Episode 6: War, Uprising and Southern Solidarity
A New History of the American South
Dr Edward Ayers (2018)
I especially enjoyed this lecture as I learned virtually nothing about the War of 1812 in school..
According to Ayers, the US had three main grievances leading up to the War of 1812:
- The British were seizing US ships and conscripting US sailors to fight with the British Navy against Napoleon.
- The British refused to evacuate the forts they lost in the Revolutionary War as agreed in the 1783 Treaty of Paris.
- The British were supporting Native Americans on the western frontier in attacking American settlers.
According to Ayers, the British believed the Americans, who achieved no decisive battles, only won the Revolutionary War by default – when Britain pulled their troops to deploy them in European wars.
The US was divided about a new war on Britain. The southern and southwestern territories, led by Speaker of the House Henry Clay, believed the war was necessary to get Native Americans “under control” and open western territories to settlement. East Coast commercial and maritime interests opposed it.
Shortly after declaring war, the US experienced one military defeat after the other. The British successfully blockaded the entire US coast line (except for New England*). Things worsened in 1814, after Britain defeated Napoleon in Europe and engaged their entire military force against America.
The Seminoles (of whom 10% were escaped African American slaves) and a coalition of Shawnees, Choctaws, Cherokees, escaped slaves and dissident Creeks (known** allied themselves with the British (and Spanish***) under the warrior Tecumseh. Escaped slaves formally adopted by the Seminoles inspired them with stories of the 1791 revolution in Haiti in which African slaves won their freedom by driving white settlers out of the country.
The course of the war turned in favor of the Americans after Tennessee militia leader Andrew Jackson defeated the British in Mobile in 1814. When the British attacked New Orleans in January 1815 (which, according to Ayers, was a tactical area as the region mainly wetlands and extreme difficult to navigate by ship or on foot), Jackson assembled a motley force (5700) of army regulars, Virginia and Tennessee militia, pirates and Creeks to defend the city against 8000 British Red Coats.
Stalling in signing a peace treat at Ghent, the British capitulated on learning of their defeat at New Orleans. Jackson went on to attack the Seminoles in 1818. Mississippi came under US control in 1819. Georgia militias fought Spanish, Creeks, British and Seminoles along the Florida border until 1820.
*Owing to New England’s opposition to the war, the British hoped the northern states would secede from the US and resume their status as British colonies.
**Ayers uses about a third of the lecture to explain to explain extreme divisions occurring among the Cree tribes. Following the Revolutionary War, powerful Creek leaders in western Georgia, most of Alabama and northern Florida accumulated (by collaborating with European settlers) large private properties, cattle and slaves. Encouraging Creek women to learn to spin, they developed a textile industry that shipped cotton to the Gulf Coast. Infuriated by the bribery and corruption of their leaders, rebel “Redstrick” Creeks raided the farms of their wealthy leaders, killing their cattle and destroying their spinning wheels. In the resulting civil war, 15 percent of the Creeks lost their lives, as towns were destroyed and deforestation of deer hunting grounds led to mass starvation. Those who survived were forced to sign a treaty handing over 23 million acres (50% of all Creek-owned real estate) to the US government. This amounted to 3/5 of the modern state of Alabama and 1/5 of the modern state of Georgia.
***When US forces invaded Spanish-held land (Florida) in 1812, the Spanish fought to protect their holdings, teaming up with the British in the process. Spain didn’t formally cede Florida to the US until 1819.
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