Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What was Captain Hendrick's Role in the Western Expansion of the United States?

In researching the life of Captain Hendrick Aupaumut, chief of the Stockbridge Mohicans and also an official of the United States government, I've had to accept that there are a lot of grey areas and a lot of blanks that will never be filled in. I have no doubt that he was "a man of integrity," fighting for what he believed in.  The historians that called him "befuddled" or a "stooge" for the United States must have been missing something.

Then again, Captain Hendrick helped facilitate treaties in Ohio and Indiana that turned Indian land over to the US government.  My thinking is that he knew that there would be white expansion and believed that tribes would continue to lose their land and suffer until they adopted Christianity and "civilization."  This is pretty much the same as what you will read in the three scholarly articles written about him (see below for citation), so I thank James and Jeanne Ronda, Alan Taylor, and Rachel Wheeler for their work on this topic.

My recent posts about the White River Delawares and Tenskawatawa, the Shawnee Prophet, are the context in which Captain Hendrick worked.  President Jefferson's administration hired Captain Hendrick to serve as the Delawares' "Civilizing Agent" from 1809 until the War of 1812 temporarily forced them to a safer location.  During that time he did what he could to stop the Shawnee Prophet's movement and John Sergeant (Jr.), the Stockbridges' missionary, gave him credit for doing exactly that:
“through the judicious arrangements of Capt. Hendrick, the influence of the Prophet is nearly at an end.” 
That statement was preserved for us in a book written by Electa Jones of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, printed in 1854.  Unfortunately, Jones doesn't say when John Sergeant made that statement, making it more difficult to prove its relevance in the course of American history.

We do know that Tenskwatawa, the Prophet, became less important between 1809 and 1813.  Until recently the showdown over western expansion of the United States that was going on was seen as a battle personified by the conflict between William Henry Harrison and Tecumseh.  But current historians recognize that Tecumseh didn't become important in his brother's movement until it became political. 

Will Captain Hendrick someday also be recognized in the same way that historians remember Harrison and the Shawnee brothers?  I think that is unlikely.  There are just too many grey areas and too many blanks that will never be filled in.


Ronda, James and Jeanne. "'As They Were Faithful': Chief Hendrick Aupaumut and the Struggle for Stockbridge Survival, 1757-1830," American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 3, 1979: 43-55.

Taylor, Alan. Captain Hendrick Auapaumut: The Dilemmas of an Intercultural Broker,"  Ethnohistory, Summer, 1996.

Wheeler, Rachel.  "Hendrick Aupaumut, Christian-Mahican Prophet,"
Journal of the Early Republic; Summer 2005, Vol. 25 Issue 2, p187