Tecumseh (March 1768 – October 5, 1813) was a Native American leader of the Shawnee and a large tribal confederacy (known as Tecumseh's Confederacy) which opposed the United States during Tecumseh's War and the War of 1812. Tecumseh has become an icon and heroic figure in American Indian and Canadian history.
Tecumseh grew up in the Ohio Country during the American Revolutionary War and the Northwest Indian War, where he was constantly exposed to warfare. With Americans continuing to encroach on Indian territory after the British ceded the Ohio Valley to the new United States in 1783, the Shawnee moved further northwest. In 1808, they settled Prophetstown in present-day Indiana. With a vision of establishing an independent American Indian nation east of the Mississippi, Tecumseh worked to recruit additional tribes to the confederacy from the southern United States.
During the War of 1812, Tecumseh's confederacy allied with the British in The Canadas (the collective name for the colonies of Upper Canada and Lower Canada), and helped in the capture of Fort Detroit. Tecumseh was killed in the Battle of the Thames, in October 1813.
Tecumseh (in Shawnee, Tekoomsē, meaning "Shooting Star" or "Panther Across The Sky", also known as Tecumtha or Tekamthi) was born about March 1768. His birthplace, according to popular tradition, was Old Chillicothe (the present-day Oldtown area of Xenia Township, Greene County, Ohio, about 12 miles (19 km) east of Dayton). As Old Chillicothe was not settled by the Shawnee until 1774, it is believed that Tecumseh may have been born in a different "Chillicothe" (in Shawnee, Chalahgawtha), which was the tribe's name for its principal village, wherever it was located. Tecumseh is believed to have been born in a Chillicothe along the Scioto River, near the present-day city of Chillicothe, Ohio.
The two principal adversaries in the conflict, Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison, had both been junior participants in the Battle of Fallen Timbers at the close of the Northwest Indian War in 1794. Tecumseh was not among the signers of the Treaty of Greenville that had ended the war and ceded much of present-day Ohio, long inhabited by the Shawnee and other Native Americans, to the United States. However, many Indian leaders in the region accepted the Greenville terms, and for the next ten years pan-tribal resistance to American hegemony faded.
After the Treaty of Greenville, most of the Ohio Shawnee settled at the Shawnee village of Wapakoneta on the Auglaize River, where they were led by Black Hoof, a senior chief who had signed the treaty. Little Turtle, a War Chief of the Miamis, who had also participated in the earlier war and signed the Greenville Treaty, lived in his village on the Eel River. Both Black Hoof and Little Turtle urged cultural adaptation and accommodation with the United States.
The tribes of the region participated in several treaties including the Treaty of Grouseland and the Treaty of Vincennes that gave and recognized American possession of most of southern Indiana. The treaties resulted in an easing of tensions by allowing settlers into Indiana and appeasing the Indians with reimbursement for the lands the settlers were squatting on.
While Tecumseh was in the South, Governor Harrison marched up the Wabash River from Vincennes, with more than 1,000 men, on a preemptive expedition to intimidate the Prophet and his followers and to force them to make peace. On November 6, 1811, Harrison's army arrived outside Prophetstown. The Prophet sent a messenger to meet with Harrison and requested a meeting be held the next day to negotiate. Harrison encamped his army on a nearby hill, and during the early dawn hours of November 7, the confederacy launched a sneak attack on his camp. In the Battle of Tippecanoe, Harrison's men held their ground, and the Indians withdrew from the village after the battle. The victorious Americans burned the town and returned to Vincennes.
The Battle of Tippecanoe was a severe blow for Tenskwatawa, who lost both prestige and the confidence of his brother. Although it was a significant setback, Tecumseh began to secretly rebuild his alliance upon his return. The Americans soon after went to war with the British in the War of 1812, and Tecumseh's War became a part of that struggle.
On December 16, 1811, the New Madrid Earthquake shook the South and the Midwest. While the interpretation of this event varied from tribe to tribe, one consensus was universally accepted: the powerful earthquake had to have meant something. For many tribes it meant that Tecumseh and the Prophet must be supported.
The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, has Tecumseh Court, which is located outside Bancroft Hall's front entrance, and features a bust of Tecumseh. The bust is often decorated to celebrate special days. The bust was actually originally meant to represent Tamanend, an Indian chief from the 17th century who was known as a lover of peace and friendship, but the Academy's midshipmen preferred the more warlike Tecumseh, and the new name persisted.
Four ships of the United States Navy have borne the name USS Tecumseh.
* The first USS Tecumseh (1863), was a Canonicus-class monitor, commissioned on 19 April 1864. It was lost with almost all hands on 5 August, at the Battle of Mobile Bay.
* The second USS Tecumseh (YT-24), was a tugboat, originally named Edward Luckenbach, purchased by the Navy in 1898 and renamed. She served off and on until she was struck from the Navy list ca. 1945.
* The third USS Tecumseh (YT-273), was a Pessacus-class tugboat, commissioned in 1943 and struck in 1975.
* The fourth USS Tecumseh (SSBN-628), was a James Madison-class ballistic missile submarine, commissioned in 1964 and struck in 1993.
The Canadian naval reserve unit HMCS Tecumseh is based in Calgary, Alberta. Tecumseh is honored in Canada as a hero and military commander who played a major role in Canada's successful repulsion of an American invasion in the War of 1812, which, among other things, eventually led to Canada's nationhood in 1867 with the British North America Act. Among the tributes, Tecumseh is ranked 37th in The Greatest Canadian list. An 1848 drawing of Tecumseh was based on a sketch done from life in 1808. Benson Lossing altered the original by putting Tecumseh in a British uniform, under the mistaken (but widespread) belief that Tecumseh had been a British general. This depiction is unusual in that it includes a nose ring, popular among the Shawnee at the time, but typically omitted in idealized depictions.
He is also honored by a massive portrait which hangs in the Royal Canadian Military Institute. The unveiling of the work, commissioned under the patronage of Kathryn Langley Hope and Trisha Langley, took place at the Toronto-based RCMI on October 29, 2008.
Tecumseh in the Tippecanoe County Courthouse pediment
A number of towns have been named in honor of Tecumseh, including those in the states of Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and the province of Ontario, as well as the town and township of New Tecumseth, Ontario, and Mount Tecumseh in New Hampshire. Union Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman, was given the name Tecumseh because "my father...had caught a fancy for the great chief of the Shawnees." Another Civil War general, Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana, also bore the name of the Shawnee leader. (Evolutionary biologist and cognitive scientist W. Tecumseh Fitch was named after the general, not after Tecumseh.)
Tecumseh, along with the Marquis de Lafayette and William Henry Harrison is depicted in a pediment on the Tippecanoe County Courthouse (1882) in Lafayette, Indiana.