The Wyandots originally lived along the shores of Georgian Bay in present-day Ontario.They were forced to ee in the face of sustained Iroquois raids in the mid-1600s.They eventually settled on the southern shore of Lake Erie in the 1720’s.
Most of the Wyandots fought on the side of the United States during the War of 1812 or were neutral. Nevertheless, under the terms of the 1817 Foot of the Rapids Treaty, they were forced to give up most of their lands.
Unlike the Shawnees, the Wyandots were receptive to Christian missionaries. Rev. John Stewart, an African-American Methodist, converted Wyandot chief Mononcue. Following their lead, the majority of Wyandots became practicing Methodists. Like the Shawnees,Wyandot men took up Euro-American farming practices.
Detail from Lewis Evans, A Map of the Middle British Colonies in North America (1775)
Like most Wyandots, Chief Summundewat resisted the pressure from their neighbors to remove.
One night in 1841, Chief Summundewat was camping with his niece and nephew, when two white men approached their campsite. The men said they were hungry and lost, so Summundewat gave them food and told them to stay the night. Later, the guests killed all three of their hosts. The perpetrators were taken to jail, but released shortly afterwards, as no jury would indict them. The Wyandots realized they could no longer maintain their security and began negotiations to remove to the West.
The federal Indian agent, John Johnston, appealed to his superiors for permission to pay for Summondewat’s murderer to be put on trial. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs told Johnston that he may attend any trial but nothing more; it was Ohio’s job to prosecute murders. Ohio did not act.
Summundewat, Image courtesy of the Kansas State Historial Society
CHARLES DICKENS MEETS THE WYANDOT
In March of 1842, the Wyandot signed their land—approximately 114,000 acres—over to the United States government. In exchange, the Wyandot people were promised even more land somewhere past the Mississippi River, as well as a yearly payment of $17,500.
It was a Native American tradition to exchange strings of wampum (shell beads) when important agreements were made. Wampum gave the agreement sacred force and the beads served as a mnemonic reminder of the terms. This wampum belt was exchanged at the 1842 treaty.
Hours after signing the treaty, the Wyandots were visited by the English novelist Charles Dickens. Dickens recalled his conversation with federal Indian agent John Johnston.
"[Johnston] gave me a moving account of their strong attention to the familiar scenes of their infancy, and in particular to the burial places of their kindred, and of their great reluctance to leave them. He had witnessed many such removals, and always with pain, though he knew they departed for their own good."
WYANDOT MUSTER ROLL, 1843
In 1843, Wyandot chiefs prepared a record of the Wyandot traveling west, noting their ages, genders, and heads of households before leaving their land in Ohio.
Images courtesy of the National Archives and Record Administration