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Two Centuries on Midwestern Historical Archaeology and the War of 1812

By Branstner, Mark C. | Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology, MCJA, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Two Centuries on Midwestern Historical Archaeology and the War of 1812


Branstner, Mark C., Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology, MCJA


Lasting from only 1812-1815, the War of 1812, America's "second war of independence," had a profound effect on the young nation. These effects were most obvious in regards to contemporary relations with Canada and Great Britain, but perhaps more profound were the war's long-term effects on America's relations with Native American communities, who largely sided with the British. Despite the relatively short-term nature of the conflict, nearly the entire country was affected - from the Atlantic Coast to the Mississippi Valley, and from the Great Lakes and Old Northwest to the Gulf Coast. The conflict was largely fought with regular troops in the more populated areas along the Atiantic seaboard. However, the conflict in the interior regions (Figure 1), including the Great Lakes region and nearly all of the Trans-Appalachian West, was dominated by raids and skirmishes between the resident Native American population and the more recently arrived American settlers.

The very nature of this conflict, with its essentially ephemeral impact on the physical landscape coupled with the development that has occurred over the past two centuries, has resulted in the loss of most of the original sites. Where the sites of forts, blockhouses, encampments, isolated cabins, and battlefields have survived, their overall similarity to contemporaneous nonWar of 1812 domestic sites has resulted in an archaeological signature that is often difficult to discern. Despite these issues, the War of 1812 bicentennial has sparked renewed archaeological interest in these events throughout the United States and Canada and has resulted in the identification and at least preliminary testing of a number of sites in the Midwest.

Given what for most readers is probably an imperfect knowledge of events leading up to and including the War of 1812, particularly in the Midwest, the following section provides a brief overview, a Cliffs Notes version of the general trajectory of the more significant events, as drawn from general sources. For further reading an annotated list of a few representative sources is found at the end of this article.

Context and Chronology

With the end of the French and Indian War ( 1 754- 1 763) and the adoption of the Treaty of Paris accords in 1763, French official interests in most of North America, including New France and Louisiana, were effectively terminated, with administrative control transferred to Great Britain. As a result of the Paris accords, Florida was transferred to Great Britain from Spain, and with that acquisition, the British for the first time controlled all of Canada and all of what would eventually become the United States lying east of the Mississippi River.

At that relatively early date, significant British settlement was almost exclusively focused on the colonies along the Atlantic Coast with larger French setdements centered on the Maritimes and the St. Lawrence River valley in what is now the province of Quebec Canada. More interior regions - those areas bounded by the Appalachians on the east, the Mississippi River on the west, the Great Lakes on the north, and the Gulf Coast on the south - were largely wilderness and were the province of Native Americans and probably no more than a few thousand persons of predominanuy French descent. The latter included fur traders, merchants, and a limited number of settlers concentrated at widely scattered locations throughout the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River regions.

While the British may have been accorded a nominal hegemony over the region by the Treaty of Paris, the immediate effect was largely administrative, limited to the simple transfer of economic and trade focus to London, rather than to Paris. Few changes were made to the way business was actually undertaken on the ground, and perhaps most notably, no significant extension of British military power occurred, other than at a few scattered posts. If the end of the conflict reduced immediate tensions on the frontier, unchallenged British control of the region would be short-lived.

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