Captain Hendrick Aupaumut

May 7th, 2012

Captain Hendrick Aupaumut  (1757-1830) was a Mahican (also Mohican) sachem, Revolutionary War soldier, and diplomat for the United States’ efforts  to broker peace agreements with the Western Indians of the Ohio country.

The Mahicans were an  Algonquin tribe that settled in the Hudson River Valley.  They later moved to  western Massachusetts in the town of Stockbridge, where many converted to Christianity and became known as the “Stockbridge Indians.”

Following the Revolutionary War,  white settlers flocked westward across the Ohio River.  Enraged Miami and Shawnee tried to unite various other native tribes to resist white expansion.  Concerned about the costs of a general Indian war in the West while the Creeks threatened to the South, President Washington took a conciliatory approach by trying to curtail white encroachments and land frauds, and by “civilizing” the Indians through government supported trading posts, providing farm equipment, and by building schools and mills.

By 1791, the government needed someone who could articulate government policies to the Western Tribes.   Indian Commissioner Timothy Pickering considered a number of candidates, including Mohawk Joseph Brant, and Senecas Red Jacket and Cornplanter.  But when he received an offer from Captain Henrick Aupaumut to help broker an agreement, Pickering chose the Mahican.  In this War Department letter,  Secretary of War Henry Knox provides instructions and guidance for Aupaumut’s   diplomatic mission.

Aupaumut was well equipped as a frontier diplomat. Educated by missionaries, he was articulate and  wrote well. He had Revolutionary War credentials and was sachem of a tribe with a strong tradition of good relations with the Western Indians.  For Aupaumut, and the relatively small number of Mahicans, this was also an opportunity to play what historian Alan Taylor has called the “front door” power broker and thus potentially reap a higher degree of influence, and autonomy for his people.

Ultimately, the Western Indians demanded that the several thousand settlers leave the Ohio Country-a virtual impossibility-and so talks with Treaty Commissioners Timothy Pickering, Beverly Randolph, and Benjamin Lincoln  never got off the ground. Meanwhile, as General Anthony Wayne trained his formidable military force along the Ohio River, ultimately redeeming General St. Clair’s loss with decisive victory at Fallen Timbers,  Aupaumut found himself no longer needed as a broker.  Ultimately, the Mahicans themselves would be displaced, first back to central New York (New Stockbridge), then Indiana and Wisconsin.

For more information, see Alan Taylor, “Captain Hendrick Aupaumut: The Dilemmas of an Intercultural Broker”,  Ethno History, Vol, 43, No. 3 (Summer, 1996): 461-457.