In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Native Americans and the American Revolution

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks and Surveys
  • Journals
  • Primary Sources
  • The Extended Revolution
  • Continental America in the Extended Revolutionary Era
  • Seven Years’ War and Its Aftermath
  • Trans-Appalachia
  • The Northeast
  • The Southeast
  • The Gulf South and the Caribbean

Atlantic History Native Americans and the American Revolution
Kristofer Ray
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0360


Historians have come a long way since the era when Whig rhetoric provided blanket explanations for the causes of the American Revolution. Few scholars, for example, accept that ideas or constitutionalism can explicate fully the demise of the British North American Empire. Most concede the impact made by customs abuse, land speculation, and other forms of corruption upon the colonial/imperial rule of law. They regularly address the contradiction between the rhetoric of liberty and the reality of slavery in North America during the Revolutionary era. In combination with the “continental” historiographical turn, such diligence has led some scholars to rethink the centrality of the Native experience to the Revolution. Indeed, Euro-Americans lived on the periphery of an Indigenous North America in the last half of the 18th century. Try as they might the British Empire, Spanish Empire, and, subsequently, the new American Republic could not simply assume control over the continent. Even to begin to try was a task requiring significant investment—both in terms of more systematic Indigenous diplomacy and in terms of addressing political structures unfit to accommodate imperial (and state formation) needs. And while the war itself was divisive and destructive, it by no means broke Native Country—Indigenous polities maintained their agency and sovereignty well past 1776, 1783, or 1815. This article focuses on historians who examine Native and continental realities in the extended era of the American Revolution.

General Overviews

These works offer multiple approaches to the generic issue of the American Revolution in Native Country. Fullagar and McDonnell 2018 takes a global approach, while Taylor 2016 and Saunt 2014 consider the era from the perspective of the continent. Ray 2020 emphasizes the importance of blending “eastern” Revolutionary narratives with events in the trans-Appalachian west to understand the origins of the Revolution. Calloway 1995 is the groundbreaking study of the topic for the eastern third of North America, and Schmidt 2014 offers a similar argument with more extensive detail. Deloria 1999 critiques 20th-century narratives of the Revolution. Fisher 2016 offers a strong introduction to recent historiographies of the Revolution.

  • Calloway, Colin G. The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511816437

    The classic starting point for the topic. Calloway focuses on eight communities and shows how policies of neutrality gave way as the British civil war stretched into Native Country.

  • Deloria, Vine, Jr. “The American Revolution and the American Indian: Problems in the Recovery of a Usable Past.” In Spirit & Reason: The Vine Deloria, Jr. Reader. Edited by Vine Deloria Jr., 206–222. London: Fulcrum, 1999.

    Slightly dated, but this essay offers a strong critique of the 20th-century American tendency to whitewash the nature and meaning of the Revolution.

  • Fisher, Samuel. “Fit Instruments in a Howling Wilderness: Colonists, Indians, and the Origin of the American Revolution.” William and Mary Quarterly 73.4 (2016): 647–680.

    DOI: 10.5309/willmaryquar.73.4.0647

    Solid overview of important Revolutionary historiography.

  • Fullagar, Kate, and Michael McDonnell, eds. Facing Empire: Indigenous Experiences in a Revolutionary Age. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018.

    Argues that Indigenous people around the globe both created and exploited the volatility of the era to secure their sovereignty. Authors include Tony Ballantyne, Justin Brooks, Colin Calloway, Kate Fullagar, Bill Gammage, Robert Kenny, Shino Konishi, Elspeth Martini, Michael McDonnell, Jennifer Newell, Joshua Reid, Daniel Richter, Rebecca Shumway, Sujit Sicasundaram, and Nicole Ulrich.

  • Ray, Kristofer. “The Indigenous Roots of the American Revolution.” In The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. Edited by Jon Butler and Angela Hudson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

    Maintains that understanding the origins of the Revolution requires scholarly examination of how trans-Appalachian affairs affected eastern colonies.

  • Saunt, Claudio. West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776. New York: W. W. Norton, 2014.

    Explains that imperial Europeans fought over land they could not control while Native polities secured advantages of their own. Examples of Native agency include the Osages (west of the Mississippi), the Sioux (the Dakotas), and the Creeks (who navigated the Caribbean to trade with Cubans).

  • Schmidt, Ethan. Native Americans in the American Revolution: How the War Divided, Devastated, and Transformed the Early American Indian World. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2014.

    Focuses on Indigenous reactions rather than pursuing a more proactive narrative, but nevertheless provides a well-written extension of Calloway 1995.

  • Taylor, Alan. American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750–1804. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016.

    Casts aside traditional interpretations of the Revolution as a minimally violent, high-minded war over ideas. While not a Native-centric work, Taylor weaves a story that would be incomplete without the vital contributions of Native peoples.

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