Shawnee Migrations - An Ethnohistorical Account


  The search for the original provenience of the Shawnee and a definitive account of their locations has been oneof the most vexing, as well as one of the intriquing, problems in North American ethnohistory.

Francis Parkman, the historian of the French in American, long ago complained:

      "their eccentric wanderings, their sudden appearances and disappearances, perplex the antiquery and defy research."

More prosaically, Heckewelder (1876:85-86) contented himself with noting,

     "They were a restless people..."


 The case was best stated by D. G. Brinton (1884:29): "The wanderings of the unstable and migratory Shawnees have occupied the attention of several writers, but it cannot be said that either their history or their affiliations have been satisfactorily worked out." Judge Thomas A. Street (1904:202) called the Shawnee "the Ishmaelites of the Indian race; they seem to have roved in scattered bands all over the eastern part of the Mississippi valley, their hands against everybody and everybody's hands against them."

However, Nuttal in 1819 (1905:73) best provides us with some of the motivation for the Shawnee's tendency to roam:

       Scarcely any of the Indian tribes have migrated so often and so far, as the restless and intriguing
       Shawnees.... Ever flying from the hateful circle of civilized society, which, probably in their own defence,
       they have repeatedly socrouged, so as, indeed to endanger their safety...

   Early 19th century opinion on the early provenience of the Shawnee, based on the testimony of Hohn Johnston, an Indian agent among the Shawnee in Ohio, was in favor of a southeast origin. In a report of Black Hoof's account of a sojourn in "Florida" prior to coming to the Ohio country (1819:273).

The Shawanoase have been established in Ohio about sixtyfive years. They came her from West Florida and the adjacent country. They formerly resided on Suwaney river, near the sea.  -- Black Hoof, who is eightyfive years of age, was born there, and remembers bathing in the salt water when a boy. "Suwaney" river was doubtless named after the Shawanoese, "Suwaney," being a corruption of Shawanoese.

   While the presence of Black Hoof in the southeast as a lad is corroborated by other sources, two things must be taken into consideration. The first is that John Johnston, however esteemed by the Shawnee, was a source of some misinformation about them. This fact is addressed in the "Sources" page of this site. The other is that ther term "Florida" was used for all Spanish possessions in the southeast prior to the British presence there and for sometime afterwards. It is most likely the Savannah River that was meant and that it was the Atlantic coast of South Carolina and Georgia rather than that of Florida or the Gulf Coast that was meant. Furthermore, there is evidence that Black Hoof was born in Kentucky, not in the southeast. In addition, this assessment leaves out the considerable period of time the Shawnee resided in the east before gathering in Ohio -- in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. These matters will be addressed in due time.

   After this initial assessment, the focus of investigation shifted form the southeast to the Ohio and Cumberland and Tennessee river valleys in the research of Jones (1876), M. F. Force (1879), Royce (1881), Street (1904), and Cyrus Thomas (1891) -- though the latter scholar did open up the possibility of the southeastern location by identifying the Etowah mounds of northwest Georgia as possible evidence of Shawnee incurions, and Street identified locations of the Shawnee in Alabama at a time later than their earlier sojourn in the southeast. Still, scholars were timid in accepting evidences of the earlier sojourn in the southeast.  In his various works, Swanton has given us much information about the Shawnee among the Creeks and on the eastern coast, and Mooney gave full evidence of the Shawnee on the Savannah river -- but neither was willing to acknowledge the full extent of the Shawnee presence at an early date in this area.

   I will hope to fill in the gaps in our information about the Shawnee in the southeast and along the eastern seaboard as well as to highlight the presence of the Shawnee in Pennsylvania and neighboring states. This later presence, from the 1690s until the 1640s, was the period when Europeans came to know the Shawnee most thoroughly from their contact with William Penn to their abandonment of the British to ally themselves with the French prior to the French-Indian War.

   In my Ph.D Dissertation (The Study of shawnee Myth in an Ethnographic and ethnohistorical Perspective, Department of Anthropology, Indiana University, 1975) I took up this challenge by first surveying the locations of individual Shawnee divisions (see Social Structure) throughout the contact period since a search based on the name of the tribe itself had come up with confusing results. This approach was fruitful and now allows me to summarize Shawnee migrations from a different perspective: their successive ingatherings as a united tribe from the 17th to the late 19th centuries. I will not hesitate in this ethnohistorical account to use traditional accounts and linguistic and cultural information along with the kind of data wtih which historians are more comfortable.

This ethnohistorical account will be discussed under the following headings:

The Origin of the Southern Algonquian Bands (scroll down)

The First Ingathering: The Shawnee River

The First Dispersal:  Fort St. Louis and the Southeast

The Second Ingathering: Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania

The Second Dispersal:  Ohio, Kentucky, and the Creek Country

The Third Ingathering: The Ohio Valley

The Third Dispersal: Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

NOTE:  These pages are now under construction.

I. The Origin of the Southern Algonquian Bands

   In the introduction to the History of the Shawnee the origin of the Shawnee as an Algonquian people was discussed.  The following is a brief summary to highlight those aspects that are important to a discussion of Shawnee migrations in proto-historic and historic times.

  In Preparation.

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Copyright 2003 by Noel Schutz
Text and Graphics by Noel Schutz