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
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
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
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).
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
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.