an Osage is murder – or merely cruelty to animals”.81 


‘Extravagant violence’ is very much a legacy of the Mayflower journey. But, in the 400 year anniversary commemorations, it has been omitted.





This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.