European colonization of North American land from Indigenous Americans is the history of how this country was founded. The betrayal of trust and the genocide of millions of Indigenous Americans is sadly an integral part of the foundation of America as it’s known today. Some of the details of this history and the stories of the people involved get lost in the history books. There is a vast and often forgotten Indigenous history in the Allegheny River valley, and through this series, Friends of the Riverfront would like to highlight Indigenous people and historical events that occurred in proximity to the riverfront to bring some of this knowledge forth.
First, we are highlighting the Treaty of Fort Pitt, which was signed into action at Fort Pitt in September of 1778, where Point State Park resides today. This treaty was between the U.S. and the Lenape Nation, who at this point in their history were a greatly diminished people. They had been pushed west early in the 18th century by colonists and had lost great amounts of their population to disease and warfare. To negotiate this treaty, American diplomat-brother-duo Andrew and Thomas Lewis met with Lenape representatives known commonly as White Eyes, Captain Pipe, and John Killbuck Jr at Fort Pitt. The agreed terms of the treaty were for the Lenape to allow free passage of U.S. troops through their land, and they were to help U.S. troops with any aid they needed, which included participation of Lenape warriors in battle. In exchange, the U.S. promised a wealth of trade goods, and to build a fort to protect the Lenape people throughout the entirety of the war. Also, in the treaty, there was an agreement for the U.S. to discuss creating an indigenous sovereign nation that would guarantee their territorial rights and would encourage other tribes to work with the Lenape to become a part of the 14th state of the union.
The U.S. promised perpetual peace and friendship between them and the Lenape, but the treaty did not go as planned. Within a year, the Lenape expressed displeasure of the treaty’s implementation. First, the integral diplomat, White Eyes, passed away suddenly. U.S. officials insisted that it was of smallpox, but other accounts say he was killed by American militiamen. This act alone greatly weakened the trust between the two parties. Most importantly, the Americans did not fulfill one treaty promise they agreed to. The promised trade goods never arrived, the U.S. continental congress never discussed the 14th Native American State. Also, the fort they built for the Lenape was poorly constructed and the British quickly took it over, and U.S. troops failed to prevent white Americans from occupying Lenape land.
A Lenape delegation visited Philadelphia to express dissatisfaction to the Continental Congress, but nothing changed. Peaceful relations between the U.S. and the Lenape Nation soon collapsed, and the Lenape soon joined the British in the war against the U.S. Violence against the Lenape, a lack of cultural awareness, and poor diplomatic communication were the main problems that led this treaty to failure .