Ethnic cleansing in the United States.

Ethnic cleansing in the United States.


1.  Land cessions. Relevant history.

○ Colonial period.  Until 1492 all of North America belonged to its many indigenous peoples.  Between 1565 (when Spain established, in Florida, the first permanent European colony in what was to become the 48 contiguous United States) and 1783 (when the United States gained its independence from Britain), most of the land east of the Appalachian divide was taken from the indigenous nations and settled by Europeans.  Most of the displaced indigenes, who survived, were forced to relocate to territory further west.

○ US claims.  During the War for American Independence, some of the indigenous nations (and/or their internal factions) remained neutral, while others eventually took one side or the other.  Of the latter, many more sided with the British than with the Americans, because the British (wanting to avoid costly armed conflicts) had attempted to protect indigenous territory from incursions by American land speculators and frontier settlers.  With the end of the War in 1783, the United States laid claim to sovereignty over all of the territory between the Appalachian divide and the Mississippi River.  At first the US government claimed the right to take ownership of all of the land in this new territory based on a purported “right of conquest”.  Naturally the indigenous nations refused to accept either the claim of American sovereignty or the purported right of Americans to take their land.

○ Treaty cessions.  As the United States government seized Indigenous American land in response to pressure from wealthy land speculators and racist demagogues, war was the inevitable result.  The American government soon recognized that negotiations for land cessions was an easier and far less costly means for enforcing the claimed sovereignty and obtaining the coveted land.  In such negotiations, all of the advantages were with the American side, which used those advantages to gradually obtain nearly all of the coveted territory thru a series of unequal treaties.  The treaties were, of course, always written: by the American side, in the language of the Americans, and using interpreters chosen by the Americans.  American agents (who often were territorial military governors) used intimidation, coercion, deceit, bribery, and exploitation of conflicts within and between the indigenous nations.  While the indigenous nations were paid for the land, that pay was a small fraction of its actual value and commonly included promised annuities.  These annuities were often subsequently withheld in order to extort cessions of additional territory.  The American side routinely recognized an indigenous interlocutor, who was willing to comply with American demands, as agent (or purported “chief”) of an indigenous nation even though said interlocutor often had no authority to act for that nation.  Naturally, the resulting treaties were invariably fraudulent.  [1]


2.  Land speculators. Throughout the colonial period and until the middle of the 19th century, for Euro-Americans with money, the most popular and usual place to invest was in land, especially land on the frontier yet to be settled by Euro-Americans.  Wealthy Europeans also often invested in such American land.  “Valid” title to land in frontier areas could only be obtained from the colonial governments or later the federal government, and such land was routinely sold on especially favorable terms to political allies and influential insiders.  Wealthy land speculators cast covetous eyes upon land owned and occupied by indigenous peoples.  They were leading instigators of American aggressions and wars against the indigenous nations – aggressions thru which such lands were acquired by the government.  These speculators used their influence with provincial and federal office-holders to obtain grants of large tracts of land newly extorted from the indigenous nations; then, after the indigenes had been expelled, these grant holders would contract surveys and sell the land in small lots at a great markup over their privileged purchase price.  A notable example is the case of western New York.  [2]

○ Preemption.  In the 1784 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, the US acknowledged that ownership of western New York belonged to the Iroquois Six Nations.  A 1786 agreement to resolve conflicting claims over this territory gave its governance to New York, but gave to Massachusetts a preemptive right to buy the land from the Iroquois.  In 1788 Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham purchased (from Massachusetts) that preemptive right over nearly all of New York west of Seneca Lake – 6 million acres occupying 14 present-day counties.  The price was $1 million ($26.4 million in 2017 dollars), but it was to be paid in Massachusetts scrip then worth about 20 cents on the dollar.  The scrip rose in value to par, and Phelps and Gorham were then unable to complete payment.  When they defaulted after having made their first of three payments, purchase rights over the western 2/3 (i.e. the part west of the Genesee River) reverted to Massachusetts.  In 1791 Robert Morris purchased the rights over most of that 2/3.

○ Dispossession.  In 1792 and 93 Morris contracted the sale of most (3,750,000 acres) of his subject land to the Holland Land Company – a syndicate of wealthy investors in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  In order to deliver clear title Morris had to buy the land from the Iroquois, its actual owners.  In 1797, their agreement to sell was fraudulently extorted in the Treaty of Big Tree thru a combination of: (1) threat that the US would likely not recognize their ownership rights, and (2) bribery of their leaders and negotiators, plus (3) decision to leave the Iroquois with 200,000 acres (about 5.33%) for reservations.  The Holland Land Company hired a survey and divided the land into lots which it then sold between 1801 and 1840.

○ End result.  Massachusetts, which had never paid anything to the Iroquois, received from 9 to 16 2/3 cents per acre.  The surveyors were paid about 2.2 cents per acre.  The actual owners, the Iroquois, received about 3 cents per acre.  The land in post-survey lots apparently sold generally at or above $3.00/acre.  Thus, the land speculators (Morris, and the Holland Land Company) apparently received, between them, gross profits in excess of $2.75/acre.


3.  Purchasers. Land in the fully settled eastern part of the newly independent United States was mostly all privately owned, and it was relatively expensive.  Thus, tenant farmers and farm laborers generally could not afford to purchase farms there.  Meanwhile, land in the western frontier areas possessed certain relative disadvantages; specifically: less of it had been cleared of woods, its roads and other transportation infrastructure were few and crude, and access to markets and established American communities was more distant and difficult.  Consequently, whenever land became available on the western frontier, it was relatively cheap.  With every bloc of territory ceded by the indigenes to the US, the federal government asserted ownership of the ceded land.  In the old Northwest Territory [Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin] the indigenes received pennies per acre for their land, which the US government then surveyed and offered at auction to individual Americans at prices of no less than $1.00 or $2.00/acre.  The purchasers included wealthy land speculators as well as family farmers.  Only the latter actually settled on the land.  The speculators, who acquired a very large portion of the land, purchased it only to re-sell at a sizable mark-up to later settlers.  Incidentally, such speculators were a major influence on American policy to take the land from its indigenous populations, as they (along with racist demagogues and militarists) lobbied and often bribed their friends in government to induce the government to seize and/or extort ever more cessions of territory from the indigenous peoples.  [3]


4.  Interracial relations. In order to justify the dispossession of the original owners of America and to obscure the fraud and theft utilized in the process, the land speculators, other advocates of American expansionism, and their apologists routinely resorted to misrepresentation and bigotry.

○ Firstly, (although there was brutality on both sides in the “Indian” wars) they tried to dehumanize the indigenes by portraying them as nothing but murdering heathen savages.

○ Secondly, they portrayed white settlement as bring civilization to an untamed wilderness and falsely portrayed the indigenous peoples as incapable of making productive use of the land.  In fact, the indigenous peoples throughout almost the whole of the territory between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River were farmers, who cleared tracts of the woodland in order to raise the crops which included their staple foods – maize [corn], beans, and squash – plus various other vegetables.  Meat obtained in the hunt was a supplement to the staples.  If the indigenes did not clear as much of the woodland as the Americans, this was: because their lower population density and their land rotation practice made it unnecessary, and (until after European contact) because they lacked the steel saws and axes and the draft animals of the Euro-Americans, which made forest removal much easier.

Ω Despite the disparaging propaganda against the indigenous people, most settlers sought to avoid conflict with the remaining local natives.  Some went further and established neighborly and mutually beneficial trade relations with neighboring indigenes.  [4]


Noted sources:

[1] Robert M Owens: Indian Land Cessions (Dictionary of American History, © 2016) @

[2] Wikipedia: Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784) (2017 Nov 06); Treaty of Hartford (1786) (2017 Oct 10); Phelps and Gorham Purchase (2018 Feb 21); Robert Morris (financier) (2018 May 20); Holland Land Company (2018 Apr 24).  New York Heritage: Holland Land Company Maps (© 2014) @

[3] Paul W Gates: Land Speculation (Dictionary of American History, © 2016) @

[4] Jack Lynch: “A Principal Source of Dishonor” – Indian Policies in Early America (C W Journal, 2009 Spring) @  R Douglas Hurt: Agriculture, American Indian (Dictionary of American History, © 2016) @


Author: Charles Pierce.     Date: 2017 Aug 11.


Charles Pierce is: a working-class retiree, a past union steward and local union officer, and currently a researcher and writer on history and politics.  Other articles by Charles Pierce can be accessed at


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